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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry



Oliverio Girondo

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To purchase Decals

Title: Decals
Author: Oliverio Girondo
Genre: Poems
Written: 1922/25 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 171 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Decals - US
in: Obra. Poesía y prosa - US
Decals - UK
Decals - Canada
in: Obra. Poesía y prosa - España
  • Complete Early Poems
  • Translations of the collections Veinte poemas para ser leídos en un tranvía (1922) and Calcomanías (1925)
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Rachel Galvin and Harris Feinsod
  • Veinte poemas para ser leídos en un tranvía was previously translated by Heather Cleary as Poems to Read on a Streetcar (2014)
  • With color illustrations by the author
  • This is a bilingual edition, with the original Spanish text facing the English translation

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing collection; attractive edition

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Decals collects Oliverio Girondo's first two collections of poetry, Twenty Poems to Be Read on the Streetcar (Veinte poemas para ser leídos en un tranvía (1922)) and Decalomania (Calcomanías (1925))
       The translators note in their Introduction about the first edition of Twenty Poems to Be Read on the Streetcar that:

Girondo first published it in France in an oversize, demi-luxe edition, embossed and illustrated with his own watercolors. The idea of reading this particular volume of poems on a streetcar was an elaborate joke, as though such a large book could be casually flipped open while sitting shoulder to shoulder amid the tramway crowd.
       (It was soon republished, however, "in a cheap paperback 'Streetcar Edition'".)
       The Open Letter edition -- their standard (8.5" x 5.5") size, i.e. streetcar-appropriate (though regrettably not mass-market-paperback/NY-subway-suited ideal ...) -- helpfully prints the Spanish originals facing the English translations -- and includes the watercolor illustrations from that original edition as well; a nice touch is that the illustrations are doubled too, printed accompanying both the original and the translated versions of the poems. Sure, the illustrations are identical on the facing pages, but they don't feel at all superfluous. (The illustrations are quite stunning too -- with the print edition having a much better quality depth of color than this online Cervantes virtual selection.)
       Many of the Twenty Poems to Be Read on the Streetcar are locale- or event-impressions, beginning with a 'Breton Landscape' and ranging from 'Holiday in Dakar' and 'Sevillian Sketch' to a 'Café-Concert'. The pieces tend towards prose-poems, paragraph- rather than simple line-breaks, some with relatively substantial blocks of text, some, like 'Plaza', with a mix:
     The trees filter the city sound.

     Paths that blush when they embrace the plumpness of the flower beds. Love affairs explain away all culinary negligence. Men so anesthetized by sun you don't know if they're dead.

     Life here is urban, and simple.
       Girondo nicely captures simple impressions and imagery -- 'Venice' opens with: "A postcard breeze blows"; in 'Milonga' there are: "decapitated bottles of champagne with clownish white neckties"; at the close of 'Sevillian': "the priest chomps a prayer like a stick of 'chewing gum'" -- as well as more elaborate impressions:
     The time of night when old furniture seizes the chance to shed its lies, when pipes make strangulated cries, as though suffocating inside the walls.
       'Ex-Voto' is -- complete with accompanying picture -- a nice take on a slice of Buenos Aires life and the interplay between the sexes, with observations such as:
     The Flores girls go arm-in-arm, transmitting their tremors to one another, and if anyone looks them in the pupils, their legs squeeze shut out of fear that their sex will fall on the sidewalk.
       The poems of the second collection, Decalomania, are of a somewhat more traditional sort -- line-breaking verse, rather than the blocks of text of the first collection. If the word-count in many of them probably isn't that much greater, the spacing makes for poems that go on for more pages -- and some certainly are more extensive, including the excellent drawn-out description of a whole 'Holy Week'. Somewhat disappointingly, there are no accompanying pictures here .....
       Several of these pieces are also place-impressions -- 'Gibraltar'; 'Tangier'; 'Alhambra' --, also nicely done. The impressions range -- even in a single poem, such as 'Express Train' -- from the more straightforward, reminiscent of the first collection, such as: "the girls who come to see the train pass / because it is the only thing that comes to pass", to the more ambitiously-poetic:
Haggard hogs gone mad
who think they are Salomé
because their hams are so rosy.
       Girondo creatively presents his impressions -- slightly but not outrageously off-kilter (though certainly pushing well (and often with a nice humorous touch) outside the bourgeois-priggish envelope of his day). Throughout, there's a fascination with what he articulates as: "How real, the landscape that looks fake !".
       There's limited experimentation with form here -- in the first collection there is that tending to the prose-poem; beyond that, there's the occasional bold-faced, large-type interjection ("HUMILITAS"). In a few poems there are terms presented in quotation marks -- not just "chewing gum" but also Spanish terms -- which draws (probably too much) attention to them. And Girondo is also quite a big fan of the emphatic exclamation mark .....
       Decals is a nice little collection, especially in this attractive packaging; quite honestly, the watercolors are the biggest selling point -- though there are enough stand-out bits in the poetry itself to make that worthwhile, too.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 December 2018

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Decals: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine poet Oliverio Girondo (1891 to 1967) was the husband of Norah Lange.

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© 2018 the complete review

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