A selection of extraordinarily condensed, emotionally complex, philosophical poems by a unique and highly regarded 20th-century Brazilian poet.
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In her lifetime, Orides Fontela resisted all labels, all attempts to situate her work in a particular movement, school, tendency, or tradition. Here, in her first ever English-language collection, Fontela’s poetry continues to defy easy categorization. In these concise, meditative poems, Fontela’s bird and flower, water and stone, blood and star can be read as symbols, indicating a possible tendency toward mysticism. Including an illuminating statement of poetics and excerpts from her often acerbic interviews, One Impossible Step introduces English-language audiences to an iconoclast who remains one across languages and decades.
Thank you for translating this goddess!
What a blessing to have Orides Fontela in English! Her poems make words touch their edges; at these edges, words touch the reader’s skin, as heart-being and skein of thought. Our humanity emerges in her poems not from personal reference, but from verbal indices as compressed and vital as air: we breathe. Her poems listen intensely to silence as form and forms as silence. Fontela writes the impossible that exists and is all that exists. Chris Daniels’ translations make it so.
Seeking always a form or finality “beyond life,” Orides Fontela wrestles with poetic inquiry where inquiry itself alters—transposes—its subject. Chris Daniels adeptly responds to the challenge of translating Fontela, offering formal shaping that embraces Fontela’s eccentricities while always remaining sensitive to the alternately knotty and limpid urgencies of her poems. In their determined plumbing of meaning, this poetry refines and redefines a dynamic reality. Fontela resolutely ventures toward “the real” at any cost, no matter how difficult.
At the heart of her search through and for the solid forms, she reaches a place where the act of seeing both faces itself and yearns for the thing beyond. She is a kind of symbolist poet. Her linguistic universe has little adornment, yet it is one of deep feeling.
Daniels must face the difficulty of translating poetry that is, at its core, concerned with both languages beyond those of the human and with the grammar of silence. . . In One Impossible Step, the approach is to explore, chronologically, a few select subjects in Fontela’s oeuvre before moving to a study of her poetics. The resulting benefit is that the reader is provided an opportunity to consider Fontela’s evolution as a poet, as she plays with form and plumbs for deeper insight into the world.
Orides Fontela was born in 1940 in São João da Boa Vista, in the interior of São Paulo, and died in 1998. She studied philosophy at the …
Chris Daniels is a prolific, widely published, autodidact and feral translator of global Lusophone poetry. Recent translations include a black body by Lubi Prates (Nueva York Poetry Press, 2020) and …