Exhausted and Luminous: A Few More Words About Winétt de Rokha


by Jessica Sequeira

If you’re looking for a bit more of a formal introduction, followed by a chronology, you can find it at the start of this book. But today, in the company of the family of Winétt de Rokha, in this beautiful house and patio amongst friends and poets, with the scent of tear gas lingering in the air along with jasmine, I want to say something different. This is possible because Winétt is a good author, and with good authors, you can always say more, write more. In this house where art lives hanging from the walls, inside books and deep within hearts, what made Winétt different, what made her special beyond the honour of being a “de Rokha”, part of such a talented tribe?

Winétt taught me intensity, the slide from idea to idea that connects images as in dreams, with an overlap of meanings that shifts between registers, staccato and lyric, whisper and scream, in a monologue that loses you but grabs you, that speaks of madness without losing control, that sinks into pain while achieving the sublime, that is capable of militancy but also great sensitivity, speaking of smashed butterflies, horror and yet beauty. All these qualities can be found in this poetry for our time, which is simultaneously eternal, “exhausted and luminous”, as the poet says.

I am exhausted and luminous,
each corner of my body returns to life;
the demons of madness
stretch out a tapestry of gunpowder and shadow,
passion exalts and wilts,
phosphorescent, repressed, fainted.

Now I can no longer recall how I came across the work of this writer, but I do remember that four or so years ago, I was reading a lot of Chilean poetry, like a premonition of something that I couldn’t yet fully glimpse. Winétt’s words spoke to me from the first moment, like an intuition, an image from dream. Her work is lyrically dense, it doesn’t just give itself to you on a first reading, and so naturally I wanted to translate it, to enter into those words that reached me at the start more by tone than by message, as colours rather than shapes. They spoke to me in a way that I could understand, despite not being immediately comprehensible, as a soul with wings in a moment of storm, as a passion, as an attitude of believing in life and in poetry, in the unleashing of words like a July hurricane. As a surrender:

It will be Spring and the earth will be dry and fresh;
then a transparent drizzle will fall
and my tired body will feel well,
like the seeds that the harvester
tosses in the furrows.

I felt the implicit environment of a life, a husband, a home, children, troubled times, politics and war. Later I would get a more biographical hold on these connections, and the way that Winétt was outlining a dream of happiness that had not yet come either for her personally or for the society in which she lived, in which she had faith and hope. But at the start it was the force of the language that struck me, not facts, not information, but another tone, neither artificial nor colloquial, language in its primordial state, elegant but far from commonplaces, always surprising. I wanted to translate Winétt to live inside her dream, or to tell her my dream, or to share the same dream. I wanted to delve into that link between imagination and the outside world that gives onto the strangest and most intriguing creations.

Pain of feeling that we are everything
that matter can conceive: horror and limit and tenderness,
marvellous illusion and trembling
in the green gaze of the sea.

Sometimes one needs an extreme moment of pain, anger or joy to start writing this way, but after that, it’s the words that matter, the dream world of Winétt, the science of understanding these dreams to read the past and present and anticipate the future, the feeling of personal frustration and hope mapped onto the frustration and hope of the world. Another line from “Symphony of Instinct”, where all the lines come from that I’m quoting tonight:

At night, my hands pressed close together,
I feel their smallness, and the world in my palms.

In these poems there is everything, ways to suffer and great happinesses, solemn gazes of prophecy and childrens’ stories. There are also ways to start over, not with books, too many books, like her grandfather Domingo Sanderson, but with something else, an absorption in images, in oneself, in forms of perception of the world. My translation is the second, since these coloured shards of the mind have already been translated once before, from Winétt’s dream life into text. On the cover of the anthology Suma y destino, we see an engraving of a woman with a banner, her back to us, facing a group of men without faces. The fabric and her hair and the possibilities of what is to come are all dancing in the wind. And these poems keep dancing in our heads, a long slow dance, face to face.

Oneiromancy by Winétt de Rokha, translated by Jessica Sequeira, is available from Smokestack Books.


About the Author:

Jessica Sequeira is a writer and translator from Spanish and French.

Image via Wikimedia Commons (cc).