Expressing a River of Language: Tedi López Mills

Contracorriente

Contracorriente
BY Tedi López Mills
(Ediciones ERA-Conaculta, 2006)


Poems

Translator’s Note

These four poems are from Tedi López Mills’ eighth book of poetry, Contracorriente. In a departure from the measured elegance of López Mills’ previous books, each poem in Contracorriente takes shape as a single, rushing sentence, lapped together by commas, colons, and semicolons. Ir a contracorriente means to swim against the current, which is appropriate for the double river spilling from these poems: a river of fact (or memory, or allegory) expressed in a river of language.

Part of López Mills’ philosophical rigor is her ability to interpret even her own I as a ‘self-symbol,’ to test and dispute her engagement with what she sees, thinks, and feels.

The twenty-eight pieces in Contracorriente are titled after the letters of the Spanish alphabet, but the poems themselves, for the most part, do not evoke the linguistic qualities of their corresponding letters. Rather, López Mills told me that she designed the work as a lettered sequence in order to express the limitless combinations of the alphabet. In the way that one text leads to another, her comment recalls the epigraph to Jorge Luis Borges’ famous story “The Library of Babel”: “By this art you may contemplate the variations of the 23 letters…” (from Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy).

I find it pleasant to think about Contracorriente as a book that might be eased from the stacks by one of Borges’ librarians traveling through an infinitude of hexagons. One librarian might claim it as the Book of all Books, its swirl of images and philosophical inquiry intended to be “the formula and perfect compendium of all the rest,” as Borges puts it. Another might interpret it as a Vindication: an utterly personal book that exists for the purpose of justifying the life and acts of one human being.

Both interpretations fit. Contracorriente is just as much a work of allegory and philosophy as it is a meditation on the poet’s own relationship with her brother, who appears frequently here as what we might call a “real symbol,” or maybe a “self-symbol”: one among many, sharing space with crow, dove, swan, mare, cow, lamb, deer, and others, including a niña (little girl) who appears late in the sequence and seems identified with the poet herself. Part of López Mills’ philosophical rigor is her ability to interpret even her own I as a “self-symbol,” to test and dispute her engagement with what she sees, thinks, and feels. As she writes in her most recent book, a work of creative nonfiction titled Libro de las explicaciones (Book of Explanations), “I is she. No: is I.” What is, what is imagined, what is remembered, and what is uttered — all are distinct and all run together in Contracorriente, a challenging, changing book of poems.

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