Friday, April 30, 2010



The Translator’s Diary by Jon Pineda
(New Issues Poetry & Prose, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI., 2008)

Coming clean: I’m a prose writer, albeit one who loves poetry, and most especially narrative poetry. Nothing moves me as much, or approaches the intensity with which a great poem allows me to experience recognition, revelation, confirmation, discovery.

As I read the poems in Jon Pineda’s latest collection, The Translator’s Diary, I found myself deliberately slowing down, forcing myself to stop and do other things, wanting the images to sink in (More!), and waiting for a moment of calm when the words could more easily be savored.

Most of his landscapes are unfamiliar to me: “Snow layered itself/over the already dead,/those clumps of tomato/plants I’d neglected/from the summer/crumpled under drifts … ", or “an evening sun, itself held back by a shadow of spires/ on the hill, gently tapping along the Vltava … " But there was something about the voice that pulled me in, making me a participant, immersing me in a landscape saturated with feeling, a landscape “Between the train’s long slide and the sun/ ricocheting off the sea … ", whether feeling the loss of departure “Near the bent awning/ of the station …" or listening for “A name/ that is only its echo accelerating … "

Each poem transports the reader, whether to an “ocean . . . never quite glass” or to “cleared fields of cotton” where “A hawk above it all pauses/ on the invisible cog and spins.” The moments Pineda captures are delicate and fleeting: “ … a reflection on water, thin,/ delicate as your wrist dipping into the calm river … " There is so much transcendent beauty contained in these fleeting glimpses, these images of back roads, “the smell of sharp mud in the air,” of crows like “dark angels,” fields like a “dark pool.”

These poems are ravishing, incantatory, each one a small miracle. Savor them. But don’t be lulled into complacency: Beneath the surface delicacy of the words is a toughness like old bones, lies an art wielded with utter clarity and exactness.


Marianne Villanueva has published three collections of short fiction and co-edited the Filipino women's anthology, GOING HOME TO A LANDSCAPE. She writes regularly for the Women's Review of Books and maintains a blog, Kanlaon, at

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