Leopoldo María Panero: POE-NERO II (Chinese Whispers)

Andrew F. Giles

Palimpsest Z, Trinity College

New Linear Perspectives published my article on Leopoldo María Panero’s persona and oeuvre, and a projected collection of poetry translations, in 2010. In keeping with the ‘palimpsestuous’ nature of Panero’s work, the project has undergone a number of erasures and restructurings, and has revealed sutures and wounds in his counternarrative.
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From the beginning the most important aspect of the project was to get Panero’s work to a wider public. Firstly, it seemed by translating his work this might be achieved.
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However, the POE-NERO project has in equal measures offended and delighted. Comments on the article revealed a US-based translator, Arturo Mantecón, who has spent the last five years translating an extensive body of Panero’s work (140 poems), 25 of which will be published by California’s Swan Scythe Press. Leah Leone, another US-based translator, had five poem from 1968’s Por el camino del Swann published at eXchanges. Mantecón’s quest to elicit a response from Panero with reference to publishing permission was a hurdle I was also confronted with. Letters and phonecalls were not answered. A Spanish poet, the excellent Sebensuí Álvarez Sánchez , who has collaborated with Panero (see 2008’s Golém, with a foreword by Panero scholar Túa Blesa), was extremely helpful in supplying me with numbers and addresses but somehow it just didn’t sit right, not merely because of Panero’s disinterested silence.
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Panero and Bunbury

Panero and silence are old friends. Was his silence itself a translation I couldn’t read, something ambiguous, something new? Allan Cameron at brilliant Scottish imprint Vagabond Voices expressed an interest in publishing my translations of 40 of Panero’s poems, but we both allowed it to fizzle out. It just wasn’t clear if I was doing Panero’s work justice, and if, indeed, it would be logical to publish English translations of his work at all. More recently a US-based student, Frank Virgentino, has expressed interest in Panero via New Linear Perspectives regarding, again, translations of Panero’s work. It seemed curious that interest for a translated Panero came from the US rather than Europe – indeed, my 2010 translation of Panero’s 1980 poem El Lamento de Vampiro was published by a US journal, The Nervous Breakdown. The North American engagement with Panero’s text underlines the repeated academic argument that Panero’s oeuvre is underrated in its own milieu. The most recent and successful treatment of Panero’s text was undertaken by a Spanish academic researching out of Monash University in Melbourne. Perhaps this second installment of the project will unearth more Europe-based translators. Perhaps it will piss off some more distant members of the human race. Answer unknown.
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Pero vamos – a veritable perversion of sources and voices, and wilful controversy – all very Panero.
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The main restructuring that has come about has been my decision to question the efficacy of translating Panero’s work into English. This has been affected greatly by my continuing academic work on Panero, and further reading on the ‘perversions’ Panero himself exerts on texts – a form of translation theory recurrent in Panero’s work – that questions the very nature of translation. Túa Blesa – the leading critic on Panero’s text – would call this translation as perversion: “if the translator should not produce a servile work, nor write a text that is true to the original in a mechanical sense, then what follows is the translator’s own real inscription in to the text” (Blesa 2000: my translation). Blesa edited Panero’s ‘Traducciones/Perversiones’ (2000) – a collection, ostensibly, of Panero’s own translations of other poets’ work – that included Panero’s reimagining of work by Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Robert Browning, John Clare, Georges Bataille and Catallus. Furthermore, Panero’s own text is made up not just of Spanish, but of French, German, Latin, and, of course, invented signs, codes and symbols that make the linguistic translati0n of his work challenging – and some might say self-defeating.

Panero with his mother Felicidad Blanc and brother Michi Panero

However, having read Blesa’s work – especially Leopoldo María Panero: el último poeta (1995) and Logofagias: los trazos del silencio (1998) – the question of the translation of Panero’s work is certainly worth pondering under the auspices of a ‘perversion’ of his original text. This, to my knowledge, has not been attempted, but would be an intriguing exercise. To deface a Panero text is, indeed, what one ought to do, and would ape the ambiguous signs inherent in Panero’s oeuvre. The “border that separates ‘original’ and ‘copy’ (is) an unstable division… (they) operate via the erasure and transposition of texts” (López Castellano 2009). This would suggest that a ‘mechanical’ translation of Panero’s text is undesirable; the text itself is a machine where meaning stands apart from the inexorable movement of the machine’s cogs.
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This restructuring of thought on Panero is also illuminated by Ramón López Castellano’s seminal 2009 thesis The Writing of Leopoldo María Panero: Subjectivity and Multiplicity. His post-Blesa, poststructural understanding of Leopoldo María Panero’s text is overwhelmingly well-written and includes a section on the “radical practice of translation” apparent in Panero’s oeuvre that is a must-read for any potential translators of any poetical work. Although my academic work does not entirely coincide with López Caballero’s sensitive analysis, his is now the work to turn to for academia on Panero, not least for a comprehensive overhaul of existing academia, and his detailed restructuring of current understanding of Panero’s text. On a basic level, López Castellano continues Blesa’s deconstruction of the mystification of Panero’s persona that is crucial for the exploration of Panero’s oeuvre. But his poststructural research lends a revolutionary aspect to academia on Panero that reflects the oeuvre itself.  I await for that to be turned into a book – the sheaves of the thesis are to be found strewn about my floor, collected together and strewn again, so often do I turn to it for advice and information. Interestingly, López Castellano cites his use of English (as the core language in his thesis) as part of the machinery of his theoretical rereading of Panero’s corpus.
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My favourite ‘perversions’ by Panero are his Nonsense Alphabet, originals by Edward Lear. Panero invites an ontological reading of the alphabet, that is neither as nonsensical nor as linear as Lear’s – and somehow gives it a gravitas and menace that is not apparent in the original.
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This part of the project may also start some kind of infernal, eternal game where the text is consistently rewritten – and catapulted between languages – that is to say, a palimpsestous game for jokers and fools, a multilingual textual ‘Chinese Whispers’. This is certainly a practical way to represent López Castellano’s (post-Blesa) analysis:
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(i) Here is Lear’s original version:
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W was a whale,
Who lived in the sea,
And swam all about
As far as could be.
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(ii) And Panero’s per-version:
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La W era una letra
rival y enemiga de la V
y para destruirla se convirtió en ballena
y nadó por el mar en busca de la V.
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(iii) And my double per-version:
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W was a rival and enemy
letter to V
whom in order to destroy turned into a whale
and swam across the sea in search of V.
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Play on, perverts! The POE-NERO project continues apace.

a still of Panero from Chávarri's 1976 film 'El Desencanto'

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Further reading:
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- Panero’s Poesía Completa (1970-2000) is available from the Madrid imprint Visor Libros.
- Panero’s Traducciones/Perversiones, published in 2000 with a foreword by Túa Blesa, is also on Visor.
- Ramón López Castellano’s key 2009 work The Writing of Leopoldo María Panero: Subjectivity and Multiplicity is available to read online from Monash University, Melbourne.
- Túa Blesa, a professor at the University of Zaragoza, has written many texts on Panero. His seminal text Leopoldo María Panero: el último poeta is hard to get hold of in the UK but is in the British Library.
- Mantecón’s Panero translation Hallucination Of A Hand, Or Posthumous, Absurd Hope In The Charity Of The Night can be read here. Mantecón’s Panero collected translations The Naked Brain are available now from Swan Scythe Press.
- You can read Leah Leone’s five Panero translations at eXchanges: The Journal of Literary Translation here.
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Andrew F Giles continues to work on an academic appraisal of Panero’s work. His own poem Chanelling the Lune, a hybrid French-English foray into crime that draws on Maigret, American noir, the myth of the flaneur and cigarettes is published by Ambit and can be read here.


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