Clarice Lispector, Água Viva (1973; trans. Stefan Tobler, New Directions 2012) & Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta, The Easy Body (Timeless Infinite Light, 2017)

To be clear, I bought these two books at the same time, though the recommendations came from two completely different sources (Luboviski-Acosta from email spam I shouldn’t have opened [but glad I did] and Lispector from a very good friend’s reading wishlist), and I read them back-to-back, so if there seems to be something slightly arbitrary about the pairing, I can’t deny it. But no more arbitrary than snow in May, which is to say, it’s bound to happen sometimes.

Água Viva is my first encounter with Clarice Lispector, whose sly eyes (choose whatever Google image you like) tell you the diamonds in your safe are already gone. Lispector’s Jewish family moved to Brazil from the Ukraine when she was an infant, just after the first world war. She wrote novels and shorts stories, many of which have been retranslated and republished by New Directions.

Not knowing what to expect, I ordered Água Viva thinking it was a novel. But it’s not. It’s a lyrical meditation (a long poem, really) on the electron-like enigma we call the “instant”—that increment of time most charged with life and, simultaneously, impossible to arrest when subpoenaed by memory or hypnosis.

There’s something wildly romantic, Whitmanic I should say, about Lispector’s prose. It’s dizzying, reckless, turbulent, and, in the spirit of Longinus, sublime. In the end, it grasps nothing—form following dysfunction. Could it possibly have been otherwise? If the trap one sets is for a beast as cagey as the “Instant,” one cannot expect to discover in its teeth anything more than the wind, always already elsewhere, howling. Here’s Lispector trying to “seize” her “is” in the opening pages.

Luboviski-Acosta writes with equal urgency, but the “instant” is too small in scope for The Easy Body, a book-length poem broken by fragments of cryptic visual collage. The Dominican artist manuel arturo abreu describes the work as a “voice oscillating between decolonial rage and postcolonial melancholia.” More rage and melancholia, in my opinion, than colonial critique, but I like the emphasis on “voice,” because that’s really what the poetry feels like: the voice, let’s say, of Walter Benjamin’s Angelus Novus looking backwards over her shoulder at the wreckage of history heaped in high piles (ah, there’s the critique!). But no, not an angel, a “goddess”—you see how the “instant” loses all meaning in this analogy? If not, read on:

Luboviski-Acosta is a cofounding curator of The Cantíl Reading Series and a member of La Vidx Locx, a collective of queer Latinx poets.