September 2015 Poetry Feature

This month, we’re featuring two authors with new poems from Guatemala and Greece.



It is a pleasure to help introduce to English-language audiences the poems of the ecologically astute, spiritually aware, refreshingly human contemporary K’iche’-Mayan poet Humberto Ak’abal. Well-known and appreciated throughout Europe, South and Latin America, Ak’abal’s work has not yet been made widely available in English. Deeply rooted in the earth and the richness of shared mythologies—ancient and modern, oral and inscriptive, concrete and transcendent—Ak’abal’s poetry is most relevant to our current literary community in its clarity, wisdom, and mystery. While visceral and closely attuned to nature, Ak’abal’s work is at once synergistic and ideographic.

Described by Haroldo DeCampos as a practitioner of “the poetic art of counter-conquest,” Ak’abal begins with his native K’iche’ Maya language, and to quote DeCampos, “enfolds the Spanish language, conquering it with the telluric magic of that idiom enchanted by its umbilical contiguity with the reign of nature.” While the metaphor is apt, there is something about Ak’abal’s verse that indicates a poetic force which transcends the violent cycle of attack and counter-attack. Ak’abal’s aesthetic may be not so much post-capitalist as post-everything. That is, post-everything that would in any way attempt to abstract or further distance humankind from the spirit of the earth and all other living things.

Loren Goodman, translator

It will be windy
if the clouds are shaped
like woman’s hair


if they seem like pigeon wings.


if they’re like sheep’s wool.


if they seem like smoke


And if in the morning
a cloud begins to settle
behind the sun


the rain and the wind
will travel

to other towns



hide darkness
under their wings;



behind their eyes.



Dog days don’t just come out of nowhere.


Drizzle and rainbow proclaim them.


The arch of colors
is the password women wait for
to have their kids
in the mountains.


The drizzle,
the veil that covers them

while they are giving birth.



so long ago
that the sun no longer remembers it:
the earth was the master of man.


Now it’s the other way around.



Two or three little tamales,
some grains of salt
a little coffee.


My mother feigned
gathering leaves and flowers
on the edges of the sidewalks.


In some ravine,
hiding; my father
would escape military recruitment.


Secretly, she;
she took him something to eat.

Humberto Ak’abal was born in Momostenango, Guatemala in 1952. He is a Guatemalan poet of K’iche’ Maya ethnicity. He concieves and writes his poems in the K’iché language and translates them himself into Spanish. One of the most well known Guatemalan poets in Europe and South America, his works have been translated into French, English, German, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, Arabic, Scottish, Hungarian and Estonian. He is the author of nineteen books of poetry and several other collections of short stories and essays. Ak’abal has received numerous awards and honors, including the Golden Quetzal granted by the Association of Guatemalan Journalists in 1993, and the International Blaise Cendrars Prize for Poetry from Switzerland in 1997. In 2005 he was named Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture, and in 2006 was the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.




I am the wisest
man alive, though I never
wrote a single line.




All of life’s comforts
in one compact cave, even
a television!




Life has one purpose:
eudaimonia. (Servants
and yacht of course help…)




Sex? No, Sirree! No
empty pillow talk for me.
Time for temperance.




If you show weakness
they will exterminate you.
Best if they fear you.




Am I sleeping? Or
could it be I am dreaming
that I am thinking?




Will the fly escape
from inside the glass bottle?
That is the question.




Your existence is
without any real essence.
Do you feel nauseous?


de Beauvoir


You weren’t born, woman,
for the boudoir, nor were you
born, dear, a woman.




Myths the world over
have the same structure. Myths are




Communism and
barbarism somehow both
wear the same bow tie.




When the pilot shifts
the paradigm, you arrive
on a new planet.

Translated from the Greek by Karen Van Dyck


Haris Vlavianos has published ten collections of poetry, including most recently Vacation in Reality (2009), which won the Diavazo Poetry Prize, and Sonnets of Despair (2011), short-listed for the National Poetry Prize. The work published here is from A History of Western Philosophy in 100 Haiku. His latest book, Blood into WaterA Novel in Forty Five Acts, was published this year to critical acclaim.

Vlavianos has translated collections by John Ashbery, William Blake, Anne Carson, E.E. Cummings, T.S. Eliot, Carlo Goldoni, Zbigniew Herbert, Michael Longley, Fernando Pessoa, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and Walt Whitman. He is Professor of History and Politics at the American College of Greece, the editor of the influential literary journal Poetics and Poetry Editor at Patakis Publications.

His latest book, Blood into WaterA Novel in Forty Five acts, was published this year to great critical acclaim and was reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement. It has been already translated into English (by Jacob Moe) and German (by Torsten Israel).

September 2015 Poetry Feature

Related Posts

Picture of a blue fish

The Fish Market

You’re surprised to see a fish that’s blue. You’ve never seen such a fish before, let alone heard of one. You say to the fishmongers, “So it’s true, travel makes you new. I can’t believe how blue it is!” You’re told it’s called a Bluu Fish. Its color resembles the jeans you’re wearing.

Leila Chatti

My Sentimental Afternoon

Around me, the stubborn trees. Here / I was sad and not sad, I looked up / at a caravan of clouds. Will you ever / speak to me again, beyond / my nightly resurrections? My desire / displaces, is displaced. / The sun unrolls black shadows / which halve me. I stand.

picture of dog laying on the ground, taken by bfishadow in flickr

Call and Response

My grandmother likes to tell me dogs / understand everything you say, they just can’t / say anything back. We’re eating spaghetti / while I visit from far away. My grandmother / just turned ninety-four and tells me dogs / understand everything you say. / They just can’t say anything back.