Recently, in talking to a friend and fellow writer about publishing photocopied, side stapled chapbooks, I remembered New Michigan Press from many, many years ago.  Back then, I was impressed by the amount of care they put into pamphlets that were cheaply produced, and yet, somehow looked elegant.  So, I decided to check in on them, and I’m happy to see that they’re still around.  Also, it looks like they’ve moved to POD publishing, too.  And, it looks like the care in artist direction has carried over.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any money blow, but I really do want to get the Paul Guest and Arielle Greenberg chaps some day soon.  At anyrate, here’s a short blurby review I wrote of Mistranslating Neruda by Matt Mason.  The review is like five years old and originally appeared in The Main Street Rag.

Mistranslating Neruda
By Matt Mason
New Michigan Press (2002) $5, 35 pgs.
Poetry Chapbook

Stephen Tapscott, in his translation of Pablo Neruda’s “Love Sonnets # 37,” writes O love, O crazy sunbeam and purple premonition, / you come to me and climb your cool stairway, / the castle that time has crowned with fog, / pale walls of a closed heart. Tapscott captures something – no matter who translates – inherent in Neruda’s poetry: a collection of strange images, weird word combinations, and a strong sense of emotion. Neruda’s work always has had a knack for clothing itself in off-kilter metaphors while still confronting vivid emotions. Yes, a lot of 100 Love Sonnets is inherently surreal, but surrealism isn’t usually a tool for romantic verse. Still, Neruda always succeeds, and that has inspired decades of imitation.

In that regard, Mistranslating Neruda is Matt Mason’s homage to Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Not only does Mason mimic the sequence in length, but he also tries duplicating the inventive use of language: Like angel hair pasta waving goodbye to the boiling water, / the sausages from the refrigerator fly into your hands. // Innumerable hearts of the sausage / fortify inside the rare silences of young love. Equally emblematic for the rest of the sequence, Mason writes, early on: Body of a woman, white as flour, as egg whites, / you break into the world with the immediacy of warm cookies.
Lines like these make Mason’s chapbook a hoot to read. While he actively tries to mimic Neruda, to “mistranslate” him, Mason’s own sense of absurdity takes off, pulling the reader along. These poems also display the depths of Mason’s imagination, but do they stand up to the master inspiring them?
No, but they weren’t intended to, either. In his preface, Mason claims everybody has read a horrible act of translation, be it in high school English texts or elsewhere, and this chapbook was to be a satire on “mistranslations.” That doesn’t change the joy of language Mason revels in, and to this collection, that’s a gift.