I’ve been reading Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962-1972 for the past month. I’ve put it down to go to other books and then invariably come quite quickly back to it — I can’t stop reading and re-reading this English language collected poems of Alejandra Pizarnik. I’d found other translations of bits and pieces of Pizarnik’s writing over the years (and tried in my stumbling way to read her work in the original Spanish); it was exciting to me to get hold of this comprehensive collection. It includes the three collections of poetry that Alejandra Pizarnik published during her life plus some uncollected and posthumous poetry. Pizarnik was born in Argentina to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents in 1936, lived in Buenos Aires and Paris, and committed suicide in 1972 at age 36. Her work is shot through with a kind of miraculously controlled disorder of the individual self. Pizarnik’s poems have no beginnings, no endings — and summon up haunting, mind-fracturing images of dreams, childhood, death, and utter inconsolable loneliness, and they pierce you with their wild pathos and metaphysical intensity. And, as I say, keep you coming back for more. They keep me coming back anyway.
Russell Thornton is the co-translator of a volume of poems out in the fall of 2016 called Poems from the Scythian Wild Field: A Selection of the Poetry of Dmytro Kremin (Ekstasis). His collection The Hundred Lives (2014) was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize, and his Birds, Metals, Stones & Rain (2013) was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award, the Raymond Souster Award, and the BC Book Prize. He lives in North Vancouver, B.C.