Close the Curtains

Suns by Enrique Winter, translated by Ellen Jones, David McLoughlin, and Mary Ellen Stitt.
Cardboard House Press, 44p.

A brief plaquette, Suns compiles poetry from different parts of the career of Enrique Winter, one of the most prominent Chilean poets of his generation. Winter is interested in relationships — between people, between objects, between people and objects. The usual proportions between the individual parts are altered, so that ordinary objects are capable of sustaining realities larger than themselves. “In the coffee a cup floats / he tried to see it like they saw it,” Winter writes; he notes “a tricycle wheel holding up the traffic.” Experiences and overheard fragments of phrases read almost like prose. At what point do such constitutive elements transform into a poem? “When does that drawing / begin to be a cat?” The question of the relationship between the ephemeral and the enduring seems to be at the center of Winter’s aesthetic.

“Someone once told me I was a sun,” he writes, perhaps in part poking fun at the notion of the poet as center of the universe, the ultimate source of light and warmth. Winter doesn’t take himself too seriously. The real sun clearly possesses a power beyond that of any human being. “Outside the city it’s the sun that decides / if food will grow, if I’ll / die of hypothermia or sweat. / I would pray to him first and foremost: / Country egg-yolk / a glass spilled into the sea / not by the on-screen heart-throb / but the audience.” The sun above us is the star, but we audience members don’t have to pay attention to it. Perhaps some relationships depend on ignoring the all-important sun. “The bus-stewardess (what a word) says that in order to see the film better we must close the curtains.”
Winter is interested in the relationship between the fragile part and the permanent whole — the activity of making what is fragile permanent, the discovery of the fragility in permanence. “Permanence is revolutionary. Permanence is f r a g i l e.” This paradox exists within desire as well. Old desires and lovers are perpetuated through memory even after they are gone, entering eternity. But a more complicated paradox is also present. Anticipating the moment he won’t want her, knowing the re-encounter will be unsatisfactory, the writer knows he will proceed anyway. It isn’t clear whether Winter is writing from the present, or from memory, or from anticipation of the future. Yet again, the proportions collapse and complicate: “They’re growing small and i can’t distinguish if it’s because / they’re moving away.”

This is a highly visual poetry, a sea that tosses up images, at times surreal. “Below the surface of the seas / are blank spaces / The waves’ crests toss up characters / printed only at high tide.” Moments of darkness are present. In one poem, the speaker says he never learned to jump rope because the cord was used by his grandfather to hang himself. Poetry, for Winter, is ultimately not an activity of cosmic pretensions, but of annotating and recombining the already existing fragments of daily life, trying to understand their ratios and the ways they fit together. A job rather like that of the architect, who “would imagine a building and it was his job simply to make sure it didn’t fall down.”