Black and orangey-brown cover with orange and yellow triangle patternkitchen boombox, Jacob Anthony Ramirez

ignition press, 2022       £6.00/$8.00

Acts of translation

These poems are rich with family, relationships, food and music. An American Latino poet, Jacob Anthony Ramirez sets out his stall in the first poem, ‘Z’:

                                                                                   You ex-
plain the study of third generations. The abandonment of culture.
A language plucked and boiled. Your diaphragm, an empty cage,
once flew with phonemes — a rainforest, orchestral and lush.

In an act of unintentional translation, I pronounced the title of this poem as ‘zed’ rather than ‘zee’, but ‘zee’ immediately brings out the musicality of internal rhymes on ‘me’, ‘city’ and ‘fluency’ in the poem’s opening lines. This poem also contains a translated phrase:

                                                                      She flits her lips and says,
Debes hablar el Español más hermoso meaning You must speak the most
beautiful Spanish.

The Contents page flags up other elements of translation — ‘La Bruja Blanca / The White Witch’, and ‘The Black Dove / Cucurrucucú Paloma’. The collection also explores translation in the sense of revision or change, as in the title, ‘If You Find Me Dead In CALIFORNIA’.

A glance at the Contents also indicates the emotional territory Ramirez will cover — death (‘Do Not Resuscitate’, ‘Frida’s Body’, ‘Miles Davis Dies in 35 Days’) and familial love (‘A Sensitive Son’ and ‘Borders of Love’). In particular, the collection explores the complex relationship between the poet and his father. In ‘Things Will Never Be the Same Again’ he says, ‘my face is my father’s mirror’ and ‘I’ve been a better son since he / died’.

In ‘Do Not Resuscitate’, the poet writes ‘I wanted more than to lug the blood of my father’s family’ and, in ‘A Sensitive Son’,

I’m man
               enough to water
               the seed of my heart

Navigating familial relationships involves subtle acts of ‘translation’ in the sense the word implies ‘change’. These poems track a journey of self-development. In the acknowledgements, Ramirez says, ‘I am grateful to my family and friends for making me a more attentive and empathetic man.’ I’d like to think that I too am a little more attentive and empathetic for having read these jazzy, bluesy poems. 

Peter Wallis