That Crazy Lily is Going to Kill Us: On Marosa Di Giorgio, Uruguayan Poet of the Day

by on Mar.21, 2012

Screen Shot from Jack Smith's normal love

Me acuerdo del atardecer y de tu alcoba abierta ya, por donde ya penetreban los vecinos y los ángeles. Y las nubes— de las tardes de noviembre—que giraban por el suelo, que rodaban. Los arbolitos argados de jazmines, de palomas y gotas de agua. Aquel repiqueteo, aquel gorjeo, en al atardecer.

Y la mañana siguiente, con angelillas muertas por todos lados, parecidas a pájaros de papel, a bellísimas cáscaras de huevo.

Te deslumbrador fallecimiento.

[I remember nightfall and your room’s open door, the door through which neighbors and angels came in. And the clouds—november evening clouds, drifting in circles over the land. The little trees burdened with jasmine, with doves and droplets of water. That joyous pealing, endless chirping—every evening the same.

And then the next morning, with its tiny dead angels strewn everywhere like paper birds, or the most exquisite of eggshells.

Your dazzling death. – trans. Jeannine Marie Pitas]

Marosa DiGiorgio’s booklength sequence, Historial de Las Violetas (published in Jeannine Marie Pitas’s English translations as The History of Violets), begins with a dazzling death – or does it? The event of the death is not portrayed in this opening salvo, but is somehow folded up into the dazzling white cloth, the white space that separates the first and second stanza. We don’t see Death’s entrance, but, arriving at that killer last line, we read the entire spray of langauge that has proceeded it as Death’s array, Death’s radical penetration into every crevice, leaf and shell of  the conventionally enclosed spaces of both childhood memory and the childhood garden.  Rather than seclusion, penetration is everywhere, the door is open, the neighbors and angels come and go, the trees are “burdened with jasmine, doves, and droplets of water,” and the tiny dead angels are strewn around. In the Spanish, Death’s lilting ‘l’ sounds are planted everywhere like poison lilies. Death’s implacable, impalpable spectre comes into the space of the poem and turns all intimacy, domesticity and nature to its spectacular ends. It makes a dazzling body for itself through spectacle.

In some ways, Di Giorgio’s speaker, penetrating the scene everywhere with her memory,and thereby constructing it,  is Death’s novitiate, copying and producing Death’s spectacles with the same domestic materials, producing/reproducing Death’s porous and delicate and terrible and dazzling scenes.

I learned of Marosa Di Giorgio through the excellent and diverse selection in Hotel Lautremont: Contemporary Poetry from Uruguay, translated by Pitas, Susan Briante, and Anna Deeny, a selection which makes me greedy for each of Di Giorgio’s 15 books of poetry to come into English. For now, English readers have only History of Violets, but that is no meagre feast. This work of prose poetry looks delicate, but as one sets foot in its damp grass one feels a wire snare tightening around ones ankle, as the gorgeous landscape turns out to be in fact engorged in violence, constructed of many little sites of death:

The gladiolus is a spear, its edge loaded with carnations, a knife of carnations. It jumps through the window, kneels on the table; it’s a vagrant flame, burning up our papers, our dresses. Mother swears that a dead man has risen; she mentions her father and mother and starts to cry.

                The pink gladiolus opened up in our house.

                But scare it, tell it to go.

                That crazy lily is going to kill us.


The prose poem seems the perfect vehicle for this vision of seductive, opening, radiant Death, a Death which weaponizes the innocuous and sends its angels down in larval swarms. The electric, hyperfloral force of the ‘gladiolus’ makes it a spear and a knife, but also a flame, something that can flex and penetrate. Di Giorgio deploys a Catholic mobility of imagery; the bodily tenacity of saints with their incorruptibilty and heavenly odors are here turned as a weapon against the family. Event itself has a frightening and uncertain status in these poems; like the gladiolus, it opens up again and again, not just once, and sometimes not at all in any detectible way, except that it leaves dead angels scattered around like pollen or eggs.  Event itself might be analogous to Death, travelling the same distribution channel for celestial special effects, and similarly smiting down the tiny beings who cannot withstand such Immanence. Death might be the only Event, and every Event Death. It is for this Event that the tableaux/altars/stages/masques of these poems are mounted and dismantled, staged and restaged.

I understand a selected edition of Marosa Di Giorgio’s work is forthcoming from BOA editions in 2013. While I will anticipate and devour it hungrily, I am grateful for Jeannine Marie Pitas’s work translating History of Violets and to Ugly Duckling Presse for publishing it. I am very desirous of these singular volumes each to be translated and published, to work upon me its fatal interventions, its thorned language of flowers.

12 comments for this entry:
  1. Lara Glenum

    Gorgeous, Joyelle. Thanks for this. Larval swarms of angels. Ordering now.

  2. Monica

    Utterly beautiful. Yes, thank you.

  3. Kent Johnson

    This is one of the best, to-the-heart critical takes I’ve read in a long time. Thank you, Joyelle. O Yes, Di Giorgio is a very, very powerful and utterly weird writer. She is now generally considered to be, along with Amanda Berenguer, Uruguay’s most powerful poet of the late 20th century. I hope some of you will follow Joyelle’s suggestion: in Jeannine’s book and in Hotel Lautreamont (as indicated, Pitas, Briante, and Deeny brilliantly translate her there) you will encounter one of the most singular, trans-real, pan-sexual imaginations in all of poetry. I didn’t know about the BOA edition. Is there info, Joyelle, on who is translating? Roberto Echavarren, who co-edited Hotel L. with me was her close friend and remains one of the key students of her work, with a number of essays about her that would be very valuable to translate some day, sooner rather than later. I think I might have mentioned here sometime back that Pedro Almodovar is a big fan of Di Giorgio (indeed, she’s become a cult figure, of sorts, in the Spanish-lit world) and has been talking about a film inspired by her work.

  4. Johannes

    Oh my, I would love to see that movie!

  5. Joyelle McSweeney

    For real. And I hope that if that movie gets made, we can be extras in it. I would like to sip a soda and wear sunglasses in some early scene in Montevidayo before the return to Salto.

    But seriously I really am greedy for more of Di Giorgio.

  6. Jessica Martinez English

    More. More.

  7. Kent Johnson

    Joyelle, the scene in Montevideo would probably be at the vast, legendary, and late-lamented Sorocabana Cafe, right off from Plaza Independencia, where Di Giorgio could be found every late morning, sipping on one of her twenty espressos of the day, puffing one of her forty non-filtered cigarettes (her eccentricities are beloved).

    But it would be very cool to be an extra for a scene in Salto, too, because that is a seriously cool place, like all the provincial cities of Uruguay, which are something like French interior towns, ca. 1930s, and where the southern sun in the evenings wraps everything in this soft, gorgeous gold, no light like it.

  8. Joyelle McSweeney

    Well, just mention it to Almadovar next time you two are hanging out!

  9. Jeannine Pitas

    Joyelle, thank you for this lovely piece on di Giorgio. She really is a magical writer, and I’m thrilled that you enjoyed “The History of Violets.” As for the BOA book, it is being translated by Adam Giannelli. I don’t know him personally, but I’m sure that his translations will be superb.

  10. Jeannine Pitas

    Also, I love Almodovar and can’t wait for this movie…heh…I want to be an extra too!

  11. Florencia

    La hija del Diablo se casa:

    La hija del Diablo se casa!
    No sabíamos si ir o no ir,
    En casa resolvieron no ir.

    Ella paseaba con la trenza brillando como
    un vidrio al sol.
    Vestido celeste,
    Y las pezuñas delicadísimas, cinceladas y de platino,
    con los ojos un poco redondos,
    insondables. Se paraba frente a cada uno,
    como publicitando, invitado,
    O consciente e inconscientemente amenazando.

    La hija del Diablo se casa!
    Cerraron las puertas de mi casa.

    Pasado el mediodía, resolví huir.
    Crucé por arriba de los jardines de freesias y de junquillos,
    Tratando de no trozar ni uno de los ramos amarillos de los que vivíamos.
    Por ocultas veredas, creo que hice dos veces la misma senda.
    Me perdía!
    Y tuve miedo que desde la casa estuviesen espiando mi inútil vuelo.

    ¡Al fin toque las puertas de los hornos!
    Pasaban platos con todas las escenas del amor erótico
    ¡Invitan con la carne!, dijo una voz que me pareció era de una vecina,
    Miré, y sí, era. Estaba embozada.
    También servían niños nonatos, cubiertos con azúcar: ¡Son riquísimos!

    El tam-tam celebratorio, apareció adentro de la tierra, y en un perpetuo crescendo anuló las conversaciones y llego al colmo.

    La hija del diablo de pie, junto a la pared, el pelo igual que el sol, entreabrió el vestido, las piernas, las pezuñas, su himen calló roto (se oyó un leve bramido) y corrió como una margarita entre nosotros, y alguien gritó:
    ¿Y el novio?
    Se va por aquí, es chiquitito.

    Cerré los ojos, creo que cayó un aguacero.
    Oí arriba de los jardines de los ramos amarillos,
    entraba en cada cueva, y salía aterrada.
    Entré en mi casa,
    mamá estaba fija en el mismo lugar, haciendo el mismo encaje.
    Sin levantar los ojos comentó: Pero ¿ Qué haces? ¿Andas por el jardín… con éstos aguaceros?

  12. Lisa Marie Basile

    I’m totally obsessed with this poet and have been writing a collection based on her HOV. I love the critical take on this here. I’m writing up a piece for SOUND Lit Mag on the music of her poetry. So amazinnng.