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This review is taken from PN Review 264, Volume 48 Number 4, March - April 2022.

Cover of We Were Not There translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel
Brian MortonNorth and South
Jordi Doce, We Were Not There translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel (Shearsman) £12.95
At the end of ‘Aquí, ahora, en ningún sitio’ (‘Here, Now, Nowhere’), there is a brief, almost subliminal, possibly imaginary reference to John the Baptist: ‘las mujeres se cubrían los hombros / y pedían a sus acompañantes / la cabeza del tiempo’, given by Lawrence Schimel as ‘the women covered their shoulder / and asked their companions / for the head of time’. If the prophet is being referenced here it squares with an air of suspended waiting, often in desert places, in Jordi Doce’s verse. Forerunning and aftercoming are the essence of many of these poems. They deal with puzzled, enigmatic journeys to the north, to cities that the speaker clearly does not know and to which he has no stated connection, though there is a woman waiting in ‘that weightless town’ (‘la ciudad ingrávida’) at the start of the same poem. Even she, though, seems to offer nothing explicit.

The pleasure of Doce’s poetry, firmly established for English-speaking readers in Nothing Is Lost: Selected Poems, also translated by Schimel, lies in the way everything is bathed in an ‘incomplete light’ (‘Una luz incompleta’), as another poem ‘Here’ (‘Aquí’) has it. We are prepared for stories but they are not delivered. Our lives seem to be filled with waiting. Writing in PN Review about the selected poems, Ian Seed spoke eloquently about Doce’s ‘agnostic faith’, which he relates to Paul Tillich’s Ultimate Concern. While both phrases sum up the present collection very neatly, too, there’s also a strong connection to Tillich’s later attempts in the posthumously published My Search For Absolutes to redefine ...

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