Produced at Illinois State University, Normal, with the support of UC San Diego and the College of Fine Arts at University of Texas, Austin, Mandorla is a truly unique and exceptional publication that deserves a spot on the shelves of our country’s finest libraries and literary collections. It is a beautifully edited and produced volume of poetry and “poetic essays” in Spanish and English, the work of editors who clearly understand quality when it comes both to content and product (a fantastic cover; fine paper; professional, polished appearance; smart, appropriate and refined design).
This issue includes a section of marvelous photos juxtaposing the ancient and modern by cover photographer Rubén Ortiz Torres, a gifted artist who works in many genres. Ortiz Torres was born in Mexico City and teaches at UC San Diego. His lengthy personal statement, “The Past is Not What It Used to Be,” translated from the Spanish by Roberto Tejada, appears here, as well. Mandorla features work in Spanish, work in English translated from the Spanish, and original work in English from an eclectic and global mix of writers. It could be said, I suppose, that the photography is, in fact, the only work that transcends language barriers or obstacles for those who do not read Spanish or do not read English. Frankly, if you don’t read Spanish, it would be worth learning the language to read Mandorla.
There is some truly remarkable work here (in both languages). It’s hard to single out poets and poems when there is almost nothing I would not recommend in these 400 plus pages, so let me say, simply, that the issue includes work by writers both living and dead from the Americas, including a number of young, but highly accomplished talents, such as Urayoán Noel of New York and Roman Luján of Mexico.
Much of the work strikes an unusually successful balance between the highly original and novel and the more traditionally poetic, by which I mean a reverence for the heft of words and poetic tropes, an appreciation for poetry as a way to expand meaning and reshape thinking – the work is exceptionally intelligent, socially alert and smart, linguistically satisfying and often surprising. The poetic habits represented in this work are clever, deft, and dynamic. There are no two pieces in the issue that could be confused with or stand in for each other, no simple occasional poems, no sentimental family narratives, no quick and unexamined glimpses of a setting in nature. Yet this is work that expects (and deserves) to be understood, that strives to illuminate, not to confuse or divert our attention from what matters or should matter to us.
The issue closes with 22 poems from two books by Angel Escobar (1957-1997) of Cuba, translated by Kristin Dykstra. His poem, “Urban Settler,” begins: “I came visiting the world / to create difficulties.” Mandorla is one enormous offering of utterly glorious difficulties.