A Love Supreme by Adalber Salas Hernández

A Love Supreme. Adalber Salas Hernández. Caracas: Ediciones Letra Muerta (Dead Letter Editions), 2018. 112 pages.

Adalber Salas Hernández published A Love Supreme by William Shakespeare with Ediciones Letra Muerta, a Venezuelan press. Was it a translation, or a book by one author, or two? Or, was it directed by words that, depending on their hypothetical authors, change skin? The book breaks with the idea of slavish, pure translation, which still supposes a center, an essential breath in poetry. One poem takes different forms and paths that the imagination and the words themselves draw. In the poem [Sonnet 5] that opens the book, there is first a literal translation:

“Those hours, that
With gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze, where every eye doth dwell
Will play the tyrant to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel.”

It then transitions to new possibilities in which the poem mutates, then degrades:

“Look, time has deep pockets and short hands.
The hours that it has spent in carving the dense flesh
of your face, in order to take from it
the framework of your gaze, all that was done
to then be able to destroy it.”

Later in prose form, the poem loses its asexual context. Rather than talking directly about time, it shows it:

“The game is playing house: we cook using my bike helmet as a pot, we hide under the bed, pretending it is a roof. Thus, curled up, we begin to kiss. Simpletons. We undress. I remember that your skin was cold. I remember it very precisely.”

Then, it returns to the original content, changing its countenance.

“The hours with their gentle hands have worked
The frame of your gaze, which every eye
Wants to inhabit. But those same hours
Will tyrannize their work and unravel what
Took so long to weave.”

It is a process that is more or less repeated in that order throughout the book. It begins with the original poem in English, then goes on to the traditional translated version and its modifications. There is no symmetry. This order is not always followed. Each poem dictates its disposal. A subterranean correspondence is created between the mutating poems and the moments of prose. Some of the poems blow on others and contaminate them. The book becomes a trail of echoes that create cavities of multiple meanings and references. They mix, matching colors. There are marked out poems with annotations on the margin that question or that generate other verses. In one instance, there is a sort of script that describes a masturbation scene, that alternates between the actions and the character’s imaginings. The translations are not always from English to Spanish. There are poems that proceed from English to English, or to Portuguese. In the case of the poem which mentions stars, a constellation is later formed with words sprinkled over the page.


There is a poetics of translation and poetry. In an essay titled “Words without Owner” regarding translation, Adalber, among various other definitions, writes, “a translator is someone who loves for languages to be unknown to him.” The translator, who according to Adalber is an artificial respirator, a foreign member, synthetic, and almost ghostly, faces in A Love Supreme the possibility of transforming the implicit creative act of all translation to the explicit.


“Words Without Owner” opens with an epigraph by Dryden in English, where he affirms that to be a true translator, one needs to truly be a poet. From the start, there is a comparison between poetry and translation as if they were interchangeable. Rodolfo Wilcock defines Argentina as an immense translation. Andrés Neuman extends this idea to all countries, including imaginary ones. Thus, it is not just the poems that are translated, but also the way that each country and each era has existed on Earth. It would be right not only to translate the words, but to also interchange the contexts in order to keep the poetry of the past alive, which although it fixes a present, it leaves us out of its reality. Thinking that we can access a reality by means of a poem, or any other text, is an error, one that aligns with Foucault’s distinction between things and words. Words are not things, nor fixed truths, but instead obey a transformation where “a deep historicity penetrates the heart of things, isolates them, and defines them in their own coherence, and imposes those forms of implicit order in the continuity of time.” Why don’t we take advantage of this? If words are not slaves to their references, then we can use them as a deformed, used mirror belonging to different people and covered with fingerprints from hands made of playdough and rust. In Investigaciones [Inquiries], Wittgenstein refers to wordplay as a series of tools (the words) that are kept in a box, and which have a function whose sense depends on their specific function in relation to the totality. But, what happens if the order of the tools is disrupted in order to make them go into another box on the other side of the world? There, the game is played with different rules; all the more so when there is not only a spatial difference between Shakespeare and Adalber, but also a temporal and dialectical one. Adalber fits Shakespeare’s words into the disfigured mold of our contemporaneity. Adalber, using one of Shakespeare’s love poems about a woman and all the shadows she wears on her body, creates a picture of the mass graves and shadows of the dead, covering themselves “under the sound of bullets.” For the purists, it could be slander. He is a Venezuelan blond who has damaged and corrupted the great sacred cow. How dare he?


In poem 24, one first sees the translation:

“Mine eyes hath played
The painter and hath steeled
Thy beauty’s form
In the table of my heart
My body is the frame wherein ‘tis held”

And this time without modifying the poem, but simply marking out, other poems take form like a collage that, depending on how it is spun, refracts light in different directions:

“Mine eye - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - hath steeled
------------------ thy beauty in - - - - - - my heart:
in my body - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ‘tis held.”

“My eye - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
-------------------------------------------------- my heart:
my body is-----------------------------
------------------------------------ it is best painter’s art------------“

“--------- eye - - - - - - - - - - - - - - steeled
------ body is - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
------ perspective - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -“

“My eye - - - - - - - - - - - painter - - hath steeled
------------------------------------ in the table - - - - - - - - -
------ thank you - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -“

“----------------------------------- painter-----------------------
A perspective it is the best art- - - - - - - - - - - - - -“

And is followed by its deformed prose:

[We would always see each other in public places: parks, swimming pools, movie theaters, parking lots. Bathrooms. We would schedule the place and time, and we would hide in some obscure, poorly visible corner. We would touch each other without removing our clothing, in a hurry, putting our hands in the other’s pants. I remember their fingers separating, semen between them. It was the first time that I saw it on someone else’s hand.]


I looked for readings similar Adalber’s project because I was excited and perplexed. I wanted to find the imaginary precedents that all readers create. I found other experiments such as Reescrituras [Rewritings] by Leónidas Lamborghini, which has personal adaptations of Quevedo, Góngora, and Keats, among others. I was also interested in authors who would change languages and their motives: Rowena Hill, Rodolfo Wilcock, Alfredo Gangotena, Wiltold Gombrowicz, Nabokov, Cioran. What stands out about these cases, in relation to A Love Supreme, is the way in which they assume amazement at their own language, a decentralization of identity. I believe that this is one of the directions whereby poetry can be renewed; from an imbalance no longer of the senses alone, but also from the language that, in the end, is a vehicle and a habitat for human beings. In Andrés Neuman’s Fractura [Fracture], a novel with poetics similar to those in A Love Supreme, the main character, Mr. Watanabe, enters into love affairs in different languages and dialects as he encounters a French, an American, and an Argentinian woman. The Argentinian is a translator, who at a given moment says that translating is “finding a part of your identity under the pretext of a stranger.”


The fertile moments in poetry are many times related to imbalance, when one breaks with the meter, when one disrupts the syntax of the European movements with the irruption of the poem in prose, with the Latin American vanguard of the twentieth century.

What remains for the twenty-first century? Perhaps hybridity, the crossbreeding of writing formats and the total rupture between time and space in order to leave behind their Newtonian conception and create within relativity and within uncertainty. Thus, fracturing borders and languages. The tradition to which all authors belong is not the country, nor the continent, nor their language, but the cosmos. To paraphrase Borges, I celebrate Adalber Salas Hernández’s achievement in A Love Supreme.

Cristian Garzón
The National Pedagogical University, Colombia


Other Reviews in this Issue

Tiempos recios
A Love Supreme
La lengua rota
Retrato de Mäda Primavesi


Mario Bellatin
Number 13

In our thirteenth issue, we feature two innovative, hard-to-define figures of Latin American letters: from the present, Mexican writer Mario Bellatin, and from the past, Chilean writer Juan Emar. Together with these authors, we highlight Latin American theatre for the first time with a script by Ramón Griffero, Nahuatl-language poetry by Martín Tonalmeyotl, plus interviews, book reviews, exclusive previews, and more from writers including Rosario Castellanos, César Aira, and Salgado Maranhão.

Table of Contents

Editor's Note

Featured Author: Mario Bellatin

Dossier: Juan Emar



Brazilian Literature

Indigenous Literature



Translation Previews and New Releases

On Translation: Seeking Publisher

Nota Bene