Translated by Gregorio Kohon with Toni Griffiths.
Introduction by Gwen MacKeith.
Bearing the unmistakable imprint of its time, as a voice in a chorus of writers from the counterculture of 1960s Argentina, Gregorio Kohon’s celebrated 1968 narrative poem is a masterful tale of a life lived on the edge, a transient life of odd jobs, moving around, impermanent homes, shared rooms, crashed parties, whole nights spent in bars and cafés, sleeping rough, surviving from one moment to the next.
Through the protagonist’s anchorless lifestyle we encounter weird, haunting and ubiquitous characters who exist on the margins of society. Inferior social and economic positions are given special focus and special status. We bear witness to the people of an underworld – mad-men, prostitutes, spiritualists, the suicidal – and we hear what they have to say. There is flight and escape but the escape is as much psychical as physical, through altered states of mind brought on by the heady mix of sex, alcohol, marijuana – and by the power of music.
Kohon and Toni Griffiths’ stunning translation has the power to transport you to the 1960s, to Buenos Aires, to those first overpowering experiences of sexual love.
Odetta in Babylon and the Canada Express invites you to step onto the train, and to let go. Lose yourself in the music and enjoy the journey, wherever it takes you.
"It’s terriﬁc - such energy, so many diﬀerent moods and stories, people, happenings; a mysterious involvement with the deepest things - life, death, love, failure, aspiration, youth, sensuality, knowledge…. Its length gives it a mythic quality. I loved the pace and rhythm, which made it almost chantable. It has such an un-English freedom to it…" -
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Average rating from 3 members
Now I am not an academic. I have not been steeped in literature with a full appreciation of the arts. Some might think serving this poetic work up to me was like playing a classical music score to a rubber plant. But I now butt in. Poetry such as Gregorio Kohon’s classic works have a place, a time in history and reflect that era like a captured photograph. “Odetta” comes out of an artistic movement in Argentina, was written in a foreign language to me and represents a culture, with references unknown to me. For me to even begin to come under its influence I require an introduction and a thorough sympathetic translation. Thankfully they are here with the original author’s input so without ‘poetic licence’ perhaps. In truth I might need to learn the author’s native tongue to engage fully with his work but I am indebted to the efforts undertaken to bring this work into English where it can touch my heart and psyche. In honesty the piece is beyond my comprehension but I was moved by its phrases, rhythm and language. I imagine I would need to return to this short poetic work to appreciate it more deeply and grasp new insight and take on board deeper emotional feelings. Yet I read it. I have survived without corruption nor have I acquired delusions of grandeur. I have enjoyed it and some of the words have resonated with me and spoken directly to my very core. This is what exposure to the arts or the classics can do. Listening to Handel’s Messiah, regarding a Van Gogh or reflecting on a Wordsworth poem. These glimpses and snippets take us out of ourselves and the mundane. That is why I wanted the chance to read this poetic masterpiece. Not to better myself or think I’m clever but to embrace something new. To delight in the craft and talent of humankind. I would urge you if you get a chance to dabble, dwell and linger on such an opportunity. Odetta in Babylon …..is a fine work to dip a toe.
Thank you, NetGalley for a chance to read and review this! Something like Odetta in Babylon, written in a different language in Argentina was never something that should have been accessible to me; but somehow, despite this being a translation I found it really very lovely.