Special Guest Judge, Michael Bazzett
I was immediately taken and transported by these poems, by the pungent images, by the “weathered skull of a crocodile, the hollows of its / Eyes like a nest of fireflies.” The crocodile is refracted here, as both vision and reality, through the eyes of the vagrant, the monk, the city dweller. Villasis evokes these personas in voices that are utterly distinct, each with its own cadences and momentum, yet they are united in their contemplation of what lives in the rustling night, of the darkness that resides both without and within.
In translator Scott Chua’s reading, the power of Enrique Villasis’s work arises from “the restraint with which he conveys a very tropical kind of restlessness: a windless, humid kind of disquiet,” and Chua’s translation employs a steady music and propulsive enjambment to capture this unsettling vitality. These poems sing with clarity even as they leave me hungry for more; this is indeed work to make a reader “believe in life again.”
Michael Bazzett is a poet, teacher, and translator. His verse translation of the Mayan creation epic, The Popol Vuh (Milkweed Editions, 2018), was named “one of 2018’s ten best books of poetry” by The New York Times and was recently long-listed for the National Translation Award.
It is the first English rendering of the myth in verse. The recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Bazzett’s poems have appeared in The Sun, Tin House, Ploughshares, The American Poetry Review, The Threepenny Review, and Image. He’s the author of three collections of poetry, including You Must Remember This (winner of the Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry), Our Lands Are Not So Different, and The Interrogation.
He lives in Minneapolis.