Poetry: Martín Adán (translated by Katherine Silver and Rick London)

Sea and Shell

A woman and a ball: out of a sudden agreement
the world forms, in its inane rotation.
It begins with the fish, which inhabits the wasteland.

A curve sighs. Nothing swells immediately.
A mathematical point: the sphere,
void, terrestrial, a cloud of breath.

If the chimera doesn’t declare itself
in service and pure verse,
it will wail its words of truth.

The world revolves in an animal rush.
The most humble fish, of all the mud,
mired in the eye, bearing the colure.

A leg, or terror, arises, expands:
the air is the passion of the bather:
light, in recess, flashes and dies out.

A woman and a ball drop from a bristle,
a thin line of ice in which everything concludes,
matter the hand raises into view.

World in the air, simple being and aspect:
algae rising boldly within the descent.
A fish that bites its own tail bleeds mud.

Fabio, this passage and flow and writhing I’m thinking of
is the world: element, eruption: everything, nothing,
in the immense power.

From the rhythm: figures and the first creed,
and happiness, a lesson for the universe as it rolls
into time, pulling along its shell and ancient verse.

translated by Katie Silver and Rick London


Martín Adán was born Rafael de la Fuente y Benavides in Barranco, Lima, Peru, Oct. 27, 1908. After attending the Deutsche Schule in Lima, Adán studied at the National University of San Marcos, Lima, completing his doctoral thesis De lo barroco en el Peru (Concerning the baroque in Peru) in 1938.

Adán suffered a breakdown in the early 1940s. He was admitted to a private clinic where he was intermittently confined throughout his adult life, and where he died, January 29, 1985. He became a member of the Peruvian Academy of the Language during a confinement there.

Adán was awarded the Jose Santos Chocano National Prize for poetry in 1947 and the National Prize for Literature in 1974.

Although personally isolated for much of his life, Adán’s world included a vast resource of world literature, and his isolation and erudition combined to form a startling hermeticism. This visionary poetry is unique and, at times, eccentric, seemingly not part of any local conversation, more reminiscent of Mallarme or Wallace Stevens than any of the main proponents of Modernismo.

Adán explored his art freely, with little regard for the reader. Indeed, his shifts and juxtapositions, grammatical dislocations and invented words, create a tension that can cause the intelligibility of the text to tremble, even as he weaves it into lovely song.

– Rick London


Katherine Silver has translated the works of many Spanish and Latin American authors, including Antonio Skármeta, José Emilio Pacheco, Elena Poniatowska, Martín Adán (NEA award), Pedro Lemebel, and Jorge Franco. For her translation of Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Senselessness, she received the 2008 NCBA Translation Award. Silver’s translation of The Cardboard House, originally published by Greywolf Press in 1990, will be reissued by New Directions in the summer of 2012. She lives in Berkeley.

Rick London’s publications include Dreaming Close By (O Books, 1986); Abjections: A Suite (O Books, 1988); and The Materialist (Doorjamb Press, 2008). He is co-translator (with Omnia Amin) of works in Arabic by Mahmoud Darwish, Nawal El Saadawi and Ibrahim Nasrallah. He lives in San Francisco.