What Sparks Poetry

Books We’ve Loved

What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature in which we invite poets to explore experiences and ideas that spark new poems.

In Books We’ve Loved, we asked our editorial board members and select guest editors to reflect on a book that has been particularly meaningful to them in the last year, with the intention of creating a list of book recommendations for our valued readers.

Silvina López Medin on Susana Thénon’s Ova Completa

The copy I have of the original Argentine 1987 edition of Susana Thénon’s Ova Completa has a sticker from Blocbuster in the lower righthand corner of its cover. I bought it at the now-defunct video store chain in Buenos Aires, a couple of decades ago. This—the unexpected finding of a poetry book in a popular video store, the sticker with a word in a language other than the Spanish of the book, the irony of poetry being labeled a blockbuster, the gap left by a letter torn from the sticker and how that gap transforms the word—condenses some of the aspects of Ova Completa that I love: dislocation, play, layering, mixing, tearing: of times, spaces, structures, genres, languages. When referring to Ova Completa, Thénon spoke of “encompassing it all,” saying “me on earth; me with the others; me ignorant, rude, all mixed up in Latin, Greek, shit, noodles, culture, and barbarism.”

When I picked Ova Completa from the shelves of that video store, I didn’t imagine that more than twenty years later it would be published in a superb translation by Rebekah Smith (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021), and that I would have the privilege of being one of the edition’s editors, along with my colleague Daniel Owen. I’m thinking now about this book in relation to the title of this series: “Books We’ve Loved.” Why do I love this book. Why else. The book itself begins with the word “Why” and goes on to be a sustained questioning of all it takes up. In her translator’s note, Smith observes that Ova Completa “performs a two-pronged assault with both form and content: against literary canons and established poetic, linguistic, and semantic forms; and against patriarchal and colonial methods of control.” In a review she wrote at the time of the book’s release in the eighties, only three years after the end of the last Argentine dictatorship, poet and critic Delfina Muschietti noted that “in every explosion, in every destruction (genres, conventions, styles, bodies ripped apart), this text speaks to us of marginalities.” This book questions systems of faith and is also, among many other things, something of a search for ways “to believe” (a verb repeated almost 30 times in the poem “Non-stop” even as it circles around the seemingly impossible challenge of believing). There must be way out, an exit, Thénon seems to be telling us, and that’s why she keeps asking, questioning, putting one word in front of the other traversing the void in between, building out of words something that goes beyond words, a space with no hierarchies of language, of register, of form.

Why else. Perhaps the thing is that “the thing itself/ doesn’t peel off so easily” as Thénon says in her poem “The Dissection.” We could think of this book the way Thénon speaks of the “thing” in this poem, as resisting dissection, classification: “this thing in another order of things / resists with almost all of its buttons / being almost uncovered /analyzed pulverized eviscerated / up to its final internal reasons.” The poem pushes, and enacts the pushing, toward understanding, even if only to point to the impossibility of any thing being fully grasped, moving in the “almost” zone of blurred limits, a gesture that can be traced throughout the book.

Even though they were published over thirty years ago, the “caustic, restless” poems in Ova Completa seem ahead of their time, as Mónica de la Torre puts it, “delighting in their own performativity, they’ll make you want to catch up with them.”

Writing Prompt

A review of Ova Completa states that it is, “something of a search for ways ‘to believe,’ even as it circles around the seemingly impossible challenge of believing.” Write a poem that in on its own search to believe in something you’ve lost faith in.

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Silvina López Medin

Silvina López Medin

Silvina López Medin was born in Buenos Aires and lives in New York. Her books of poetry include La noche de los bueyes (Loewe Foundation International Young Poetry Prize), 62 brazadas (City of Buenos Aires Poetry Prize), That Salt on the Tongue to Say Mangrove (tr. Jasmine V. Bailey, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2021), and the chapbook Excursion, which was selected by Mary Jo Bang as the winner of the Oversound Chapbook Prize. Her hybrid poetry book Poem That Never Ends (2021) was a winner of the Essay Press-University of Washington Bothell Contest. She was a finalist for the 2021 Loraine Williams Poetry Prize judged by Arthur Sze. Her play Exactamente bajo el sol (staged at Teatro del Pueblo in Buenos Aires) was granted the Plays Third Prize by the Argentine Institute of Theatre. She co-translated Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet and Robert Hass’s Home Movies into Spanish. Her writing has appeared in Ploughshares, Hyperallergic, Brooklyn Rail, Harriet Books/Poetry Foundation, and MoMA/post, among others. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU and is an editor at Ugly Duckling Presse. www.silvinalopezmedin.com