Severo Sarduy
Translated from the Spanish by David Francis

if you make them spin                                                orange            LEMON            cherrysome over others                                                LEMON          cherry               LEMONthe invisible pieces                                                cherry            LEMON             LEMONif they coincide                                                cherry            LEMON             LEMONthe segments                                                LEMON          orange              LEMONthat a framework fixes                                                orange            LEMON            LEMONif once they stop                                                LEMON          cherry               LEMONsome over the others                                                orange            LEMON            LEMONthe invisible pieces                                                orange            LEMON            LEMONtheir lines carry on                                                                                                                after a dry thud                                                LEMON           LEMON            LEMON                                                                                                                cascade of coins                                                                            You will have built a body


si las haces girar                                                naranja        LIMÓN         cerezaunas sobre otras                                                LIMÓN        cereza            LIMÓNlas piezas invisibles                                                cereza          LIMÓN          LIMÓNsi coinciden                                                cereza          LIMÓN          LIMÓNlos segmentos                                                LIMÓN        naranja          LIMÓNque un adamiaje fija                                                naranja        LIMÓN          LIMÓNsi al detenerse                                                LIMÓN         cereza            LIMÓNunas sobre otras                                                naranja        LIMÓN           LIMÓNlas invisibles piezas                                                naranja        LIMÓN           LIMÓNse continúan sus líneas                                                                                                            despúes de un golpe seco                                                LIMÓN         LIMÓN            LIMÓN                                                                                                            cascada de monedas                                                Habrás armado un cuerpo

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Novelist, poet, painter, and literary theorist, Severo Sarduy was one of the most groundbreaking Latin American writers of the twentieth century. Born in Camagüey, Cuba in 1937, he moved to Havana in 1956 to study medicine, but soon gave up his scientific pursuits for the arts.

Often homoerotic and imbued with allusions to art, the absent or decaying body, the history of science, jazz and folk music, and the author’s Spanish, African, and Chinese heritage, Sarduy’s poetry has rarely appeared in translation, but his literary oeuvre was vast. Gabriel García Márquez once called Sarduy the best writer in the Spanish language. Richard Howard hailed Sarduy as a writer who “has everything…so brilliant, so funny, and so bewilderingly apt in his borrowings, his derivations, as well as in his inventions.”

Sarduy’s neo-baroque style influenced such Spanish-language novelists as Mario Vargas Llosa, Juan Goytisolo, and Carlos Fuentes. From 1960 until the time of his death, the poet lived in Paris where he worked with Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva, and many others, on the literary magazine Tel Quel. Sarduy died due to complications with AIDS in 1993.

David Francis serves as Dean of Grace Hopper College at Yale University, where he also teaches in the Program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration. He has received a Fulbright fellowship to translate into English poems by the Colombian writer José Asunción Silva. His translations or poems have appeared in InventoryThe FSG Book of 20th-Century Latin American Poetry, Guernica, ExchangesThe Brooklyn RailThe Chronicle of Higher Education, and elsewhere. He has an M.F.A. in poetry writing from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures from Harvard University. He taught previously at Tufts, Harvard, and the University of Virginia.

Cuban writer Severo Sarduy was one of the most groundbreaking Latin American literary figures of the 20th century. His poems are acrobatic in content and form, innovative, and also part of a deep lineage and web of connection. David Francis translated the poems into English. He writes, Footwork is "a body of work that sings on its own, that celebrates the carnal life, the sensual experiences of dance, of painting, food, music, and sexual pleasure, but that also recognizes—in these pleasures—the imminence of one's passing."

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