Writings on the Other Animals is a bilingual, Spanish-English book of poetry by Manuel Becerra, translated by Kathleen Archer. The design for this book, Writings on the Other Animals, is an adaptation of a limited-edition art book, intended to reproduce the aesthetic sense of both Becerra’s concept of a collection of poetry printed on a continuous sheet of paper, folded accordion style, and a corresponding art book. Consequently, the book is perfect bound at the top in a reversible or tête-bêche style, a structure with two fronts. The poetry is presented from one side in its English translation and from the other side in its Spanish original. The text runs parallel to the spine; the pages are turned by lifting them up. Upon reading halfway through the English side of the book, though, the reader encounters an earthy frog. This image marks the end of the English poetry and signals the reader to turn the book over, where entry to the Spanish version of the poems awaits. At the end of the Spanish poetry, another frog unexpectantly appears, bringing to the reader the sense of a circular journey completed.
Manuel Becerra, a contemporary Mexican poet, has published six books of poetry and won six national poetry awards; his La escritura de los animals distintos won the Enriqueta Ochoa National Poetry Prize. The La escritura collection has been translated into Writings of the Other Animals by Kathleen Archer and is published as a bilingual, Spanish-English edition. Influenced by various poets (Juan Gelman, Edgar Lee Masters, Fernando Pessoa, and Leopoldo María Panero, among others), Writings features a range of poetic forms, from conventional short lines justified to the left, to syntactically fractured lines scattered down pages, to prose-poems. This collection of poems, at times seemingly disparate, are unified by Becerra’s well-considered use of rhythm, repetition of words and images, and recurring themes such as circular time or looping, the notion of looking to the stars for guidance, and superstition.
Notable among Becerra’s themes is the notion of beauty. His “Theory of the Toad” series, inspired by Leopoldo María Panero’s series of toad poems, challenges traditional notions of beauty and value. With these poems, and throughout the whole collection, instead of exalting the beauty of, for example, swans, the ultimate symbol of purity and inspiration in Latin American Modernismo (promulgated by Nicaraguan poet Ruben Darío), Becerra wanted to create poetry that sings a different kind of beauty. Here, he focuses on that of the toad, which symbolizes transgressive beauty. One of the poems in the toad series goes into a more detailed description of the toad, not just of its physical form but from different literary perspectives. Becerra references Borges here (individuals dissolve into archetypes) when he writes that the toad is “the archetypal toad, because the individual, in its own right, is the whole species.” In other words, each individual, human or animal, is the whole species, and as such, there is a dissolution of the Other. All part of the pulsing planet, every creature, human or animal, has a unique beauty.
Several aspects of the form of the book Writings on the Other Animals are unusual. Manuel Becerra’s original, La escritura de los animals distintos, debuts in this publication, a departure from the usual practice of translating previously published literary works. Becerra’s concept for the original work, a series of poems printed on one long sheet of paper, was influenced by Oquendo de Amat’s 5 Meters of Poems and Octavio Paz’s Blanco, which was also printed on one long page and folded into a book. Becerra’s concept was realized in a limited-edition art book (Song Bridge Project, 2021). In that edition the sheets were letterpress printed, English on the front, Spanish on the back, and folded accordion style between two unbound covers. The design for this book, Writings on the Other Animals, is an adaptation of the art book, intended to reproduce the aesthetic sense of both Becerra’s concept of a collection of poems on a continuous sheet of paper folded accordion style, and the art book. Consequently, the book is perfect bound at the top in a reversible or tête-bêche style, a structure with two fronts. The poetry is presented from one side in its English translation and from the other side in its Spanish original. The text runs parallel to the spine; the pages are turned by lifting them up. Upon reading halfway through the English side of the book, though, the reader encounters an earthy frog. This image marks the end of the English poetry and signals the reader to turn the book over, where entry to the Spanish version of the poems awaits. At the end of the Spanish poetry, another frog unexpectantly appears, bringing to the reader the sense of a circular journey completed.
Manuel Becerra (Mexico City, Mexico) is a poet, essayist, and the author of seven books of poetry, including his award-winning Los alumbrados (2009 Enrique González Rojo National Prize for Poetry), Canciones para adolescentes fumando en un claro del bosque (2011 Ramón López Velarde National Prize for Poetry), Instrucciones para matar un caballo, (Conaculta/Fonca, 2013), Fábula y Odisea (2020 Alonso Vidal National Prize for Poetry) and Los trabajos de la Luz no usada (2021 Laura Méndez de Cuenca National Prize for Poetry). He has participated in literature festivals in Cuba, Canada, Japan, and the US. He has worked as a translator, teaches creative writing for several foundations, and has taught for the Secretary of Culture in Mexico. In 2009-2010 he held a poetry fellowship for young writers from the Foundation for Mexican Letters (flm). He has been a poet in residency in the Art Omi Center in New York (2019), the University of Stockton in New Jersey (2020) and the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa (2020). His poetry has been translated to Italian, English, and French.
Kathleen Archer holds an MFA in literary translation from the University of Iowa. Archer translates from French and Spanish. Her translations have appeared in the anthology Casa vacía ~ Empty House, the Alpinist magazine, The Arkansas International, and other journals. Her book length translations of Jacques Zana’s Cycles from French and Manuel Becerra’s Writings on the Other Animals from Spanish are forthcoming. She is presently an associate editor for the91st Meridian Journal and the Managing Editor at the Song Bridge Project.