ROOM IN ROMEby Jorge Eduardo Eielson
Translated from the Spanish by David Shook
Foreword by Mario Vargas Llosa
Afterword by Martha Canfield
August 1, 2019
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“As a person, Eielson always kept something secret, an intimacy he preserved even beyond the reach of his closest friends. This mysterious depth intrigued and fascinated those who knew him and is a salient feature of his writing, sculpture, and paintings. Perhaps this depth will help ensure that his visual and poetic works endure. Though inseparable from the period in which it was created, Eielson’s work deserves to live on and bear witness for future generations to the myths, dreams, miseries, and achievements pertaining to the world in which Eielson both suffered and enjoyed his life.”—Mario Vargas Llosa
“David Shook’s translation of Jorge Eduardo Eielson’s Room in Rome rescues an essential voice of contemporary Peruvian poetry. A poet of the world who rebels against national as well as aesthetic borders, Eielson rejects simplistic discords between social and artistic commitment. His poetry heralds the power of words: gathering them, sculpting them, changing them to gunshots.”—Katherine Hedeen
"Alongside his other Roman collection, Noche oscura del cuerpo, critics consider Room in Rome to be Eielson’s masterpiece. The collection displays its author’s rare ability to 'knot' together past and present, tradition and novelty, the anguish of modern life and the resplendence of another, serene existence within reach."—Martha Canfield
“There was a time when poetry belonged to the world, both the known world and the one beyond knowing. Eielson taught me everything.”—Mario Bellatín
“Without punctuation or capital letters, the vertical and broken verses of Room in Rome are 'arrows / of rare power / aphrodisiacal and purgative.' Each furious repetition is a nail in our heads. The city 'where the sun urinates' is snatched from its gods and offered to us in the intimate, elusive tone of an exceptional poet and brought to life in English in this long-awaited translation.”—Enrique Winter
Jorge Eduardo Eielson was born in Lima on April 13, 1924 to a Peruvian mother and a Swedish father. After attending several different schools, at the end of his secondary studies he met the writer and anthropologist José María Arguedas, who introduced him to Lima’s artistic and literary circles, and to a wealth of knowledge about the ancient civilizations of Peru. Three years later, at the age of 21, he won the National Poetry Award. He went on to receive the National Drama Award in 1948, the same year that the prestigious Lima Gallery hosted a well received exhibition of his visual art. In 1951, he traveled to Italy for a summer vacation and decided to settle in Rome, where he met his life partner, Michele Mulas. During this period he wrote his masterpiece Habitación en Roma (Room in Rome), and the two novels El cuerpo de Giulia-No (The body of Giulia-No) and Primera muerte de María (The first death of María). In the late 1950s, he began to texturize his works on canvas with organic materials such as earth, sand, and clay. This eventually led to his depiction of human forms using textiles, and in 1963 he began work on what would become his first quipu, reinventing this ancient Andean form with fabrics in brilliant colors, knotted and tied on canvas. Eielson’s quipus were exhibited to wide acclaim at the 1964 Venice Biennale. In the mid-1970s, he returned to Peru to study pre-Columbian art more deeply; during this period, the Instituto Nacional de Cultura (National Institute of Culture) published the bulk of his poetry under the title Poesía escrita (Written poetry). Later in that decade, he moved to Milan, where he would spend the rest of his life writing, studying Zen, and producing his art, which was exhibited around the world. After the death of his partner in 2002, Eielson’s own health deteriorated significantly, though his life was brightened by the discovery of several relatives previously unknown to him, including his sister Olivia. The poet died on March 8, 2006, and his ashes were laid to rest beside his partner’s in the small cemetery in Bari Sardo.
David Shook is a poet, translator, and editor who has translated over ten books from Spanish and Isthmus Zapotec, including work by Mario Bellatin, Kyn Taniya, and Víctor Terán. His writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Poetry, among many other publications.