BOOK REVIEW: A Personal Anthology by Jorge Luis Borges

A Personal AnthologyA Personal Anthology by Jorge Luis Borges
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is a collection of poetry, short fiction, essays, and other short writings (that fit into two or more of the previously mentioned categories) – all chosen by Borges as the works he wanted his literary legacy to be based upon. For those unacquainted, Borges was a brilliant Argentine author whose writings were philosophical, mystical, erudite, and brief. He was the perfect writer for those of us who love ideas and contemplation of the world, but who also suffer deficits of attention. He wrote in bitesize pieces, but those bites couldn’t have been more intensely flavored with ideas and evocative and provocative commentary. His subject matter includes lofty topics such as the lives of Homer, Shakespeare, and Buddha, but also crude, visceral experiences such as a knife fight.

Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of Borges’ work, and couldn’t resist reading his choices for his personal best – even having recently read many of the pieces – particularly the better-known ones. It’s worth noting that Borges’ choices include a great many of the works that others have called his best work, e.g. “The Aleph,” “Borges and I,” “Biography of Tadeo Isidoro Cruz (1829 – 1874,)” “The Zahir,” “The Maker,” “Averröes’ Search,” “The Golem,” “Circular Ruins,” etc. The biggest surprise of the collection was that it included much more poetry than I expected. The works I’ve read previously contained minimal poetry, but I’d say this collection is about half poems.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s thought-provoking and magnificently written / translated. I would normally say that I’m not qualified to comment on the skill of translation other than to say the book read well, but the two translators wrote an epilogue that I think showed they could channel the mystery and creativity of Jorge Luis Borges.


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Thin Cities [Free Verse]

There are cities where
the veneer of normality 
is so thin

that it feels as though
one could fall through
at any time,
plummeting
into the true city.

Varanasi,
New Orleans,
Tokyo after midnight, 
parts of Prague & Bangkok

I can't say what's beneath
the veneer,
but, oh, does part of me
 want to know!

These are places 
better visited than lived in,
for their magic cannot 
survive extended proximity.

The Forest [Free Verse]

A sprout sprouts from the dirt.

Above, dead leaves keep 
the tender leaf cool & moist.

Below, worms churn the soil --
churn and aerate. 

Fungi decompose the lowest leaf layer,
turning it into nutrients for the sprout.

I'm tapped into all that magic
from afar:

-creation & destruction,
feeding into each other

-energy becoming life,
life becoming matter,
matter that - 
in turn - 
becomes energy.

If there's a forest,
I am the forest.
I'm life and energy
&
 death and decomposition...

all in due time.