Review #70: ‘Guantanamo’ by Frank Smith (translated by Vanessa Place)

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  • COLDFRONT RATING: four
  • PUBLISHED BY: Les Figues Press, 2014
  • REVIEW BY: Timothy Liu

frank smith guantanamoIn a footnote to Mark Sanders’ intro to this book by Frank Smith, we learn that the transcripts collectively known as the Reprocessed Combatant Status Review Tribunal and Administrative Review Board Documents are publicly available at the U.S. Department of Defense website; that it would take a French journalist/poet to turn these docs of no “original language” (the reports are in English but the “interviews” with High Value Detainees were conducted using many languages and translators) into a French-language collage only to be translated back into English by Vanessa Place and subsequently published in a bilingual en-face translation by Les Figues Press is the place to begin in this multilingual game of telephone made possible by the Freedom of Information Act. VP’s task of translating FS’s use of the untranslatable-into-English pronoun “on” becomes a repeated moral challenge: “It is said at the time he was captured, the interrogated had a Casio watch, model F-91 W, used by Al Qaeda to make explosives. / The interrogated says that this evidence is surprising. That millions of people around the world wear this kind of Casio watch. That if it is a crime to own one, why not condemn the stores that sell them and the people who buy them? That a watch, that’s not a logical or likely piece of evidence.” Or consider this excerpt translated from verse: “We say a doctor comes through / each morning / but is satisfied to provide a single pill, / always the same. / We say we do not speak English / but we talk about ti every day to the doctor, / that we show him where it hurts, / and that we suffer from urinary problems. / The doctor seems to think we are joking / and he laughs. / We apologize, / but one of our testicles was damaged / when we were beaten. / We say that what would be good, / would be that by doing a full X-ray, / we would know exactly what’s wrong. / We say that since we arrived / in Cuba / we have suffered terribly. / That the other day, soldiers confiscated / our pen. / Yet we had permission to have / this pen / in the room.” As citizens of the world, we all “know” about Guantanamo, or do we?

Disclosures: I’ll be teaching this book in my graduate Contemporary Poetry Seminar in the Fall, using it as springboard for the start of many necessary conversations.

Favorites: The dizzying sum is greater than the at times mind-numbing parts.

Read more about Guantanamo here.