From Unknown To Unknown


From Unknown To Unknown

By Manuel Rivas

Small Stations Press – £10.95

I’ve read three books by the Galician author Manuel Rivas (The Carpenter’s Pencil, Books Burn Badly and All Is Silence), all of which have been exceedingly imaginative and astonishingly well written. So it was perhaps inevitable, and only a matter of time, before I would endeavour to investigate his poetry.

From Unknown To Unknown is Rivas’ first collection of poetry I have fully embraced, and just like his novels, threre’s a certain literary depth of suave sparkle and consistency amid the writing, that never fails to shine through. So much so, that his jingle-jangle, yet overtly anchored word-play – of the most brazen persuasion might I add – bequeaths the world of cyclical cynicism with oodles to think about.

It’s as John Burnside writes in the book’s Introduction: ”[…] discovery is central to Manuel Rivas’ poems. Again and again, as we listen to the account he gives of the world, we come across the beautiful surprise, the breathtaking renewal of some process or way of seeing we normally take for granted […].”

This is very much in evidence throughout these 121 pages, even with an invariable flipside to ”the beautiful surprise.”

Admittedly just as vibrant, colourful and invigorating; some of these poems reflect an everyday take on life, that transmit the sort of recognition we are quite often in denial of. This is very much in evidence throughout the following:


He hated waking up.
It sometimes took him hours to come to terms with the world.
So he preferred having breakfast in that roadside café
where nobody was helpful.
The customers were cornered creatures
with hangovers in their eyes
and the proprietor poured coffee over the cup without apologising.
But then he weighed more than eighteen stone.
The premises were sold.
The new owner asked questions with a smile.
And he decided to stop going.

The poem in it’s entirety, could just as easily have crept straight out of an early Tom Waits song of the mid seventies – which might partially explain why it jumped out at me. It’s a glorious depiction of life, that is not only true (”with hangovers in their eyes”) but deeply entrenched in fraught experience (”the proprietor poured coffee over the cup without apologising”). That the proprietor ”weighed more than eighteen stone” almost made me smile; although the all confessional line(s) that invarialby knocks the reader for six has to be the final two:

The new owner asked questions with a smile.
And he decided to stop going.

I’d very much hasten to add that the full-stop between them, accentuates the punch line with all the philosophical finesse of a comedian who knows he has the audience in the grip of his every nuance.

Likewise, many of these highly erudite, although on occasion, esoteric poems.

For instance, there are one liners that simply speak volumes: ”I burnt my lips on your skin of ice” (‘Mother Earth’), ”slipping on porcelain with veins wide open” (‘The Lonely Seafarer’s

Song’), ”The stage was set for the arrival of a mistaken man” (Unforseen Destiny’) and perhaps my favourite: ”the embrace of a grandfather who became a poet of silence” (‘Radiophony’).

The list could be considered endless.

Which it is.

Which it will no doubt continue to be.

As Burnside has written towards the end of his Forward: ”Here is a poet who never exercises control for its own sake, but does so in order to accomodate and sustain his passion. His formal concerns arise from a need to make something that is both crafted and spontaneous, artful and immediate; Here, in short, is an essential poet whose work illuminates the world and the condition of those who live in it.”

From Unknown to Unknown simply cries out to be altogether known in every possible meaning of the word. The translation is clearly exemplary, while the poems themselves are politically thought provoking as well as socially eloquent in equal measure.

David Marx

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