09 August 2020


Antares by Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles (Balangay Productions, 2018)


In Antares, the poet Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles took on that very slippery of subjects. Sex. Maybe this post should contain a trigger warning. Puns.

In an almost ekphrastic or exegetic manner of delivering short lines, the poet took inspiration from the titles of arthouse sex films, borrowing them for his own subdued sex poems.

All About Anna
(Jessica Nilsson, 2005)

ang tao ay may ginagawa
upang makumpleto, na hindi niya
magagawang makumpleto.

ang tao ay pabula.
ang tao ay nakikipagtalik
upang makumpleto. Ang tao ay tamod.

ang tao ang paggawa. ang tao
ang kanyang titi puki.
Maraming hubad na tao. Buong kahubdan. 


All About Anna
(Jessica Nilsson, 2005)

a person does
the act, that that person will never

a person is fable.
a person fucks
to accomplish. A person is semen.

a person is the act. a person
is his dick, is her pussy.
So many naked persons. Full monty. 


My near literal translation almost made this a comic parody. I am quite sure Ayer's resident translator, Kristine Ong Muslim, found a more balanced and nuanced equivalent to the idioms. I am also happy to note that Muslim's translation of the entirety of Antares will appear in Three Books, in an illustrated and bilingual tripartite edition from Broken Sleep Books. Triple the fun, for a threesome.

As with Ayer's previous foray into redaction and erasure territory, the inquiry was once again directed toward knowledge of the self, the self in light of the sexual act. However, this time, the method of redaction was almost paradoxical. To censor words and sentences while revealing hidden meanings and desires. To construct an aesthetics of sex through bursts of Freudian slips, deliberate in action, climaxing into an end result known and unknown.

In "Shortbus": "It is true: self is a fabrication. / Self as seen through the lens after / having sex in a variety of positions." (trans. Muslim). In "And They Call It Summer": "Man fornicates with / himself. Everything is / exposed in the bed." (trans. Muslim). In the terminal lines of "Enter the Void", the reflexive tendency was almost simplistic.

Ang pag-ibig ay tao, maraming anyo
ng mga hindi kapani-paniwalang puwersa
ng pag-ibig, na may ganap na kahubdan

ang sex bilang sex.


Lovemaking is the person, there are manifold
unbelievable forces
of lovemaking, in full naked glory

of sex as sex.

(my translation)

The single line of "Much Loved" perhaps synthesized the ideas of the collection.


laman ang gumaganap sa isang tao

flesh is performance of self

(trans. Muslim)

In Antares, the act of sex is performative. "I knew many positions, but positions are positions and sex is sex", Roberto Bolaño replied to an interview question about sentimental education, from an interview on page 69 of Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview. Bolaño admitted his folly in youth wheh he equated sentimental education with sexual education. 

Arguelles poemed the sexual education into the act of sex itself. Or maybe one should say, he sexed the poem because a poem (and its fragile translation) can be vulnerable when describing an act that compromises the sacred value of body and soul. There were many ins and outs to the poems that hovered over then skirted kitsch and camp, like the movies from where their ideas were derived.

In Antares, The poet's unraveling of the intimacy of self and selves in sex, base or soulful, was worth the rewatch of your favorite indie sex film. With ample carnal, I mean kernels, of truth on display, this trove of lustful aphorisms is lit.


Read the translator's notes here and excerpts here and here.

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