A selection of extraordinarily condensed, emotionally complex, philosophical poems by one of the most unique and highly regarded 20th century Brazilian poets.
In her lifetime, Orides Fontela resisted all labels, all attempts to situate her work in a particular movement, school, tendency, or tradition. Here, in her first ever English-language collection, Fontela’s poetry continues to defy easy categorization. In these concise, meditative poems, Fontela’s bird and flower, water and stone, blood and star can be read as symbols, indicating a possible tendency toward mysticism. Including an illuminating statement of poetics and excerpts from her often acerbic interviews, One Impossible Step introduces English-language audiences to an iconoclast who remains one across languages and decades.
Orides Fontela was born in 1940 in São João da Boa Vista, in the interior of São Paulo, and died in 1998. She studied philosophy at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP). In 1969 her first book, Transposição, was published, followed by four more collections. Her third collection, Alba (1983), won the Jabuti Prize, one of the most important prizes in Brazil. In France, a large selection of her poems appeared in translation under the title Trèfle (2000). In 2006 the Brazilian publishing house Cosac Naify published her collected poems, Poesia Reunida.
Chris Daniels is a prolific, widely published, autodidact and feral translator of global Lusophone poetry. Recent translations include a black body by Lubi Prates (Nueva York Poetry Press, 2020) and The Hammerby Adelaide Ivánova (Commune Editions, 2019). He lives in Oakland, California.
“At the heart of her search through and for the solid forms, she reaches a place where the act of seeing both faces itself and yearns for the thing beyond. She is a kind of symbolist poet. Her linguistic universe has little adornment, yet it is one of deep feeling.”—Brenda Hillman, Boston Review
"Daniels must face the difficulty of translating poetry that is, at its core, concerned with both languages beyond those of the human and with the grammar of silence. . . In One Impossible Step, the approach is to explore, chronologically, a few select subjects in Fontela’s oeuvre before moving to a study of her poetics. The resulting benefit is that the reader is provided an opportunity to consider Fontela’s evolution as a poet, as she plays with form and plumbs for deeper insight into the world."—Meenakshi Ajit, Asymptote Journal
"It is a wonder and a blessing to have Orides Fontela in English, so readers can experience her titrations of flux and water in beautiful flourishing petals of words. Her poems are philosophical investigations across the borders of line and syllable. An Orides Fontela poem makes words touch their edges, and from these edges the words simultaneously touch the reader’s skin, as heart-being and skein of thought. The human emerges in her poems not from personal reference, but from verbal indices as compressed and as vital as air: we can breathe. Her odes and elegies, poemites and sonnets listen intensely to silence as well: silence as form and forms as silence, syllables as silence. Orides Fontela writes the impossible that exists and is all that exists. Chris Daniels, in these breathtaking translations, makes it so."—Erín Moure
"This engrossing selection of poetry by Orides Fontela offers English-speaking readers the opportunity to enter into the sumptuous, obsessive intensities of her work. Seeking always a form or finality, Fontela wrestles with poetic inquiry where inquiry itself alters — transposes — its subject. Chris Daniels adeptly responds to the challenge of translating Fontela, offering formal shaping that embraces her eccentricities while always remaining sensitive to the alternately knotty and limpid urgencies of her poems. In their determined plumbing of meaning, this poetry refines and redefines a dynamic reality. Fontela seeks 'the real' at any cost, no matter how difficult."—Elizabeth Robinson