Grenade in Mouth: Some Poems of Miyó Vestrini

BY Miyó Vestrini


ISBN: 9780999719831 (2019)

Edited by Faride Mereb and translated by Anne Boyer and Cassandra Gillig, Grenade in Mouth: Some Poems of Miyó Vestrini introduces to Anglophone readers the work of one of the vanguard voices of Venezuelan poetry with texts that cover three decades: from the year 1960 to 1990. The book offers a broader spectrum of her poems than ever previously compiled, including previously unpublished texts alongside her best known and most important works.

Critics have called Miyó Vestrini the poet of “militant death.” Vestrini is known, too, as the Sylvia Plath of Venezuela, but if she is a Plath, we think she is one who would have set Ted Hughes on fire.  And if Vestrini is a confessional poet, what she is confessing is not a set of personal problems: it is a fatal disappointment with the world at large. Her work is less a self-exposure than a set of  incantations.  These poems are spells for a death that might live eternally, for what Vestrini offers readers is a fundamental paradox: how to create, through writing, an enduring extinction.  Her poems are not soft or brooding laments.  They are bricks hurled at empires, ex-lovers, and any saccharine-laced lie that parades itself as the only available truth.

Miyó Vestrini was born in France, 1938, emigrated to Venezuela at the age of 9, and at eighteen she joined Apocalipsis (Apocalypse), the only woman to do so in the then male-dominated scene of the Venezuelan avant-garde. She soon became a dedicated and prize-winning journalist, directing the arts section of the newspaper El Nacional. She published three books of poetry in her lifetime: 1971’s Las historias de Giovanna (The History of Giovanna), 1975’s El invierno próximo (The Next Winter), and Pocas virtudes (Little Virtues), published in 1986.  Vestrini died by suicide on November 29, 1991, leaving behind two collections:  a book of poems, Valiente Ciudadano (Brave Citizen) and a book of stories, Órdenes al corazón (Orders to the Heart).

Faride Mereb is an editor and graphic designer currently living in New York City and specializing in typography. She is the founder and director of the publishing house Ediciones Letra Muerta, based in Caracas, Venezuela. In 2016 she was awarded gold in the editorial category in the Latin American Design Awards for Al Filo ~ Miyó Vestrini.

Anne Boyer is a U.S. poet and essayist whose books include The Undying, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction, as well as  A Handbook of Disappointed Fate (2018) and the CLMP award-winning Garments Against Women (2015). In 2018, Boyer received the inaugural Cy Twombly Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and a Whiting Award in poetry and nonfiction. She is the 2018-19 Judith E. Wilson Fellow in poetry at Cambridge University and an associate professor of the liberal arts at the Kansas City Art Institute.

Cassandra Gillig is an archivist and liturgical poet working under the New Order of St. Agatha. She is at work on a book of correspondence between Diane di Prima and Audre Lorde and a middle grade book about animal liberation and the end of Amazon. She lives in Kansas City.

M. Buna / Hyperallergic:

For Vestrini, the refusal to compromise or accept tyrannical notions of truth was as much a part of her process as her meditations on death. In her writings, death and poetry have their own dark choreography that doesn’t shy away from affirming the stark contradictions at its core — exercises in morbidity also result in the resurrection of a new will to live, in a counter-suicidal impulse, even if it’s only a temporary one. These are whimsical poems that reveal the most familiar domestic settings as designed for eternal sleep. In such spaces, joy and tenderness are to be resisted and death is to be welcomed and carried out as daily routine. Through her poetry she shows us how to die in the most mundane of circumstances by disposing of our certainties; she herself might be wary of life’s little pleasures, but nevertheless indulges in them… [read more]

Steven Zultanski / Frieze:

I’ve never read anything quite like the late Venezuelan writer Miyó Vestrini’s poems: they obsessively sing about death. They aren’t simply obsessed with individual mortality, but with the potential for radical nothingness at the heart of the social…Vestrini’s writing has a clarity and directness that cuts through metaphysical obscurity: death is not mystified or transcendent. For Vestrini, death does not only lord power over the individual, it can also be an exercise of power against a corrupt and patriarchal social order, as in ‘Brave Citizen’, which opens: ‘Give me, lord, / an angry death. / A death as offensive / as those I’ve offended.’ [read more]

Catherine Taylor / Tarpaulin Sky:

Oh holy hell, this is good. These are texts (mostly poems) written by the Venezuelan poet, journalist, and screenwriter Miyó Vestrini between 1960 and 1990. I’ve slowed down my reading of Grenade in Mouth to maybe a line or two at a time as I want it to last as long as possible. I’m also skipping around a bit so that there will be poems I missed to discover later. I’m laying the ground for my next pass. Vestrini is amazing. How can she be so breezy and so intense? How can she sound like someone you know and nobody you’ve ever read? How can this be so much about her world and ours? Translators Anne Boyer and Cassandra Gillig, in their super sharp Introduction, say, “To translate Miyó Vestrini is like letting a deadly current pass through one’s body and hoping not to get hurt. To read Miyó Vestrini is much the same, and any introduction to her work must end with a warning: of course this is dangerous territory.” The work is, of course, as vital and energizing as it is deadly. It is wild and brilliant. Nobody should ask me to write another “What I’m Reading Now” column for a while because I will still be reading this.

Kathleen Rooney / Baltimore Sun:

…every bit as explosive as its title indicates. Translated collaboratively by poets Anne Boyer and Cassandra Gillig, this book offers a simultaneously morbid and hilarious selection of Vestrini’s poetry over the course of her career before she took her own life in 1991. As they write in their introduction, her work “contains regular, explicit challenges to the institutions of mental health” as when she writes “I find all my friends treated by psychoanalysts have become/ totally sad totally idiotic.” The opportunity to spend time in the company of Vestrini’s unsentimental and unexpected words is not to be missed.

John Bradley / Rain Taxi:

…direct, morbid, funny, mocking, truthful…original and unforgettable…

Anna Vitale / Full-Stop:

We can translate the charge of Vestrini’s writing into something other than loss. In the spirit of protection, Grenade in Mouth can also warn us against giving ourselves over too fully to the damage we have sustained. This translation helps mark the murderous, dangerous rage that makes some of our best writers and artists, and it offers the hope that we can translate the grenades in our mouths. In this metaphor, grenades are what have gotten inside us, destroyed our voices, and killed some of us over and over again.

It may be that when poets write as the dead, we are also writing as the children we were when we were first taught that dependence was shameful, when our openness and neediness began to transform into hatred. Or in punk terms: we might be writing as the children we were when we first murdered by society and our parents. It’s a view Kathy Acker writes about in Great Expectations when she explores how childhood is plagiarized and stolen. One thing we can do to steal our lives back is to figure out how to stay writers in midst of all the murder, internal and external. [read more]

Chicago Review of Books:

Vestrini’s poetry is something I never knew I needed so dearly. It is so raw and powerful (and translated so rawly and powerfully by Anne Boyer and Cassandra Gillig) that each poem, sometimes each line, feels like something that could shatter the world. Probably they do, as in the poem from which the collection takes its title: “Allow me, lord, / to see me as I am: / rifle in hand / grenade in mouth / gutting the people I love.” We should be so thankful to be able to read her in English, finally, and hopeful for more translations to come.