Gemma Gorga


Translated by Sharon Dolin

Paper $16.95
(ISBN 978-0997335552

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Gemma Gorga's Book of Minutes, in Sharon Dolin's beautiful translation, is by far the best book of prose poems I have read in the past decade. Like a house mirror, each prose poem here "retains the memory of all the souls who have gazed at themselves inside it." The result is spellbinding and surprising, as the voice of these poems searches for the mystery within the mundane.
Ilya Kaminsky

Gorga is a magician, her short, vivid prose poems perfect little houses where an instant, poignant to joyful, is captured. "The mouth is small" begins the last poem, but by then Gorga will have told you a story as big as the world. In Sharon Dolin's masterful translation, every page of Book of Minutes shimmers with life. 
Jesse Lee Kercheval

Dolin's thoughtful and supple translation of Gemma Gorga's moving prose poem collection is a welcome and timely contribution to world literature.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Imagine a book of hours condensed into a book of minutes: that is the project of these compact, lyrical prose poems. They locate the metaphysical within the domestic, moving seamlessly from philosophical speculation to aphorism to condensed narrative to brief love letter to prayer. In the space of one or two paragraphs they openly think about language, about existence, about beginnings and endings both large and small; not afraid to talk about God or love, their leitmotif might well be light.

One hears a dazzling array of echoes in Gemma Gorga's poems: Wallace Stevens, Rainer Maria Rilke, Hans Christian Andersen, Francis Ponge, George Herbert, and Emily Dickinson. Yet Book of Minutes feels very 21st-century in its range of diction: in one breath a poem talks about the soul, in the next, about diopters or benzodiazepine. In the space of a few sentences, or phrases, each prose poem creates a tiny world, a microcosm, one is always reminded, that is constituted by words.

Gemma Gorga is widely known and celebrated in her native Catalonia, where she has published six volumes of poems, but is almost completely unknown to English-language readers. This is the first volume of her work translated into English.

Sharon Dolin is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Manual for Living (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016). Her 2008 volume Burn and Dodge received the AWP Donald Hall Prize in Poetry.



We sat around the table. Sometimes there were thirteen of us sharing the light breaking through our fingers, as thin as unleavened bread. Sometimes we were only two, possibly you and I, or just our hungry shadows. Sometimes a single person sat with fingers probing the wood, like someone seeking the warm bowl of foaming light.

Until one day we found out about death, almost by chance, as if it were a game: every evening there were fewer chairs arranged around that table. No matter how tired and old, we still ran to make sure of a seat, to seize from life the last morsel of light.



Can you draw a cat without lifting pencil from paper—ear, warm curve of back, soft belly, nose, ear once more? Can you map the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere without lifting your finger from the sky: go from Andromeda to Cassiopeia, from Cassiopeia to the Big Dipper, and return to Andromeda again without breaking the thread? After all, that’s life, a pastime, passing the time, which requires the utmost skill to do it all with a single stroke. Though your hand grows numb with cold and desolation, remember not to lift the pencil.




When she was little, she liked to cover the glass lamp with her hand and look at her fingers’ blurry outline against the glow (a watery red), at the small bones still as chrysalises, at the white silk of her skin. Always that desire: that the light would pierce her skin and go deep inside her heart, as if all of her were a Chinese lantern, paper-thin. As time passed, she came to see: in the center of the rose it is always night.

Translation copyright c 2019 by Sharon Dolin. May not be reproduced without permission.

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