A Certain Roughness in Their Syntax: Poems by Jorge Aulicino

by Jorge Aulicino, translated by Judith Filc


July Open Reading Period Selection

Testifying for the migrating masses he has called “pariahs of empire,” who traverse a globe with no stable borders, Aulicino’s lyrical “I” shifts between roles, exile or spy or reporter taking detailed notes.

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“‘I am the scribe of the Party and of declassified files,’ writes Argentine poet, translator, and journalist Aulicino in this 50-part poem, his first to be translated into English—an account of Old and New World battles against the totalitarian spirit. Aulicino composes with a journalist’s sense of scene and a poet’s eye for imagery, leading readers through cities that do ‘not stop making noises’ and the ‘repetitive world’ of ‘barbarians and jungles.’ The poem, presented in en face translation, traverses ports and eras like a container ship full of the industrial world’s ‘overproduction,’ moving between ‘foreign coves./ Hong Kong or whatever. Sumatra.’ An ever-present undertow of violence marks the work, evidenced in the mutating refrain ‘and yet, armies.’ Aulicino also references an array of artists, writers, and historical figures. With an almost sardonic deadpan, he jumps seven centuries in two lines, weaving the prescient words of a 12th-century sultan into the fate of Nazi general Friedrich Paulus: ‘You cannot,/ said Saladin, start a siege with forces at your rear./ The circle closed on Von Paulus.’ He later collapses time again, describing Attila behind the wheel of a Porsche. ‘The state of eternal destruction is his certainty,’ Aulicino writes of his Attila—a sentiment that the poet undoubtedly shares.” Publishers Weekly

“If the triumphant moments prove to be all too fleeting in A Certain Roughness in Their Syntax, those moments also reveal a moral core in the poems of Aulicino, one that holds sacred a faith in the heroic call to adventure, personal sovereignty over deadening ideologies, and sometimes even pure delight in sheer flights of ecstasy.” — M. Lock Swingen, Rain Taxi


July Open Reading Period Selection

Splintering like light in a prism, the poems of Jorge Aulicino combine images of the Dirty War in Argentina, of historic Latin American independence struggles, and of the battles against fascism in Europe. Translated into English for the first time by poet Judith Filc working closely with Aulicino, this influential book (published in Spanish in 2008) is filled with the experiences of a grandson of European immigrants now chronicling a world where multitudinous cities are cracking under their own weight in an ongoing present whose common denominator is war. Testifying for the migrating masses he has called “pariahs of empire,” who traverse a globe with no stable borders, Aulicino’s lyrical “I” shifts between roles, exile or spy or reporter taking detailed notes.


Jorge Aulicino, who was born in Buenos Aires in 1949, has played a crucial role in Argentine and Latin American poetry for more than thirty years, working as a poet, translator, journalist, and editor. He has published more than twenty books of his own poems and translated the work of Cesare Pavese, Pier Paolo Passolini, Guido Cavalcanti, John Keats, Ezra Pound, and Marianne Moore, along with Dante’s Divine Comedy. In 2014 he was awarded the Argentine National Library Award, and in 2015 the National Poetry Prize.

Judith Filc was born and raised in Buenos Aires, earned a medical degree from Buenos Aires University, then decided to pursue a PhD in literature at the University of Pennsylvania. In Argentina she taught at the Urban Studies Institute of the Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento and in New York University’s Buenos Aires Program. Since 2002 she has been a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s Institute on Culture and Society, living in the Hudson Valley with her husband and son.


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Weight .4 lbs
Dimensions 6 × .5 × 9 in

Charter the ship, say your None prayers, take to the swell.
You’ve seen them; the roads are dusty prints,
why say no. Sail on the sea that smells of fuel.
See, it’s as distant as always, and oily;
it leads to the National Geographic, to the volumes you
traversed with cabin-boy effort.
Through a rheumatism that slants your gestures,
now the tunic, now the boot, sail and gallop
toward the artificial worlds supporting
three- to four-hundred–knot buildings disseminating lights,
and spikes, upon foreign coves.
Hong Kong or whatever. Sumatra.
See how they hoard in the fur business.
The ports, chock-full of red containers;
the overproduction of affairs and chips,
the silence of appliances, the sleeping software.

Washers in Southeast Asia. Packaging
amid which lizards crawl; light,
small whips of insistent sea gods.