‘Birnam Wood’ by José Manuel Cardona: A Review

‘Birnam Wood’ by Spanish poet José Manuel Cardona, and translated by his daughter, Hélène Cardona, is a collection of his absolute best work - it flows like a,

‘Song that overflows like erosive

Blackberry juice’, 

and the poems are just as rich in imagery and meaning! The book spans the length of José’s career and travels and is sensitively translated by Hélène as a beautiful partnership.

The book begins with an extended ‘Poem to Circe’ which is almost a love letter or an attempt to document the way it stands, before it changes before his very eyes:

‘the rubble

Remains on the shore like a naked


There is an interesting use of biblical language at the very end of the ‘Poem to Circe’ sequence:

‘I’ve come to break crown and yoke. 

Rebel beggars and free slaves. 

I traded my peace for the knife.

I’m here to abolish death.

Those who believe in me will not die.’

This seems to be a poem about José meeting his maker, or Circe swallowing him up, at the end of his days, like a familiar friend. Perhaps in this way, Circe is compared to a living paradise. 

My favourite moments were those of dark humour, which translated beautifully:

‘The human species will die out

without ever reaching

the age of reason, like those teeth

called wisdom, tardy,

painful and useless’.

This feels like a timeless statement on humanity, despite being written by a twentieth-century poet. 

José also uses classical mythology to express aspects of humanity:

‘the gods

love the mortals and we struggle

to return to the Labyrinth.’ 

José seems to imply a spiritual force in the world, but not necessarily that this can be defined as the traditional image of a Christian God.

Overall, this was very interesting read with a classical and timeless feel. As a Spanish language novice, it was interesting to compare José’s poems to Hélène’s translations - and to note how intricately she had followed the structure and language! 

The book can be found here .


35 views0 comments