‘Sor Juana & Other Monsters’ is a comical and tragic treatise

Sor Juana & Other Monsters

Chapbook, Luis Felipe Fabre (translator: John Pluecker), 30 pgs, Ugly Duckling Presse, uglyducklingpresse.org, $10

The only thing most scholars can agree on about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz — a 17th-century philosopher, composer, poet and proto-feminist — is that she must be some kind of monster, says Luis Felipe Fabre. She’s too much of an aberration to simply be a woman. “What kind / of monster is it whose power / resides in language? A sphinx?” he asks. “Sor Juana scholars, I have here a topic for your next conference.”

In an unapologetically sardonic tone, Fabre, via this “academic paper in verse,” proceeds to systematically mock and chastise Sor Juana scholars (the “sorjuanistas”) for the commodification of her life and legacy: “In order to rehearse their differences in regards to what other / Sor Juana scholars say, / Sor Juana scholars organize conferences about Sor Juana / where they differ.”

Fabre has manufactured a comical and tragic treatise, and it’s rivalled by an equally astute and in-depth translator’s note, written by John Pluecker, that not only reveals the methods by which he brought Fabre’s poems into English, but also speaks to the spirit of the art of translation: “What you see here is the result of many enigmatic murders, but hopefully murders that left clues behind.”