Background Noise/

Ruido de fondo

by Saúl Yurkievich

Translated by Cola Franzen

presented with originals on facing pages

“The bigness of Yurkievich's voice ... is consistently present. The breadth of its range

overwhelms the muted, seemingly timid voices of many poets today. In Yurkievich we have

intelligence of execution and a provocative range of ideas. Through fine translation,

one of the mightier voices of our time is now available to us.”

—James Hoggard, Denver Post

“Reading Yurkievich is like entering a Klein bottle where form is function, function form,

where the outside leads to the inside. … Background Noise is dazzling, mysterious,
alchemical. No less miraculous is that Cola Franzen has been able to render this fabulous
text, full of a thousand pitfalls, in such an extraordinarily lucent and poetic fashion.”

—Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno

“I consider Yurkievich one of the best Spanish-writing poets, a noteworthy explorer of
language in its semantic, phonological, and syntactic levels. I am sure this book will
have repercussions with English-language readers of innovative poetry.”

—Haroldo de Campos

Background Noise introduces to the English-speaking world the poetry of Argentinian writer Saúl Yurkievich, in a bilingual edition. His poetry is a play of language and ideas, with language leading the way. His longer poems are collages, full of similarities and contrasts that remain unresolved, not circumscribed by a determination to harmonize or integrate.

      Most important to Yurkievich are sound and rhythm; in his poems, sound often leads to sense. They are like jazz solos, spontaneously flowing in response to nothing but themselves. And therefore, they are great joys to read aloud. It is amazing how well Cola Franzen has captured this spontaneity in her translations.

      Yet beneath the pleasures of Yurkievich's poetic play, there is a troubling despair. There is a sense in the poems of our inability to know, to find, to get what we desire. Things are not what we wish they would be, and those things include ourselves. One poems ends, "grasp it / clasp this almost nearly nothing." (see excerpts below)

      More than anything, there is a feeling of the world as jumble, as full of disorder. The title poem begins, "tenebrous turbid turmoil turbulence," an incantation of chaos. In this sense, Yurkievich's work is the opposite of lyric poetry, which seeks to bring order to disorderly things such as love and nature. Yurkievich both celebrates and laments the world's pandemonium. He writes in the tradition of the early Neruda, Huidobro, and Vallejo.

      Also included in this volume is an interview with Yurkievich and his friend, the late fiction writer Julio Cortázar, about their approaches to writing.


Saúl Yurkievich was born in Argentina in 1931 and died in 2005. The author of seventeen volumes of poetry and fifteen volumes of criticism and creative prose, he was professor of Latin American literature at the Université de Paris Vincennes. He also taught at many American universities, including Harvard, Chicago, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, UCLA, Maryland, and Pittsburgh.


Cola Franzen is an experienced translator of Latin American literature into English. Her translation of Jorge Guillén’s Horses in the Air (City Lights, 1999) won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets. Other translations include Alicia Borinsky’s All Night Movie (Northwestern U.P., 2002) and Antonio José Ponte’s Tales from the Cuban Empire (City Lights, 2002). She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


$13 paper, 237 pages, ISBN 0-945774-58-3.

To read sample poems from Background Noise, in PDF format, click here.

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