Translations: Bolivian poet Adela Zamudio (1854-1928)

Here’s another chapter from my (unpublished) anthology, Spanish American Women Poets (1880-1930).

Adela Zamudio was a Bolivian poet, essayist, novelist, teacher, and school director. She was also an activist and an advocate of women’s higher education. In her early years, her poems were published under the pseudonym “Soledad” (Aguirre Lavayen 12). Throughout her life, well into her sixties, Zamudio fought for divorce laws, secularization, women’s labor movements, and other feminist liberal causes. She was also a painter, though most of her paintings are lost. Zamudio wrote a long narrative poem, “Loca de hierro” ‘Iron madwoman.’ She was one of the founding members of Feminiflor, a Bolivian feminist magazine.

Her publications include: Ensayos poéticos (1887); Ensayos politicos (1887); Intimas (1912); Peregrinando (1912); Ráfagas (1912); and Cuentos breves (1921). Her books were published in Bolivia, Paris, and Buenos Aires. Íntimas was a romantic epistolary novel about and for women, meant to expose the hypocrisy of the upper classes (García Pabon vii).

Her poems, romanticist and controversial, were called “virile” and “rationally masculine” by her contemporaries; they considered her a “mujer-macho” (Cajías Villa Gómez 38). She read and admired Byron, de Musset, Becquer, José Zorrilla, and José Espronceda. The all-male La Paz Literary Circle, who considered themselves to be romanticists, elected her an honorary member in 1888. An entry in the Diccionario de Mujeres Celebres of 1959 lists her as a leader of the women poets and novelists of Bolivia, who included: Hercilia Fernández de Mujía (“la ciega Mujía”), Lindaura Anzoátegui, Mercedes Belzu, Sara Ugarte, and Amelia Guijarro. In 1926 she was given a medal by the president of Bolivia (Sáinz de Roblez 1200). October 11th, her birthday, is Bolivian Women’s Day.

There are biographies of Zamudio written by Gabriela de Villarreal, Alfonsina Paredes, Augusto Guzmán, and Sonia Montaño.

Much of her work remains unpublished.

She compiled a spelling book in Quechua for use in schools, and composed many poems in Quechua, among them “Wiñaypaj Wiñayninkama” ‘Para siempre / Forever’ (Taborga de Villarroel 181). Her translation of the poem into Spanish puts it into octosyllabic lines, a romance de arte menor. I have translated it from Spanish. Though I do not know Quechua, I include the original here because it was useful to refer to the word patterns. For example, the original used repetition in a way that the Spanish version does not duplicate.

“Nacer Hombre,” her most famous short poem, was published in 1887. It is a poem “pie quebrado,” ‘broken meter,’ with verses of octosyllabic lines and one line shortened to four or five syllables, and thus is de arte menor, in a popular form for poetry and folk song.



Nacer Hombre


Cuánto trabajo ella pasa
Por corregir la torpeza
De su esposo, y en la casa,
(Permitidme que me asombre).
Tan inepto como fatuo,
Sigue él siendo la cabeza,
Porque es hombre!

Si algunos versos escribe,
De alguno esos versos son,
Que ella sólo los suscribe.
(Permitidme que me asombre).
Si ese alguno no es poeta,
Por qué tal suposición
Porque es hombre!

Una mujer superior
En elecciones no vota,
Y vota el pillo peor.
(Permitidme que me asombre).
Con tal que aprenda a firmar
Puede votar un idiota,
Porque es hombre!

El se abate y bebe o juega.
En un revés de la suerte:
Ella sufre, lucha y ruega.
(Permitidme que me asombre).
Que a ella se llame el "ser débil"
Y a él se le llame el "ser fuerte."
Porque es hombre!

Ella debe perdonar
Siéndole su esposo infiel;
Pero él se puede vengar.
(Permitidme que me asombre).
En un caso semejante
Hasta puede matar él,
Porque es hombre!

Oh, mortal privilegiado,
Que de perfecto y cabal
Gozas seguro renombre!
En todo caso, para esto,
Te ha bastado
Nacer hombre.

To be born a man


She works so hard
to make up for the sloth
of her husband, and in the house
(Pardon my surprise.)
he's so inept and pompous,
that of course he's the boss
because he's a man!

If some poems get written,
a person must have written them,
but she just transcribed them.
(Pardon my surprise.)
If we're not sure who's the poet,
why assume it was him?
Because he's a man!

A smart, classy woman
can't vote in elections,
but the poorest felon can.
(Pardon my surprise.)
If he can just sign his name
even an idiot can vote
because he's a man!

He sins and drinks and gambles
and in a backwards twist of luck
she suffers, fights, and prays.
(Pardon my surprise.)
That we call her the "frail sex"
and him the "strong sex"
because he's a man!

She has to forgive him
when he's unfaithful;
but he can avenge himself.
(Pardon my surprise.)
In a similiar case
he's allowed to kill her
because he's a man!

Oh, privileged mortal
you enjoy lifelong
honor and perfect ease!
For this, to get all this,
it's enough for you
to be born a man.

Wiñaypaj wiñayninkama Para siempre


Ripunaykita yachaspa Al saber que ya te irías
Tuta-p'unchay yuyask'ani noche y día me atormento,
Sonqoy ukhu pakasqapi y sangra mi corazón
Waqaspa tukukusqani. como una sombra en tormento.

Ripuy, ripuy waj llajtaman Véte a ciudades lejanas,
Waj kausayta kausarqamuy anda a vivir otra vida,
Kaypi ñak'arisqaykita, y lo que yo haya sufrido
Chay kausaypi qonqarqamuy. olvídalo en tu existencia.

Ya(. . .)huyu, lakha phuyu Nubes negras, celajes oscuros
Uyaykipi rikukusqan se aborrascan en tu frente,
Chay shhika llakikusqayki y el dolor que he sentido
Llakiyniywan tantakusquan. brota en cascada de lágrimas.

Rejsisusqaymanta pacha Desde el día en que te vi
Wasiykita saqerpariy, nimbé mi alma en tus ojos,
Sonqoyki rumiyachispa y saturé mi corazón
Waj kausayta kausarqamuy! con unos pétalos rojos.

T'ikachus sonqoypi kanman, Si en mi pecho hubieran flores
Umphu sonqoy ch'akisqapi desde este corazón lánguido
T'kata t'akarpariyman, y marchito, alfombraría con pétalos
Purinayki yan patapi. el pasar de tu camino.

Ripuy, ripuy waj llajtaman, Véte a esas tierras lejanas,
Waj kausayta kausarqamuy, corre a vivir otra vida,
Ripuy, ripuy qonqarqamuy y sepulta en el olvido
Tukuyta kaypi kaj kama. todo cuanto aquí ha existido.

Forever


Knowing that you're leaving
torments me night and day
my heart bleeds
like a damned soul in hell.

Depart, depart for distant cities
keep on living your other life
and forget whatever I've suffered
as you enjoy existence.

Black mists, jealous clouds of darkness
obscure your brow in storm,
and the pain that I've felt
bursts forth in a torrent of tears.

Since the day I saw you
my soul glows haloed in your eyes
and my heart is full
of scarlet petals.

If in my chest there could be flowers
since this heart languishes, withering,
it would carpet with petals
the road where you walk.

Depart, depart for distant lands
go on living your other life
and bury in forgetfulness
everything that's existed here.

Related posts:

María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira: Las ondines

I promised a poem or translation this week, to balance out the political posts. Here’s a couple of my translations of poems by Uruguayan poet María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira. They were published posthumously in 1924, though I am fairly sure they were published in Uruguayan or Argentinian magazines much earlier in the century. I’ve mentioned Vaz Ferreira a few times before in this blog, including a funny moment where I was irked at a critic: Damming with Faint Praise and No Space.

María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira

Enjoy!

This poem “Vaso Furtivo” was lovely to translate. If you read it over a few times, and let it sink in, or let yourself sink into it, you’ll begin to get what Vaz Ferreira was all about.

Vaso furtivo

Por todo lo breve y frágil,
superficial, fugitivo,
por lo que no tiene bases,
argumentos ni principios;
por todo lo que es liviano,
veloz, mudable y finito;
por las volutas del humo,
por las rosas de los tirsos,
por la espuma de las olas
y las brumas del olvido . . .
por lo que les carga poco
a los pobres peregrinos
de esta trashumante tierra
grave y lunática, brindo
con palabras transitorias
y con vaporosos vinos
de burbuja centelleantes
en cristales quebradizos . . .

A quick drink

To all that’s brief and fragile,
superficial, unstable,
To all that has no foundation,
logical argument or principles;
for everything imprudent,
quick, mutable, and finite;
to spirals of smoke,
to thyrsus-stemmed roses,
to foam on the waves
and forgetting’s sea-mist . . .
to all that’s nearly weightless
for the wandering folk
of this transient earth;
grave, moonmad, I drink to all that
with transitory words
and heady wines
sparkling with bubbles
in the most breakable glasses . . .

What could be more in tune with my own beliefs than this defiant celebration of ephemera! I worked hard to convey her floating and delicate line breaks. This translation of “Vaso furtivo” was published a couple of years ago in the journal Parthenon West.

In the next poem, I felt that Vaz Ferreira was deliberately evoking Sappho. As many of her contemporary women poets did, Vaz Ferreira wrote about the ocean and dynamic chaos as essentially feminine.

The ondines

At the shore
where the cool and silvered wave
bathes sand,
and the shining stars
flare and die
at dawn’s first rays,

from sea-foam
the ondines lightly leap,
swift curves
and forms,
ethereal dress of ocean nymphs,
fair visions.

They roll onward, clear green,
resplendent as emeralds,
the bright waters
that lend color
to their polished shoulders,
snow-white swan . . .

Some wrap themselves
in diaphanous blue mists
dressed in dawn,
others in the wind
let fly light floating gauze
the color of heaven

and the fair ones sink
svelte forms of sonorous ocean
beneath the waters,
and over the waves
their hair snakes
like rays of gold . . .

Here’s the original poem:

Las ondinas

Junto a la costa
donde la arena tibia y plateada
bañan las ondas,
y los lucientes
rayos primeros de la alborada
brillan y mueren,

de entre la espuma
surgen ligeras de las ondinas
las raudas curvas
y los informes
trajes etéreos de hadas marinas,
blancas visiones.

Ruedan, verdosas,
resplandecientes como esmeraldas,
las claras gotas
que se destiñen
en la tersura de sus espaldas
de níveo cisne . . .

Unas se envuelven
las vaporosas gasas azules
del alba veste,
otras al viento
sueltan los leves florantes tules
color de cielo

y hunden las blancas
esbeltas formas del mar sonoro
bajo las aguas,
y serpentean
sobre las ondas cual rayos de oro
sus cabelleras . . .

Here is some background and commentary straight out of the enormous poetry anthology I compiled and translated a few years ago. (It was my thesis.) I had thought I’d send it around as a book proposal, and I put out some feelers. No one really wanted to take on an enormous anthology of poems of dubious copyright status from 14 different Latin American countries. Some of my translations from this book have been published in little magazines or online journals.

Vaz Ferreira was a member of the “Generación del 1900” of Uruguayan intellectuals, which included José Enrique Rodó, Julio Herrera y Reissig, Ernestina Méndez Reissig de Narvaja, Florencio Sánchez, Samuel Blixen, Alberto Nin Frias, Horacio Quiroga, and Carlos Reyles (Verani 9). She began publishing in 1894. After her illness and death in 1924, her brother, who published her book, La isla de los cánticos, downplayed the friendship between María Eugenia and Delmira Agustini. In 1959, her unpublished poems were printed as La otra isla de los cánticos.

Biographical notes on Vaz Ferreira often paint her as a frail, waiflike young maiden with a posthumous “slim volume of poems” who had a tragic illness before her early death (Jacquez Wieser 8). Her illness is sometimes alluded to as mental: Sidonia Rosenbaum implies that Vaz Ferreira, embittered by Delmira Agustini’s fame, lost her mind because of jealousy and a combination of caprice and frustrated, “sterile” sexuality (50). However, other sources emphasize her positive, charismatic qualities as a rebel, speaking of her literary and intellectual influence, her fondness for wearing men’s clothes, her shocking bohemian manners, and her notorious love of practical jokes. She was the first woman in Uruguay to fly in an airplane, in 1914, at the Fiesta Aérea, a public event. Juan Carlos Legido describes her as one of the most cultured, sure of herself, famous, and popular women in Montevideo’s social circles (Legido 6). She was a literature professor at the Women’s University of Montevideo, along with Dr. Clotilde Luisi. Vaz Ferreira was also a dramatist, composer and pianist. Her works were often performed at the Teatro Solís (Rubenstein Moreira 12). Vaz Ferreira was especially fond of Heine and other German poets and philosophers.

The critic Alberto Zum Felde counted Vaz Fereirra among modernista writers, influenced by the Mexican writers Salvador Díaz Mirón and Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera (Rubenstein Moriera 46). Anderson-Imbert, in Spanish American Literature, refers to her as “the nucleus of Uruguayan poetry” and of modernismo; then he calls her “a solitary voice, solemnly religious, although capable of creating sharp images on a high level” and goes on to discuss Julio Herrera y Reissig, “not a great poet . . .” for several pages. (Andersen-Imbert 279). The general pattern is for literary historians to call Vaz Ferreira’s work brilliant, and then to pay more attention to the work of poets who are men.
With typical blunt condescension, María Monvel says of Vaz Ferreira:

Interesante “caso” de mujer, de letras, esta uruguayana, que a pesar de haber nacido en 1880, tiene en sus versos todo el acento libre de la mujer nacida en pleno siglo veinte. Gran poeta lírico, con algo de reflexivo y meditativo a la vez, esta mujer es uno de los más finos cantores que ha tenido América, y tal vez es su influencia la única perceptible en Delmira Agustini, que la superó en pasión y en arrebato lírico, pero no en cultura y sensibilidad. (Monvel 63)
Interesting “case” of a woman of letters, this Uruguayan, who despite the burden of being born in 1880, has in her verses all the free tone of a woman born right in the 20th century. A great lyric poet, with something of reflexivity and meditativeness at the same time, this woman is one of the finest poets that America has had, and perhaps her influence is the only one perceptible in Delmira Agustini, who surpasses her in passion and in going overboard with lyricism, but not does not surpass her in culture or sensitivity.

My translation of the title of “Vaso furtivo” was a difficult choice. The poem is toasting and drinking to impermancence, lightness, madness, surfaces and illusion. “Sly toast” does not work in English, and “Furtive glass” does not convey the meaning of a toast. The poem itself celebrates qualities that have traditionally been attributed to women. Considered in this light, it is a radical feminist aesthetic statement. “Las ondinas,” a poem about the beauty of ocean waves at dawn, emphasizes feminine beauty, impermanence, and dynamic movement; Vaz Ferreira’s poems often celebrate an ethereal world of ideal beauty, writing modernista aesthetics from the viewpoint of a powerful woman, as in her poem “Yo soy la Diosa de las azules, diáfanas calmas” ‘I am the Goddess of all blue, diaphanous calm” (Vaz Ferreira, Otra isla, 57-58).

Related posts:

Sonnet, twittered

Drum roll… a moment in Twitter history…

twittersonnet

Twittered by allaboutgeorge aka George Kelly, for Sarah Dopp.

The poem is better for having been twittered. I like it backwards, and getting the punchline first and then cycling back through it. The poetics of Twitter force circularity and rereading, disorder and reversal. Which goes perfectly with this poem’s theme!

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Carmen Berenguer wins Ibero-American Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize

IMG_0071.JPG

Happy Poetry Month! Congratulations to Carmen Berenguer who has won the 2008 Premio Iberoamericana de Poesía Pablo Neruda.

I am very happy for her!

And for everyone who will now read her marvelous poems!

It makes me extremely happy that work so radical, experimental, feminist, and wild, has been recognized and honored.

carmen berenguer

“Es una sorpresa por la poesía que yo hago, que de pronto puede ponerle trabas al entendimiento y al sentimiento. Mi poesía es sonora, interna, musical, digo cosas increíbles”, comenta. “Soy una mujer combativa, vengo de los conventillos, de la pensión y esos argumentos hicieron que me fijara en las injusticias”, agrega.

*
It’s a surprise because of the poetry I write, that can suddenly put up blocks to understanding and feeling. My poetry is echoing, internal, musical, I say unbelievable things. I’m a fighting woman, I come from the projects, from poor neighborhoods, and that background fixed my thoughts on injustice.

Berenguer often breaks words and form, with poem titles at the bottom of pages or strangely broken across two pages, like this:

IMG_0064.JPG

and she ranges into concrete poems in her early work such as Bobby Sand desfallece en el muro as well as in later work such as the poem typeset to look like the Chilean flag. You can see a glimpse of that poem above.

I have translated some of her work over the last few years.

So far, I have spent the most time reading A media asta and La gran hablada. While I love her short poems, I am most fond of her longer work which sprawls and rants and sobs and screams across the page, long poems that build me up to a peak of understanding. It is not “leaping poetry” in the way that Bly meant, with graceful elisions. It is broken, unclear, obstructive, difficult, obstreporous. And, that is suitable, that is what is right, when you write about political violence, about gendered violence, about bodies, oppression, about Chile under Pinochet, as Berenguer does.

Carmen Berenguer

That is what I love best in poetry. I love when it has physicality, when it fights with sense, when it has elbows that stick out, when it feels like wading through mud or struggling to make my own broken body act and endure. It is poetry that rewards effort just as bodies do. Really kick ass poetry, seriously ass-kicking, rejects easy understanding, the facile Hmmmm and nod of agreement. It is perturbing! Bothersome! Berenguer’s work is all that. I think of her work as mixing up the neobaroque/neobarroso with écriture féminine.

I want to quote some of her poems and post my translations, but I am trying to get them published in journals at the moment. So here are a few excerpts. This is from “Bala humanitaria”, “Humanitarian bullet”.

…..Ese dardo
Penetra rompiendo la piel disparado a cien metros
Rompe la piel en sugundos el dedo gatillado
Rompe el silencio y lo dispara
Ondas sonoras irradian el campo comprometiendo el sonido
Interlocutor del suave murmullo El dardo penetrando
Los ojos abiertos y un ojo semicerrado afinando la puntería
El hombre acaricia el gatillo con deseos
…..
*
….. This shaft
Penetrates breaking the skin shot at a hundred meters
Breaks the skin in seconds the trigger finger
Breaks the silence and shatters it
Sonorous waves irradiate the compromised field of sound
Interlocutor of the smooth whisper The shaft penetrates
Open eyes and a half-closed eye sharpened the aim
The man caresses the trigger with desires
……

Here I thought for a long time about how to translate “dardo” and though “dart” or arrow would be more literal, I think “shaft” gets the phallic imagery properly into the poem. It is important because it is a poem that links rape and violence, that takes a gendered view of the sort of violence that can consider it right to make international law about the correct way to kill people with proper bullets. The lines on penetration and holes are not an accident… Further, I would say that it is good to note how Berenguer speaks about sound, about echoes and fracturing; this comes up elsewhere in her work and I think it is right to think of it as the Howl, as the song of the poet, the fundamental sound, poetry, art, creation — broken deliberately in order to reveal multiple truths. So, this is a poem about international politics and humanitarian bullets, violence; but it is also about gender, violence, rape; there is an industrial note, recalling thoughts of metals and mining, global industry; and it is also about words, poetry, logic, speaking, art, creation. That is the kind of poem I can get behind, 100%.

I feel inspired to go work on my translation of “Mala piel” now… and will post some excerpts from it later this month.

a media asta

It is maybe just a particular pleasure for me that poems like this have been honored in the name of Neruda. While I love Neruda’s poetry very much and honor him, I have some difficulties as a feminist with the way he writes about women’s bodies and how they become his male dominated metaphor of art and life and love, his landscape to traverse and discover and see. In fact, Neruda-worshiper Robert Bly is just the same for me sometimes with his graceful, easy “leaping”. For me as a poet, having spent years thinking about this in the way that poets do: I say fuck the leap. It is like cheating. Get your feet on the ground, dudes! Stay in your body! Go fast, but stay dirty! Thus it is particularly sweet to me, for a fantastic strong political woman who writes from and of the body, who makes words really embody, to win a prize named after Neruda.

Links:

* YouTube: el ojo no es un territorio, a video-poema.

* Palabra Virtual: The text of selected poems including a small fragment of one of my favorites, “Mala piel”, and a recording of “Desconocido”.

* YouTube: Berenguer en Chile Poesía

* Chilean wins Neruda Prize for poetry

* Carmen Berenguer, Ibero American Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize – with brief intervew.

* Pablo Neruda Prize 2008 to Chilean poet

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Poetry month, A little playful translation

I’d love to see more interpretations of this odd little poem by David Rosenmann-Taub. It’s from Cortejo y Epinicio, 1949.

Jerarquía

Ganglios
– líneas –
y puños.
¿Qué más?
Los panoramas.
¿Éstos?

Hierarchy (two ways)

Ganglions
– lines –
and fists.
What else?
Panoramas.
These?

*

Neural nets
– powerlines –
and grabbing.
What else?
Seeing everything.
This, too?

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Poetry Month: Day 3, Anthologies

I love, love, love anthologies. I love to read their prefaces and introductions and all the surrounding “matter” and to think about how they were put together. I love to have a whole lot of different poets conveniently in one place, just like I love a rapid-fire reading with 30 people in a row, rapid exposure to many styles.

Pretty soon the Aunt Lute Anthology of U.S. Women Writers will be out! Yeah! Anything with Gloria Anzaldua, Margaret Cho, Elizabeth Bishop, Wanda Coleman, and Bikini Kill in it all together is going to be fucking glorious!

A couple of weeks ago I got my copy of Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-po Listserv. A couple of years ago there was hot discussion on the Women Poets mailing list about doing a book. It was feminist collective hullabaloo combined with large-scale mailing-list-drama! And it came out beautifully, affirming my faith in the Magic Internets and in amazing people who do hard work.

Letters to the World
Editorial tasks were divvied up – Everyone stuck with it – A policy was set to accept and publish one poem by anyone on the list who sent something in – People who feared the prospect of putting their precious Work into something that would label them as Amateur, or Vanity-Press, or that would Suck because of no hierarchical editorial control, were argued against passionately – Inclusivity and anti-snobbery won the day for many people. The result, a very beautiful, thick, amazing book from Red Hen Press. 259 contributors from 19 countries. It is incredibly beautiful. The poems are good. I’m not at ALL embarrassed to be in this book, and I can’t say the same of some other more “legitimate” journals or books. The poems are good and they’re not all the same-samey workshoppy voice that drives me crazy about so many poetry journals.

Later today I’ll post some excerpts.

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Poetry Month: Day 2, Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva

enriqueta arvelo larriva

Happy Poetry Month! Today I have been thinking about Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva, a Venezuelan poet from the 20th century (1886-1962). Her poems are small and odd, but huge internally, like a pocket universe captured and studied from all sides; a bit abstract and philosophical. This, at a time when it seems to me like the way to be a famous woman poet was to blaze passionately forth in a sort of meteoric scandal of words. Arvelo Larriva’s positioning of herself is at the same time very personal and connected to the specific landscape of the Venezuelan llanos, the central plains — a tropical prairie. But at the same time she positioned herself as a very abstract, analytical, point of human consciousness.

Arvelo Larriva began writing and publishing around 1920 that I can verify (but I have also read she was a poet beginning at age 17, much earlier). Most of her poems that I’ve translated were published in the 1920s, but I don’t have all the research done to know exactly when they were written.

I’d like to point out a pattern I have found in looking at the work of women poets in Latin America. Their poetry was often being published little by little in journals, the same journals as more famous men who were their peers, who were in their same literary circles. But the men became famous more quickly, had books published earlier. I think this is one reason that books of literary history tend to describe the women as footnotes, afterthoughts, imitators, or as not quite catching the wave of a literary movement. It appears from short biographical notes on Arvelo Larriva that she began publishing in 1939. This is not true — she was publishing as early as 1918, and certainly throughout the 1920s, and was part of the Generación de 1918; and was part of the Vanguard of the 1920s student movement as well.

Why do I care? Well, because histories talk about those movements – but leave her out, or only mention her 20 years after her vital, early work. The elision of 20 or more years of her publishing history means that she is also cut off from politics; her brother and others of her political circle were jailed in the 1920s. She remained in their hometown on the prairies. My feeling is that the story of her life might be quite interesting and complicated, but that complication is not represented in any descriptions I’ve seen — which just marvel at how she could write clever poems even though she lives out in the sticks instead of in the exciting capital.

Her work persistently reminds me of the somewhat better-known poems by David Rosenmann-Taub from the 1950s. I’ll talk about his poems later this month and connect back to this post on Arvelo Larriva. I also think of some of the short airy poems of García Lorca.

So, onward to a few poems. They might not be your cup of tea. But I get very excited over their depth and over how different they are from other poems of the time. They stand out to me. Also, since I have read a bunch of her work, I am able to see some things in a larger context. So if it seems that I am reading too much into a tiny poem, try to bear with me.

Destino

Un oscuro impulso incendió mis bosques
¿Quién me dejó sobre las cenizas?

Andaba el viento sin encuentros.
Emergían ecos mudos no sembrados.

Partieron el cielo pájaros sin nidos.
El último polvo nubló la frontera.

Inquieta y sumisa, me quedé en mi voz.

Destiny

A dark impulse burned up my forests.
Who is left for me from the ashes?

The wind roamed alone, meeting no one.
Echoes emerged, mute, unsown.

Birds without nests divided the skies.
The last dust clouded the frontier.

Anxious and meek, I dwell in my voice.

“Destino” can be read in light of the Venezuelan llanos and the prairie burn-off of the dry season. Yet, like many of her poems, it can be read as a political commentary. There is the “dry season” layer, specific to the geography of Barinas, where she lives; the tangled, thorny groves are burned with controlled fires in order to clear room for new growth for vast herds of cattle. The poem could also work as a personal one about philosophical and spiritual renewal. However, the “pájaros sin nidos” ‘birds without nests’ can also be read as the journalists, students, and poets who had to flee the country under the rule of Juan Vicente Gómez, after the 1927 student uprisings or other political clashes.

Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva

The creative act of the word, of poetry, is presented as a solution to the problems posed in “Destino” as in many of her other poems. I see her as writing with intense vitality about violence, revolution, politics. But as encoding those concepts within a sort of personal artistic framework, where the poet’s voice breaks out of everyday life, a jailbreak from reason and order.

To be honest here on my translation, I am not happy with those birds without nests. Well, how long can one stare at the page muttering, “homeless birds… birds without nests… nestless….. no, dammit” before one just goes with whatEVER. Sometimes, I will be driving down the highway and a line of a poem I translated years ago will pop into my head — one of this sort of line, where my English is clumsy and graceless — and the perfect, beautiful phrase will come to me in a flash. From what people say, this happens to all translators and that is why we are always revising. I can work very hard on a translation, and feel in the groove for 90% of it, but that other 10% that just wasn’t inspired, is a torment.

I am also fond of this poem:

Vive una guerra

Vive una guerra no advenida. Guerra
con santo y seña, con la orden del día,
con partes, con palomas mensajeras.

Guerra pujante dentro de las vidas.
No digo en las arterias; más adentro.

Ni un estampido ni un rojor de fuego
ni humo vago dan desnudo indicio.

Mas paz de tiza la refleja entera.

And I will give you the first bit, which I think is interesting to translate. Try it yourself as a challenge, if you like.

A war lives

A war lives, unheralded. War
with saint and sign, with the order of day,
with parts of things, with messenger doves.

War throbbing inside whole lives.
I don’t say in the veins; deeper inside.

“Vive una guerra” continues the internalization of violent metaphors, with war metaphors to represent existential and philosophical struggles.

Someday I would like to really do her poetry justice, and translate her first two books. Just the little bit that I do know about her family (which included many poets) and her life and about Venezuelan politics, history, and geography, illuminates the poems for me. If I could do the original research, find the journals where her work first appeared, read her poems in that context, I imagine that I could translate them better, explain them, present them in a context that would help other people see where the poems lead.

There is more to say about the ways that Arvelo Larriva was framed as a woman, and about the gendering of literary history as it happens and in hindsight. I guess I’ll go into that more in future posts as I talk about other poets and their lives.

Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva

What I truly wish for is the ability to get some good, lowdown, dirty gossip. I’d like to know the poets I translate, who have been dead since before I was born, in the same way that I know the poets who are alive now in my city; what do people think of them, really? What are they like? Would I have liked hanging around with Enriqueta? Was she rude, kind, radical, bitchy, boring, pedantic, vindictive, wise? Was she more interesting when she was young? What was the course of her life? With many poets, I do get a sense for the arc of their lives and careers. With Enriqueta, I barely know a thing. And am not likely to get it in this lifetime. Maybe I’ll find an old journal or two, or a letter; her letters with Gabriela Mistral and Juana de Ibarbourou. Just knowing those letters exist, changes everything for me.

Maybe someone who knows more will write a longer Wikipedia entry. More likely, some boorish great-nephew will write to me and go “My god! You’re talking about old Aunt Netty and her insane scribbling! I didn’t think anyone cared about that! Blah blah blah, all those poetry readings, grande dame of Barinitas… She smelled like dusty lavender and dead mice… But, she made good cookies.” I can’t romanticize my dead poets too much, because I always imagine out those great-nephews who have become excellent dentists and who have healthy lives and perspectives lacking in poetry, who knew only the human being and not the metaphysical point in space and time that was the free-floating philosopher poet.

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April: National Poetry Month. Post 1: Nestor Perlongher in translation


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Originally uploaded by Liz Henry

I’m going to try to post every day in April on poetry and poetics. This blog has got some poetry in it, if you dig deep underneath the feminist eyerolling and disability rights and tech stuff.

In the last month, I’ve been going through my translations and poems from the last 10 years. My work schedule has been light – I am contracting, half-time. And there’s a huge backlog of writing which I just never bothered to send anywhere, and didn’t blog, figuring I’d send it out later. So, while I send these translations out to journals and publishers, I’ll be focusing here on describing work I like, or going through some of my own work.

That sounds boring I’m sure, but let’s start with a bang and talk about something super dirty. Let’s descend into the mire!

Today I thought about my translations of Nestor Perlongher’s poems. Nestor was an Argentinian gay rights activist, sociologist, and poet who died in the mid-90s. He lived in São Paulo for much of the 80s and 90s, and wrote in a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, and Portuñol, with a little bit of gay street French thrown in. I have read a fair bit about the Argentinian Dirty War. A few years ago, I heard an mp3 of his long poem about the the disappeared, “Cadaveres”. It blew my mind. I translated that poem and looked further on the net for his work. Not much was available, but what I found blew me away even more. It was weird, radically messed up, dirty, and queer as hell. It was difficult, disturbing, and beautiful.

Someone said the word “untranslatable” in my hearing. You know what happens next!

Perlongher was a sociologist who studied gay and transsexual street hookers in São Paulo. Wow, did he ever study them.

I am somewhat aware of the activism and politics around global human rights for queer and transgendered people. For example I have read plenty about human trafficking from Brazil to Europe and the U.S. and about the questionable safety of some of the more risky surgeries you can get done in Brazil (and elsewhere in the world). And I am somewhat aware as well of the cultures and communities of trans and queer, transvestite, drag queen, cross dresser, intersex, genderqueer, transsexual, and all that sort of thing in the U.S. There are some interesting differences between how trans people are viewed here vs. how they are viewed in much of Latin America. I set out to learn a bit about that, and did some reading in libraries and on the net as a background to translating Perlongher’s poems. It seems to me in many ways that queer urban culture is more global than I knew or expected. Like house music, like the transcendence of Frankie Knuckles, Perlongher’s genderqueer hookers would be at home in San Francisco or Chicago, Paris or Bangkok, as much as in São Paulo. And you have only to be even vaguely queer, to listen to Perlongher’s voice reading “Cadaveres” in that mp3, to go pretty much instantly, “Okay, that is a gay man talking.” If you think about gaydar, going across languages, it is pretty interesting.

Meanwhile, I was reading a bit more about the neobaroque (neobarroco) and neobarroso movements in South America and Cuba.

The poems themselves. What do I mean when I marvel at their spectacular dirtiness? It is hard to describe. They are slippery and pornographic. If you are my mom or something, just stop reading now, because I am going to describe the poetics of cocksucking. There is a pervasive sense of shifting ground, of a moving frame. A phrase will link to the phrase above it and mean one thing, and mean something else on its own when your reading-frame hits it and isolates, and means something else when linked with the phrase that follows; and again in the context of the whole poem, as a flickering impression or kinematoscope, layers up to create a general atmosphere, so that without actually having said the word “cocksucking” or “cum shot”, you realize that is what you are reading about. Everything is sort of glistening and sticky. You think of glitter, flouncing, dive bars and back alleys and strip clubs. Celebratory sleaze. It’s all blowjobs in the rain with smoky eyeshadow, in some over-romanticized Frenchified movie.

Perlongher’s poetics go into the gutter and find amazing beauty – and often, beauty that ties sexuality to resistance to political oppression.

As perhaps you can imagine, the human rights of trans hookers on the streets are not a priority, say, to the police and government. If you are politically active in other areas as well, and you are gay in that context, there is not a lot of recourse for you legally and you are an easy target. But also, as a gay person in a straight world, you have particular survival skills and ways of acting collectively that come in handy during times of particular political repression. I think that is a good angle to keep in mind while reading Perlongher’s work. Perlongher was an openly gay activist in Buenos Aires and in Brazil for gay and transgender rights. He also was around in the 80s and early 90s to watch everyone die. He is writes in a way that shows me he is aware of the violence and power imbalances in pornography and in the sex trade.

You see why I have come to love him dearly in the way that translators can love their poets who they have never known.

In the mean time his poetry is also wankery in the other, academic sense of the word, as in Baudrillard wankery, of spectacle and illusion and semiotics, the elusive and illusive web of meaning that surrounds absence & signs.

So, onwards to a snippet of poetry.

My disclaimer here is that I am super aware that in places I might just be dead wrong. And, the nonlinearity of the poem means that even if you understand every word in Spanish, you will be staring at the page wondering what the hell it means. (And, I considered every word’s meaning in Portuguese as well, because he did double-triple meanings on purpose, or wanted words to evoke other words.) If you tell me I’m wrong and argue it and back it up, I will listen and be grateful for the help.

Consider this section from “Miché”,


la travesti
echada en la ballesta, en los cojines
crispa el puño aureolado de becerros: en ese
vencimiento, o esa doblegación:
de lo crispado:
muelle, acrisolando en miasmas mañaneras la vehemencia del potro:
acrisolando:
la carroña del parque, los buracos de luz, lulú,
luzbel: el crispo: la crispación del pinto:
como esa mano homónima se cierne
sobre el florero que florece, o flora: sobre lo que
florea:
el miché, candoroso, arrebolado
de azahar, de azaleas, monta, como mondando, la
prístina ondulación del agua:
crueldad del firmamento,
del fermento:
atareado en molduras microscópicas, filamentosos mambos:
tensas curvas

the trannygirl
sprawled on the springs, in her cushions
jerks the fist gilded with leather: in that
conquering, or this submission:
of that which jerks
elastic, refiningfined in earlymorning miasmas the vehemence of the colt:
refined:
meatmarket of the park, holes of light, lulu,
lucifer: the jerk: the shuddering of the pinto:
like how that hand homonym purifies itself
on the flowery florist that flowers, or blooms: over that which
flourishes:
the hustler, straightforward, blushing
with orangeblossom, with azalea, like stripping bare, the
pristine undulation of water:
cruelty of the firmament,
of ferment:
busybusy in microscopic moldings, filamentous mambos:
curves tense

Okay, so, just consider that for a bit. I would love to publish the rest but I’ll just wait on that for a while. But, if you were going to write a poem about handjobs without ever saying anything directly dirty, here is your model. If you read Spanish you may go and read the rest in the original. It is full of lube, pushing blunt heads, grease, drool, perturbing firmness, throats and petioles, oysters and curves, and shining above the grime and flesh, the sparkle and “authenticity” of gold lamé.

I’d love to talk some time about his poem about Camila O’Gorman. It seems to me to be a perfect encapsulation of a way that gay men see cinematic and tragic femininity. It is all melodrama and heroine and actress, mist and gauze, mixed with sex, death, and of course flesh and dirt. I read it and just can’t believe how evocative and weird it is. It makes me think of the scene in Bataille’s Blue of Noon where Dirty and the narrator are having sex and fall off a cliff in the muddy rain, or when they are messing with that priest’s eyeball. But actually, sort of, the poem is about a 19th century pregnant teenager facing a firing squad. Where the rats and candle wax and worms come into this, I can’t say, but they fit just fine.

I love reading Perlongher’s poetry. Translating it is like being in poetic free fall. It is outrageously free and wild. It is maddening in its elisions. I could go on and on about it for a very long time, burbling.

Happy Poetry Month!

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Long poems last for a long time

Lately, poetry is all coming in floaty long phrases. It’s all endless stretching introductions full of commas. I think it’s because I’m in a beginning, and don’t have the clarity to send down a full stop sort of root into where I’m going with the language and ideas. I need a whole day to travel and think very thinkily, to figure that out. The ocean is often too distracting. I write poetry best when I’m pulled over by the side of the road, after having thought out phrases and rhythm and a holistic vision in my head to the sound of the highway.

I worked more on the very long Homeric Hymn that has been around for a couple of years. Its first part is good, and I can see the 2nd and 3rd bits aren’t going to match it no matter how long I wait for lightning to strike 3 times. That’s okay. I can detach from the desire for it to all be as good as the best bit. There, the long unhinging of the first section rambles into personal memory. I can’t match Steve Arntsen’s sustained visions, often 20 minutes of digression and glory.

That might be true for the new long poems, that they will be a little bit about personal memory. There is one about the moon landing and another about spaceflight and mistakes; another called Information Manifesto that makes me especially happy. The other thing holding me back is that I can’t quite figure out where they go in relation to others; are they part of Mother Frankenstein or are they something else and something new? That can be such an illusion, as so many people’s careful arrangement of poems into books is pointless. It’s only worth it to care if there is driving unity behind it and not just “the poems that i wrote sort of together in time.” Meanwhile, the manuscript of artless is just sitting around. At this point, fuck it, I thought I’d put out a tiny book at a time, like Woodbird Jazzophone, keep Tollbooth Press alive, and fuck the idea of books. Of all of it, artless is the only one important to keep together bookishly, because it is a deliberate series and I thought it out as one thing with structure.

I hauled out my Alta booklets lately and went looking online for another that I had seen in the New York Poetry House library – and found it. I have always liked the stolid bulldozer of her in Burn This Memorize Yourself. And I got a new Maureen Owen book and again pulled out old ones (as I have rearranged my library and excavated through piles and piles of books, weeding and shelving and shedding an entire piano’s worth of worthlessness, to make room for Oblomovka). Lucky find, and lucky remembrance, also from my trip to New York last year with its unsatisfactory visit to the Bowery Poetry Club — but there, in a lonely shelf of used books that were utter crap that I laughed at with qatipay by my side, I found Untapped Maps and was riveted to the spot till I had finished the book (with some sort of Erotic Poetry Happening happening all around me). Reading Owen was horrifying because until then I felt pleasantly maverick. I read AE later and realized so many things in common, leaps of thought and language in parallel, similar tracks. The relationship built across time and unreality! So that’s horrifying, understand, yet beautiful and made me cry with happiness because I feel less alone (as a poet). The beautiful similarities to the long and short airy eddies from Elvira Hernandez — I would like to send Owen my translations — and then spinning off into curls of density — and then her moments of solidness ringing true as, say, Piercy’s don’t for me. The thought that I might be thought to copy her upsets me. At least it is better than people drivelling about “the female Ginsberg” not that I don’t love it but WTF… as if.

But that moment holding the battered 20 year old copy of Untapped Maps in my hands was beautiful also if you think of all the small books that are to some extent neglected and you might think what’s the point, or where do they go, or are they dead. No! They might be lighthouses in the fog, and a distant in time person will hold them and cry a little with relief that not all poetry is damned boringly all the same as all the other poetry of its time. As I felt with some of the issues of Alcatraz and especially Wanda Coleman’s stuff in there. Think of the mountain, the dead weight, of awfully dull magazines! Think how nice it will be when some future poet-eating woman cradles your quite unexpectedly excellent little book in her hands. Send out those time travellers!

I do think of Greg Hall and how much he would (and might already) dig this crazy chick, certain phrases in particular are very Dirty Greggie, and I want to call him up and get back in touch and send him a xeroxed sheaf with coffee cup stains added accidentally on purpose.

Meanwhile! I’m very excited that a friend introduced me to Maureen Alsop, another translator of Juana de Ibarbourou! I have around 100 poems of Ibarbourou’s, translated in varying degrees of done-ness. Maureen and I had both tackled the Diaria de una isleña, a long prose poem in umpteen sections; one of Ibarbourou’s later works, I think from 1968 or 1969. The arc of Ibarbourou’s writing over her lifetime went from those pantheic exultations, almost-sonnety droplets published in 1919, to her sonnets on Biblical characters, and prayers of the 30s as if to atone; to forays into the surreal in the 40s and 50s, and then grey complex elegies, mad-eyed and Norn-like, in the 1960s and 1970s. Maureen’s and my separate translations of Diary of an Islander felt complementary, and I hope we carry out our collaboration by the sea, and merge versions over endless cups of strong tea and the solace of knowing someone else has loved and inhabited the words we’ve loved by the act of translation.

That’s what’s going on with my poetry and translations; it’s been a while since I’ve said. The translations of some of Carmen Berenguer’s poems from A media asta aren’t out yet; publishing is always slow; maybe the magazine‘s in difficulty? Maybe the difficult typography of that flag poem broke their souls! I hope it comes out soon. No one took my translations of Nestor Perlongher; so again, screw it, I’ll publish them myself in little booklets; I know they’re good and compelling and there is no magic validation needed of some other half-assed clique to rubberstamp it good. Get it out into the world and move on.

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K’vetsh in August

I do love this literary reading and tonight is a big crowd for Heathen and Zara Thustra, so I might as well blog it. Also, my leg hurts a lot tonight but I don’t want to go home yet, so blogging is a way of concentrating on something other than my annoying body. A fine trick – I recommend it.

The hill here on Mariposa is forbiddingly steep and difficult for a wheelchair and I could not do it alone. So my car is parked up that hill! Eeep!

Meliza kicks off! Mexico City visiting the map and multiplying x times y. 66 poem or prose poem series. Sarah Dopp is reading! Awesome recitation of long poem! “I lost it slowly…” Jon Longhi now reading short piece… “When Chaos was in college he steered away from all earthly possessions… … and whenever Chaos jerked off, he used it as a come rag.” Heh! I lost track of what the thing was, but it was pinned with a thumbtack to a poster of Jesus. Then, pants on fire while on the toilet, stoned! Oh, Jon. Our MCs go on and on about “My Dumps” by Peaches which I can testify is great, but first you must watch “My Humps” video AND the My Humps cover/parody by Alanis Morisette which Peaches parodies. Emchy reads from fabulous new chapbook which I have a copy of (just got it have not read it.) Tara Jepsen and Michelle Tea go on about the TV show “The Wire”. I love Tara’s comedy…. and the couple of short films I’ve seen. She and Michelle’s energy is good… Featured reader now, Zara Thustra. Who is dressed and tattooed very charmingly… Sabina reads her autobiographical piece on gay “halfghans. alvin orloff. novel excerpt. I could just keep listening to Alvin’s story of Martine and her fans in the dive bar in the Tenderloin… Oh no, Emchy’s heart pen is missing! We ahve a pen thief. There is a band local called Lesbians. (Really?) ONe more open mic… Carrie or Keri… with a long thing in the voice of a “Minnesota woman” whose husband leaves her. It was sort of dull but that was the point I guess. Heathen Machinery reads! Ways to kill the baby! Awesome. Pulling the belly button thing off with a pop like a can of Schlitz. Poisonous dog poop safety pin injection! Rad. I am very happy as everyone in the room is squicked. The crib bars and the dildos! OMG THE AWESOME! Her aunt and chihuaha and collecting sand dollars. Also strangely disturbing. Another story of her and her cousin and their playing “house” and stuffing dwarf oranges up their nostrils. Then, the wedding and imagined “You!” declaration. Heathen is excellent! No wonder there is a crowd. And lo, it was not all hypeass smoke & mirrors.

Nico reads with a disclaimer about using this reading as motivation (failed) to write some new poems. The piece Nico is reading is more prosy sounding to me. Indians and Pilgrims at Thanksgiving dinner and having a hamburger in some deli… Our MCs do a thing about “Massholes” and Massachusettes and trashy moms fistfighting and mini golf courses on Route 1…

Charlie Anders reads a very hilarious personal ad email. Justin read about penguins, vultures, and love… Fran reads a good poetryish-in-places story about dyke bars.

We ducked out before the end – It was running very late!

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