Mexican writer Carmen Boullosa's most recent collection of poems, Hamarita (o hacha), is divided into various sections. The first consists of 27 individual poems, followed by three separate sequences. While most writers have certain words or phrases they return to again and again, in general, in their work, it was fascinating to see how each of the sequences has not only its own mythology (even while still being inspired by the authors personal history) but often each has its own vocabulary and terms that recur and repeat.
One of the biggest problems that presented itself in translating the collection, which is forthcoming from White Pine Press in 2019, stems from the final word of the title: "hacha," which in Spanish is both a blade (hatchet or axe) and also a long, white ecclesiastic candle (the use that we're missing in English). Boullosa adeptly wields this word to simultaneously cut and illuminate in Spanish, whereas in English I had (unfortunately) to opt for only one meaning or the other each time it appeared. The poems still work in English, I think, even if they're lacking some of the verbal richness and dexterity of Boullosa's originals.
(It was a joy for me to go over the translations with Boullosa, who lives in New York City part of the year and has an excellent level of English, which allowed us to debate the nuances of different word choices. I read aloud the translations to her so she could hear the sound of the poems in English and sometimes we chose to be more faithful to the music of the original than to the content.)
Unlike the individual poems, which obviously share certain details of personal history but are each self-contained units, the sequences have a cumulative effect, giving an almost narrative feel as a result of accretion and repetition more than via the techniques of fiction (a genre Boullosa is also quite adept at). Often the sequences of very short poems, each presented on its own page, use the silence of the white space and what is not said as much as the concentrations of language and imagery and words that act as echoes or refrains. As anyone who has ever tried to write (or translate) themselves, that sparseness of language is something that can seem so simple on the surface yet is so difficult to pull off, requiring many rounds of revision and pruning until it sounds natural.
Which hopefully these English versions now do, while still recreating the same reading experience of enjoying her verse in Spanish.
We are hatchets of steel and fire.
We live to reap and illuminate.
With the metal,
we fell the trunk.
With the flame,
we illuminate the cut,
the felling of what we are.
(the fish, the ant)
and I toward the tomb,
my final crinoline.
I run, from the basting and the grammar of my dresses
toward the laughter drawn on the dead man's skull.
"Goodbye," her final words. "Death to the power of the crinoline!"
I travel aboard my tomb,
in a crinoline my entire life.
said the fish,
"I'm out of here in a crinoline."
It journeyed and journeyed,
the sea was its crinoline.
and I to my tomb
to take off my crinoline.
From the governance of the crinoline,
they take from me an oar
and a chocolate.
One pair after another (now I can call them by their trisyllable name)
were an invitation to the Bermuda Triangle.
I sailed; I lost myself in impossible waters; I capsized.
I survived, running aground on a desert island, my clothes (one pair
after another) becoming tatters
far removed from me.
The triangle is drawn
on the skirts
of my heart.
In the skirts
of my heart
I lose myself
I am buoyed by my husband's solid body,
but my heart keeps sinking,
in the aforementioned Triangle's perpetual campaign
I decide to devour myself.
It's enough for me to know it's there to lose all calm
I flounder. I don't lose myself. I won't run aground. I shall resist.
I'll learn to be a fish out of water.
Translated by Lawrence Schimel
Carmen Boullosa is a poet, novelist and playwright. She's received numerous awards, among them the Xavier Villaurrutia Prize, the LiBeraturpreis in Germany, and the Café Gijon Award for Novel. She's received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Center for Scholars and Writers of the New York Public Library (today the Cullman Center). She has been a distinguished professor at Georgetown University and San Diego State University, has held the Andrés Bello chair at NYU and the Reyes chair at the Sorbonne, and was a visiting professor at Columbia and Blaise Pascal. She is part of the faculty of CUNY and forms part of the Nation System of Art Creators in Mexico.
Her most recent publications are the poetry collection La patria insomnia (Hiperión) and the novels El complot de los románticos (Siruela) and Texas (Alfaguara).
Lawrence Schimel (New York, 1971) is a full-time author, writing in both Spanish and English, who has published over one hundred books in a wide range of genres, from LGBT to poetry to children’s literature. His work has been published in Basque, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, English, Esperanto, Estonian, Finnish, French, Galician, German, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, Turkish, and Ukrainian translations. He is also a prolific literary translator. He lives in Madrid, Spain and New York City.
The fourth issue of LALT highlights underrepresented but deserving voices from across Latin America, with a focus on women writers as well as special sections dedicated to genre-bending science fiction, indigenous-language poetry and prose, and the essential relationship between author and translator.
Table of Contents
- "The Poetry of Pedro Lastra" by Marcelo Pellegrini
- "Against the Eviction of the Poet: An Introduction to the Poetry of Juan Arabia" by Rodrigo Arriagada Zubieta
- "Physics and Poetry: An Introduction to Luis Correa-Díaz" by Alberto G. Rojo
- "Juan Ramón Jiménez, Parisian Perfumer" by Néstor Mendoza
- "In Memoriam: Rius for (Absolute) Beginners" by Radmila Stefkova
- "The Copy is the Original: The Problematics of Juan Luis Martínez’s Posthumous Works" by Scott Weintraub
- "A Room, a House, a City of One’s Own: Four Women Prose Writers from Latin America" by Sebastián Diez
- ESSAY: "Five Women Writers in Translation" by George Henson
- FICTION: "Pharos" by Jazmina Barrera
- INTERVIEW: "Eavesdropping": Snippets of a Conversation between Jazmina Barrera and Christina MacSweeney
- FICTION: "Tree Monster Boy Tree" by Mariana Torres
- INTERVIEW: “There is no better reader than a translator”: A Conversation with Mariana Torres by Lisa Dillman
- FICTION: "Series 201" by Luisa Valenzuela
- ESSAY: "Too Cute for Tiny Tale Tellers: Some Thoughts on Translating Series 201 with Luisa Valenzuela" by Grady C. Wray
- POETRY: "March 10, NY" by Jeannette L. Clariond
- INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Jeannette L. Clariond by Samantha Schnee
- POETRY: Three Poems by Carmen Boullosa
- Sarah Booker: Translation is like "Trying to Remember a Dream": A Conversation with Denise Kripper
- “Living out of place has led me towards the defeat of the real”: A Conversation with Pablo Brescia by Thomas Nulley-Valdés
- "Symphonies of Literary Violence: A Conversation with Pedro Novoa" by Gabriel T. Saxton-Ruiz
- "A Sample of Colombian Poetry" by Camila Charry Noriega
- "Poetics" by Juan Manuel Roca
- "Outdoors" by Amparo Osorio
- "Two Days for Lázaro" by Mery Yolanda Sánchez
- "Perfect Unreality" by Pedro Arturo Estrada
- "Light and Shadow Make Up the House" by María Tabares
- "Downpours" by Alejandro Cortés González
- "I Make My Way Through the Deserted City" by Lucía Estrada
- "Untitled" by Juan Guillermo Sánchez
- "The Snack" by Andrea Cote-Botero
- "Janis Joplin" by Henry Alexander Gómez
- "Eternal" by Margarita Losada Vargas
- "They say the last flame" by Tania Ganitsky
- "The House" by Jenny Bernal
- "From a Distance, You Can Only Ask" by Juan Afanador
- "Magdalena River" by Robert Max Steenkist
- El último apaga la luz by Nicanor Parra
- Lennon bajo el sol by José Adiak Montoya.
- Temporada de huracanes by Fernanda Melchor
- Pasos Pesados by Gunter Silva
- La derrota de lo real by Pablo Brescia
- La troupe Samsonite by Francisco Font Acevedo
- And We Were All Alive by Olvido García Valdés
- Cicatrices y estrellas by Francisco Véjar
- La sinfonía de la destrucción by Pedro Novoa
- Antonio Skármeta: Nuevas Lecturas by César Ferreira and Jason Jolley