In January 2014, I went to Cuba under a visa from the Cuban Ministry of Culture. Part of the work that I was doing in Cuba involved collaborations with Cuban writers. I had the chance to work personally with Ricardo Alberto Pérez on these poems. Born in 1963, Ricardo is among the first generation of writers raised with the Cuban Revolution. His work has not appeared in English, though it is known and lauded in Cuba and throughout the Americas.
– Daniel Borzutzky
Antonio Álvarez Gil is a novelist and short story writer. Born in Melena del Sur, Cuba, he has resided in Sweden since 1994. I discovered Naufragios (Algaida, 2002; in English translation, Shipwrecked) some years ago at a bookstore in Spain, where he has published several novels and won numerous awards. For years, the enigmatic beauty of one of that novel’s characters, a Russian-Cuban girl, lingered in my mind, and it took some time before I discovered that the vast universe occupied by his characters extended beyond Cuba and the Soviet Union, where Álvarez Gil himself had long ago studied chemical engineering. Knowing that literature was his vocation even when he was obliged to pursue a different career altogether, Álvarez Gil has written short stories and novels often brimming with the adventures of youth and universal literary and human quests–whether set in the present, as is the case with “Fascination”; the recent past of Cubans experiencing Soviet Perestroika up close, as in Callejones de Arbat (2012); or the more distant past of Las largas horas de la noche (2000, 2003), where, as Arístides Vega Chapú suggests in a recent review of the novel, the “most universal Cuban of all time,” José Martí, undergoes immense humanization within his ten-year foray in Guatemala City in the late 19th century. That is to say, literature, love, travel, persecution, exile, masculinity, the ocean, and vocation harbor an important place in Álvarez Gil’s writing. Mostly realist, it is also prone to twists and turns that take on an almost magical quality closely linked in his prose to the processes of writing, inspiration, and intertextuality. In “Fascination,” readers board a cruise ship in Stockholm only to find themselves amidst Cuban characters working out their relationships to their homeland, their compatriots, the vigilance of the state, their desire–and, last but not least, to a writer who seeks to find the best way to introduce himself to all of them, and to tell a good story while doing so.
– Jacqueline Loss
Marcelo Morales works along boundaries between poetry and prose, with a particular interest in the fragment. These selections from El círculo mágico (The Visionary Circle, 2007) evoke the haunting realities of reorientation and transition that the island confronted at the beginning of the current century: the need to envision the end of an era; to reexamine relations between nation and world, self and society in order to arrive at a new understanding of the present; and to find a language for acknowledging the impact of emigration on everyday life.
The featured texts belong to assignments [tareas], an innovative long poem that has as its core the experiences of otherness, both in Cuba and the United States. assignments ponders the impossibilities of a stable identity, its infeasibility in space and time. On a formal level, assignments constitutes an homage to the number 7. It is made up of 21 sections, divided into 7 stanzas, with 7 verses each.
The three featured poems borrow from the nineteenth century without obediently remaining within it. The author specifies that he is, as stated in “Borges spankspank,” actually descended from the Cuban bandit Manuel García, who is also depicted in artwork displayed at Havana’s fine arts museum. “Days of 1834” similarly draws on a compelling historical figure, this time a poet, flirting with the contours of his storyline. Under the surface of that poem, Flores speaks to another contemporary Cuban writer who is deeply interested in ruins—a “ruinologist,” even—but who shall remain anonymous: Flores does not give permission to “out” the figures from contemporary island life who flit through this book. However, he tends to describe his poems as implicitly championing their existence in the face of a society that may at times discourage personal growth, change, or difference. “Germany, 1843” was supposed to be a poem about Nietzsche, but it uncooperatively turned into a poem about Hölderlin. Flores has decided that in the center it’s also reaching toward Cavafy, and perhaps, toward ancient Greeks. (Kristin Dykstra)
Ángel Escobar Varela was born in 1957 in Sitiocampo, located in Cuba’s rural eastern province of Guantánamo. As an adult he spent many years on the western side of the island in and around the city of Havana. The publication of a posthumous anthology in 2006 (Ángel Escobar: Poesía completa, Ediciones UNIÓN) symbolizes rising acclaim for his work. Escobar generated the complex field of his poetics out of numerous influences–his training in theater, wide readings in international literature, his autobiography, family trauma, and philosophical reflections on modern life, among other strands. Those who knew him late in his life also see the influence of his worsening battle with schizophrenia: many poems make reference to illness and endurance. They also challenge prevailing notions of rational conduct, and some commentators argue that the spatialization of the late poetry itself performs “schizophrenic” moves. Over the course of his career, Escobar’s articulations of suffering opened some of the richest veins in his poetry. He took his own life in Havana in 1997.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Published since April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).