One of the most interesting works among this selection–all of which are taken from Santiago Vizcaíno’s most recently published collection of poems Hábitat del camaleón–is the long-form prose poem song of oneself. As both translator and reader, I thought it might be interesting to delve more deeply into the influences and processes which went into creating this particular piece. What follows is a brief interview with the author.
Q: What is the purpose of using Whitman’s famous poem as influence and point of departure in song of oneself? How was such an idea born, in particular the use of third person and the constant repetition of your own name to direct the phrases (a type of punishment/ bullying/black humor) towards a deformed version of yourself, the author?
A: The reference to Whitman is without doubt sarcastic. While Song Of Myself is the highest expression of poetry in conjunction with life, that is to say, the exaltation of the self and of nature, song of oneself —in which Whitman’s poetic “I” becomes the poetic “one”—turns rather to the more sincere and absurd pathos of the poet. It is no longer the romantic “I” imbued with an almost religious spirit. It is the poet character looking in from the outside, fed up with repeating his name. It is a poet who opens up, but who also reinvents. There is an intention to demystify. That is precisely why a poor translation of one of Whitman’s verses is used, as an epigraph.* It is to say that the poet is no more than a bad translation of himself: an impostor.
Q: What place does the Latin American experience and/or Ecuadorian poetics have within this work, and how is it evidenced?
A: Perhaps the clearest influence would be Trilce by César Vallejo (Peruvian poet, writer, playwright and journalist, 1892-1983). This fundamental book in Latin American poetry has had a great deal of influence on the writing of this poem, divided into four parts. Vallejo’s sorrow is, of course, Santiago’s sorrow. But there is also irony, which I take from Nicanor Parra–although it might be better called sarcasm. I’m a bit fed up with poets who exalt their condition. song of oneself is a mockery, but it is also testament to the fact that the poet is no medium for divinity.
* Estoy enamorado de mí mismo, hay tantas cosas en mí tan deliciosas: “I am in love with myself, there are so many things within me which are so delicious.’ I have left this epigraph untranslated—while it seems to be from a widely circulated version of Song of Myself (Canto a mí mismo, in Spanish), it not so much a translation as a free-form, modernized interpretation of the original work. I was unable to find anything near to its equivalent in either the original or in more traditional translations into Spanish, such as the one done by León Felipe in 1941. I think the context provided here allows for some insight into why such a choice was made, and justifies leaving it “as is” in the poem.
– Kimrey Anna Batts
Jorge Velasco Mackenzie was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in 1949. In 1983, he was awarded First Prize in the José de la Cuadra Concurso Nacional. He is the author of the novels El Rincón de los Justos (1983), Tambores para una Canción Perdida (1986), and El Ladrón de Levita (1990); the fiction collections De Vuelta al Paraíso (1975), Como Gato en Tempestad (1977), Raymundo y la Creación del Mundo (1979), Músicos de Amaneceres (1986), and Clown y Otros Cuentos (1988); the poetry collection Algunos Tambores que Suenan Así (1981); the anthology Palabra de Maromero (1986); and the play En Esta Casa de Enfermos (1983).
Francisco Proaño Arandi was born in Cuenca, Ecuador, in 1944. In 1982, he was awarded Segunda Mencion in the Plural Concurso Internacional de Cuentos in Mexico for his story “Oposición a la Magia,” and in 1984, the Jose Mejia Lequerica Premio Nacional del Municipio de Quito for his novel Antiguas Caras en el Espejo. He is the author of the additional novels Del Otro Lado de las Cosas (1993), and La Razón y El Presagio (2003); the short fiction collections Historias de Disecadores (1972), Oposición a la Magia (1986), La Doblez (1986), and Historias del País Fingido (2003); the poetry collection Poesías (1961); and the anthologies Cuentos: Antología (1995) and Perfil Inacabado (2004). His short fiction has appeared in anthologies in Ecuador, Germany, Cuba, Colombia, Spain, and Portugal. He has served as a diplomat representing the Embassy of Ecuador in Colombia (1972-1973), the former U.S.S.R. (1973-1977), Cuba (1980-1984), Yugoslavia (1990-1992), Nicaragua (1995-1997), Costa Rica (1997-2000), El Salvador (2004-2006), and Argentina (2006-present).
Raúl Pérez Torres was born in Quito, Ecuador, in 1941. He is a founding member of La Bufanda del Sol magazine and the Frente Cultural of Ecuador. He won the Casa de las Américas Prize in Cuba for his book En la Noche y en la Niebla. In 1981, he was awarded the José Mejía Lequerica del Municipio de Quito National Prize, and that same year, he served as a juror for the Casa de las Américas Prize in La Habana, Cuba. He is the author of the novel Teoría del Desencanto (1985), and the short fiction collections Da Llevando (1970), Manual para Mover las Fichas (1973), Micaela y Otros Cuentos (1976), Musiquero Joven, Musiquero Viejo (1977), Ana, La Pelota Humana (1978), and Un Saco de Alacranes (1989).
Marco Antonio Rodríguez was born in Quito, Ecuador, in 1941. He has published essays about Ecuadorian painters, and been a contributing writer for specialized publications in and outside of Ecuador. His stories have been translated into multiple languages, and his books have been published in many editions. He is the author of the essay collections Rostros de la Actual Poesía Ecuatoriana (1963), Benjamín Carrión y Miguel Angel Zambrano (1966), and Isaac J. Barrera, the Man and his Work (1969), and the short fiction collections Historia de un Intruso (1976), Un Delfín y la Luna (1985), and Jaula (1992).
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