Czar Gutiérrez’s book-length poem La caída del equlibrista (The Fall of the Tightrope Walker), originally published in 1997, is divided into nine acts, each of which depicts a moment in the tragic fall of its central character, the eponymous tightrope walker. One could say the poem enacts its speaker’s attempt to reconnect through a sustained lyric to God, to his parents and loved ones, and to his own psychic principle. If we pay heed to one of Gutiérrez’s most important influences Nietzsche, then it’s possible to see ourselves as a tightrope walker, moving from one pole to another, seeking, as the book’s epigram announces, fraternity over the abyss (Paz).
– Nick Rattner
In Melanie Taylor Herrera’s short story “Journey,” a girl is abandoned, reclaimed, and again reclaimed. Mothering occurs as a plurality, the matriarchs, like the view from the streetcar, automobile, bus, horse, hip, whisking past, blurring countryside and city, nostalgic past and modernist present, refocusing even as eyesight worsens. Who is abandoned in the making of a nation, and for whom is it truly a nation? Which traces now recognized? Which lines can be transversed, by whom, and for how long? Or is the sound that is made collectively or the images that are combined the only true celebrations? A voice from the depths of the sofa. A call and need for a different mothering in the midst of. A woman like a country ages exponentially even as “progression” occurs at its pace. At which point the intersection?
The reader is in each place asked to exist and accommodate, as in grow comfortable, though in each place the female body is faced with danger, betrayal, quieting. How does this act as a metaphor for the country, Panama, now, as it celebrates anniversaries of construction, canal, nation; for conflicted memories of invasion; for a woman’s relation to power; and for globalization? Who has been considered a citizen? Who now is so easily adapted? Before whom does the law bend or turn its back? What knowledge in the wrinkled eye lost?
And as for home in instability and the contrast of enclosure and open air. The females who advocate for open windows, walks outside. Threats to security. Who should have been saved? Is not getting saved? Is saving? Is it a postcard? A ghostly trace of tracks stepped over. There are numerous hauntings, possessions. To be a devil or a ghost because memory remains and is desired to be shared. In the very center of the city hidden away or very far in the countryside open to the air. What is aging us prematurely?
Melanie Taylor Herrera included this story in her book Camino a Mariato. Each story offers a route into an interior slice. In “Journey,” our protagonist has been taken into the core of a nation and there enclosed. Female territory and mythmaking and agency. The book and the story offer up new possibility.
– Christina Vega-Westhoff
Paco Urondo’s poems figure in the conversational, revolutionary trend in Latin American poetry in the mid-to-late 20th century. He and his contemporaries engaged with the difficult political realities of their time, always with the intent to achieve art above all else. Though he would come to write conversationally and directly over time, his oeuvre preserves the legacy of Surrealism. His humor and pain, individually and in solidarity with others, make this poet crucial, unavoidable, to the reading of the poetry of the Americas.
Urondo was a victim of the dictatorship in Argentina, killed just months after the March 1976 coup. He was active in the guerrilla organization Montoneros and worked as a journalist. He was a contemporary of Juan Gelman, Mario Benedetti, Julio Cortázar, and many others who considered him a great talent and friend. Though his work appears alongside that of these renowned authors in some anthologies, it has largely been excluded from criticism and translation. Currently, his legacy is experiencing a revival in Argentina.
He is famously quoted as saying, “Empuñé un arma porque busco la palabra justa” (I took up arms in search of the just word). Urondo’s efforts to merge the roles of artist, intellectual, and militant were sites of devastation and of hope, confirming the poet’s valor and his trust in his work, in his compañeros, and in history, to effect the change he sought.
– Julia Leverone
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
Pilar Fraile Amador’s Larva & Hedge is one of those rare collections that affects the reader by both attracting and repelling, that can simultaneously enchant and disturb. Fraile’s poems mesmerize and sing; they weave captivating webs. But they are fascinating, too, in their potential for repulsion, in their willingness to inhabit the most unsettling of spaces. The force of the text, then–the way it acts upon the reader’s interior–is twofold.
On the one hand, Fraile’s poems are magnetic. They read like deftly spun incantations, sonorous lines draped over imagined topographies. But they derive equal force from their readiness to shock and disturb, to wield images that pierce a reader’s repose and rearrange one’s insides. The poems occupy both dreamscape and night terror; they caress and startle. They situate us in the space between our discomfort and enthrallment at the sight of blood. We cannot turn away.
That Fraile’s text both attracts and repels is fitting. It is a collection that deals in dualities, juxtaposing the intimate and the collective, the strong and the weak, the human and the animal; yoking them together to call their differences into question. It is this gesture that begins Fraile’s project of blurring lines and traversing borders.
The volume itself is binary, split into two distinct sections that function together. In Larva, Fraile explores the undercurrent of correspondence that exists unnoticed between human beings, the wellspring of the common subconscious. Here, individual and collective memories intermix and alter one another and the living can communicate with objects and the dead. The destruction of the ‘I,’ then, becomes a generative act that allows the other–or others–to pass into and expand an individual consciousness. Under these circumstances, the lines between past and present, between self and other, grow indistinct. The speaker is a secret essence that mediates the collective, a human distillate in the antechamber of life. The past never dies.
In the second section of the book, Hedge, the individual disappears completely. The poetic subject shifts to plural as Fraile reflects on what binds a community. While both halves of the volume are image-driven, the poems that constitute Hedge are more intricate than the preceding fragments, rich with sensory detail and of longer duration. They take shape as blocks of prose poetry that make use of repetition, compression, and fragmentation and fuse lines into paragraphs. This configuration yields both continuity and a useful sense of isolation: while each poem is visually cloistered as a block of text on its own page, the poems hang together with their consistent form as stages in a continuous meditation.
Fraile cites influences who move “in the border of the border”–from symbolists Baudelaire and Rimbaud with their intuitive associations, unconventional syntax, and indirect expression; to the surrealism of Lorca and Buñuel; to contemporary Spanish classics like Ullán, Valente, and Gamoneda. Her imagistic precision, along with stylistic choices like nonlinear forms and a disjunctive, multivocal timbre, demonstrate a desire to move in literary border areas and to create poetry that is unflinchingly exploratory.
– Elizabeth Davis
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
Likened to Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, and Clarice Lispector, Hebe Uhart is an Argentine writer whose distinctive voice has made her beloved over the past 50 years by the Argentine public and fellow writers. Relatos Reunidos, her collected works, won the award for the Best Work of Literary Creation at the Buenos Aires Book Fair in 2011. Her newest story collection, Un día cualquiera, was released in 2013. An avid traveler with a piercing eye, Uhart has also published two travelogue collections, with a third forthcoming.
“The Fluffy Cake” is the title story from a collection originally published in 1976. Uhart says she wrote the story after a having experienced a moment of considerable disappointment during which she saw her world as flat and depressing, like this cake she had once made in childhood.
“Dear Mama” was included in the 1997 story collection Guiando la hiedra. Uhart wrote it as a tribute following the death of her mother. In 2009 it was adapted for the theater by Laura Yussem.
– Maureen Shaughnessy
Luisa Valenzuela, one of Argentina’s most prominent and inventive fiction writers, was born in Buenos Aires in 1938. The home in which she grew up was a gathering place for writers, artists, and publishers. Borges (whom she described in her Paris Review interview as “a walking system of thought”) came at least once a week, being a close friend of her mother, Luisa Mercedes Levinson (herself a well-known writer). The Luisa in question here wrote her first poem at six, and published her first story at twenty. The author of over twenty books–novels, short stories, and micro-fictions–Valenzuela has lived in France, Spain, Mexico, and New York, and taught at numerous universities, including Columbia and NYU. She has won a host of major prizes and awards (including a Fulbright, a Guggenheim, the Cervantes Prize, and at least one honorary doctorate). Her work has been widely translated. She left Argentina in the wake of the 1976 military coup, when one of her books was censored; in 1989 she returned to Buenos Aires and re-settled in her native neighborhood of Belgrano. Although fluent in French and English, she always held on to “the Argentine language [as] a home I don’t want to lose” [The Paris Review interview, No. 170]. Her writing has rightly been called “hallucinatory” (although in matters of craft, it is absolutely lucid), arising as it has from her country’s surreal and violent politics. Valenzuela’s sentences have force and momentum, though her phrases may shift into unexpectedly delicate cadences and textures. Terror, exile, and alienation continue to be major themes, yet there is also a new, entirely unsentimental, tenderness between her characters.
“The Wanderer” (original title: “La errante”) is from Tres por cinco, a collection published in Spain in 2008 and Argentina in 2010.
Valenzuela’s most recent visits to New York took place in May 2014 for the launch of Review 88: Literature and Arts of the Americas, where she did a reading of “Conyecturas” (a witty philosophical story called “Conjectures on the Great Beyond” in English), and in 2013 for several events at McNally Jackson centering on her latest novel, La máscara sarda (The Sardinian Mask), which delves into the Sardinian roots of Juan Domingo Perón.
– Marguerite Feitlowitz
Using her background in psychotherapy, Glafira Rocha blends genres and fractures forms to introduce us to texts devoid of spatial, temporal, and character delineations, thus fully delving into the psyche of each voice. Like Dan Chaon’s Stay Awake and Robin Black’s If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, Rocha’s Such Tales is a work of fiction intended to disturb and unsettle. Spanning nearly nineteen thousand words in length, the volume centers on human conflict, inviting its audience to examine the catalyst for evil that resides in the relationships among the people Rocha depicts.
The situations explored in Such Tales include, among others: a killer struggling to find his keys after murdering a mother and her two children; a psychopath pondering mass homicides; a dying woman experiencing her final thoughts, visions, and hallucinations; two highly driven women competing for power within the same career and the same mind; private letters describing a father’s absence, a wife’s loneliness, and the incestuous sexual abuse of their child; people wandering around a town vivid with remnants of the revolution for freedom; the loss of a child testing an elderly woman’s faith; a paralytic discussing his shoe fetish; a woman living with depression and struggling to move through her day; the brutal death of a relative affecting everyone and no one equally.
– Gustavo Adolfo Aybar
Victoria Estol was born in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1983. She holds degrees in sociology and social communication. Bicho Bola, her first book of poetry, and the one from which the poems featured here are taken, has been well received by local literary critics. She earned a commendation from National Pablo Neruda Competition for Young Poets and contributed to the anthology Cualquiercosario, co-edited by Uruguay (Yaugurú) and Spain (Libros de la imperdible).
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).