An anthology of contemporary poetry by women writers living in Argentina

For the past year, I’ve been living in Buenos Aires, compiling and co-translating an anthology of contemporary female poets living in Argentina. Because I was lucky enough to be so close, the majority of my research was conducted through in-person interviews, and meetings with poets, editors, and critics to talk about the different poetry movements growing out of the ’80s and ’90s (a period marked by the transition from a violent military dictatorship to a volatile democracy), the movements happening during the transition from the ’90s into the 2000s (marked by neoliberal policy, hyperinflation, and economic collapse), and the women whose writing was most challenging, exciting, and representative of certain aspects of these times.

I have always approached anthologies with curiosity. Lyric Postmodernisms (Counterpath, 2008), Jen Hofer’s Sin Puertas Visibles: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by Mexican Women (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), and, most recently, Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda’s The Racial Imaginary (Fence, 2015), have been especially important to me. But I’ve also approached anthologies with skepticism, seeing as they can be exclusionary and limited in scope. So when approaching this project, I started with some fairly large, and increasingly pointed questions, among them: How can we begin to think about poetry written by women in the post-dictatorship period, and what spaces did it create? What opposition did it face? How did it respond to previous traditions (most notably the neo-baroque style pervasive in the ’70s and ’80s, the renewed interest in objectivism in the ’90s, also a general desire to challenge the “literary” qualities of poetry). How did it respond to commonly-trafficked essentialisms, not only concerning gender, but also modes of writing classically associated with women, such as the confessional and autobiographical modes? How did certain authors celebrate or re-appropriate these modes, exposing the power structures at play in the way poetry is circulated and made culturally visible, the way certain power structures impose themselves on women’s bodies (abortion is strictly limited by law in Argentina, for example), and the way these structures impose themselves on various aspects of public and private life?

If language is multiple, co-created, distributed across layers of living (and dead) histories, how does the work here comprise a kind of testament to the ’90s and post-’90s in Argentina, and how does it collaborate in its unsettling of this moment, especially of dominant aesthetic trends? How do these unsettlings vary across regions and feminisms? And, most recently, how does the work express vulnerability? Not because women are innately vulnerable, or possess a kind of unchanging, universal sense of vulnerability (most of the work gathered here can be seen as an argument to the contrary), but because these poets choose to make themselves vulnerable in their work, or to expose the ways they are vulnerable outside of it; the work speaks to these different types of vulnerability, it stretches this term. In this, the work makes itself vulnerable, arriesgada, challenging also to the structures around it, making those structures highly questionable in their fixity, whether they be the far-reaching literary establishment, or dominant critical positions–especially those that disenfranchise certain modes of writing–or political agents that seek to undermine women’s rights and well-being. (Timely examples include the recent violence at the women’s march in Buenos Aires and the many violences of Trump’s American Health Care Act, including its defunding of Planned Parenthood, and its waiving of basic maternity coverage and basic health benefits for the insured, like mammograms and vaccinations.) In this sense, over the past year I have come to see vulnerability as a radical aesthetic position, both for its exposing of the conditions that make women vulnerable in an embodied sense, and for the way it can become an artistic choice, a constant means of undermining authority, whether it be the institutional kind or the self’s authority over the self. I feel grateful to have thought about these things as a poet and translator, and I only have the poets I’ve encountered this year to thank.

When talking about women’s writing in the post-dictatorship period, Argentine writer, professor, and cultural critic Laura Arnés signals a crisis in the systems of representation that the dictatorship unleashed, marking what she calls a poetics in which “no se desarrollan entre términos como nunca-siempre, adentro-afuera, antes-después, esto o lo otro, sino que, como propone Kosofsky Sedwick (Touching Feeling), es el término ‘beside’ (además, al lado de) el que en ellos se vuelve potencia por su falta de polaridad.” (In my translation: “Things don’t develop among terms like never-always, inside-outside, before-after, this one or the other one, but rather, as Kosofsky Sedwick proposed (in Touching Feeling), it’s the term ‘beside’ (also, next to) which becomes powerful for its lack of polarity”.) It’s true that if there was one defining feature of the ’90s and post-’90s poetry community, it would be a plurality of voices, or as Alicia Genovese says a “cuestionamiento a una subjectividad totalizadora (questioning of a totalizing subjectivity).”

Add to this a literary climate in which editorial teams were dominated by men, and a cultural backdrop in which the neoliberal agenda of the Carlos Menem presidency (1989-1999) imposed structural changes that led to the privatization of many public services and the transnationalization of many of the major publishing houses. This, instead of creating a homogenized literary scene, spurred the emergence of many small presses, many reading series, journals, fanzines, and happenings, many with the aim of opposing this tendency toward normalization and fulfilling market demands. And although the early 2000s saw many spaces, galleries, presses, and spaces curated by women (Belleza y Felicidad, Zapatos Rojos, Plebella), women’s voices were sometimes grouped together by critics, especially when difficult to categorize. It was these voices, the nonconforming, the most difficult that I sought out for this anthology.

The women excerpted here represent some of the most daring writers I’ve encountered during my time in Buenos Aires. Their work is stylistically exciting, and also collapses the stark divide between work that can be considered lyrical and experimental, coded and clear, invested in public and private life. Marina Yuszczuk’s Madre Soltera, which you’ll read excerpted here in my translation, adopts the confessional mode to explore her first year of single motherhood. While the book has the feel of a memoir, it also uses lyric disruption to constantly cast doubt on language’s ability to transmit experience, especially intimate experience, to a reader, and also explores the socioeconomic realities of being a single mother in modern-day Argentina. Laura Wittner’s “Dentro de casa” (excerpted and translated here by Shira Rubenstein) redefines the domestic space through moments of estrangement, fragmented recollection, and humor. Paula Peyseré’s Las afueras (excerpted and translated by Carlos Soto Román) tries on many different voices and lyrical modes in order to explore various aspects of civic life. Verónica Viola Fisher’s Hacer sapito (translated by JP Pluecker) takes on the confluence of gender construction and parental abuse. And the poems from Victoria Cóccaro’s Electricos de Sombra (translated by Rebekah Smith) explore transnationalism, friendship, and the idea of the contemporary, and Cóccaro’s is one of the most exciting female voices I’ve encountered while being here.

While still in progress, the anthology will feature, aside from the women featured here, Roberta Iannamico, Maria Lucesole, Daiana Henderson, Cecilia Pavon, Fernanda Laguna, Marina Mariasch, the Persons Collective, Florencia Minici, Daiana Henderson,, Paula Jimenez España, Claudia Masin, Luciana Camaaño, Andi Nachón, Marysabel Sánchez Bouttó, Mariela Gouric, Julia Sarachu, and others, who will be translated by, aside from the translators featured here, Daniel Borzutzky, Lucina Schell, Kristin Dykstra, Jen Hofer, Jacob Steinberg, Noel Black, Camilo Roldán, and others.

I want to thank Victoria Cóccaro, Guada Alfaro, Tomás Fadel, Marcos Pernearnau, Aldo Giacometti, and all the other the other people who have not only helped edit these translations, but were and continue to be so fundamental to the shaping of this anthology in many unquantifiable ways.

Bios

Alexis Almeida

Alexis Almeida grew up in Chicago. Her poems and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Prelude, Dusie, Flag + Void, Action Yes, and elsewhere. She is an assistant editor at Asymptote and a contributing editor at The Elephants. Her chapbook of poems, Half-Shine, is recently out from Dancing Girl Press, her translation of Florencia Castellano’s Propiedades vigiladas (Monitored Properties) is recently out from Ugly Duckling Presse, and her translation of Roberta Iannamico’s Tendal is forthcoming from Toad Press. She recently spent the year living in Buenos Aires on a Fulbright research grant, where she has been compiling and co-translating an anthology of contemporary female poets living in Argentina.

.

*

Copyright (c) Alexis Almeida, 2017.