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Poemas de amor
by Idea Vilariño
Edited and translated with an introduction by Jesse Lee Kercheval. Published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2020 (IBSN 9780822966258).
Idea Vilariño (1920–2009) is an essential figure in South American poetry, a member of the Uruguayan Generation of ’45 writers which included the Cervantes Prize-winning novelist Juan Carlos Onetti. Vilariño and Onetti’s love affair is famous in South American literature, a match for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, or for that matter Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. Vilariño was as glamorous as Bacall. Onetti was eleven years older, balding, nearsighted, and married to his fourth wife. To these differences was added distance. Vilariño stayed in Uruguay when Onetti was exiled in Spain. From their long, unpromising affair came Vilariño’s Poemas de amor, dedicated to Onetti and published in 1957, predating Sylvia Plath’s Ariel and Anne Sexton’s To Bedlam and Part Way Back, but with much in common with their work. It is an intense book, sexual, feminist, ecstatic, obsessive, often angry. While Vilariño wrote many other books, she returned to Poemas de amor again and again, revising and adding to it through the decades until the final edition of 2006, twelve years after Onetti’s death. In the end, Poemas de amor was not simply the reflection of their singular love. It became a testament to both the necessity and the impossibility of love in the world, especially for a passionate, independent woman determined to speak with her own voice.
“A slender book, a slender set of poems to carry such weight. Readers will be amazed at how much passionate love, hate, joy, grief, loneliness, and anger inhabits these love poems to a single man over a period of years, he in exile, she trapped in Montevideo. Invoking ‘a life burning to be pierced,’ each of these brief poems is a gem, resembling the diamonds and diamond chips a refugee might sew into the hem of a coat, for survival purposes in crossing boundaries and borders—gems hard and luminous from within. Vilariño is a thrilling discovery for me; I am grateful to her remarkable translator, Jesse Lee Kercheval, as well. If we had more of Sappho, she might sound like Vilariño.”
—Alicia Suskin Ostriker
“Thanks to the tireless and remarkable translation work of Jesse Lee Kercheval, English-language readers can learn about this classic of Latin American poetry, Poemas de Amor. With a simple structure, rhythm, and poetic language, the Uruguayan Idea Vilariño makes one of the most complex approaches to the subject. These texts radically defy the conventions of courtly love and romanticism, and redefine love through the recognition of its strangeness, transience, and loss, as the awareness of the other.”
—Víctor Rodríguez Núñez
You can read one of the poems online at The New Yorker.
|Still Life With Defeats: selected poems|
Naturaleza muerta con derrotas
by Tatiana Oroño
Edited and translated with an introduction by Jesse Lee Kercheval, White Pine Press, 2020, (ISBN 9781945680366).
Although the celebrated Uruguayan poet Tatiana Oroño has been published in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Chile, El Salvador, Spain, France, Mexico, and Uruguay, this is her first English-language collection. Her poems draw on motherhood, the losses in the Uruguayan dictatorship of the 1980s and, most of all, the natural world. She is a feminist, and her poems show a consciousness of her own body, of being a woman in the pain and wonder of the everyday. Most of all, Oroño has a special awareness that language has a body of its own.
“Tatiana Oroño’s place amid the motherlines of Uruguayan and Latin American poetry is beyond dispute; in Kercheval’s English translations, Oroño’s svelte lyrics are revealed to be in conversation with a litany of English-language poets writing before and alongside her, from Emily Dickinson to Barbara Guest, Fanny Howe to Cathy Wagner. This is the poetry of cosmic concentration, in which any object, any syllable, no matter how domestic or mundane, becomes a doorway on the Infinite by being so resolutely itself.”
“Tatiana Oroño’s Still Life With Defeats is, like all good poetry, an attempted response to those questions that seem unanswerable. A search for unity underpins these poems, a quest for ultimate meaning, but, as in a still life painting of varied objects, there remains a gulf that cannot be bridged, a chasm that is simultaneously horrifying and beautiful. These poems represent an ongoing movement toward finding the connection and wholeness shared by all living things. Translator Jesse Lee Kercheval has joyfully accompanied the author on this journey; uniting passion with precision, she preserves the dazzling complexity of the original while continuing to ask the questions that have no easy answers.”
|Night in the North|
Noite nu Norte
by Fabián Severo
Edited and translated with an afterward by Laura Cesarco Eglin and Jesse Lee Kercheval. Published by Eulalia Books in 2020, (ISBN 9781732936348).
Fabián Severo is an Uruguayan poet, born in 1981 in Artigas, an Uruguayan town on the Brazilian border, and he writes in Portuñol, the language of that frontier. Writing in Portuñol is a deliberate, provocative, and unusual choice for Severo. He is the only Uruguayan writer doing so. He does it to establish the validity of his culture and native language in a country where, until recently, the government put up billboards saying, “Parents: Speak to Your Children in Spanish!” This theme of a dominant culture and language pressing down on people who live on the border is one of the many ways Severo’s work echoes the issues of assimilation on the U.S. border with Mexico or wherever an immigrant culture rubs up against a nation’s “official language.”
“The speaker of Fabián Severo’s remarkable book narrates the struggles of a life lived in a provincial town in Uruguay, but it is not the hardships that a reader will remember, but the hopes, the tender interiority, the intimate knowledge of a place this remarkable poet describes. Rendered in precise and elegant English by Eglin and Kercheval, this book will be a revelation to American readers as it introduces a voice of uncommon clarity and sensitivity, both retrospective and pinned to a hopeful future, from a poet of great expressive gifts.”
“‘Life is like that/ the less you have/ the more you dream,’ Fabián Severo’s whimsical yet somber, realistic and tireless narrator states. Written from a place called Artigas, border terrain not possessed by the people who inhabit it, in a language that ‘flies loose and free through the sky,’ these poems, so adeptly translated by Jesse Lee Kercheval and Laura Cesarco Eglin, address troubles of poverty, displacement and abuse in surprisingly simple yet forceful, elegant language. I too wonder ‘if God exists/ and we are all his children/ how can there be a place you’re not allowed in?’”
Poems from Night in the North can be read online at The New Yorker or Asymptote.
|Voice and Shadow: New and Selected Poems|
La voz y la sombra: poemas nuevos y selectos
by Luis Bravo
Edited and translated with an introduction by Catherine Jagoe and Jesse Lee Kercheval. Published by Dialógos Books, 2020, (ISBN 9781944884758).
This edition makes available in both Spanish and English a wide selection of poems by the essential Uruguayan poet Luis Bravo. The author of twelve books of poetry and a host of multimedia poetry performances, Bravo is a kingpin of Uruguay’s “Generation of ’80,” known for its iconoclastic search to reinvent hidebound and defunct cultural models. Bravo’s work and cultural experiments are influenced by jazz and rock, the Beats, psychedelia and surrealism. These poems buzz with sound and explode with image, but are, at the same time, deeply human, exploring time, memory, dreams, death, and desire in ways that will change the way you see the world.
“Luis Bravo is a magician, a sorcerer, and his poetry is magnetic and scalding. In these very fine translations by Catherine Jagoe and Jesse Lee Kercheval, Bravo’s radical, witty, anarchist spirit takes us on an otherworldly ride from which we emerge gifted, startled.”
“Voice & Shadow is an exciting translation of a selection of Uruguayan poet Luis Bravo’s work from 1984 to the present. Its readers will get to know an eminent poet who works across the boundaries of art forms in inventive ways, combining performance with poetry to bring the sonorous elements of the genre to the forefront.… Jagoe and Kercheval’s noteworthy translations now bring his essential work to a larger audience of readers allowing them to experience the vibrancy of the language and images in his multidimensional compositions that celebrate a new avant-garde of the Americas.”
—Jill S. Kuhnheim
| For the Seals|
by Juan Manuel Sánchez
This chapbook is Jesse Lee Kercheval and Ruth Llana’s translation of Para las focas. It was published by Toad Press in 2019.
Juan Manuel Sánchez was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1983. In 2010, his Para las Focas won the Premio Poesía Joven of the Casa de los Escritores del Uruguay. He currently works at the Museo Figari, and also as a teacher and a book reviewer for the newspaper La Diaria.
Read poem XI from For the Seals here.
| Reborn in Ink|
Volver en tinta
by Laura Cesarco Eglin
Edited and translated with introductions by Catherine Jagoe and Jesse Lee Kercheval. Published by Word Works International Editions, 2019, (ISBN 9781944585310).
In lyric poems of startling directness, Laura Cesarco Eglin explores the death of her father, the beauty of her country [Uruguay], her Jewish ancestry, and the invisible connections between the living and what’s “beyond.”
“The shadow of her father’s death and that of her European Jewish ancestry haunts this lyrical collection by the contemporary Uruguayan poet Laura Cesarco Eglin, always alert to the power of the unsaid evoked by words. Deftly translated, these beautiful poems attest to poetry’s ability to transform loss into rebirth.”
“These poems excel in the art of astonishing transformation. Lipstick becomes a remembrance of the selection line of life versus death in the Holocaust. An eyelash becomes the site of all hope, glued to the chest, and brushing hair turns into a chance to learn ‛eccentricity in community.’ These beautiful translations seem to know their own irresistibility, as they capture the poet’s understanding.”
| Fable of an Inconsolable Man|
Fábula de un hombre desconsolado
by Javier Etchevarren
Edited and translated with an introduction by Jesse Lee Kercheval. Published by Action Books, 2019, (ISBN 9780900575952).
In Fable of an Inconsolable Man, Javier Etchevarren writes about his drunken father who abandoned the family and about eating white rice with cheese for lunch and dinner except on the days when there was only rice to eat. With his father gone, his mother worked hard to feed the family. In public school and during summers in the library of the private school where his mother worked as a cleaner, Javier discovered books and became obsessed with words.
Etchevarren’s poetry is brutally honest, using blunt, deceptively simple, language to create a lyricism that slows down experience to let the reader absorb each line, each image and event. Although his topics are sobering, there is also joy and discovery, as when the boy discovers the whole world in the library his mother cleans. And there is wry wit when the adult poet remembers his classmate Hugo, finally realizing with joy that Hugo had been even poorer than he was. Etchevarren seamlessly braids together his experiences as a child with a clear-eyed assessment of his adult self, shaped, even damaged, by those childhood experiences. It is his ability to capture specific moments with photographic clarity while keeping a deep sense of the value of all earthly things that makes the book remarkable and deeply moving.
“Uruguayan poet Javier Etchevarren combines clear-eyed realism with a survivor's imaginative streak to take on the poverty and violence threaded through his own childhood in Montevideo. ‛When one is honest, the world is a miser,’ he writes. And despite his commitment to unblemished toughness, still, there are moments of transformation and grace in here when a mother grows extra arms to save her children, a boy becomes a beloved dead dog, and a child comes to know the world by reading wondrous encyclopedias in the library his mother cleans. Etchevarren’s poems are vibrant psalms of perseverance and grit.”
— Erika Meitner
“In [these] poems, I feel my own struggles toward adulthood and the loneliness of such a road. Reading these emotionally deft and beautiful poems make me feel less alone.”
— Nate Marshall
|The Invisible Bridge: selected poems
El puente invisible
by Circe Maia
Edited and translated with an introduction by Jesse Lee Kercheval. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015, (ISBN 9780822963820).
Circe Maia was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1932, but she has lived most of her life in the northern city of Tacuarembó where she taught philosophy and made translations from Latin, Greek, and English, including works by Cavafy and Shakespeare. In 1972 when the military dictatorship took power in Uruguay, police broke into her house in the middle of the night and arrested her husband for supporting the MLN Tupamaros, leaving Maia behind only because she had just given birth to their youngest daughter. She wrote about this experience in the short novel, Un Viaje a Salto (Editions del Nuevo Mundo, Montevideo, 1987) which is available in a bilingual edition translated by Stephanie Stewart, Un Viaje a Salto/ A Trip to Salto (Swan Isle Press, 2004). Maia is the author of ten books of poetry. Her first, Plumitas, was published in Montevideo in 1944 when she was only 11 years old. Her ninth, Breve sol, was published in 2001. Her collected poems Circe Maia: Obra poética (Rebeka Linke Editores, Montevideo) was published in Uruguay in 2011. In 2013, she was awarded an inaugural Delmira Agustini Medal of Art and Culture by Uruguayan President José Mujica. January 2015 saw the publication of the first new collection by Maia in over a dozen years, Dualidades (Rebeka Linke Editores, Montevideo).
“These superb translations by Jesse Lee Kercheval are faithful to the clarity and wisdom of the celebrated Uruguayan poet Circe Maia. Walk across The Invisible Bridge/ El Puente Invisible and you too will enter the graceful light Maia has been casting for decades over the troubled yet blessed landscapes of Latin America.”
“The world in its raging, rich variety fills these poems, overflowing into vivid images that root Maia’s political and social attention firmly in the real scenes and objects all around us. Her eye is unfailing—both generous and demanding—and her language does indeed build bridges, establishing solid but surprising connections between ideas and things. Kercheval’s masterful translations create yet another bridge, bringing Maia’s poetic vision across into English with an astonishingly beautiful music.”
Praise for Circe Maia’s La Pesadora de Perlas
“This book helps to repair an injustice. It is unfair, very unfair that so many connoisseurs of the best poetry have not yet discovered Circe Maia. The revelation will be a high joy. I envy them that magical moment. It is one that will last.”
You can read one of the poems online at The New Yorker.