Celebrating Idea Vilariño’s Poetry

>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington, D.C.>>Robert Casper: Thanks so
much for coming out, everyone. My name is Rob Casper. I’m the Head of the Poetry
and Literature Center here at the Library of Congress,
and I want to welcome you to tonight’s event, “International
Literature: Uruguayan Poetry,” focusing on the poet Idea Vilarino. Tonight’s event is cosponsored by
the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress, and I would
like to thank the Chief of the Hispanic Division, Georgette
Dorn, up here on the stage, who will participate in the bilingual reading
section of the event. I also want to thank our
presenting partner, Poet Lore. This is the second time in three
years that we’ve gotten the chance to work with them,
and we’re thrilled to continue the relationship. We’ve had the chance again to
champion Poet Lore’s World Poets in Translation publication through
an international literature event. I want to thank, make a
special thanks to the staff, including Editor Jody
Bolz right here. Thank you, thank you,
thank you, Jody. And Managing Editor
DeLeon in the back. [ Applause ] Both clearly have some
fans in the audience. If you want to find out more
about Poet Lore for those of you who have not seen the magazine, you
can of course pick up a copy outside after this event, but you
can also visit their website, www.PoetLore.org. Poet Lore has its home in the
Writer’s Center in Bethesda, and I want to thank the center’s
new Executive Director Joe Callahan, who’s right here. [ Applause ] I’m proud to say that as a normal
citizen, Joe is also a member of our Poet Laureate
Circle, so he supports poetry in all sorts of wonderful ways. This event is also made possible due
to the support of poets and writers, the James Irvine Foundation, and the Hearst Foundation,
so much thanks to them. And finally, I would like
to ask all of you to join me in recognizing the cultural attache
in the General Council of Uruguay, Marcela Manu [phonetic], right here. [ Applause ] And is Ana Estevez
[assumed spelling] here? Ana Estevez in the back. [ Applause ] The [inaudible]. Thanks so much for being here and making this a truly
international event. Before we begin, I’d like to ask
you to turn off your cell phones, which I’m going to do myself,
and any other electronic devices that you have that might interfere with the recording
of tonight’s event. I would also like to note that
this program is being audio and video recording for the Library
of Congress, and by participating in the question and
answer period later on, you give the library permission
for future use of your recordings, so don’t say anything crazy. Let me also tell you a
little bit about the Poetry and Literature Center
here at the library. We are home to the Poet
Laureate Consultant in Poetry. We actually have our first
Hispanic Poet Laureate [inaudible], who is kicking off his
second term next fall. But we put on literary
readings, lectures, and panels of all sorts
throughout the year. If you would like to find out
more about events like this, please sign our sign-up
sheet, which is outside. You can also check us out
online at loc.gov/poetry. And if you’re interested
in more events sponsored by the Hispanic Division, they have
all sorts of information out there, brochures in English and in
Spanish to pick up and check out, and you can visit their
website at loc.gov/rr/hispanic. You all as you came in got
some forms, some survey forms. We’ve got a good crowd tonight. I’m hoping that many of you take
the time to fill out the form after the event and hand it to us. You can give it to me. You can put it on the table. It gives us the opportunity
to hear your voice, get a sense of what you
think about this event, and improve our events going
forward, so please do fill that out. So tonight’s event
will work as follows. Jesse Lee Kercheval, translator
of Idea Vilarino’s work, will participate in
a bilingual reading with our beloved Hispanic
Division chief, and afterwards Hispanic Division
reference librarian Catalina Gomez will lead a moderated discussion. We’ll have plenty of time for
your questions in the end, and we hope you pick up the copies
of Poet Lore on the table outside as well as The Invisible
Bridge, coedited by Jesse Lee. You’re going to hear a little
bit more about Jesse Lee in just a second, but I want
to tell you how excited I am to feature someone I’ve known
as a tremendous writer, teacher, and professor since my undergraduate
days more than two decades ago. And now to find out more about
Jesse Lee, please join me in welcoming the Translation Editor
of Poet Lore, Suzanne Zweizig. [ Applause ]>>Suzanne Zweizig: Hi, everyone. I just want to reiterate
Rob’s welcome and thank you to all the parties
who made this happen and especially our gracious host,
the Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center
and Hispanic Division. It’s just really wonderful
to work with you all, and especially it has
been wonderful to work with Jesse Lee on this portfolio. It’s just been such an
honor and a pleasure. And I just want to tell you a little
story about how this portfolio came to be because I think it says a
lot about Jesse Lee and her role as a translator and
what translation means. It was about two years ago
I guess we met at Ulta, and somebody came up to me. They knew I was looking for
a portfolio for that issue of Poet Lore, and they said,
“You’ve got to meet Jesse Lee. She’s doing all this wonderful
work with Uruguayan writers,” and then as it turns out, we
have a mutual friend and we ended up having lunch together. And at the time, Jesse was,
Jesse Lee was really working on her translations of Circe Maia,
and she, after the conference, she sent me a whole manuscript of
the poems, and they were wonderful. They were really good. But at the same time, I had received
a manuscript of another poet, Rira Abbasi, an Iranian poet, and
Jesse Lee’s poems, a lot of them, the ones from Circe Maia
had already been published, and none of the poems from this
Rira Abbasi, this Iranian poet, had ever been published
in English before, and Jesse Lee had the
book coming out. And so thinking about Poet Lore’s,
you know, emphasis on discovery and bringing new voices to people,
I made a really hard decision, and it was really hard to write
the email, but I said to Jesse Lee, “I love these poems, but
you’ve got so many out and the book’s coming out,
and I’ve got this opportunity to publish this poet who’s never
been read in English before.” And she said, “I would’ve
done exactly the same thing.” And I think I told our managing
editor, Jen, about that, and she said, “That was,
like, the perfect response.” And I said, “Yes,” and not only
because it was gracious and kind, but also I think because it
embodies the spirit of translation, which is you are putting
forth somebody else’s work. You’re expanding the circle so
that more voices can come in. Not just, you know,
promoting your own voice, and that really made
an impression on me. And then this year,
as I was looking, I remember Jesse Lee had said,
“Well, I’ll be doing other writers.” So I sent an email
out, and lucky for me, not only is Jesse Lee gracious and
generous, but she’s hardworking and prolific and talented. And I got back the next day this
manuscript, 50-page manuscript of Idea Vilarino, who had,
she had been working on. And it was one of those
moments when you open up your, the document on your computer
and you’re transported to another place, you know. And I think you’ll, Vilarino’s poems
aren’t so much the place of Uruguay but a place in her mind
that was different, and that’s that trans
word for translation. You’re carried somewhere else. So Jesse Lee’s skill
and her subtlety as a translator really
brought through what we strive for in translation — to
capture the voice of somebody. And I’m really excited that you’re
going to hear that voice tonight. And, you know, as Rob already
said, Jesse Lee’s a professor, the Zona Gale Professor of English
at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s the author of 13 acclaimed
books — novels, memoirs, poems, short stories — and her recent
translations include Invisible Bridge, which is out
here tonight for you. And she’s just coming
out I think in the — when is it coming out,
the anthology?>>September 15th.>>Suzanne Zweizig: September 15th. An Anthology of Emerging
Uruguayan Women, Emerging Uruguayan Poets is coming
out from the University of Mexico, and I’ve got a lot of hope for
the Idea Vilarino manuscript too. But in the meantime, you
can see the portfolio of the poems in the Poet Lore issue. When I think about Jesse Lee and
translation of Uruguayan literature, I think of that line from Frank
O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died” where he said he wandered off
to the store to find a book to see what the poets in
Ghana are doing these days. And I think, you know, thanks
to Jesse Lee, we can, you know, find out what the poets in Uruguay
are doing these days, so thank you. [ Applause ]>>Jesse Lee Kercheval: Idea
Vilarino is an amazing poet, and she’s actually a very amazingly
famous poet so that recently when Copper Canyon published,
which is a very important press, does many things, but
a lot of translation, published their Essential Poems
of Latin America, I was irritated to see that there were
only three women in it, but Idea Vilarino was one of them. But she doesn’t have a book in
English translated, and this, these poems are from her most famous
book, Poemas de Amor, Love Poems. She was born in 1920
and she died in 2009 and lived her whole life
in Montevideo, Uruguay. But she, the poems, Poemas de Amor,
are a really fascinating story. Idea Vilarino was part of what’s
called the Generation of 45 in Uruguay, which included
Mario Benedetti, and is sort of an ex
officio Argentine member, Borges, Jorge Luis Borges. And she was, fell madly in love with
one of the most important members of the group, the Cervantes
Prize winning novelist, Juan Carlos Onetti, who was
ten years older than she was. And I wish I could show you pictures
because Idea Vilarino looks like, you know, looks like
a young Lauren Bacall. She’s gorgeous. And I hate to say it,
but Onetti looks like a frog wearing big glasses. And so their love affair
is very famous in Uruguay and in Latin America, sort of
the Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera; Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes; you know. I don’t know. Lauren Bacall, Humphrey
Bogart romance. He dedicated a book to her. She wrote these poems to him, so
every amor, every love in the poem, in the book, is addressed to him. But it has a story
almost beyond their love. She refers to [inaudible] as a
tiny, tiny little book in 1957, and then every edition
got — did it go up? Every edition– Every edition — technical problem.>>Every edition–>>Jesse Lee Kercheval:
Every edition larger? And so she was going to — again,
I feel like it’s going in and out. Is it going in and out?>>Yeah.>>Jesse Lee Kercheval:
Can you just hear me? I’ll– [ Inaudible ] Every edition got larger. She did a final revision in,
like, 2006 before she died. Now, in the meantime, I have to
say Onetti was married three times to women who were not
in [inaudible]. And so at first, it’s a passionate
book about her love for him, and then I think by the end, it’s
about the idea of love and sort of the impossibility of love
for a woman who is really as independent — an independent
scholar, teacher, essayist, journalist — as Idea
Vilarino was in her life. So [inaudible] about
more than Onetti. And I’m going to read
some of the poems that are in the Poet Lore issue, this
amazing Poet Lore issue, and [inaudible] poems by two other
women who are Uruguayan poets right in the middle for reasons that
will become clear [inaudible]. [ Speaking Spanish ] And you have to think they’re
writing these for Onetti. A guest. [ Laughter ] A guest. You’re not mine, you’re
not here in my life, at my side. You don’t eat at my table or
laugh or sing or live for me. Where someone else is, you
and me too in my house. You’re a stranger, a guest. I don’t look for or want more,
you don’t look for or want more than a bed once in a while. What can I do except give it to you? But I live alone. [ Speaking Spanish ] Between. Between your arms, between
my arms, between the soft sheets, between the night, we are
tender, alone, fierce. Between the shadow,
between the hours, between a before and an after. [ Speaking Spanish ] Or were there nine? Perhaps we had only seven nights. I don’t know. I didn’t count them. How could I? Perhaps no more than six,
or maybe there were nine. I don’t know, but they were worth
as much as the longest love. Perhaps with four or five nights
like this, but precisely like this, perhaps one could live as if
living a long love, a whole life. [ Speaking Spanish ] There is nobody. I am not there. Do not wait any longer. Some time ago I left. Do not look for me. Do not ask for me. Do not call because there is no one. It is a wild breeze of
other days that moans. It is a handkerchief in the
wind that imitates signals. Do not call. Do not shatter your hand knocking. Do not shout. Do not ask. There is nobody. There is nobody. One of the things that
came between Idea Vilarino and Onetti was the
dictatorship that came to Uruguay, the military dictatorship that came
to Uruguay, and about the same time as Argentina, which most people
are a little more familiar with. And Onetti was actually sent to
prison for a short period of time, and then after many appeals
from outside, he was, went to exile and he went to Spain. And many writers of that
Generation of 45 left Uruguay. Some didn’t come back. Onetti didn’t. And Mario Benedetti went into exile. Idea Vilarino stayed in Montevideo. She lost her teaching
position, and she was isolated, left in Montevideo, cut off from
what had been her literary world. And this period of time is,
you know, is very problematic, very troubled in Uruguayan history, and there are many poets
who wrote about it. And one of the other poets who wrote
about it is a poet who I translated, Circe Maia, the book
The Invisible Bridge. It’s a selected of her poetry. And she is ten years younger than
Idea Vilarino, but her husband, Aria, was sent to prison
during, under the dictatorship. He’s a doctor who had been
accused of giving medical aid to the Tupamaro [inaudible],
and when she writes poems, she doesn’t write directly
about this period. Another really just Idea
VIlarino, but if you’re Uruguayan, people will read a poem and they’ll
look to see when it was published or when it was written to
sort of see whether, you know, silence is just silence
or whether it’s silence. And this poem of Circe Maia’s makes
me think about Idea Vilarino sitting in Montevideo and all of what was
going on in Uruguay at the time. It’s called “Treason.” The last son did not say to
him, “I am the last son.” Nothing prepared him. The water slid over his body, and
he didn’t know that this was the way that the water said goodbye. He did not know. No one told him anything. When night came, it came
to stay, and he never knew. And then there’s a piece that’s
probably the most famous thing that Circe Maia is best known for, but it actually isn’t
one of her poems. It was never in one of her books,
but it’s the lyrics that she wrote for a poem, lyrics
she wrote for a song that was sung by Daniel Viglietti. Daniel Viglietti is often
called the Bob Dylan of Uruguay, but I think he’s sort of more
the Pete Seeger of Uruguay if you can understand
that distinction there. And this song became very
popular all through Latin America as something about the
disappeared, and it’s often done — there’s a wonderful version
on YouTube of a performance where Daniel Viglietti
would sing this song and Mario Benedetti would recite one
of his poems about the disappeared. And the song is called Otro
Voz Canta, but the poem version of it is called “Por
Detras de mi Voz.” Behind my voice. Behind my voice, “Listen, listen. Another voice sings.” It comes from behind, from far. It comes from the buried
mouths and it sings. They say, “They’re not dead. Listen to them. Listen to them.” While the voice rises, remembers
them and sings, “Listen, listen. Another voice sings.” They say they live now in your eyes. Sustain them with your
eyes, with your words so that they are not lost,
so that they do not fall. They are not only memory. They’re open to life, open wide. Listen, listen. Another voice sings. I’m going to read one
poem by another poet who is again ten years younger than
Circe Maia, so 20 years younger than Idea Vilarino, but went
really through the same experience under the dictatorship,
and that’s Tatiana Orono, and she has this poem too,
which is clearly about the, this period in Latin
American history, and it’s called “The Discounted.” Here, something has happened. Until recently, we were sun
and the salt of the earth, homo sapiens, [inaudible]. Now, we are this — those that are
outside the count of the 90,000 dead or disappeared — the
eyes, the ears, wary. And so when we come back
to Idea Vilarino’s poems, I think it’s hard not
to think of this period in her life when reading her poems. [ Speaking Spanish ] This is probably one of
her very best known poems. Not now. Now, it will not be. Not now. We will not live together. I will not raise your son. I will not sew your clothes. I will not have you at night. I will not kiss you before I leave. You will never know who I
was, why others loved me. I will never come to know why or
how or if what you said was true, or who you were, or what I was
to you, or how it would’ve been to live together, to love each
other, to wait for each other to be. Now, I am only myself forever, and you now are not
for me, only yourself. You are no longer there
a day in the future. I will not know where you live,
with whom, or if you remember. You will never embrace
me like that night. Never. I will not touch you again. I will not see you die. [ Speaking Spanish ] Again, you sort of think of
her going on with her life. Goodbye. Goodbye. I leave as if in a tight and
delicate skirt, with difficulty. One foot, then slowly, the other. I leave as if from under a
collapsed building, dragging myself, deaf to pain, shredding
my skin, and without help. I leave painfully in the end. This past, this grueling
apprenticeship, this agonizing life. [ Speaking Spanish ]>>Georgette Dorn: Do
I have the Spanish? Okay. [ Speaking Spanish ]>>Jesse Lee Kercheval: I think it’s
a sign of how she felt this book, that every time she rewrote it,
there was another poem called “Adios,” and this is
yet another one. Goodbye. Here, far
away, I erase you. You are erased. And then again, because I
think, I turned to Circe Maia, a very different sort of poet,
perhaps for a different view of pain in life from the dictatorship
or just life in general. Circe. Her husband is still alive. He did come back from
prison, but she’s lost a son, and this is a poem of
hers called “Scars.” Scars. Open wounds
on the skins of time. Do they scar? The days place their bandages. The bloody traces are
smooth and washed. Do the wounded heal? Yes, totally. Though at night, the
wound bleeds sometimes. Thanks. [ Applause ]>>Catalina Gomez:
And here’s a question. How, well, we just want to know,
how did you come to Vilarino and to other women,
Uruguayan poets [inaudible]?>>Jesse Lee Kercheval: I went to
Uruguay in 2010 for sabbatical year in [inaudible] to learn Spanish. So it was all relatively new for me. And the first book of poems that
I bought was by Idea Vilarino– [ Inaudible ] And I bought [inaudible]
Idea Vilarino, which [inaudible] come out. And so she was the first poet that
I read, and I was sure that all of her work would’ve
been translated already. I was real naive about the
poetry translation world. And, but I didn’t, I think
it was so early in my process of learning Spanish and
learning my Uruguayan Spanish that I just thought I should find
someone else to translate her work. And the first person
that I actually picked up and translated was Circe Maia,
this book, and that was a story where I was actually at a friend’s
beach place in Atlantica [phonetic], outside of, on the beach
outside of Montevideo, and for three [inaudible],
and put our shoes out, you know, for a [inaudible]. You put your shoes out,
[inaudible] straw in them, and the [inaudible]
the straw in them. But the three wise men,
one of them each a present. And I got the Complete
Poems of Circe Maia. And for some reason, I started
reading those right away. Everyone went to the beach
and I just sat in a hammock and read her poems, and I, again, thought they would all be
translated when I came back. And I looked and none of
hers had been translated. A few in anthologies,
some in the [inaudible]. And so I [inaudible]. I found her email address. Uruguay is a wonderful
little country. If the first person you know doesn’t
know how to contact [inaudible], that’s amazing that
the second person will. The first person I asked
said, “Oh, yes, yes. She was my high school teacher. Here’s her email address.” [laughter] And I said,
“This is Circe Maia?” And I literally walked
around [inaudible] saying, “Somebody should translate
Circe Maia and Idea Vilarino. Somebody should really
translate Idea Vilarino.” And no one took me up on it. And so last February, I was
at the VCCA, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, for a month,
and I just sat there and translated, I don’t know, like 20 hours a day. So much so that I got a stiff
neck from looking at the book and typing at the same time. And somebody– [ Inaudible ] So I just did it, and
they’re as different of voices as could possibly be. I don’t know if you can really
tell from that, but there’s a lot of just really powerful female
anger in Idea Vilarino a lot of times that’s really amazing. And remember, this is 1957,
some of these were written. This is before Sylvia Plath. This is before [inaudible]. Very sexually explicit and very
honest and [inaudible] poems. And Circe Maia’s [inaudible]. So they were about as different as two women poets could possibly
be both coming out of a country with three million people. [ Inaudible ] Well, the [inaudible] thing
with Vilarino, as I spent a lot of time near articles, and she wrote
herself about how she had a system of stresses in her language. And she tracked them in her poems,
and I found that impossible to do in English without rendering poems that would seem the opposite
of natural [inaudible]. I’m not saying that
couldn’t be done. One thing about translation is
that despite playing, you know, [inaudible] or something
if you’re a musician, you know you’re not the last person
who’s ever going to play them. You’re not the definitive version. Someone may come along and
do something different. But any kind of formal poetry, you
make a decision whether to keep it or not, and [inaudible] it’s not
in a form that you would recognize as formal poetry or that I would
necessarily, but I did spend a lot of time thinking about
her system of stresses. And it just, as far as I could
tell, [inaudible] English. Her language is relatively
straightforward. Both she and Circe Maia [inaudible]
tradition in Uruguayan poetry that is pretty conversational
and direct as far as her point of simplicity for different reasons. And, but there’s an example of
a sort of classic poetry dilemma in the title of [inaudible]
in Uruguayan that you just, this is just a perfect example
of what you lose in translation. “Ya” means both “now” and “already.” And so in Uruguay, people
use it all the time. In English, it sounds
much better [inaudible] than it does in [inaudible]. So, like, the most common expression
or one of them is [inaudible], which is, you know
[speaking Spanish], you know, and they introduce that as just,
like, you know, here’s your dinner. Or [inaudible]. And it, to translate it as
“not now” works in English. It works through the poem. The other possibility would be
“now, no,” but you lose the idea that it’s also “already.” So, for example, “ya” is the word
that’s used in the [inaudible] poem. [inaudible] so I can remember it. Black stone on white stone where
it’s usually translated, you know, that you’ve, to say you
already died let’s say in Paris. And so there– Oh, it’s usually translated, oh,
black stone on a white stone. “I will die in Paris in a rainstorm
on a day I already remember.” And so that’s “ya,” and
not “a day I now remember.” And so when you translate it, it
doesn’t really work to translate it as “already” [inaudible] the poem,
“already not,” “already know,” “already I know I won’t,
you know, have your child.” Already I know I won’t
do these things. But you do lose the
idea that it’s both now, this immediate realization, and
that you sort of already knew that, and there’s just no way to
bring that across in English. But that’s just one of
those things that, you know, it just drives you nuts,
but I think everyone, every translator’s
going to go [inaudible]. [ Inaudible ]>>Catalina Gomez: So how is
it different to translate poems that are online versus poems
that are, that have [inaudible]?>>Jesse Lee Kercheval: Well, the first thing is you
have to [inaudible]. [ Laughter ] It really is the first time I had
to, you know, again, everyone knows that in order to, like, ask someone
who in the world has the right to [inaudible] poems
because you [inaudible]. And they did, but [inaudible]
information to people through translation. But in some ways, Circe
Maia was honestly saying, Circe Maia will not
talk about her poems, nor will she look at
my translations. I mean, we’re close
friends, I told you. I visit her all the time. But she just has no real ego,
interest in her poems, so, you know, I’ve made a pile of books that, of
her poems that have been translated in magazines like in the New
Yorker, and I will bring them, and she would just read
other book of poems. And she has translated
Shakespeare into Spanish, so it’s not that she can’t
read the translations. After I published them, she noted
a couple places she really liked something, but she won’t
really talk about her poems. I think if Idea Vilarino was alive,
because I talked to so many people who knew her, and she just died in
2009, she would talk your ear off about her poems, so I really regret
not having gotten to talk to her. I think in some ways she was
a difficult person somewhat. Not quite as zen about
her work as [inaudible], so maybe her being
dead is [inaudible]. I wish I could talk to her,
but at least, you know, I just have to trust that
I’m doing the right thing. Tatiana Orono is a
completely different case. She makes up words, and
so I honestly don’t think, I have a feeling that
if I don’t finish a book of hers before something, you
know, I hope she lives to be 110. She’s just in her 70’s. I think no one would
be able to do it. You know, there are literally things that I could ask 100 Uruguayans what
it meant, and no one would know. There’s a title of one of her
poems that’s “Mabror,” M-A-B-R-O-R, and I thought this
was a proper noun. I googled it, I asked 20 different
people, and then I wrote to Tatiana. [inaudible] because she
tends to write very long, and [inaudible] answered the
question, but it’s the word “madre” and “dolor” put together
for “mother pain.” So, like, how would you
know that [inaudible]? So that’s a classic example of why you should translate
them [inaudible] and– [ Inaudible ] Tatiana will ask, well, you
can talk to her at any point. She doesn’t read English, so she’s
not looking at my translations so much, but some of her stuff
is just mysterious verging on the incomprehensible [inaudible].>>Catalina Gomez: Okay, and
this next question actually addresses the– [ Inaudible ] The amount of [inaudible]
that Uruguay has produced, especially in the last century. And according from
your introduction, you’re saying this country of [inaudible] million people have
produced a disproportionate number of strong women poets in a
literary world dominated by men. [inaudible].>>Jesse Lee Kercheval:
Yes, it’s absolutely true, and I could type out a list. [ Inaudible ] But it’s a phenomenon that makes
me impatient with this anthology that has no women poets in it. I could fill a world class
anthology with nothing but Uruguayan women
poets, and there’s a lot of discussion here
about why that’s true. Part of that I think is because
it was early universal education and because it’s a relatively
middle class country. So, but there’s actually a real
sense among women poets that’s handed from each generation
for the next generation. They’re all perfectly aware
of the mothers before them. Like, Circe Maia lives the
middle of [inaudible], well– [ Inaudible ] Don’t tell someone from [inaudible]. But five miles from, five hours
by bus from Montevideo where half of the people, 1.5 million
people, in the country live, and yet people get on a bus
and they go to visit Circe. They go make that pilgrimage. And so, like– [ Inaudible ] Was born in 1892 and
[inaudible] born in 1892, 1886 to put it one generation. And then there’s these wonderful
other poets besides Idea Vilarino in the Generation of 45, Amanda
Berenguer and Ida Vitale, who actually lives in Texas. And then there are
people, just outliers. It’s wonderful. Another part of that group
that’s sort of the same age. There’s a wonderful [inaudible]
Uruguay poet [inaudible]. Another wonderful woman
who died early in a plane wreck that [inaudible]. There’s two wonderful translations by this wonderful [inaudible]
totally different [inaudible] Circe Maia, surreal, sexual, steamy, religious [inaudible]
poems, [inaudible]. And goes on up to, I, you
know, I’ve had this anthology of younger emerging
Uruguayan poets coming out. Half of them are easily women. There was no problem with that. You know, said that people
who were in their 20’s that are in that anthology. And there’s two, three of
the actually male poets that I know in Uruguay now. They’re doing this wonderful project
where they go into high schools and teach poetry workshops,
which isn’t normal there, and they publish an online
anthology called [speaking Spanish], which is they call it an
anthology of [inaudible]. So it’s, you know, they’re,
like, 16 to 18 years old, and the women [inaudible]. And so I really think, oh, come on. There have to be, I can’t believe
this an isolated phenomenon, but I’m very Uruguay-centric, and so
I would like to see a reexamination of the role of women
poets in Latin America. I can’t think that Uruguay
is becoming [inaudible].>>Catalina Gomez: But
have you found, like, what is it about our culture that– [ Inaudible ]>>Jesse Lee Kercheval: No, I really
think it starts earlier than that. I think it starts partly [inaudible]
Uruguayan culture for poets. I mean- [ Inaudible ] But I think that it has to do, there
are a lot of things about Uruguay. It’s a lay country without the
same degree of, I don’t know, pressure on women by
the Catholic Church. There’s a complete
differentiation of church and state. Their women, all the women that I’ve
listed here, including, you know, Idea Vilarino, they
support themselves. She never married. A lot of them taught school. It’s just a culture in which
I think women were able to establish themselves as
literary figures earlier and keep up this tradition. Now, I don’t mean to
say that it was easy. When you look at the
Generation of 45, I think you can clearly see
sexism in the attitude of the men in [inaudible] towards women, but
there are three important women in that group, in that
literary group, so I just think that it’s kind of amazing. Something I’m more and more
interested in, and, you know, Uruguayan [inaudible] too, but I think sometimes they don’t
quite understand how unusual it is because they live in it.>>Catalina Gomez: Now
we’re going to open up for questions from the audience.>>Robert Casper: Since we
don’t have a mike, [inaudible], we’ll just call on you
if you raise your hand.>>Jesse Lee Kercheval:
This is usually when I say that I’m a teacher, and if you don’t
ask questions, we don’t call on you. [ Laughter ]>>Robert Casper: Go ahead.>>Yeah. [inaudible] really — I’m
from the Caribbean, so, you know, what is going on there has been
very interesting, and, you know, in the Caribbean, [inaudible] some
very interesting women poets also, right. [ Inaudible ] But the question that we [inaudible]
is that obviously she grows up at the time when all around
her is these huge, political, socioeconomic problems
in Latin America, right? I mean, the kind of
problems, you know, in Chile. I mean [inaudible] did she, and
obviously she was part of groups of people [inaudible] who often– [ Inaudible ] In the right or left
wing direction, right? [ Inaudible ] Okay. Did she ever write political
poetry or is there a tradition in Uruguay of women
writing political poetry, or is this more [inaudible] things and [inaudible] sexism,
et cetera, et cetera? And did she ever talk about
[inaudible] in an open, direct way, or was this all much
more [inaudible] and much more metaphorical as
some of the poetry [inaudible]? And what is the relationship also with other women poets
in Latin America? Do they get together? Do they meet a lot? Or are they somewhat
isolated from one another?>>Jesse Lee Kercheval: I would
say [inaudible] question here. I would say, you know, Idea
Vilarino was openly left wing, and she lost her job under the
dictatorship and, you know, was lucky enough to have
had to go into exile, and as were all the other
poets in the Generation of 45. But I do say that there
is a tendency of the women to write more personal poetry
and less political poetry. Mario Benedetti is just
openly, relentlessly sometimes, or the young poets actually
find him tediously political. I don’t find him that way,
but there’s kind of pressure, pushback against this younger
generation against Benedetti, who’s the most famous
Uruguayan poet [inaudible]. And I think that even
now in the Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets,
the women tend to write about personal things, and the
men write more political things or historical things. I see that same thing with my
own MFA students sometimes, and that’s kind of
a troubling trend. It would not be that different
I think if you’re looking again to Sylvia Plath or
[inaudible] looking people in the [inaudible] the barriers that the women were breaking
were maybe not political ones. They, as far as connections
between poets in other parts of Latin America, yes, but not
as much maybe as you would think. Uruguay has a kind of Europe
facing orientation in their poetry and their culture, but there has
been, and over the last, you know, 100 years really —
it’s 100 years now? The usual trip that, as the
dictatorship fell, the usually trip that an Uruguayan writer
gets to make is to Cuba [inaudible] we’re
not flying them in here. But so there were certainly
[inaudible] of, conferences of South American
poets that happened there, and there were other
things that happened — the Paraguayan Embassy or the Peruvian Embassy were
put together [inaudible] to bring people in. But I would say that the poetry, the
first person-to-person encounters between the poets of Idea Vilarino
generation and that didn’t go out into exile and other poets of
South American relatively limited. That doesn’t mean that they
weren’t reading everything. [inaudible] South America,
but it wasn’t that easy to get out of Uruguay and come back in. Lots of international travel,
so relatively [inaudible]. That’s my impression. [ Inaudible ] Uruguay is particularly that
way that the [inaudible] I guess to the rest of Latin America as
they think they are, you know, they stand with their
back to Brazil, and they have some connection
to Argentina, but otherwise, they’re looking at Europe, and
they have very strong [inaudible] connections to France, which
I’m surprised [inaudible].>>I was curious at your choice
of poems to read as a sequence because you talked
first about [inaudible]. And most of the poems that you read
were about the [inaudible] of that. And I’m just curious how
you made that choice.>>Jesse Lee Kercheval: I would say
it is the choice of Idea Vilarino. Even though it’s called Love Poems, they are mostly my bed empty
and where are you poems. There are more angry poems than actually remembers the
night or in the moment poems. And these are the selection
that was in Poet Lore, but I think you would find
that in the entire book. They are more prickly or
angry than absolutely adoring. And so that’s interesting too. I mean, if someone is asserting
their rights in a relationship, so perhaps in that
sense, love poems. It’s almost a misnomer, but
that’s what they are for her. [ Inaudible ]>>And living abroad [inaudible]
in fact that you’re teaching.>>Jesse Lee Kercheval: Oh, I
started to bring translation into the classroom — we don’t
actually teach a separate workshop in translation, although
I’d like to, and I’ve been visiting
a lot of them lately. The first time I went to
a translation workshop, and the theory is that
in the United States is that people are translating
all kinds of poems that the teachers can’t
read the original language. It seemed strange to me at
first, but, so I brought it into my graduate student workshops
with my undergrad student workshops. They do a unit on it. And so last time, for example,
in my graduate workshop, there were people translating
Turkish and Swahili, and so, you know, you try to connect
them with [inaudible] people. In that language, it may need help,
and they, and you start to talk about the general problems that
there are in translating English. There’s some [inaudible] no matter
what language you’re translating, and you read the English versions
to see if they’re working in poems. And that is fine for an actual unit. I am looking forward
to and a little scared about teaching an entire semester
of it, although I’ve now sat through a lot of translation
workshops that [inaudible] taught because I’ve been a
visitor in class.>>Yeah. Have you ever
heard of Walter Benjamin?>>Jesse Lee Kercheval:
Yes, of course.>>He wrote an essay on translation
and about how the translation and each translation after that
basically followed Messianic language, like, each, you know, a lot of people think translation
is [inaudible], and he was very much that each transportation is that. And [inaudible] was
a great example too because they translated
everything [inaudible].>>Jesse Lee Kercheval:
I think translation, it’s a tricky and slippery business. I actually got a beautiful book
when I was just down in Uruguay, there’s a wonderful press
that published a collection of poetry called Yauguru,
which is Uruguay backwards. And they did a project where they
got someone to translate poems through a whole roundabout
languages, right. So, you know, if you
translate it from — I have to look at the book now. I don’t remember. But from Spanish to French,
from French to German, without even looking back at the
original, and then all the way back to Spanish to see how it’s
a completely different poem [inaudible]. It’s a poem in every language,
but it’s not the same poem, and that’s what it’s
[inaudible] all the decisions that can be made along the way.>>Yeah. [inaudible] prose. I just want [inaudible]
what you’re interested in, who you’re writing to, [inaudible],
are you [inaudible], or– [ Inaudible ] Interested in how geography and
place kind of, they form character. I’m curious to know then in
your role of a translator, do you [inaudible] like that
or do you [inaudible] in some of the things as you
might be [inaudible], can you bring that to your
translation or do you have to set your own [inaudible]
aside as far as [inaudible], or is there something improved?>>Jesse Lee Kercheval: Well, that’s
a really interesting question. I haven’t really thought about
that, but I think it’s probably one of the reasons that I was
interested in Uruguay. Uruguay’s a country everyone
chose in one way or another. It’s a country of immigrants
like the United States. And then there are
these constant choices like [inaudible] there’s people
who left during the dictatorship, there was a terrible
economic crash in 2001, which was the biggest economic
influence on the [inaudible] work. Families [inaudible] move
to Israel for a while. And so I think I, maybe I’m bringing
my own obsession with place. I was born in France and
grew up in different places in the United States,
and I have a sense of displacement that’s
in a lot of my work. So maybe I identify with that,
but then in the Uruguayan, I don’t think I, it’s
not the same thing where, maybe you bring your interests
to the poet you choose, but I think when you’re
translating, you put that aside. I wouldn’t write poems
like Idea Vilarino. I would aspire maybe to be a
little more like Circe Maia, but I [inaudible] Idea
Vilarino, I’m not that, you know, I don’t know, open
about my emotions. But you just get into
it, and especially when you’re translating a book, the
more poems you translate by someone, the more you understand them,
and you [inaudible] them on. And so actually for me, having
written both fiction and memoirs, sort of the most revealing
thing, and then a lot of poetry, the great thing about
translation is sort of leaving your ego aside, you know. You really are doing someone else’s
work, even though I’m saying or, you know, it’s not like [inaudible]
it’s completely transparent, the choices that are made. But it just feels good
not — I don’t know — not to be making up your
own stuff for a while. I’m really enjoying the
vacation from myself. [ Laughter ]>>Robert Casper: Yeah,
one more question. Go ahead.>>I was just going to say,
how much do you have to know about these people in such a
[inaudible] memoirs and works about them or [inaudible]?>>Jesse Lee Kercheval:
It depends on the person. Just depends on how much there is. So with Circe Maia, there is,
I [inaudible] just her books. So her collected poems is about 400
pages, and now she has a new book. And then meeting her
was interesting. There’s some interviews with
her which I read, but there, it’s a really critical
work on her [inaudible]. I mean, meaning there’s a
chapter in it in an Uruguayan book that [inaudible] trying to think
if there’s one, there’s two studies of sort of all of Uruguayan poetry. Idea Vilarino was more complicated because there’s a fair
amount written about her, but nothing like you’d see
about an American author in the same, you know, importance. There, the woman who holds her
[inaudible] put together sort of a collection of
letters and photographs. Every time I ask someone in
Uruguay if they knew Idea Vilarino, they have a different
Idea Vilarino story. How much that’s useful or not,
I don’t know, so I did just sort of try to go into the poems. Where it came up, for example, is
right now, which version you want to translate of the book, you
know, it’s like Leaves of Grass. She keeps changing it. I decided not to do the ’57
edition because it’s missing most of the famous poems like the
one I read in [inaudible]. And I didn’t end up doing
the 2006 one because it’s got about 20 additional poems in it,
and I just thought, I don’t know. Shoot me, enough already. So [laughter] I ended up translating
the ’75 edition because I thought that was really the one
that everyone remembered. I walked around and said, “You
know, which one do you, you know, do Uruguayans all own
copies in their house?” It was sort of that
edition that they owned that had all the famous
poems, but not the ones that she wrote 40 years
after this relationship. So, and so I ended up
[inaudible] being published. A lot of it has to do with
the publisher and, you know, what they decide to
do when they wanted to do a comprehensive version. But then I think I wouldn’t have
known unless I dug into her life and with her going into
what she was thinking about.>>Robert Casper: Well on that note,
much thanks to Jesse Lee Kercheval for a great reading of [inaudible]. [ Applause ] Thanks too to Catalina Gomez,
and hope you stick around, buy copies of Poet Lore, and buy
copies of Jesse Lee’s translations, and we hope to see you again. We have an event tomorrow at noon
with the Hispanic Division — Columbian poet of our own
[inaudible], the University of Virginia professor
— what’s her name? — Charlotte Rogers is coming. That’s in the Whittall
Pavilion across the street, so if you want some more
exciting poetry from another part of South America and you’re free at noon tomorrow, come
and check it out. Thanks so much. [ Applause ]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at loc.gov.

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