It’s the middle of the afternoon of first day of the new year, and according to some the new decade. And I’ve decided that I’m going to spend my day planning my reading for the next few months. So the first thing I did was download the updated 2009 Translation Database from Three Percent (my favorite blog ever) and sort it by poetry and language. I’m sure Chad will do a more comprehensive analysis of the statistics, but for my purposes there are 65 books of previously untranslated poetry that came out in 2009 in translation and out of that 12 are from Spanish. To get more specific, out of those 12, the most (4) are from Chile. Which seems like an absurd proportion of a relatively small amount of books to be from one country. Of course, the Chilean legacy for poetry is immense. And as a reader and translator of Chilean poetry myself I know that these poets, these poems and many more are deserving of translation and readership. But something strikes me as being disproportionate here.
In our recent recording of a series of podcasts to be launched at the end of the month, Chad Post and I talked a bit about the cannon of international literature. We talked with Susan Harris, about the limited availability of writers from around the world, and with Lawrence Venuti about how the U.S. reading public has a propensity to associate one (or sometimes two) writers with a country and that’s it – there’s no room for any more. Only academics, scholars and translators of particular literary traditions seem to engage more fully with the context surrounding the cannonical world writers.
So here I am bemoaning both the narrowness of such a large proportion of books being translated from the same literary tradition, eliding the breadth of Latin American (and world) literature in the limited publishing space available for translated poetry, while simultaneously whining that few readers are given the chance to fully engage with a complex national, regional or linguistic literary tradition.
And nonetheless, I’ve been recently searching for new Chilean poets to read. There’s the “all-star” list, those who have some if not lots of poems available in translation: Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Nicanor Parra, Enríque Lihn, Óscar Hahn, Raúl Zurita, Gonzalo Rojas, Delia Domínguez, Jorge Teillier, Vincente Huidobro.
And then there’s the rest - well known, respected poets in the Chilean literary tradition who have almost no recognition or available translated works:
Efraín Barquero who in 2008 won the National Prize for Literature in Chile for his life work.
Eduardo Anguita, a member of the famous generation of ’38 and the surrealist movement (and selected alongside Neruda in the 40s for translation by New Directions…)
Carlos de Rokha who Enrique Lihn calls brilliant, and Erwin Díaz (editor of the 2006 anthology Poesía chilena de hoy. De Parra a nuestros días) thinks of as unfairly marginalized because of his difficulty. He was also the youngest member of the surrealist group La Mandrágora.
David Rosenmann-Taub a hermeneutic and somewhat mystical poet who has a strange foundation that supports only the preservation of his work, and may or may not have been involved in some strange activities in the seventies in the U.S., but who Armando Uribe calls the most important living Spanish-language poet. (And who may or may not be related to Mauricio Rosenmann Taub who is one of the most interesting and possibly untranslatable experimental poet I’ve read recently and whose 2007 collection was introduced by Raúl Zurita).
Bringing us neatly to Armando Uribe who won the National Prize for Literature in 2004 and is one of the important poets that began publishing in the 50s known for his short, untitled and often ironic poems.
And there’s no shortage of younger poets: