1. How did you start translating Giancarlo Huapaya’s poetry? What drew you to it?
Giancarlo and I met a few years ago thanks to Chawa Magaña at Palabras Bilingual Bookstore. I’d recently moved back home to Phoenix (occupied Akimel O’odham and Pee Posh land), and was feeling rather untethered. At that time, in early 2017, Palabras was still on Grand Ave., one of our few diagonal streets and a road that once formed part of the “exclusion line” during Japanese-American internment. Giancarlo and his partner Maggie were living just north of the bookstore in a house edging up against the fairgrounds, with its gun shows and book fairs and Ferris wheels depending on the season. When I told Chawa that I was interested in translation and Spanish-language poetry, she recommended that I reach out to Giancarlo and Maggie to learn more about their publishing project, Cardboard House Press. A few days later, I found myself in their living room talking about books and sinking into the warmth of fast friendship.
Over the coming year, Giancarlo and Maggie’s home became a refuge for me, especially in the fall, when I would come over nearly every Thursday to make books in their backyard with the fairgrounds just over the wall. Toward the start of 2018, we received funding to launch a community-based, bilingual bookmaking workshop called the Cartonera Collective, which was hosted at Palabras’ new location on the other side of Central. Every Saturday, we gathered with members of our community to hand-make cartonera editions of select Cardboard House Press titles. Rather quickly, the group became something of a family, and several of the original members are now my closest Phoenix friends.
I share all this because my approach to translation is highly relational, and my translation of “Twofolding”— and the unpublished book it comes from, GAME[R]OVER – has everything to do with the place-based context of my friendship with Giancarlo. About a year into knowing each other, he told me that he was starting to write a collection of poems about Phoenix. Little by little, we began working together to translate early drafts of the poems. There was something powerful in the reciprocity of this project. While Giancarlo was exploring what it meant for Phoenix to become home, I was (and still am) trying to understand what it meant for Phoenix to re-become home.
Since we first began working on the translations of GAME[R]OVER together in 2018, Giancarlo has moved twice (to El Paso and then to Los Angeles), the title has changed several times, and the poems have been reworked, expanded, and remixed. I feel grateful to have had the chance to witness and participate in the book’s flux. Familiar references to the places and politics of Phoenix are now interlaced with geographic specificities rooted in El Paso and LA. As a translator, I’ve been lucky to work so closely with Giancarlo to ensure that our translations (and I call them “ours” because we have been collaboratively shaping their contours) remain true to his roving exploration of late capitalism, digitality, and USA-brand racism, xenophobia, and exoticization. It is a project that has helped me to develop a deeper relationship to my own desert home while investigating its position in a meshed web of other homes.
2. What are some of the main challenges you’ve encountered in translating this work?
Giancarlo is a translator as well as a poet, and so, unsurprisingly, he frequently plays with the possibilities and politics of multilingualism in his work. In translating GAME[R]OVER, I have often been forced to ask what to translate well before arriving at the question of how best to do so. There are many places where Giancarlo and I have decided to let segments of text remain in Spanish, untranslated. There have also been several instances where a line appears in English in the original poem, and we have decided to leave it in English in the translation, rather than translating it into Spanish to replicate the lingual shift in the original. These decisions are not made lightly, and they are always the result of a conversation. Given the thematic focus of GAME[R]OVER, our translations have often prioritized the maintenance of particular power dynamics at play in the poems. This has meant leaving lines like “but you look normal” and “¿luzco normal como qué?” in English and Spanish, respectively. These lines, criss-crossed, wouldn’t reflect the Phoenix Giancarlo is writing toward.
Another challenge (and joy) that I have encountered in GAME[R]OVER is its intertextuality. There’s a chorus of altered quotations, modified dictionary definitions, conversational snippets, newspaper headlines, commercial signage, and more. Consequently, translating Giancarlo’s poems has meant sifting through the various sources he’s drawing from—a task that would have been impossible without his help. An added snaggle is that many of these sources were originally in English, so the question has often been whether to create my own translation of Giancarlo’s translation (thereby creating a “cousin” of the original) or to return directly to the version that appears in the original source text. Again, these decisions have been specific to the context and have emerged from our conversations about how best to maintain the particular textual interplay in a given poem. In many ways, this “dance” has reminded me of questions that I wrestled with while translating Claudina Domingo’s Tránsito, which is similarly intertextual in its poly-silhouetted portrait of Mexico City.
As a final note, one of the hardest decisions while translating the poem featured here in Poesía en acción was what to do with the title, “Doblaje.” Titles, somehow, are always the sneakiest! In translating the word “doblaje” I wanted to point toward the physical act of folding (which is referenced in the first lines of the poem) as well as the notion of “doubling” or becoming another version of yourself (which is central to Giancarlo’s exploration of place-based identity and migration). We played around with a few different options, but eventually landed on “twofolding,” which seemed to carry some of the concise physical charge of “doblaje” while pointing toward the multiplicity we wanted to foreground.
3. What are you reading right now?
These days my reading has been a bit of a swirl …
I’m currently revisiting two of my standby favorites: Sucede que yo soy América (edited by Nicole Cecilia Delgado and published by La Impresora), and Schizophrene by Bhanu Kapil (Nightboat Books). I’ve also been reading and re-reading three recently released pamphlets: Say Translation is Art by Sawako Nakayasu (Ugly Duckling Presse), Translation is a Mode = Translation is an Anti-neocolonial Mode by Don Mee Choi (UDP), and todas las cajas están vacías / all the boxes are empty, by Sara Uribe, translated by JD Pluecker (Tripwire).
This past month I’ve been diving into a back issue of Tripwire (#5) that was put together after the Expanding the Repertoire conference organized by Renee Gladman and giovanni singleton in 2000. I’ve also been marveling at the archived blog posts by Douglas Kearney and Antena Aire (Jen/Eleana Hofer & JD Pluecker) at Futurefeed. This past week I’ve been re-reading some stories by Bridget Brewer and enjoying my friend J Gan’s dream syntax poems (here and here). Also I’ve been skipping back into a re-issued chapbook called With(out) by my friend Noa/h Fields. Lastly, I’m in the process of translating the first two books in Yaxkin Melchy’s decade-in-the-making poetic project, EL NUEVO MUNDO, and I’ve been exploring the posts on his blog, Flor de Amaneceres. It’s been a joy to read some of his more recent poetic meditations.
On the near horizon, there’s a lot of stuff I’m excited to read soon …
I recently read a draft of my friend Sean Avery Medlin’s collection 808s and Otherworlds and I can’t wait to see the final version out with Two Dollar Radio later this year. Also, my friend Amber McCrary just launched Abalone Mountain Press and I found out they are working on publishing a collection of poems by Taté Walker – I’m thrilled! Right now I’m also eagerly awaiting two gift books (one from a friend and one I’m gifting myself) – A Mano / By Hand by Nicole Cecilia Delgado (UDP) and Between Language and Justice: Selected Writing by Antena Aire (The Operating System). Lastly, I work in the youth services department at my local library, and I just came across three poetry collections in the children’s section that I hope to finish before they’re due! Two are by Nikki Grimes – One Last Word (Bloomsbury) and Legacy (Bloomsbury) – and the other is by Margarita Engel – The Surrender Tree (Macmillan).
This week’s Poesía en acción feature also includes:
Ryan Greene (b.1994) is a translator, poet, and book-farmer from Phoenix, Arizona. He’s the instigator behind F*%K IF I KNOW//BOOKS, and he’s translated work by Claudina Domingo, Elena Salamanca, Ana Belén López, Giancarlo Huapaya, and Yaxkin Melchy, among others. Since 2018, he has facilitated the Cardboard House Press Cartonera Collective bookmaking workshops at Palabras Bilingual Bookstore. Like Collier, the ground he stands on is not his ground.
Poesía en acción is an Action Books blog feature for Latin American and Spanish poetry in translation and the translator micro-interview series. It was created by Katherine M. Hedeen and is currently curated and edited by Olivia Lott with web editing by Paul Cunningham.