1. How did you start translating Marosa di Giorgio’s work? What drew you to it?
I was drawn to the surrealism, the exquisite form of the poetic sequences, the syntax, the prosodic turns of the prose poems, and the urge toward witness. Much of Marosa di Giorgio’s writing is considered in conversation with surrealism, and through surrealist imagery, she was able to subversively critique the world around her, including at times, military violence. The Moth was published in 1987, two years after the Uruguayan military dictatorship. The poems function as allegories for specific acts of violence (personal and, or communal), yet also extend beyond allegory, building an alternative historical narrative to the survival of a country of people ruled by a dictatorship. There’s a strong urge toward witness—and within the act, there is negation. Negative capability powerfully complicates the narrative: “Listen, yes, ´the children of the night make their music´; but they don’t participate in the feast. I am the witness. Or they participate, I don’t know.”
I first encountered di Giorgio’s work through Jeannine Marie Pitas’s translation, The History of Violets. I was struck by the fullness of the prose poems, and I began seeking out other works by di Giorgio. Eventually, I found La Falena, and became intrigued by the various images of the moths. Coincidentally, years before, I was l living in a house in the mountains of Mexico that harbored an erebid moth, also known as the bruja negra, the black witch moth, and in Nahuatl, mictlanpapalotl, which translates as mariposas del pais de los muertos, or butterflies from the country of the dead. It was a magnificent moth, gentle, stunning, the wingspan like nothing I’d witnessed. When I found a similar description of a moth in di Giorgio’s work, it all came together for me.
2. What are some of the main challenges you’ve encountered translating this work?
Translating surreal images alongside plurality is a beautiful challenge. The collection gives witness to the transformative nature of poetry to both invoke the terror of persecution, and yet, beyond the terror, there is also breathtaking transformation. As a translator, how do I translate the transformation across individual poems, but also across the poetic sequences?
Various speakers create a multiplicity of voices; sometimes it’s a young child who witnesses the violence; other times the speaker is the moth, detailing the violent mob, and then her own survival: ¨In the darkness, I turned black — larger, the borders of my wings gave off light. I couldn’t leave because the Deeds kept me there. / They didn’t lie down. / I remained black, motionless, changing.
Another time, the children perceive the moth as a predator. In the wild landscape, no one is safe, and each scene is unpredictable. In the collection, there isn’t one linear narrative, which is a challenge to the translator; the poems are woven together with different speakers. In other poems, the moth is absent, and the narrative focuses on the natural landscape of di Giorgio’s childhood, bringing in the quotidian, expanded by the surreal images.
As the translator, I have to slow down, live inside each poem, each turn. In one poem, the speaker is fevered, desperate for her father’s attention. The father attends his orchards but doesn’t notice his daughter. She calls out to her father, “And you don’t say anything. Won’t you come to listen?” The text itself calls to me—says, I am fevered, I have witnessed, and now I ask you to give witness to those who seek refuge among the shadows.
3. What are you reading right now?
Paraguayan Sea by Wilson Bueno, translated by Erín Moure
Equestrian Monuments by Luis Chaves, translated by Julia Guez and Samantha Zighelboim
Cold Candies: Selected Poems by Lee Young-Ju, translated by Jae Kim
Prosopopoeia by Farid Tali, translated by Aditi Machado
Sarah María Medina‘s writing has been published in Poetry Magazine, Prelude, Black Warrior Review, Poetry NW, and elsewhere. She’s the recipient of an ARTIST UP Grant LAB, a Jack Straw Writer fellowship, a Caldera AIR 2018, and the Black Warrior Review poetry prize. She’s from the American Northwest, currently pursuing her PhD in Comparative Literature, the International Writers Track at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri.
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.