How did you start translating Silvia Guerra’s work? What drew you to it?
Jeannine Pitas and I have both been working for years translating the wonderful work of Uruguayan women poets. For Jeannine: Marosa di Giorgio, Amanda Berenguer and Selva Casal. And I have translated: Circe Maia, Idea Vilariño, and Tatiana Oroño. The obvious next poet for us was Silvia Guerra.
Guerra was raised on the coast in Maldonado and her poems draw many of their images from its beaches and the countryside—not in a simple, narrative way, but rather as symbols of the exploration of her own consciousness. Her poems are a form of continual meditation playing with the transformation and transmutation of words. Through all her work runs a hunger for meaning, for a reason to exist.
I first met Guerra when I was working on the anthology América invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets (University of New Mexico Press, 2015). I sought her out because many poets in the anthology mentioned her as a poetic inspiration, and I soon benefitted greatly from her encyclopedic knowledge of Uruguayan poetry. In 2018, Guerra was invited to the U.S. to give a reading at Notre Dame. I took that opportunity to set up other events, culminating with a reading of Uruguayan poetry at the Library of Congress. (You can watch it here: https://www.loc.gov/item/webcast-8619/)
Before she came to the U.S., I had promised Guerra there would be enough English translations of her poems for these bilingual readings. Jeannine Pitas agreed to co-translate the work with me. Because our collaboration worked so well, we went beyond translating poems for the readings to translating all of Un mar en madrugado, a volume of selected poetry published in 2018 in Argentina by Hilos Editora. Our translations have appeared in The New Yorker, the Paris Review, and the American Poetry Review, among other literary magazines. Un mar en madrugado / A Sea at Dawn will published in a bilingual edition by Eulalia Books in September, 2022, and Silvia Guerra will be back in the U.S. in late October to give another series of readings.
poesía en acción | “Water is Born from Sand” by Silvia Guerra and translators Jesse Lee Kercheval and Jeannine Marie Pitas
Jesse Lee Kercheval is a poet, writer and translator, specializing in Uruguayan poetry. Her translations include The Invisible Bridge: Selected Poems of Circe Maia and Love Poems by Idea Vilariño, both published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. She was awarded a fellowship at the Banff International Literary Translation Centre for her work on Silvia Guerra.
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.