1. How did you start translating Santiago Vizcaíno’s work? What drew you to it?
I’ve been translating Vizcaíno’s work since around 2013. We’d met in Spain a year or so earlier when both of us were studying –he in Malaga and I in Barcelona– and he later sent me a PDF of a book of short stories he’d just published. I recall reading it on train from Barcelona to San Sebastian, and in my homesickness for Ecuador, I felt an immediate desire to try my hand at translating it. Both our personal relationship and my knowledge of the particular version of Ecuador represented in his writing made my novice literary translator self marginally more comfortable with taking it on. It was later that I began work on his poetry, and I immediately felt as though his writing style and cadence in Spanish, and mine as a translator and writer in English, clicked.
Vizcaíno’s overarching themes include disillusionment, fragmentation of identity, interfamilial trauma, manmade and natural decay and destruction, self-loathing and self-discovery, and a transgressive reimagining of biblical imagery, all of which are viewed from the marginal, eternally conflicted perspective of a “sudaka” born in one of South America’s smallest and poorest nations. Ecuador is a country with a certain nostalgia for the non-existent, for something that never happened, but might have—poet Andrés Villalba Becdach calls it the “Andean melancholy”, Jorgenrique Adoum referred to it as “pluscuamperfectos” and it can be viscerally heard in any song by Julio Jaramillo—and Vizcaíno’s work is imbued with this intangible longing. Around 2016, I started work on his collection The Habitat of the Chameleon—a book partially written while studying in Malaga—and the interweaving of references to experiences in two places I also had ties to (Ecuador and Spain), along with the aching tensions between those places, made the translation both an exercise in craft and a personal journey.
These translations come from his latest collection, The Wind Against My Shadow (El viento a contrapelo de mi sombra). I began by translating a few poems for an upcoming folio in Kenyon Review, and I ended up translating rather more than I’d initially planned to (although the project is still in its early stages, and there are as yet no concrete plans for publication of the entire work). As a translator, it’s a uniquely fulfilling sensation to return to the same voice and to observe how one’s approach to it has grown and transformed; in tandem with that, Vizcaíno’s writing has also subtly morphed and matured over the years, though never so much as to be unrecognizable.
2. What are some of the main challenges you’ve encountered in translating this work?
I wouldn’t say that Santiago’s work presents any particularly vexing challenges. It flows into English rather than needing to be poked and prodded, there are no neologisms or other tricky stylistic devices, and while neo-baroque and at times intertextual, it remains more grounded in traditional forms —which is not to say simplistic, merely more straightforward— than some other poets of his generation (such as Juan José Rodinás, Andrea Crespo and César Eduardo Carrión). I find, then, that the challenge lies mostly in distancing myself sufficiently from the original text to allow it to breathe in its English version. Allowing the translations to sit for a few days or a few weeks before returning to them with a fresh eye is often all that’s really needed (although I take outside critique whenever I can get it).
I do often wonder/worry if what makes this work dearest to me—its deep, enduring connection to the landscapes, languages, historical memory and imaginary of Ecuador—comes across in translation, even if only as a nagging sensation or as something familiar yet strange. I do hope so.
3. What are you reading right now?
At this precise moment, I’m reading a text I’m translating for the Maritime Museum of Barcelona. A hefty chunk of my day is spent reading what I translate, which while good for honing certain areas of my skills, has been rather detrimental to my consumption of non-work-related material. My most recent (literary) reading has included “Sanguínea” (by Ecuadorian author Gabriela Ponce, and recently translated by Sarah Booker and published as “Blood Red” with Restless Books),“Suttree” by McCarthy, and random dabblings in literary journals, magazines and the piles of books lying around our home at any given moment (which, thanks to my husband, may include anything from Anthony Bourdain to David Huerta).
Kimrey Anna Batts is originally from East TN. She later moved to Ecuador —where she lived for many years following graduation from the University of Michigan— and she currently resides in Mexico, where she works as a freelance translator and dutiful servant to five cats and two dogs. Her translations of Latin American poetry and fiction have appeared in a variety of literary journals, and her full-length publications include work by Santiago Vizcaíno, Antonio Ramos Revilla and César Eduardo Carrión.
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.