Category Archives: poetry in translation

A Virtual Interview with Liliana Valenzuela

Background

Thursday, September 10, 2020  7:15 – 9:00 p.m. Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for meeting information.

Feature Liliana Valenzuela is the author of Codex of Journeys: Bendito Camino (Mouthfeel Press, 2013) and several artisan chapbooks. Her poetry has appeared in Edinburgh Review, Indiana Review, Tigertail, Huizache, Borderlands, Drunken Boat, and other publications. She has received writing awards and recognition from Luz Bilingual Publishing, Austin International Poetry Festival, Drunken Boat, Indiana Review, Austin Poetry Society, and the Chicano/Latino Literary Award, and has held residencies at Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow and Vermont Studio Center.

An acclaimed translator of U.S. Latinx writers Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, Denise Chávez, Dagoberto Gilb, Cristina García, and others, Valenzuela was a guest of honor at the Congreso de la Real Academia de la Lengua Española in Córdoba, Argentina, in 2018. An inaugural CantoMundo fellow and a long-time Macondo Writers Workshop member, she writes poetry, essays, journalism, and is currently working on a memoir. She is the former editor of ¡Ahora Sí!, the Spanish publication of the Austin American-Statesman and is now a staff translator for Aparicio Publishing. A native of Mexico City, Valenzuela lives and works in Austin, Texas.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry?

LV: My great aunt Josefina in Mexico City was a practitioner of the art of “declamación,” where people learned poems by heart and recited them to a live audience, in this case, us family. I remember how the room fell silent and she commanded that space with her verses, and held us, spellbound.

CH: When did you begin to think of yourself as a writer? As a poet?

LV: In my senior year in college I took a course on Experimental Women Writers at UT Austin and it blew my mind. I did not know women could write like this and could be so daring. I bought copies of Writing the Natural Way and The Artist’s Way and spent the whole summer after my B.A. graduation in Anthropology writing. Poetry is what came most naturally to me.

CH: How did you begin your journey as a literary translator?

LV: When I had my first child, I was looking for something I could do from home. Translation work started arriving, and I found that it was easy for me, as I’ve always had an affinity for languages. I speak Spanish, Danish, English, and some French. And, almost immediately, I realized I wanted to translate literature. I reached out to Sandra Cisneros, whom I had befriended when she lived in Austin in the late 80s, and the rest is herstory!

CH: How has your work as a translator influenced your work as a poet?

LV: Translation makes you a very close reader of literature and finely attuned to the rhythms and cadences of language. And, from the start, I was writing my own poetry and short stories in both languages, translating myself back and forth. So, translation was there from the beginning. And it continues to be a big part of what I do. My latest collection is fully bilingual. I translated myself from English to Spanish, and four different translators translated my work from Spanish into English: the late Angela McEwan and Fred Fornoff; and G.C. Racz and Arturo Salinas.

CH: Both titles of your poetry books identify them as codices. Would you tell us a little about the role of the codex in your work?

LV: I’ve always been fascinated by the ancient Aztec codices, and ancient manuscripts in general. I’m drawn to that primordial instinct of our ancestors to leave a written record of their creation stories, myths, historical records, and even basic accounting. This is my own codex, my testimony of an immigrant’s life in the late xx and early xxi centuries.

CH: Tell us a little about Codex of Love. How did the poems of this book come about? How does it relate to your earlier book, Codex of Journeys?

LV: These were actually a single codex, a single manuscript. The opportunity arose to publish Codex of Journeys first as a chapbook, so I went for it. And this year I published Codex of Love, which includes 5 books or sections. Codex of Journeys is really the 6th section. These codices belong together. Codex of Love is the poet looking within, and Codex of Journeys is the poet looking out to the world.

CH: You were for some years editor of ¡Ahora Si! What has your journalistic experience brought to your writing?

LV: It was a tremendous education in writing fast and on a deadline, and in being connected to community. I am deeply honored that people let me into their lives and homes and trusted me with their stories, those unsung heroes who are building Austin’s prosperity. I also got to interview fantastic human beings, such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucía, and the Colombian pop star Juanes, among many others, which was incredibly inspiring.

CH: How has participation in CantoMundo and the Macondo Writers Workshop figured in your development as a writer? What would be your advice to a novice writer who’s looking for writing community?

LV: When I was starting out, there was no real community where I could just be myself, that satisfied all my needs. That changed first with Macondo, where I found artists and thinkers of all backgrounds seeking social change, and then in CantoMundo, where I found poets of our many latinidades, different ways of being and singing your latinx song, in your own voice. My advice is to keep trying until you find the right fit. And the more you give, the more you receive. We are only as strong as our bonds with fellow writers and, ultimately, our audiences.

CH: How do you nurture yourself as a writer? How have residencies, such as those you’ve held at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow and the Vermont Studio Center, contributed to your reaching your goals?

LV: Besides attending workshops at Macondo and CantoMundo, I contribute to the Hablemos Escritoras Podcast (https://www.hablemosescritoras.com/), where I keep educating myself about women writers from the Spanish-speaking world. I’ve contributed book reviews, interviews with literary translators and writers who are also literary translators, like myself. Residencies are also a priceless opportunity to sit back, reflect on your path, and let stories germinate. Or pour out of your heart writing something you’ve longed to write. This summer I was at the Tasajillo Residency out in Kyle, Texas, in a cabin in the Hill Country, where I translated some short stories by Kimberly King Parsons, from her collection Black Light. That time out in nature during this pandemic was heavenly.

CH: What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

LV: Tiawanaku: Poems from the Mother Coqa by Judith Santopietro, translated by Ilana Luna (Orca Books, https://orcalibros.com/en/books/)

A Virtual Interview with Patty Crane

Background

Patty Crane will be the featured reader Thursday, March 12, 2020 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX)

Patty Crane’s collection Bell I Wake To is just out from Zone 3 Press. Her book-length poem, something flown, was winner of the 2017 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Award. Her poetry and her translations of Swedish Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer have appeared in numerous journals, including Bellevue Literary Review,VerseDailyWest BranchAmerican Poetry ReviewBlackbird, and The New York TimesBright Scythe, a bilingual volume of her translations, was published by Sarabande Books in 2015.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? When did you begin to think of yourself as a poet?

PC: I vividly recall the joy of reading and reciting nursery rhymes, a joy embodied in the memory of looking up at the summer night sky with my grandmother while together we recited “Star light, Star bright, the first star I see tonight…”

I don’t know when I began to think of myself as a poet, but I’ve only recently begun to feel comfortable calling myself one. Maybe because I’ve learned what a conversation-stopper it can be. Why is that? This is a topic worthy of deeper discussion, but let’s just say it took far more external validation than it should have for me to fully acknowledge my poet-self.

CH: How do you trace your development as a poet?

PC: I came to poetry (with a capital P) relatively late in life, but poetry was always there in the background. As an adolescent, I journaled in a cheap spiral-bound notebook that I kept hidden in the bottom of a drawer. I wrote poems, song lyrics, thoughts, little epiphanies, and jotted occasional quotes. It wasn’t a diary or chronicle of my days, but a way to work things out—who I was, or wanted to be, and how to be that self in such a confusing world. I preferred to be alone, riding my bike long distances, often to the beach, where I’d walk for what seemed like hours and feel utterly free to observe and to think. This was surely formative to my becoming a poet, as was my training and career as a registered nurse, learning the limits of the human body, the reaches of human spirit, and the value of empathy.

CH: I’ve been exploring the poems on your website. I love the spare, lyric voice in them, and I’m intrigued with your play of space. Please tell us a little about your approach to the use of whitespace in your poems.

PC: The use of white space doesn’t feel intentional, but inevitable. The white spaces are pauses, periods of silence—sometimes hesitations, sometimes open waiting—as I listen to or for the quiet place in my mind that helps me to focus, tune out the static and chatter, and tune in to the object or objects of my attention in order to really see them. Also, pauses create the rhythm, the same way they do in music. Poetry is music. Whether it’s a blank page or score, silence is where the words and notes originate.

CH: How did you become interested in translation? How did you become engaged with translating Tomas Tranströmer’s work?

PC: During a three-year period living in Sweden, I gained a level of fluency in the language that eventually put me on the path to translation. What began as an exercise to refine my Swedish, grew into a curiosity about translating that turned into a passion. I’d been reading Tranströmer since the late 90’s (mostly Robert Bly’s translations), but suddenly I could read the original and it felt entirely new. Over the course of a winter, I translated his 1996 collection THE SORROW GONDOLA and, at roughly the same time, had the great fortune of befriending Tomas and his wife, Monica. I spent many hours visiting with them at their home in Stockholm, and ultimately many more hours discussing those first translations with them. In 2011 I was awarded a MacDowell fellowship to continue this work and while there, news arrived that Tomas had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. That was memorable! Those translations were gathered in “Bright Scythe” (Sarabande, 2015).

CH: How has working with translation influenced your own writing?

PC: Influence seems impossible to pin down. For example, the poems I wrote while living in Sweden have a spareness and voice that’s very different from my other work. Is this my translating coming through, or the Swedish landscape with its extremes of light, what I was reading at the time, or what was happening in the world or in my relationships? I just can’t say.

What I can say is that translating gets me out of my own head, allows me to time- and place-travel, and to see my own place a little more clearly because I’ve gained some perspective. And I get to temporarily inhabit the mind of a speaker like Tranströmer, who moves fluidly between the everyday and liminal worlds, offering me glimpses that, at the very least, heighten my sense of possibility for my own writing.

CH: What do you do to nourish yourself as a poet?

PC: What nourishes me as a person nourishes me as a poet: my relationships, my connections to place, bearing witness to beauty in its many forms and guises. Having a quiet, devoted space to write is key for me. I work in a tiny, humble studio I helped build with my own hands. It’s tucked into a field that overlooks an active beaver pond and is surrounded by woods. The natural world nourishes the whole of me, informing how I live, work and make sense of the world.

CH: What are you working on now?

PC: The growing disconnect between us humans and the natural world has been in the back of my mind these days as I write. I’m not overtly writing ‘about’ this, but it’s coming through, and in ways I hadn’t expected. The work is still raw and unfolding, and thus hard to talk about in any detail. I’m also actively sending out my second full-length collection of poems written during the years I lived in Sweden, and I’m deep into translating the complete poetic works of Tomas Tranströmer.

CH: What do you read for pleasure?

PC: Whatever strikes my mood, mind and senses at any given time; and often several different genres at once. Right now, I’m reading Edna O’Brien’s Girl, Brenda Shaughnessy’s The Octopus Museum, and, for the umpteenth time, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim of Tinker Creek.

CH: What’s the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

PC: Shirt in Heaven by Jean Valentine. Times two. After turning the last page, I went right back to the beginning and read it again.

A Virtual Interview with Kaye Voigt Abikhaled

Poet Kaye Voigt Abikhaled will be the featured reader on August 13, 2015 from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for August’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.

Background

Kaye Voigt Abikhaled is the author of Club des Poètes (2004),  Lyrics of Lebanon (2006), Childhood in the Third Reich: WW II and Its Aftermath (2000 and a second edition in 2006). A bilingual edition in German and English, translated by the author, was also published in 2006. She is a member of the Austin Poetry Society (APS) since 1985, member of the Poetry Society of Texas (PST) since 1987 and of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS). She was named Life Member of PST in 2013.

Born in Berlin, Germany, Abikhaled immigrated to the U.S. in 1960. Her poems have been published in English and as translations in German in state, national and international poetry journals. She was the editor of A Galaxy of Verse from 1999-2004, chaired the Poetry in Schools project for the Poetry Society of Texas and was appointed Counselor for the Austin area of the Poetry Society of Texas in 2003.  Her poetry was named First Runner Up of The Fernando Rielo World Prize for Mystical Poetry in Madrid, Spain in 2000 and Finalist in 2008.

The Interview

CH: How long have you been writing? What was your first inspiration to write poetry? When did you first begin to think of yourself as a writer?

KVA: Although we read and recited much poetry during my childhood in Germany, I began to write poetry in 1984 after we’d been in Texas for a while. It was then I joined the Austin Writers’ League – as it was called then – and was inspired by other writers and poets.

CH: It has been said that the work of each poet is infused with that poet’s obsessions and preoccupations. What are the obsessions of your work? What themes or images do you find yourself frequently exploring?

KVA: I write of subjects that leave lasting impressions personally, be it normal day-to-day happenings or political and historical news that affects us all and carries lasting consequences. I’m interested in ecological developments such as wind and solar energy, the latter has occupied scientists since the early 1970s but has been slow in making headway, and practices that leave a light footprint on our earth.

CH: Your biography notes several works in English, as well as a bilingual edition of Childhood in the Third Reich: WW II and Its Aftermath and translations of individual poems into German. Do you compose poetry in both English and German? Do you write more in one language than the other?

KVA: Most of my poetry is in English. Although it is my second language, I prefer it because it provides such brilliance of multi expression. I get excited reading a poet’s line quoting an unfamiliar word that I have to look up and find it perfect in its use, in that particular line. From time to time I catch myself subconsciously translating from German into English and then rearranging into proper English thought process. I wonder how many of us do the same? And we sometimes come across as somewhat ponderous at times, don’t we?

CH: Childhood in the Third Reich: WW II and Its Aftermath was published in 2000, well into your adulthood. What motivated you to write this book? How long did it take you to write it? What effects did writing it and publishing it have on you?

KVA: This, my first book, turned into a long process. I began to write snippets in 1978, to get memories down in case my children might become interested at some time in the future. But I soon felt the manuscript registered very little in form and interest, so I put it away until I joined the Writers’ League and realized I was a better poet than writer. I became committed to the manuscript and re-wrote, added to it, let a trusted friend have a read-through and took her advice, re-wrote, filed, and re-wrote. Meanwhile Austin provided a rich field of vibrant poetic venues where I could listen and learn and hone the craft. I attended a literary workshop in Paris when I received word that the book would be published. After nearly 25 years of heavy lifting and word “smithery” the feeling of success was indescribable.

CH: What were your inspirations for Club des Poètes and Lyrics of Lebanon? How did the process of writing them and collating these manuscripts compare with that of Childhood in the Third Reich?

KVA: Club des Poètes are ‘poems of the moment’ as experienced while in Paris, the good and the marginal, the beauty of this diverse city, the pride of the French and the hidden resentment of her people who put up with millions of tourists year after year. Lyrics of Lebanon is a tribute to my husband who took me to his homeland and showed me a totally different world: steeped in unchanging tradition yet always open to all avenues of interest, without prejudice and practicing with delight their legendary Arabic hospitality. I wrote about George’s family and their tribulations during and after the civil war. Childhood in the Third Reich is a semi autobiographic long poem.

CH: How did you go about finding publishers for your work? What advice would you share with poets on getting a book published?

KVA: In finding a publisher for one’s manuscript it is best to research presses that have a history of publishing the genre in which the manuscript shows a good fit. It helps when a publisher has a diverse and proven distribution list and is wiling to circulate and send samples to published book contests for you. This part of is never cheap – be prepared for possible unexpected financial outlay.

CH: How does your experience as a German expatriate figure in your work? Beyond the translations mentioned earlier, have you continued to publish in Germany?

KVA: My writing may read with a different slant and discussions within poetry groups have sometimes resulted in hilarious give-and-takes. My American poet friends see things differently which often comes down to disengaging ingrained German thinking and diving into varied and beautiful English language expression.

As to publishing in Germany: I have found that there are restrictions: while impressed with my translation of Childhood in the Third Reich, I have been informed that publishers’ policies are to use ‘in house writers’ only. However, there are a number of German language journals, magazines and especially academic publications in the U.S. that will accept and publish writings in German.

CH: Who are some of your favorite poets? Who would you cite as your poetic influences?

KVA: Favorite poets are     Seamus Heaney, Jusef Komunyakaa, Langston Hughes, a bit of Blake, Shakespeare, Goethe, Schiller, gutsy Gwendolyn Brooks, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Carl Sandberg, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Emily Dickinson, Thom the World Poet, David Diop (Senegal) and so many more in my library of dog eared pages.  Whom would I cite as my poetic influence – that would have to be the twentieth century writers beginning with the First World War poets whose honest lines blazed their way into modern poetry.

CH: What’s the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

KVA: Hannah Sanghee Park: the same – different; Winner of the Walt Whitman Award for 2014

CH: What advice would you give to an aspiring poet?

KVA: Read any and all poetry you can get your hands (and internet minds) on: the excellent, the good, the bad, the ugly. You will become a better poet.