¡Brindemos POETAS! ¡Por la POESÍA, salud!

Montevideo, URUGUAY. 2008

sábado, 24 de diciembre de 2011


The anthology of Argentine poetry

I collected and translated.

por Andrew Graham-Yooll



Saturday, december 10, 2011 




                                                                                        This is not a review, it is an explanation, an excuse, perhaps, more, an advance obituary. The latter thought springs from the knowledge that there will not be time enough to undertake such a project again in the time that’s left. Will anybody remember this? Doubtful. That is also obituary content.

                                                                          The question seldom stated but usually implicit in the kindest of remarks is, why do it?  Why compile and translate a bilingual anthology of Argentine poetry?  The answer is simple, “because it’s there”.  To explain further is like writing that personal obituary. Now a project undertaken has come to an end. There is no more to do. Argentina has one of the richest ranges of poetry in Latin America. Pablo Gianera, writing in the ADN/La Nación weekly, once wrote that it is difficult to select the “representative” poets, apart from Leopoldo Lugones, Alfonsina Storni and Jorge Luis Borges for a start, because there are so many good ones. The next anthology will be another’s job.  Mine was inspired by two Scots, Walter Hubbard Owen (1884-1953), a friend of my father who translated the Martín Fierro into English, published in 1936, and William Shand (1903-1997), a friend of mine who produced the first anthology in 1969, in collaboration with the poet Alberto Girri. I wanted to be their heir.

                                                                           Open season is declared on any anthologist!  The present anthology includes nearly seventy poets, about a third of the list of further reading suggested at the end of the collection.  Which means it is easy to understand why anthologies might make a few friends, but gain far more enemies.  No sooner was the book sent to printers it was clear that the missed out of the recommended list were going to make another list.  Among them are notables such as Armando Tejada Gómez (1929-1992) and Ariel Petrocelli (1937-2010) and even friends, such as Rodolfo Braceli, etc. Why do such omissions happen? Mainly because few trust that the compilation project will ever be completed, so are not forthcoming with ideas/help.

                                                                                          And by the way, there will be mistakes and mistranslations.  Actress Mónica Maffía, who read some pieces in English and Spanish at the book launch at BAC on November 23, pointed to one in the Oliverio Girondo (1891-1967) section on opening the book. There is a broad spectrum of opinion on how something should have been translated.  An anthology is only complete because it is in print: there will always be more, different and better. My best example of disagreement on language in translation is from the Buenos Aires Herald and is illustrated by the decision of de facto president Juan Carlos Onganía in July 1968 to order the translation of editorials in foreign language newspapers. The practice had been introduced in September 1943 by the military authorities, and quietly discontinued after the overthrow of Juan Perón in September 1955.  In 1968 the editor, Norman Ingrey, decided to explain the changes in his first bilingual exercise.  He ordered the first translation and then, horrible mistake, had it checked by a second newsroom staffer, who piled error on ignominy by asking for a third opinion. Seven people meddled, changed, corrected, altered and rewrote that short piece.  Ingrey had gone home and, shaking in disbelief, the English sports editor on duty that winter night snatched the copy and sent it to the shop (those were the days of linotype). A man named Emilio A. Stevanovich, a middle class snob famous for being pro military and markedly right wing,  who had an excellent music programme on Radio Municipal (today Ciudad) and like any Serb claimed to know many languages and taught them all, used the bilingual editorials to tell his workshop students “what not to do”.

                                                                                         So why translate poetry? Because the poetry of all lands and languages is a necessary accessory to help understand the societies and the cultures of others.  Every person, however ill-read, can quote one line from a poem or song and will teach us a little – probably only a particle – about the ways and customs of other people.   Besides, of course, I like poetry, though I would translate nought else other than my ten books of Quino’s cartoon strip Mafalda and one of Nik’s Gaturro (published by De la Flor). And perhaps most exotic, a series of lyrics from “Cumbia Villera”, which were published by Index on Censorship, London. All other translation is boring to me even if easy money. I like reading poetry of all ages, particularly modern free verse. 

                                                                          In the process of making this book I have kept some poetry in rhyme, as with Leopoldo Lugones (1874-1938) and Alfonsina Storni (1892-1938), and some rhyme I have moved to free verse, as with Jorge Enrique Martí (1826), of Colón, Entre Rios, some of  whose songs about birds and the river Uruguay and to his childhood village, have been put to music by the likes of  the Uruguayan Aníbal Sampayo (1926-2007), because the construction sounded artificial and even trite in rhyme in English.  There are many and varied examples in a volume that runs through the century from the birth of Macedonio Fernández (1874-1952) to the birth of Verónica Viola Fisher (born in 1974).

                                                                                         I have been fortunate to come this far in a project that took almost a decade.  On the way I met and translated the English poet Andrew Motion and others, and was asked by a friend, the playwright Harold Pinter, to translate him into Spanish.

                                                                                         But it was the Argentine poet Daniel Samoilovich, editor of Diario de Poesía, who led me in the selection, first for Twenty Poets from Argentina (Redbeck press, Bradford, UK, 2004), then with a volume of his own writings (Driven by the Wind and Drenched to the Bone, Shoestring Press, Nottingham, UK, 2007), and finally with this anthology (the first stage of which was made for the Frankfurt Book Fair, 2010), and along the way I gained a good friend.  And I am grateful to all who helped and who allowed me to use their knowledge, poetry and advice, as well as those who helped finance and stage the launch.


A.G - Y.