Remarkably few volumes of poetry by Juan Gelman have been translated into English. This is perhaps because of the unique challenges inherent in translating his work, known for its neologisms, playful and musical language, and political exploitation of ambiguity — Gelman once wrote to his translator, Lisa Rose Bradford, “To be sure is a sickness of our times.”
Remarkably few volumes of poetry by Juan Gelman have been translated into English.
Katherine Hedeen has published translations and articles foregrounding a series of Latin American poets. Much of her work deals with Cuban writing. Recently, though, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded her a fellowship to translate writing by Jorgenrique Adoum, informing her that this was the first NEA grant ever dedicated to Ecuadorian poetry.
Thinking today about Argentinian poet Juan Gelman and crossing borders, following the small essay yesterday on his work in the Madrid newspaper El País. To quote a footnote (already also a border) in Wikipedia on Gelman—(I suggest reading the whole article!): “ ‘I am the only Argentinian in the family. My parents and my two siblings were Ukrainian. They immigrated in 1928.’ In the same brief autobiographical text, Gelman states that his mother was a student of medicine and the daughter of a rabbi from a small town. ‘[My parents] never shut us up in a ghetto, culturally or otherwise. [...] I received no religious education.’ Gelman would later write some poems in Ladino, i.e., Judeo-Spanish; he is also known for being sharply critical of Israel.”
The article quotes a Gelman poem in its entirety, Confianzas, a word that in Spanish has so many echoes: confidences, liberties, intimacies, trusts: “se sienta a la mesa y escribe / ‘con este poema no tomarás el poder’ dice / ‘con estos versos no harás la Revolución’ dice / ‘ni con miles de versos harás la Revolución’ dice // y más: esos versos no han de servirle para / que peones maestros hacheros vivan mejor / coman mejor o él mismo coma viva mejor / ni para enamorar a una le servirán // no ganará plata con ellos / no entrará al cine gratis con ellos / no le darán ropa por ellos / no conseguirá tabaco o vino por ellos // ni papagayos ni bufandas ni barcos / ni toros ni paraguas conseguirá por ellos / si por ellos fuera la lluvia lo mojará / no alcanzará perdón o gracia por ellos // ‘con este poema no tomarás el poder’ dice / ‘con estos versos no harás la Revolución’ dice / ‘ni con miles de versos harás la Revolución’ dice / se sienta a la mesa y escribe”.