In May 2015 I squeaked into a packed session on contemporary Cuban writing at the Latin American Studies Association’s annual meeting. Among the many points of interest was the fact that I heard Rito Aroche named several times as a key figure amongst the various tendencies of contemporary poetry in recent decades.
As a reader Omar Pérez has a charismatic presence. Even when he adopts a low-key style of delivery, the poems resound. Audio recordings of five poems from his collection Algo de lo sagrado (1995) appear below. That book actually contains two sets of poems: the first half showcases work composed between 1982 to 1988, and the second half dates to 1990-1993.
In 2006 Roberto Manzano conducted an interview with his fellow writer Rito Ramón Aroche in Havana. AMNIOS magazine published the interview in 2012, and it was later reprinted at the website Cuba Literaria (overseen by the Cuban Book Institute). Unfortunately their page doesn’t currently load on any of my browsers, only a short line warning of malicious code. Perhaps this replacement is appropriate, since Aroche does something to deconstruct the framework of virtually every question asked by Manzano. Here are excerpts from their conversation, brought into English.
Where do you draw boundaries between a translator’s research and the collecting of stories about the poet? Stories expand on the truth while distorting the truth. Hearing them is an inevitable part of the translation process — or at least it has been for me, because I have translated materials over time from a series of writers with links to the same city, which means that my interpretations are partially influenced by the city's shifting artistic community.
Whereas Nelson Villalobos articulates visual qualities so important to the poetic gesticulations of Angel Escobar, Carlos A. Aguilera captures Escobar’s motion in terms of theater, another arena of expression that was important to the poet. Aguilera depicts Escobar’s lyric selves on stage, jerking through poems with the grace and awkwardness of marionettes. His remarks culminate with the audience's stunned and necessary silence.
It’s a pleasure to include a conversation with Jacqueline Loss in this commentary series. Over the years she has regularly attended readings in Havana and New York, and I'm never surprised to find that the poets with whom I connect have spent significant time talking with her in one or both cities. Perhaps this is why her projects in scholarship and translation so often turn out to be revealing, if sometimes in unexpected ways, for readers with an interest in poetry.
Photographer Alejandro González (b. 1974) has become known for portraits of people that, when shown in groups, become portraits of their cities. Seen above in a photograph taken by González in summer 2015, writer Marcelo Morales (b. 1977) recently completed a new poetry collection that registers personal and collective change in Vedado, a neighborhood within Havana, during the much-publicized transformations hitting Cuba in recent years.
Juan Carlos Flores has earned recognition for his poems as written texts, and as a translator, I worked primarily within the visually oriented spaces of the page and the screen to recreate his work in English. [Click here to see the University of Alabama Press page for the book.] But Flores takes those same poems as scripts for performance, lending a whole other register to his work. To bring the texts into English without some commentary or other form of addressing performance — like the 2010 video I’m posting at the end of this entry — would greatly limit understanding of the work.