An Inheritance of Riches: Five Contemporary Uruguayan Women Poets, Curated and Introduced by Jesse Lee Kercheval



Uruguay, with a population of only 3.3 million, is the smallest Spanish speaking country in South America, but it is a country with an strong tradition of poetry by women. This selection of poems by five women poets, Melisa Machado, Laura Cesarco Eglin, Virginia Lucas, Karen Wild Díaz and Eloísa Avoletta, born from 1966 to 1995, represents the latest links in this unbroken chain of Uruguayan women poets. And these five poets are well aware of this inheritance of poetic riches.

As part of the brief Q & A with each poet and translator in this Editor’s Feature, I asked the poets to name the Uruguayan woman poets who had influenced them most. Several name Juana de Ibarbourou and Delmira Agustini, in many ways the twin “mothers” of Uruguayan poetry. Two poets mention Susana Soca, a poet who died in a plane crash in Brazil in 1959 but who has re-emerged as an important voice for younger women poets. Nearly all list the amazing women poets such as Idea Vilariño, Ida Vitale and Amanda Berengeur who formed part of the Generation of ’45, an Uruguayan literary movement whose influence helped bring Latin American literature to world prominence.

Nearly everyone, as well, cites the wonderful poets from the following generation, Circe Maia and Marosa di Giorgio. Then each poet has her own a rich list of other poets, older to younger. I love mentioning the names of these here—and wish it was easy for you to go read work by all of them. But if only 3% of the world’s literature is translated into English, a much, much smaller percentage of Latin American women poets, including Uruguayan poets, has been translated. Read more >>



Eloísa Avoletta


Poems by Eloísa Avoletta, translated by Laura Cesarco Eglin

“…I lie down
in the face of what I’ll never be able to say
entranced by salt still existing in this battered body
I bet we weren’t able to name that rock a hundred thousand years ago
and she was rock in each stony fiber
she called herself rock until someone listened and said ‘rock’…” Read more >>

An Interview with Eloísa Avoletta

“…I think that for women, the world is a hostile place, and in the literary world it is like that too. I don’t feel I could give an opinion about Uruguayan poetry in general. We’re getting to know each other. What I do know is that I and many other young poets are writing so that new words are heard. I can hardly hear their howling while they are in the midst of a whirlwind of daily jobs and tasks, foreign times, several sedatives, with an earthly and profound lucidity that lights things on fire by their own spontaneous combustion. I can say that in that it is in that Uruguayan poetry that I trust…” Read more >>



Karen Wild Díaz


Poems by Karen Wild Díaz, translated by Ron Paul Salutsky

“…all was revealed that evening
an order never existed
swirling like a sea
feigned a drowning
suddenly stopped on the surface
we saw at last the bodies
but we were going:
profile, back, end of the album…”

An Interview with Karen Wild Díaz

“…When I wrote humus, I needed to articulate a chaos of sensations and pain. It was a book born between funerals; I was feeling very sensitive but I swallowed my tears. Then, for nearly the first time in my life, I wrote a series of very brief and concise poems. They felt like blows, weighty sentences and indications that operated by subtraction, steps that marked an axis, deep breaths between two paths…” Read more >>

Ron Paul Salutsky on Translating Karen Wild Díaz

“…Uruguay exists at the world forefront of progressive legislation, and part of the reason lies in the political force of its art—art is always political, sure, because its sense-making capacities exceed and thus challenge those of sanctioned authorities, but art isn’t always activist. In South America and Uruguay in particular, it’s far more typical for artists rather than athletes and reality TV stars to represent the interests of the populace—the “organic intellectuals” Antonio Gramsci described—and the line between art and politics generally dissolves: poetry matters…” Read more >>



Laura Cesarco Eglin


Poems by Laura Cesarco Eglin, translated by Scott Spanbauer

“…With an eye for measurement he calculated a man’s size. He cut where cutting was needed. They weren’t just slits in the fabric, but rather a vision expressed through tailoring. One piece of cloth shows him to be an apprentice in Lithuania. Others he tied around his feet to keep death off-balance during the march. Harsh footsteps in the winter…” Read more >>

An Interview with Laura Cesarco Eglin

“…When writing Sastrería I was exploring how memory works, the practices of memory, its poetics. In this collection, memory works just as both tailors and poets do, using fragments and snippets as a starting point, signifying and resignifying the past in order to weave a present. These negotiations are never exact copies of the original experience: cancer, carried in the body from generation to generation; being the descendant of Holocaust survivors; language as it changes through migration. Tailor Shop speaks of memory that is vibrant, revitalizing the past, sewing the present…” Read more >>

Scott Spanbauer on Translating Laura Cesarco Eglin

“…I think a key thing about her poems is how they actually sound. Her poetry is quite varied in thematic content and imagery–nature, The Holocaust, memory, the texture of hair, the color of vomit. The mood varies from ominous to comedic and her poems can be long, short, haiku-like or essentially prose. But the insistent and consistent voice throughout her work lives in the sounds, the flow and lack of flow from line to line. There are no questions, just statements–often discontinuous–that invite the reader to inhabit the non-sequitur reality…” Read more >>



Virginia Lucas


Poems by Virginia Lucas, translated by Jen Hofer

“…He wanted to choose between heaven and his philosophy. His name was Horatio and he had two lengthy periods of doubt as had his friend since the death of his daddy. Something emerged to find him, they would talk through the long nights. Something seemed like the sound coming from his computer screen. All white space has Something. Something is an old relative you don’t recognize but who knows your name and murmurs Something that resembles unnnnn…” Read more >>

An Interview with Virginia Lucas

“…The texts included in the book were a necessity. They take as their starting point the horror of human efforts to survive and they encountered continuity and strength in exactly that, the beauty of human otherness. In that place: the translator…” Read more >>

Jen Hofer on Translating Virginia Lucas

“…I’d like to tell you that the instant I read one of Virginia Lucas’s poems from this book—now many years ago—I wanted to get inside her language and allow its contagions to inflect my own thinking, vocabulary, and world conception, in only the way the intimacy of translation can achieve…” Read more >>



Melisa Mechado


Poems by Melisa Mechado, translated by Seth Michelson

“…the prosperity of my tongue
white animals
black animals
toxic liquids
limpid water
the resurrection of the flesh
resurrection in every form…”

An Interview with Melisa Mechado

“…I wrote El canto rojo in the city of Antigua, Guatemala. I was coming from a poetry festival in Nicaragua, where I’d met marvelous poets from diverse places around the world, and where I’d tried agua roja for the first time. It’s a kind of iced tea made from rose and hibiscus water. It’s a delicacy, and I found it really refreshing in the overwhelming heat of those days. Antigua is also a red city, with the beautiful textiles woven by its indigenous women, its flowers, its tropical birds, its volcanoes, and I would walk its cobblestoned streets while reading Celan and Gamoneda…” Read more >>

Seth Michelson on Translating Melisa Mechado

“…Translating Melisa’s poetry is deceptively difficult. Each poem is tense with verbal volatility, ferocious precision, deep reflection, and layerings of shifting lexical shadows. The resulting poetry is as explosive as a field of landmines, with each triggered detonation illuminating in a flash of scalding light the artificiality and inadequacy of presupposed limits of the referentiality of language, while also creating newfound possibility in the strewn wreckage. To read the book, then, is to engage in a mode of creating through the atomization of the object of focus by Melisa’s laser-like blasts of verbal light, with the destruction revealing new forms and modes of being…” Read more >>
Jesse Lee Kercheval is a 2016 NEA in Translation Fellow and is the author of fourteen books including the poetry collection Cinema Muto, winner of a Crab Orchard Open Selection Award; The Alice Stories, winner of the Prairie Schooner Fiction Book Prize; the memoir Space, winner of the Alex Award from the American Library Association. She is also a translator, specializing in Uruguayan poetry. Her translations include The Invisible Bridge: Selected Poems of Circe Maia and Fable of an Inconsolable Man by Javier Etchevarren. She is also the editor of the anthology América invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets. She is currently the Zona Gale Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she directs the Program in Creative Writing.