An Inheritance of Riches II: Marosa di Giorgio and Selva Casal, curated and introduced by Jesse Lee Kercheval

For the last issue of Tupelo Quarterly, TQ11, I curated an Editorial Feature, “An Inheritance of Riches: A Portfolio of Contemporary Uruguayan Women Poets” whose purpose was to showcase five Uruguayan women poets, Melisa Machado, Laura Cesarco Eglin, Virginia Lucas, Karen Wild Díaz and Eloísa Avoletta, born from 1966 to 1995. Uruguay is a country with an strong tradition of poetry by women and these women represent the latest links in what is an long and unbroken chain of Uruguayan women poets. “An Inheritance of Riches II: Marosa di Giorgio and Selva Casal” is a continuation of that first Editorial Feature, or perhaps a prequel, because it features poems by two woman poets, both born in the 1930s, who were, in many ways, the poetic mothers or grandmothers of the poets in TQ11.

Marosa di Giorgio (1932-2004) is one of the most prominent Uruguayan poets of the twentieth century and one cited by many of the younger poets in TQ 11 as an influence on their work. Jeannine Marie Pitas, her translator here, published di Giorgio’s Historial de las violetas as The History of Violets with Ugly Duckling Presse in 2010. Remember Nightfall, a collection which includes The History of Violets (1965) and three other book-length poems from the middle of di Giorgio’s career: Magnolia (1968); The War of the Orchards (1971); and The Native Garden is in Flames (1975), also translated by Pitas, is forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse. About The History of Violets, the translator Anna Deeney said, “Di Giorgio’s delicately extravagant poems loosely weave free verse and traditional Spanish meters to yield an unrestrained movement between the human and the animal, the overtly sensual and the intimately painful, the diaphanous underside of nature and the blunt cruelty of Uruguay’s military dictatorships.” Pitas talks in the Q & A I did with her about how she came to translate di Giorgio and about the importance of her work.

Selva Casal, born two years earlier in 1930, is the author of fifteen books of poetry. Though not in good health now, whenever she is able to appear to accept an award or read her work, the younger Uruguayan poets go to see her and to hear her. A former lawyer, Casal is inspired by her experiences working with people who have faced injustice. Her 1975 publication of No vivimos en vano (We do not live in vain) during the military dictatorship resulted in her losing her position as a professor of sociology. She alternates living in Montevideo and in the small beach town of Solymar. Though she has won numerous prizes for her work in Uruguay, Argentina and Mexico, none of her books are currently available in English. Her poetry here is also translated by Jeannine Pitas, who is working on translating a collection of her work. Pitas talks about Casal as well in her Q & A.

I hope reading the Marosa di Giorgio and Selva Casal poems included in their feature will make you want to read more Uruguayan poetry. If so, check out the younger poets in TQ11 and also the brief bibliography of work in translation by Uruguayan poets at the end of my introduction to that Editorial Feature.

A Selection of Poems by Marosa di Giorgio, translated from the Spanish by Jeannine Pitas

“It’s already the end of the day. The tree spreads out its hair, its magdalene, tempting the jesus of the hyacinths. This one here, an enormous violet, moves away from the leaves and…But all of it is a fiction. Only the blue-bellied, black-footed spider spins its web in the air, the poisonous forget-me-not. And there on the table sit the dishes and the fish, which on its silver plate looks like a tasty little man, a big, salmon-colored dwarf, a cake made of salted camellias; we devour it like a delicious pearl necklace with a taste never known before. And the bats toast themselves lightly in the smoke of their own cigars. And the moon is there, ready for bed. And he is there—the assassin, that far-off saint, one with a long veil and long hair—the one who seeks me, who pursues me, who surely will come for me one night.

A Selection of Poems by Selva Casal, translated from the Spanish by Jeannine Pitas

“Those were the days on this earth
our days
when we were as tiny as dream shadows
is it true that we lived on the edge of things
without ever discovering them”

A Conversation with Translator Jeannine Marie Pitas

“My encounter with di Giorgio was completely unexpected. I was an undergraduate student studying Spanish, and my professors regularly encouraged us to do literary translation as part of their classes. I translated a variety of poets, and when I graduated, I decided to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. I initially set out to translate an Argentine writer and travel to Argentina; however, I was unexpectedly awarded a grant to go to Uruguay…” Read more >>
Jesse Lee Kercheval is is a 2016 NEA in Translation Fellow and is the author of fifteen 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.