An Interview with Melisa Machado by Jesse Lee Kercheval

Melisa Machado (Durazno, Uruguay, 1966) currently lives in Montevideo, where she works as a journalist, writer, art critic, and therapist. Her books of poetry include Ritual de las Primicias (1994), El lodo de la Estirpe (2005), Adarga (2000), Jamba de Flores Negras (2006), Marjal o Animal (2008), Rituales (2011), and El Canto Rojo (2013), which was published in translation in Italian in 2014 and Swedish in 2015.
JLK: Is there anything you would like to tell readers about your poetry or the poems in this book?

MM: 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. Later I’d return to the hostel to rewrite what I’d scribbled early in the morning. From that, El canto rojo emerged.

JLK: Is there anything you would like to tell readers outside Uruguay bout Uruguayan poetry, especially the poetry written by other women poets?

MM: In Uruguay, the country where I was born and live, there’s a strong tradition of female poets: Juana de Ibarbourou, Delmira Agustini, Amanda Berenguer, Ida Vitale, Marosa di Giorgio, Cristina Peri Rossi, to name but a few of the most well known among them, almost all of whom have passed on.

JLK: Are there any Uruguayan women poets who have influenced your work or you particularly admire?

MM: The most outstanding of the aforementioned poets is, for me, Marosa di Giorgio, not only for her body of work, but also for her personality and imagery. She created her own poetic world, and it was absolutely unique, coming from an exquisite, vibrant sensibility. And she lived that form. Her life, art, and “persona” all cohered.

Like Marosa, I was born in the interior of the country, far from the capital, Montevideo: She was born in Salto, me in Durazno. That is, to be born in Uruguay, and on top of that, far from Montevideo, the capital, is necessarily to have a peripheral, expansive perspective. That’s how one maintains the red thread that connects infancy to adulthood, the town in which one is born to the “wider world;” it takes a rich and lively inner world that allows one to fly over other cities and cultures, to “be of the world, but not in it” as wise Taoists and Zen Buddhists say.
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.