Jen Hofer on Translating Virginia Lucas

Jen Hofer is a Los Angeles-based poet, translator, social justice interpreter, teacher, knitter, book-maker, public letter-writer, urban cyclist, and co-founder of the language justice and language experimentation collaborative Antena and local language justice collective Antena Los Ángeles. Her most recent translations are Style / Estilo by Dolores Dorantes (Kenning Editions 2016) and Intervenir / Intervene by Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2015). Her translation of Virginia Lucas’s Amé.RICA is forthcoming from Litmus Press. Our Senior Translation Editor, Jesse Lee Kercheval, recently had a chance to ask Jen a few questions about her recent translations of Virginia Lucas’s poems.
JLK: You are in the process of translating a book by Virginia Lucas, Amé. RICA. TU VALOR DE CAMBIO/Ah.Me. RICH. Ah: YOUR EXCHANGE VALUE, which is forthcoming from Litmus Press; is there anything you would like to tell us about her poetry?

JH: 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. That is, I decided to translate this book (of course with no idea at all what intensities the process would entail!) almost the instant I encountered it. Whatever the congruent version would be for readersof that immediate attraction, that instant opening of fissures of desire, that inimita-ble willingness to be changed entirely by our interactions—I hope that’s how Virginia’s writing affects and infects them.

JLK: What are the particular challenges to translating Lucas’s work?

JH: There are so many, I hardly know where to start. Neologism and invented language, dialect, total irreverence toward language norms, intensely tangled complexity, idiomatic expressions that are extremely local or outright imaginary, refusal to obey any rule. That is—the challenges are the very same elements of the work that made me fall in love with these poems. Those challenges have caused me to completely up-end my translation processes and break all my own rules. You can read a bit about that process, and the results of my struggles, in the notes to the poem-translations published in The Offending Adam.

JLK: Are there any other contemporary poets in translation or recently published books in transla-tion—in any language—you would like to recommend to Tupelo Quarterly readers?

JH: I would recommend any and all translations by Rosa Alcalá, Daniel Borzutzky, Don Mee Choi, John Keene, Erín Moure, Sawako Nakayasu, and Jennifer Scappettone—for starters. There are so many more!! Daniel, Don Mee, Erin, and Sawako have all written books or chapbooks about translation that radically changed the way I perceive the practice and its political reverberations. Two recent translations that have knocked my socks off are Kristin Dykstra’s translation of Cu-ban writer Marcelo Morales’s book The World as Presence and John Pluecker’s (full disclosure: my collaborator as the other co-founder of the language justice and language experimentation collaborative Antena) translation of Mexican writer Sara Uribe’s Antígona González.
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.