Scott Spanbauer on Translating Laura Cesarco Eglin

Scott Spanbauer worked for many years as a technology writer and editor, and taught Spanish at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His translation of Uruguayan poet Laura Cesarco Eglin’s collection Calling Water by Its Name was published by Mouthfeel Press in 2016. His translations of Cesarco Eglin’s poems have been published in Pilgrimage, Coconut Magazine, Hiedra Magazine, LuNaMoPoLiS, Malpaís Review, and Blue Lyra Review. His translation of Adolfo Pardo’s The Grill is forthcoming from Veliz Books in 2017. Our Senior Translation Editor, Jesse Lee Kercheval, recently had a chance to ask Scott a few questions about his recent translations of Laura Cesarco Eglin’s poetry.
JLK: You have finished translating Laura Cesarco Eglin’s book Sastrería, is there anything you would like to tell us about her poetry?

SS: 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.

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

SS: Given the differences between the sound, structure and rhythm of English and Spanish, a lot of what Laura’s poems achieve can’t be reproduced in English. So the challenge is to create a translation that echoes the effect of the flow, the discontinuity, and the sound, along with the content. Often in my translations lines are broken up and rearranged, or a particular sonic effect or discontinuity in the original happens at a different, but nearby, location in the poem. Audiences have commented on how different the translation sounds from the original when we have read together–something I attribute to how different we are in age, gender, and temperament.

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

SS: Lisa Rose Bradford’s 2015 translation of Juan Gelman’s Oxen Rage and Benjamin Moser’s not-so-new translation of Clarice Lispector’s Hour of the Star recently inspired me as examples of luminous and faithful translations that transcend the author/translator gender difference. Chris Clarke’s 2016 translation of Patrick Modiano’s In The Cafe of Lost Youth is dark and delightful and got me reading the author’s earlier work.
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.