An Introduction to Luis Ignacio Betancourt (translated by Arturo Desimone) by Henk Rossouw

The Aruban/Argentinean translator Arturo Desimone’s geographic commitments—one life in the Caribbean island of his birth, another life in the cone of South America—make him the ideal translator for Luis Ignacio Betancourt, a Venezuelan poet living in exile in Argentina at the time they met. Together with his ear for finding rhythmic echoes in English for the percussion of Betancourt’s poems in Spanish, Desimone has rendered Betancourt’s imagery with all its clarity and sense of accretion, as is evident in these stanzas from the poem “Estela,” whose title means “wake” or “trail”:  

          bird of foam     my vestige
          left behind, or trailing after the boat?

          Shedding feathers, it unfurls its wings,
          persistence in the soughing
          which the keel, quill,
          is either casting off or begetting.

Desimone translated this portfolio of poems from Betancourt’s 2021 collection Ojo de la Sombra (“Shadow’s Eye”), which speaks to, in Desimone’s words, “the early phase of isolation experienced by the abrupt emigrant.” This adds further resonance to a poem like “Estela,” if one thinks of living in the wake of exile. Both meditative and ferocious, Betancourt’s poems tell it slant—Dickinson’s lyric mode—by avoiding direct reference to the economic meltdown in Venezuela, in the same way that Dickinson’s poems were hardly ever “about” the U.S. Civil War and yet her poems of that period speak to the violence. In “Colors,” for instance, Desimone translates “tanatapractores” into the terrifying and apt neologism, “thanato-malpractitioners.”And so, Betancourt’s poems in translation offer the reader, as Desimone writes, “...insight into the tenor ... of the poetry currently being produced by young Venezuelans in the vast diaspora that unspooled from that Caribbean republic ever since the economic turmoil intensified.” I’m haunted by these stunning poems, which investigate time, identity, and the cyclical feelings of exile: “The body / persecuted by its shadow, / the shadow, / condemned to repeat the body.” 

Arturo Desimone (Bushiri Divi-Divi, 1984) was born and raised on the island Aruba. He later relocated to Argentina to research his Argentinean family background. His opinion articles, poetry and fiction pieces previously appeared in Drunken Boat, Hobart, Fortnightly Review, Berfrois, and South Florida Poetry Journal. He has translated poems by Rafael Cadenas and Cristina Peri Rossi for Arrowsmith Press and has performed at international poetry festivals in Nicaragua, in Havana, Cuba and Buenos Aires.

Luis Ignacio Betancourt (Caracas, 1993) is the author of Ojo de la sombra (Oscar Todtmann Editores, 2021). He read literature at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. He was a finalist in the first Rafael Cadenas Young Poetry Contest, organized by the Venezuelan literary organization La Poeteca, in 2016, and in the Physis Contest for Young Poets (Catholic University Andrés Bello, 2017), with poems subsequently published in these institution’s anthologies. Among other gigs, he is an online Spanish tutor for American university students and has been a seasoned resident of Buenos Aires, Argentina in recent years, despite being an avowed vegetarian.