An (Imaginary) Poetry Reading in Montevideo, Uruguay: An Introduction
by Jesse Lee Kercheval
This year I am back in Uruguay, on sabbatical from teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I arrived in Montevideo, the capitol, at the beginning of November and since then it has been non-stop poetry readings and book launches, one or more most nights. It is late spring here and so everyone is trying to squeeze in one last event before the quiet summer months begin when people take their vacations and leave town for the beach. But as I have said many times before, Montevideo is a town—and Uruguay is a country—absolutely full of poets.
In the past issues of Tupelo Quarterly, I have curated and introduced two Editorial Features on the wonderful, unbroken tradition of poetry by women in Uruguay. In TQ 11, you can read “An Inheritance of Riches: A Portfolio of Contemporary Uruguayan Women Poets” whose purpose is to showcase five Uruguayan women poets, Melisa Machado (translated by Seth Michelson), Laura Cesarco Eglin (translated by Scott Spanbauer), Virginia Lucas (translated by Jen Hofer), Karen Wild Díaz (translated by Ron Salutsky) and Eloísa Avoletta (translated by Laura Cesarco Eglin), born from 1966 to 1995.
In TQ 12 An Inheritance of Riches II: Marosa di Giorgio and Selva Casals, 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 are, in many ways, the poetic mothers or grandmothers of the poets in TQ11.
But my anthology, América invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets features equal numbers of male and female poets and that is an accurate reflection the poetry world in Uruguay. So in doing the two Editorial Features on Uruguayan women poets, I did begin to feel I had rather neglected the wonderful male poets of Uruguay. This Editorial Feature showcases four of those male poets Luis Bravo, Miguel Avero, Emiliano Martínez and Náon Aydo.
Luis Bravo (Montevideo, 1957) is the senior poet in the group. Poet, performer, essayist and university professor, Luis is one of the wisest voices on the history of Uruguayan poetry. In addition to his own books of poetry such as Árbol Veloz, his critical book Voz y palabra: historia transversal de la poesía uruguaya 1950-1973 is a must read. Bravo is part of a generation of poets whose work exploded into wider public view after the military dictatorship in Uruguay ended in 1985 and whose experimental and performative poetry still has a wide influence on younger poets. This influence is not something that just exists on the page. In Montevideo, Luis Bravo reads regularly with poets of all ages and a poetry reading might feature poets from eighty to eighteen reading at the same event. The other three poets in this Editorial Feature represent the kind of younger poets who might participate with Bravo in such a reading. Náon Ayudo, the youngest, is still an undergraduate studying to be a teacher, Emiliano Martínez was born in 1976, and Miguel Avero in 1984. Avero is also part of a wonderful group of poets who run workshops in high schools, including those in the countryside and in the poorer neighborhoods in Montevideo called En la camino de los perros. In addition, they have regular readings and publish and online anthology of “poetas ultrajóvenes” ie very young poets. You can check out the anthology and the project here.
I want to thank the translators for this feature for their work. Bravo is translated by Catherine Jagoe, who also translated work of Bravo’s for Earth, Water and Sky: A Bilingual Anthology of Uruguayan Poetry. Miguel Avero is translated by Jona Colson, who was also his translator for América invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets. Both Jagoe and Colson are poets themselves. Náon Ayudo and Emiliano Martínez are translated by Laura Cesarco Eglin who is an another fine Uruguayan poet.
So if you want to imagine you are at a reading (or two or three readings) in Montevideo—read all three Editorial Features and you will begin to get an idea of just how many wonderful poets there are in Uruguay.
A Poem by Emiliano Martínez
Translated by Laura Cesarco Eglin
Distance (from Latin distantĭa)./ 1. space or interval of time or space… Read more >>
A Poem By Naón Aydo
Translated by Laura Cesarco Eglin
I’ll be a prisoner because I decided to live without time, and when you come for me… Read more >>
Three Poems by Luis Bravo
Translated by Catherine Jagoe
There are times you reach the limits of the finite.
And no one knows how to be the other that, without knowing it,
you are already.
Any adolescent knows, and forgets years later:
being born was a banquet of blood. Read more >>
Three Poems by Miguel Avero
Translated by Jona Colson
They will discover you
a thousand times after digging
in the past.
Whoever or whomever
it may belong to,
it will be yours
the sleeping rib… Read more >>
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.