“[T]his wobbling Logbook”: Poets from Uruguay, Spain, and Haiti in Translation – Curated & Introduced by Henk Rossouw

Kristin Dykstra’s immaculate translation of Amanda Berenguer’s The Lady of Elche will come out from Veliz Books early next year. That Berenguer’s La Dama de Elche will finally be available in English thirteen years after Berenguer’s death—after a lifetime of publishing award-winning poetry as a member of Uruguay’s influential “Generation of 1945”—speaks to the unsung labor and determination of translators such as Kristin Dykstra, Nick Rattner, and Conor Bracken, which this portfolio aims to celebrate. At the shifting center of Berenger’s poem, “(las puertas) | (the gates),” is the “it” that unsettles the following lines: “it passes leaving me alert in this wobbling Logbook / I inhabit // in my travel diary I take notes / unable to speak it aloud.” Here, in the oscillation between the sayable and unsayable, “this wobbling Logbook / I inhabit” becomes, if not the task, then the space of the translator to enact the poem’s momentum—the space of lyric flight.


Though the Berenger poems included in the portfolio act as a lyric counterpoint to the long poems contributed by Juan Andrés García Román and Jean D’Amerique, all three bodies of work push language to its ecstatic edge. Witness, in Nick Rattner’s wild translation of García Román’s “Un amor supremo | A love supreme,” the devotional shoutout of a speaker entranced by composer Gavin Bryars’ looping sample of a homeless man improvising on fragments of the gospel hymn, “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.” If D’Angelo were suddenly reincarnated as an experimental Spanish poet from Lorca’s Granada, that city of syncretism, he may sound something like García Román’s speaker here: “Language Whose Names /Are Animals / Serve Us the Supper / of dawn Rouse us from bed / and Tell us we shall receive / the Food / because it is porce- / lain black niiiiiiiight ...” Luckily for us night readers, Rattner has translated a full collection from among García Román’s many books, The Adoration, which will be out from Quantum Prose next year.


Conor Bracken has already translated from the French, to much acclaim, the explosive late 1960s postcolonial poems of Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine in Scorpionic Sun. This is obvious in his attuned listening to the mesmerizing voice of the Haitian speaker in Jean D’Amerique’s book-length poem, No Way in the Skin Without This Bloody Embrace, excerpted here. “I sing the accident,” D’Amerique writes, as if to pick up the pieces after the wreckage left by colonialism in Haiti. The occasional anaphora of “by the way” in D’Amerique’s excerpt implies the off-hand remark, the accident of conversation, but a conversation that takes place with the urgency of a mouth pressed to the ear while onboard “an unrestrained pirogue,” where “history crosses / we catch hold of / the heritage of light”. That García Román and D’Amerique both have full-length books of poetry translated into English in their lifetimes—Ugly Duckling Presse has recently published No Way in the Skin Without This Bloody Embrace—speaks to the urgent work of their translators.


Rather than wish Berenguer had been alive to see her work more fully translated, too, I want to sing the accident: I want to celebrate the existence, now, of The Lady of Elche in English. If the task of the translator is to listen, to join D’Amerique on the “unrestrained pirogue,” to open our eyes inside García Román’s night with “the moon’s electric light beaming down on industrial farms / the eyes of cats / on Snowy is MISSING posters,” or to bring back to our shores welcome news from Berenguer’s “wobbling Logbook,” then the work is both complete—and incomplete—as we eagerly await further books translated by Kristina Dykstra, Nick Rattner, and Conor Bracken.

Henk Rossouw’s debut Xamissa, published by Fordham University Press in 2018, won the Poets Out Loud Editor’s Prize. The African Poetry Book Fund included his chapbook The Water Archives in the box set New-Generation African Poets: Tano. His poems have been or will be featured in POETRY, The Paris Review, The Massachusetts Review, Poetry Northwest, World Literature Today, and Boston Review. Henk teaches at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he co-directs the UL Creative Writing Program.