Communicating Vessels

by Beatriz Hausner

for National Poetry Month, April 2020

At its most essential, translation is the transfer of textual or verbal objects from one language to another. Literary translation can be more readily compared to a kind of alchemy, where the contents of one vessel are poured into another vessel, and back again, to create a rich mixture. In the case of poetry, the prima materia involved in this transfer takes the form of cadences, images, rhythms, which pour themselves out and into the poetics of the target language, thereby enriching it and providing it with elements that can ultimately transform it. At least that has been my experience.

I had the good fortune of starting out as a poet while translating extraordinary Spanish American poets into English. The deep reading, which the process of translation entails, as well as the challenge and fear I faced in trying to render their creations in English provided me with a superb poetic education. I learned the myriad ways of voice and structure; I honed my technique and made mine the associative methods they exemplified and which suit my temperament. I learned how physical and social realities become a limitless resource for emotional power in the hands of a good poet. There is no question that their voices wove themselves into mine. To those voices I went on to add the masterful work of other translators, whose translations of the troubadour poets, especially the Countess of Dia, Dante, and Classics like Ovid inform my newest book, Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart.  Of late, I have taken to reading the excellent, albeit contrasting translations of Catullus by Peter Whigham and Louis Zukofsky. I’m also revisiting the work of André Breton and the poet and mystic Oscar V de L Milosz. I keep learning from them, as I incorporate, riff off them, collage, and invent in the manner in which they invented.

Translating César Moro (1903-1956), the Peruvian surrealist, has proven one of the great experiences of my life as a poet. I had not, nor have since come across a poet whose expression of love for a man is as nakedly daring as Moro’s.  The beauty of romance, the celebration of the his lover comes through with erotic force rendered through often explosive images, brilliant juxtapositions, creating out of concrete reality a kind cosmic environment for his beloved. All the elements of the known and imagined world are at his disposal as he goes about inventing an entirely new poetics. Here is a little excerpt from my translation of Moro’s poem “Fire and Poetry”:

…I love a love of thick branches

Wild like jellyfish

Sacrificial love

Daytime sphere where the entirety of spring

Swings spilling blood

Love made of rings of rain

Of transparent stone

Of mountains that fly and dissipate

That turn into tiny rocks

Love that is like a stabbing

Like a shipwreck

The complete loss of breath and of voice…

To conclude and to demonstrate my deep connection to Moro’s work, here is my tribute to him:

Poetic Twin Man

Breakaway man adopted son

of Moorish queens wrote love

mantras with salt on his tongue

saliva seas breaking against

his final house straddling

the rocks of a cruel coast.

Man of anguish of hard sex

giving me his song

diamonds crashing

in my ear where

the north country hums.

Love on Fridays but not

on Tuesdays the disunited

states of the Americas

growing wings for the lover

of ideal men always coming

attendant weavers of

French finery entering

his umbilical Lima

of mist and sorrow.

He opens the door

pours his brow into mine

so we may drink portions

of the scandalous life

conjure up rooms where

his men and mine can

swing from chandeliers

like strange sea animals

that moan with pleasure:

My twin made

of flesh made of lust

made of tongue.

(From Sew Him Up, Quattro Books, 2010)

Beatriz Hausner’s latest book, Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, released on April 16th by Book*Hug Press, is available from their website.

Photo credit: Clive S. Sewell

Beatriz Hausner has published several poetry collections, including The Wardrobe Mistress, Sew Him Up, and Enter the Raccoon. Her books have been published internationally and translated into several languages, most recently Greek. Hausner is a respected historian and translator of Latin American Surrealism, with recent essays published in The International Encyclopedia of Surrealism in 2019. Her translations of César Moro, the poets of Mandrágora, as well as essays and fiction by Aldo Pellegrini and Eugenio Granell have exerted an important influence on her work. Hausner’s history of advocacy in Canadian literary culture is also well known: she has worked as a literary programmer in Toronto, her hometown, and was Chair of the Public Lending Right Commission. She is currently President of the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada, a position she held twice before.