“To be valued more for the ethnicity I was seen to represent, rather than for what I could contribute as an individual, struck me as more than a little embarrassing, particularly since I felt myself to be hardly representative of any group that I could think of,” writes Mark Smith-Soto in his “Editor’s Note,” an essay exploring the difference between the terms “Hispanic” (more inclusive) and “Latino” (predominance of English with “overflow of Spanish,” among other distinctions.) While Smith-Soto’s essay is in no manner didactic, I read his remarks as cautionary and approached this collection of 16 “Hispanic and Latino” poets as I would any “uncategorized” and eclectic group of writers.
I appreciate International Poetry Review’s facing-pages presentation of original poems with their translations and the opportunity to consider work in languages other than English. (In fact, in a few cases in this special issue, it is not possible to know if the original poem was written in Spanish or in English, as some of the Latino poets have translated their own work.) The translations, happily, are not merely competent, but astute and satisfying. Consider Ben Bollig’s translation of the opening lines of “Momias” (“Mummies”) by Uruguayan poet Eduardo Espina: “En la invincible immensidad / del tiempo y de todo” – “In the invincible immensity / of time and totality,” and David Lee Garrison’s translation of the opening lines of an untitled poem by Verónica Grossi: “Cómo se traduce? // La lenta violencia / de todos los días” – “How do you translate // the languid violence of each day?” Garrison might have chosen “slow” for “lenta” a literal translation, but “languid” has the alliterative quality and liquid rhythm that does the original justice. I especially liked a powerful, politically charged poem by the well known Mexican poet, Iliana Godoy, “Dormidos Despiertos” – “Sleeping Awake,” and “Cada Grito” – “Every Scream” by Marcos Barcellos of Uruguay: “Cada grito era un centímetro más de tierra y un domingo menos” – “Every scream was one more centimeter of soil and one less Sunday,” brilliantly translated by Jonathan Greenhause.
There is also, as always, a section of original poems in English, which includes an entertaining and clever excerpt from the “Houdini Chronicles,” by Hope Maxwell-Snyder; and a highly original and extremely moving poem that unravels backwards by an “emerging” poet we should definitely keep our eye on, César Castro, a native of El Salvador who recently completed an MFA at North Carolina State.