Interview with Pura López-Colomé and Forrest Gander

Interview with Pura López-Colomé

By Karla Cordero

Born in Mexico City poet Pura López-Colomé is the author of El sueño del cazador, Un cristal en otro, Aurora, Intemperie, Éter es, Música inaudita, Tragaluz de noche, Santo y seña, Reliquia, Una y fugaz, and Lieder . She’s translated the great works of Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, and many others. A collection of her poetry was translated and titled No Shelter by poet Forrest Gander. She was awarded Xavier Villaurrutia Prize in 2008. Poetry International was excited to discuss her experience as a poet from Mexico and the process of translation.

Who would you say are the most interesting new poets in Mexico?

Well, it depends what generations you are talking about.  It would be awkward for me to talk about my own poetry here, you would have to find out somebody else’s opinion. From my generation, according to my criteria, Francisco Hernández and Eduardo Milán are the most widely read, respected, and enjoyed. In younger generations, probably Luis Felipe Fabre is the most intriguing.

What European poets are most influential?

Irish and English, no doubt.

What US poets are liked in Mexico?

John Ashbery, Mark Strand, Forrest Gander, CD Wright, Robert Hass, and younger ones like Ben Lerner and Ilya Kaminsky.

When did you begin writing in English?

I have never written originally in English. I can only write in my mother tongue, Spanish.

When did you decide to translate poetry into Spanish? And how did you choose which poets or poems to translate?

Since early on, when I was in boarding school in the US, I started (perhaps venturing with too much young boldness) translating poetry into Spanish in order to keep in desperate contact with my native language.  Since that very beginning, I only tried my hand and heart at poems that moved me, that caused some commotion inside me.  One of the first ones was Emily Dickinson; then William Carlos Williams, then Irish poetry (Yeats, Heaney, Kavanagh).

How did you come across Forrest Gander to translate your work?

I met Forrest in Brown University in 1994, when he had just published a selection of poetry by Mexican women poets.  After talking as though we had known each other forever, he told me:  “Now I know why I didn’t include any of your poems in that anthology:  because I am going to translate a whole book of yours”.  And he did.  And beautifully, I must add.  He has translated No Shelter and Watchword.

What was the process like when Forrest Gander translated your own poetry from Spanish to English?

I have trusted him completely since the beginning of our relationship.  He has always worked on his own, only asking me for details in order to make sure of certain very difficult expressions only Mexicans use, expressions that transcend the Spanish language as such, and are regionally located, for instance.  He always amazes me.  He discovers things in my poems that I never imagined were already there.  I am so very fortunate to have him recreating (not translating) my poetry.  And besides, to have him as a dear friend.


Interview with Forrest Gander

By Karla Cordero

Forrest Gander a 2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist has published several books of poetry and a novel titled As a Friend. He is a writer of many genres, accomplishing a series of translations and anthologies. Gander worked closely with poet Pura López-Colomé in translating a series of poetry titled No Shelter Gander currently teaches poetry and theory at Brown University. Poetry International had the pleasure of asking Gander a few questions on the process of translation and his experience working with López-Colomé.


How did you come across translation? 

The very first story that I remember my mother reading to me was Shingebiss (a translation of an Ojibwa story). And my favorite childhood book was a beautifully illustrated collection of fairy tales– I still have it, minus the cover, and I read to my own child from it when he was young. All the fairy tales were, of course, translations from the languages of Europe. Later, when I was in high school, I was drawn to the 19th century Russian and French novelists. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized I’d read them instead of the 19th century English novelists I was expected to know.

Have you translated work other than Spanish poetry? 

Yes. I’ve had a long fascination with Japanese poetry, but I studied Japanese only briefly before traveling to Japan. I co-translated a book with Kyoko Yoshida, Spectacle & Pigsty: Selected Poems of Kimau Nomura, which won the 2012 Best Translated Book Award. And I’m working with Kyoko now– and with an A-list of hot Japanese translators– on a collection of poems by the shamanistic performance poet Gozo Yoshimasu.

Aside from Pura’s work, have you translated any other work from other Poets?

I’ve translated many Latin American poets and poets from Spain. Two books that will come out this year are Fungus Skull Eye Wing: Selected Poems of Alfonso D’Aquino, a Mexican poet, and Panic Cure: Poems from Spain for the 21st Century. 

When you began to translate Pura’s work, what was the process like? 

It was difficult. There is an hermetic quality to her work and she wasn’t very responsive to my questions about the ongoing translation– although she was responsive in other ways as a friend. I think she wanted me to grow as a translator by finding my own way.

What was the most difficult task in translating Spanish poetry to English poetry?

It really depends upon the particular language of the particular writer, but a general problem is the way pronouns in Spanish can be difficult to decipher. They can allow for ambiguities that English grammar doesn’t naturally match.

Has translation helped you to become a better writer? reader? poet? 

All of the above.

What advice can you give to beginning translators when choosing a poet to translate? and beginning the process of translation?

Choose a living writer, one who has not been translated before. Then, presto, your translations are the best ones ever. But also, you will be able to make contact with the writer who will introduce  the translator into a contemporary community of other writers and artists and “regular customers.” You are immediately drawn into a real world– often physically.The translator visits the writer and is embraced by a new realm.

Are you a fluent Spanish speaker? If you are or aren’t what tools or resources did you utilize during the translation process?

I don’t know when I’ll be fluent. And being fluent in Mexican Spanish isn’t the same as being fluent in Cuban Spanish or Bolivian Spanish, much less the Castilian of Spain. My greatest resource is my poetic sensibility. I’m not sure it is English. Is it a trained instinct for making meaning beyond any particular language, but through language?

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