NEA Literature Fellowships

Kristin Dykstra

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(2012 - Translation)

"Fishermen, rough" by Reina María Rodríguez

[translated from Spanish]

for J.A. Miralles

It's not laudanum they'll pull out
of the ochreous depths of your patience
waiting on the wall.
Deeper, much deeper, at the bottom,
thought decomposes and breaks apart.
Fish corpses, shadows of lights
that once marked ships' profiles
-- shackles forged from the imagination
reduced by the wild coast
to the wretchedness of pollution
not being anything anymore,
scrap iron for scavengers.
I watch for movement on the nylon line
because I want to recover sunken history, and so
I see them haul out something changeable,
the fishermen riding the wall like horsemen, their heavy grief afloat.
But life doesn't come floating past a second time in its boat
and there hasn't been enough fishing to navigate this dead calm
that deceives us by lapsing into storms.
When the afternoon vacates the vision you were creating of it
over the faces of those fishermen
in their work-browned shirts,
reminding us
they can't fish out
a wild and special something
with a skin that would shine in the sun.

(© 2010 by the Regents of the University of California, reprinted by permission of the University of California Press)

Excerpt in Spanish

About Reina María Rodríguez

Born in Cuba in 1952, Reina María Rodríguez is the author of numerous collections of poetry and prose. She is consistently recognized as one of the most significant writers on the island today. Her book Catch and Release was first published by Letras Cubanas in 2006, then reprinted after it won the National Critics' Prize. An incomplete list of her other award-winning books, the first of which appeared in 1976, includes La gente de mi barrio, Cuando una mujer no duerme, Para un cordero blanco, En la arena de Padua, La foto del invernadero, and Tres maneras de tocar un elefante

Kristin Dykstra's translations and commentary are featured in bilingual editions of Omar Pérez's Did You Hear about the Fighting Cat? (Shearsman) and Something of the Sacred (Factory School), as well as Reina María Rodríguez's Time's Arrest (Factory School) and Violet Island and Other Poems (Green Integer, tr. with Nancy Gates Madsen). Her recent work, which also includes poetry by Ángel Escobar, Juan Carlos Flores, and Roberto Appratto, appears in Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas, Asymptote, Bombay Gin, Sirena, La Habana Elegante, and The Harvard Review. Dykstra co-edits the magazine Mandorla: New Writing from the Americas / Nueva escritura de las Américas with Gabriel Bernal Granados (Mexico City) and Roberto Tejada (Dallas). She is associate professor of English at Illinois State University.

Photo by Brian D. Collier

Translator's Statement

As the epigraph to the title poem of Catch and Release confides, Reina María Rodríguez gathered "filings of the self" to compose her multivalent poems. I'll work with her to situate details informing them. Based on our past conversations, these are likely to emerge from family history, personal memories, images from photographs, and her prolific reading of literature from other nations. These sources bring depth and range to her elusive poetry. So does the rumbling uncertainty of everyday life in Havana in the post-Soviet era. 

Working with the translation of poetry, said so often to be impossible, I find its rigors motivational. Myriad questions about how to balance possibilities against constraints go into recreating a poem's weave. With many texts by Rodríguez, I'm looking for delicate, strange, or ambiguous results. 

Yet I tend to get questions about other issues surrounding translation, because several writers with whom I have worked to date are from Cuba. U.S./Cuba relations have been problematic for my entire lifetime. They may continue to be troubled in the future, and the political context has a tremendous impact on individuals and families who are understandably concerned about what might happen next. This tension raises the stakes around literary translation, a field in which judgments regarding the translator's success have long been expressed in terms of faithfulness or betrayal. Still, the intensity of this pressure can draw out the best: warmth, care, and a willingness to listen in spite of discouragements, difficulties, and risks. While working on past projects I've encountered extraordinary generosity from Cubans in the U.S. and on the island, as well as poets in both nations.