Writers' Corner

Katherine M. Hedeen

2015 Translation Projects

Translator's Statement

Jorge Enrique Adoum's poetry proposes a dialectical relationship between the public and the private, between social transformation and affection, between civil duties and personal satisfaction. In other words, only by beginning with our individual relationships can we expect to change the world. And social transformation is a central theme in his work. Yet, in a unique way, Adoum’s poetry overcomes what are often thought to be contradictions between political commitment and aesthetic experimentation. In Adoum, we find one of Latin America’s most radical formally experimental poets. Word play, neologisms, and the juxtapositioning of several different social and cultural registers at once accompany a shift toward narrativity and chronicle on the one hand, and fierce lyricism on the other. Adoum’s very poetics are based on a defiance of traditional forms of expression. The fragment below, from his masterpiece, the long poem Disinterred Love [El amor desenterrado], also the title of the anthology of his work on which my translation project is based, is a perfect example of this coming together of social commentary and formal innovation. Using the Lovers of Sumpa, (the remains of an intertwined couple found in a Paleo-Indian cemetery in Ecuador) as its starting point, the text ultimately constitutes a profound questioning of the West’s modern notions of love.

The richness and complexity of Jorge Enrique Adoum’s poetry provide numerous challenges for the translator. My top priority is preserving his decolonizing aesthetic and his rebelliousness against rationalism, which mark his work as a whole. This comes across in my attempt to maintain as much as possible the supposed incongruities of the original. If meaning is elusive/illusive in Spanish - either thematically or in terms of language - it must also be in English. Things should not be smoothed over in the translation if readers in the original Spanish have to tackle the same difficulties. It’s precisely this struggle, the required engagement of reader (and translator), which makes Adoum’s poetry and the translation of it so worthwhile. I’m grateful to the NEA for acknowledging it as so.

Excerpt from "Disinterred Love by Jorge Enrique Adoum

[translated from the Spanish]

                            *

Bones of a newborn or a newdead long ago:
with this I might imagine how little is needed
to shape two bodies and make their meaning visible,
how little too for two deaths joined.

I’ve suffered ten-day weeks and fourteen-month years
but these centuries were short:
we still have petals of their ribs, reeds of their legs,
- what’s left from the corporeal storm
when the wind gathers what the wind scattered -,
chiding our guilt of a lasting life
the amorous fallen united in the scuffle against desire,
as if the friction of skin on skin had stripped them,
fragments of a waxing moon and another waning
fashioned by a secret complicity of their movements,
x-ray of what we were and should be still.

For this eternity of the body, eternity of the act,
was it the love we unlearned in time and now is no longer or still is not?
what went on between love and us, what bitter river or frigid fire?
back then was it man and woman to be a whole being
before a couple was hunted prey?
did you choose (“I want to die with you”) the person
who you would live all your death with,
meddling castaways in the subsoil to see from below
how goes the poor fleeting love in the country above,
and to remain hinged so,
forever hearing the last blinks,
forever seeing the last pulses,
condemned to die at a slow love
minus the sad thereafters of uncoupling?

                            *

Spoiled by the centuries of my age and the years of my guilt
should I imagine encounters of a hidden innocence
against owners of women before cattle,
or a conspiracy of young angels against sorcerers, caciques, police?
or in the geometry of passion only a marginal, foolish lust
(because before us copulation was hush-hush)
and instead of the slow, clumsy conjugal carpentry of underpinning
(when you undress and for the first time see
each night old age aging in your skin
to dawn on the day’s decrepitude),
stormy caresses to get ahead of order?
(and the vengeance of this union lasting
longer than the order that killed them and this new order
still killing us)
or was tenderness already subversive? was it now already,
for always like always,
always the tribe against love
(and we’re part of the tribe)
because a couple is always the minority?

Original in Spanish

About Jorge Enrique Adoum

Considered to be the most important Ecuadorian intellectual of the twentieth century, Jorge Enrique Adoum was a poet, novelist, essayist, journalist, translator and playwright. Of Lebanese descent, Adoum was born in the Andean town of Ambato in 1926. He began publishing poetry in 1949. His work received such prestigious awards as the first Casa de las Américas Prize in Cuba, the most important honor in Latin American letters. He continued to write prize-winning poetry until his death in 2009. Though hailed by Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda as the best poet of his generation in Latin America, Adoum’s work is unknown in the English-speaking world.

Katherine Hedeen

Katherine M. Hedeen is the National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor of Spanish at Kenyon College. She specializes in Latin American poetry and has researched and translated numerous contemporary authors from the region. Her translations appear extensively in prestigious American and British literary journals. Her published book-length translations include collections by Juan Bañuelos, Juan Calzadilla, Marco Antonio Campos, Luis García Montero, Juan Gelman, Fayad Jamís, José Emilio Pacheco, Víctor Rodríguez Núñez, and Ida Vitale. She is an associate editor of Earthwork’s Latin American Poetry in Translation Series for Salt Publishing.

Photo by Víctor Rodríguez Núñez