Archive for February, 2010

One of the largest earthquakes ever recorded struck central Chile this past Saturday, Feb. 28, 2010 while the country was in the midst of bicentennial celebrations of 200 years of independence from Spain. One visual art show in the capital city, Santiago, sanctioned for the bicentennial, eerily foreshadowed the country’s tragic future.

El terremoto de Chile (The Earthquake of Chile) preceded the catastrophic, real-life event by just two months. The instilation was on display in Santiago’s Museum of contemporary Art from October to December of 2009. The curator, Fernando Castro Flores, designed the show as a dialogue between the visual arts and literature, giving the show its foreboding pretext based on the story, The Earthquake of Chile, by the German, romantic writer Heinrich von Kleist. However, in light of recent events, the show seems more a dialogue between art and life, in one of its saddest simulacra.

A strange and unsettling pairing, below are images from the Santiago art exhibit alongside photos of the actual earthquake that hit Chile only two months later.

Francisca Garcia. Catastrophe. 2009.

Residents of Concepion, Chile look at a collapsed building. 2010.

Fernando Prats. Seismograph of Chile. 2009.

A resident of Talca, Chile, walks amid debris of a destroyed house. 2010.

Pablo Ferrer. Excavation. 2009.

Overturned cars on a destroyed highway in Santiago. 2010.

Nury Gonzales. Veiled Dream. 2009.

Destroyed walls of a hotel in Vina del Mar. 2010.


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The following poem is the first in Oliverio Girondo’s 1942 collection Persuasíon de los días (Persuasion of the Days). I translated it, tracking the interwoven themes of flight, space and distance, death/life, and dark/light, and also the ascendant movement of the poem more generally.

Its abstract themes are grounded in images, the kind envisioned by a person who inhabited cities. Girondo’s home, Buenos Aires, is one of the largest in Latin America. Surrealist poet Enrique Molina called Persuasíon de los días “a step towards a geography of ethics, an ethical geography.”

As the reader goes through the poem, I hope they will note its contradictions, ask questions of the many-layered meaning of the poem, and, whether or not a more nuanced translation is possible.

Please feel free to leave comments (also, thank you to any readers of this blog). I look forward to doing more translations from this book as the blog progresses.

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Oliverio Girondo is an argentine poet, born in Buenos Aires to a wealthy family, who lived from 1891- 1967. He traveled extensively between Argentina and Europe during his lifetime. His contemporaries included Jorge Luis Borges. Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca were among his friends.

Abroad in France, in 1922, he published 20 Poems to Be Read in a Trolley Car, his first volume of verse, influenced by the Parisian scene and Guillaume Apollinaire.

Girondo also wrote plays, known for being avant-garde, and later in his life painted in the surrealist style, though his visual work was never well-known.

He was an active contributor to Martín Fierro, an important Argentinean journal of arts and culture. The journal’s manifesto, appearing in 1924, was Girondo’s work.

The front page of Martin Fierro, issue n.4, with Oliverio Girondo's manifesto. (May 15, 1924)

Martín Fierro believes in the importance of the intellectual contribution of America, cut from any previous umbilical cord.”

The manifesto claimed that the American cultural movement would no longer serve mornings “as a toothpaste, a towel to France and a soap to England.”

In 1946 he married the poet Nora Lange. After his death from injuries sustained after he was hit by a car, the surrealist poet Enrique Molina collected his last works. Little translated into English, he remains popular in Argentina and for readers of Spanish.

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A new, early book of literary crossover star Roberto Bolaño was released this month in Spain. The novel, The Third Reich, was one of Bolaño’s early works, unedited by him during his lifetime. Now, Anagrama, a Spanish editor, published the book in Spain.

The Latin American writer topped the New York Times’s top 10 books list two years consecutively. His novel 2666 was translated into English in 2008 and made it on the high-profile list. The previous year my personal favorite, The Savage Detectives, topped the New York Times’s list as well.

Now he has a cult following, spanning continents, an audience to whom this oncoming edition of The Third Reich, which is especially curious since he wrote it early on in his career as a writer, in 1989, will be a welcome addition in a growing arsenal of Bolaño’s works.

El Tercer Reich está escrito en forma de diario y su protagonista es un joven alemán, Udo Berger, a quien la vida parece sonreirle. Nazismo, juegos y sexo son los temas principales de esta “novela primeriza, que no de principiante”, según precisó el crítico y escritor Ignacio Echevarría.

The newly released novel takes place on la Costa Brava of Spain, where protagonist Udo Berger travels on vacation with girlfriend, Ingeborg (they are German). Berger is 25 and in the prime of his life. Obsessed with the tabletop war strategy game The Third Reich, at the onset of the vacation, Berger is more interested in his games than with the beach or sun.

When Ingeborg and Berger go out to a nightclub they meet another young German couple, Charly and Hanna. They drink, make plans for tomorrow, and when they leave the beach at the end of the night, Charly disappears.

English readers of Bolaño will have to wait to find out what happens. Most likely, Natasha Wimmer, who translated to English both The Savage Detectives and 2666 will translate El Tercer Reich.

Bolaño was born in Santiago, Chile in 1953. He died in 2003 at the age of 50 where he was living in Barcelona.

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Sudestada is an arts and culture magazine based in Buenos Aires, Argentina with a leftist spin. In November 2008 they published a series of articles on Alfredo Zitarrosa's life and works that form the basis of this post.

Alfredo Zitarrosa (b. 1936, d.1989, Montevideo, Uruguay) is Uruguay’s most beloved folk singer. He is often compared with Carlos Gardel, another of the most famous folk singers of Latin America. Often, their songs express the spirit of Latin America. Zitarrosa sang folk milongas, he even had songs to Jose Artigas, the national hero of Uruguay. Zitarrosa, more than Gardel, also lead a life of letters and was a well-known poet, journalist and composer during his life.

He wrote some of his first poems in the attic of the pension his mother, Blanca Iribarne, rented out to sustain them. The hotel was on the street Yaguarón in Montevideo across from a cemetery. There he had his books, figure of Beethoven, portrait of Vallejo. His first poems were urgent verses or the perceptions of a sensitive man, his memories as he recalled them.

At the age of 23, he had little expectations when he sent a short book of poems, Explicaciones, to be judged in a contest of the Premio Municipal de Poesia Inedita, which he won. Juan Carlos Onetti, the famous Latin American poet, was among the judges.

Following he became friends with many other Latin American poets, writers, and anarchists. They would go to literature workshops and perfect his style, read over everything that crossed before his quiet gaze. Bécquer Puig was another man of letters with whom Alfredo shared his love of the arts.

The Other Zitarrosa

It was interesting that he always admired the parents of his friends. Perhaps this was because of the painful absence of his biological father and his constant changes of identity during childhood. Between the time of his birth to his sixteenth birthday Alfredo adopted three distinct last names: Iribarne, for his Mother, Durán for the adopted family that raised him, and finally, the one for which he is known, Zitarrosa, for the husband of his Mother.

By the end of the fifties and the beginning of the sixties, Alfredo continued being Alfredo, “El Flaco,” or “el pocho.” He was still not the Alfredo Zitarrosa known today in Latin America, nor was he even dreaming yet of being a singer, it hadn’t crossed his mind.

Alfredo continued writing as he worked as a newscaster at the radio, El Espectador, sometimes reading the editorials of his friend Vicente Basso Maglio, from whom he learned the craft of journalism, which he would later adopt as a profession.

Alfredo continued to write during his many years in front of the microphone.

He always remained humble. Even after his writing and singing career advanced, he would say that he was no writer, no poet. He would say being a poet was a privilege of humanity which it gave to itself as a gift, and that he was no such thing, that if anything he was basically and fundamentally a Uruguayan.

Zitarrosa is Gardel

Later in the early sixties when his singing career brought him outside of Uruguay, he would stay in contact with his friends thought letters. The letters were about simple, heartfelt themes: revolution, love, absence. “El amor es mutación constante, así nos lo parece y no amamos tampoco sino a lo que se nos niega; no reconocemos al amado sino en la apariencia que ya había abandonado cuando se nos mostró…”

Throughout his life Alfredo would write and reflect in his many letters to friends. Exiled in Mexico, after losing his passport, he wrote to then President of Uruguay Gregorio Álvarez asking for permission to re-enter his country.

He always wrote on the inner side of his LP’s. Later he would write for the periodical Marcha.

Revolution and “el pueblo” were the themes of so many of his compositions and his concerns. He held a firm belief in the youth. To friends he was known to ask: “does a revolutionary leader have to be a Marxist?”

The respected writer and journalist Carlos María Domínguez said about Alfredo: it is difficult to speak about “el pueblo” but somehow curiously enough when Alfredo Zitarrosa speaks about “el pueblo,” even after his death, it exists.

During his exile in Mexico he traveled to Nicaragua with Argentine producer, Modesto López. They were making a series of reports on “el pueblo,” the Uruguayan exiles in Nicaragua, and chatting with Sandinistas, Toms Borge and Daniel Ortega, among others. The work was never completed, though notes from the reports appear in Guillermo Pellegrino’s book Cantares del alma.

Upon his return to Uruguay in 1988 he worked on a program “Fábulas materialistas” that was published in the cultural supplement to the newspaper La Hora.

Five months before his death, August 8, 1988, he released the book Por si el recuerdo. The book contained twelve stories, written in distinct stages, over the course of 30 years. They are about childhood, humor, sadness; they range from autobiographical to fantastic, but always with a sense of continuity.

Alfredo Zitarrosa, today popular myth in Uruguay and Argentina, is a bridge crossing over into a world of deep passion, of life and its contradictions; an artist who got to the heart of simple, resounding things, a singer that put into words an epoch and a world that dreamed, a constructive doubt that never ceased, but with some unalterable convictions until the end of the road. “El futuro es de los que trabajan. Ese futuro se llama socialismo. A mi me falta hoy la canción que proponga en términos apropiados profundidad ideológica y la operatividad política necesaria. La canción de hoy me esta faltando, vacilo, escribo, escucho, leo, propongo cosas a los compañeros, consulto, pido critica, y me sigue faltando la canción nuestra de hoy, necesaria, viable…”.

An updated ZITARROSA still inspires today’s Latin American artists. The famous Uruguayan/Argentine group BAJOFONDO made a song called Zitarrosa, they performed the song live in 2009 in Rio De Janeiro.

“Zitarrosa” lyrics-
La milonga.

Ladies and gentlemen
a man.


His music.

La milonga es.

He`s ask tonight
he`s here
Alfredo Zitarrosa.


Ladies and gentlemen
ladies and gentlemen.

La milonga es hija del candombe
asi como el tango es hijo de la milonga.

He’s ask tonight
he’s here.

La milonga es hija del candombe
asi como el tango es hijo de la milonga.

He’s ask tonight
he’s here
Alfredo Zitarrosa.

Ladies and gentlemen
ladies and gentlemen.

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