Tags: American novelists, Columbia Graduate Writing Program, Fiction, Latino Writers, Marin Espada, new American fiction, Novels, Oscar Hijuelos, Puerto Rican, Puerto Rican writers, Pulitzer Prize, Rosario Ferre
BY WORD OF MOUTH: POEMS FROM THE SPANISH BY WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS, COMPILED AND EDITED BY JONATHAN COHEN, FOREWORD BY JULIO MARZANPosted: 12 August 2011 in Recent Publications, Word of Mouth: Translations from the Spanish by William Carlos Williams, Foreword, "William Carlos Williams, Translator" by Julio Marzán
Tags: New Directions Books, Poetry, Translation, William Carlos Williams
On William Carlos Williams’s Translation of Ernesto Mejía Sánchez’s “Vigils”
By Jonathan Cohen
What influence can Spanish have on us who speak a derivative of English in North America? To shake us free for a reconsideration of the poetic line. . . . It looks as though our salvation may come not from within ourselves but from the outside.
—William Carlos Williams in his talk on poetic form at the Inter-American Writers’ Conference, Puerto Rico, 1941
William Carlos Williams’s translation of “Vigils” from the Spanish of Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Mejía Sánchez (“Los desvelos”) makes its debut in the July issue of Words Without Borders. This previously unpublished work by Williams is one of the many excitements included in my compilation of his translations of Spanish and Latin American poetry, By Word of Mouth: Poems from the Spanish, 1916–1959, due out from New Directions in September. The book’s title comes from the visionary statement about translation that Williams made in a draft of his 1939 essay on Lorca, which he chose to set aside and not include in the published version: “If more of the Spanish were better translated—more in the spirit of modern American letters, using word of mouth and no literary English—most of the principles which have been so hard won, the directness, the immediacy, the reality of our present day writing in verse and prose would be vitally strengthened. Our efforts away from vaguely derived, nostalgic effects so deleterious to the mind would be replaced by the directness and objectivity we so painfully seek.” How amazing that Williams anticipated one of the main underlying motives of the myriad translations from Spanish published during the 1960s and 1970s that refreshed American poetry!
I started the book project three years ago; that is, gathering Williams’s translations to see if they could actually form a good book. The idea to embark on this venture grew out of a conversation I had with my friend Julio Marzán, at the Americas Society in New York. He is the author of the 1994 landmark study The Spanish American Roots of William Carlos Williams (which is why I asked him to write the foreword to By Word of Mouth). While talking with him about Williams’s keen interest in the translations of Jorge Carrera Andrade made by Muna Lee, he described the poet’s efforts as a translator of Latin American poetry, and told me he had seen unpublished translations at Yale when doing the research for his book. Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library has one of the most extensive collections of Williams’s papers. And so, not long after our conversation, I traveled to Yale myself, to the Beinecke, where I was looking for poems like a gold prospector. To read the entire essay click on