Rita Dahl, a collage poem

Translated from the Finnish by the author

Muistan vain miten auto suistui ja joutui veden varaan. Sisarukset ovat merkillisiä. ”Haluatko oluen?”. ”Eiköhän ole liian aikaista?”. Aina kun tyhjennän yhden, hän tuo eteeni uuden. ”Älä väitä, ettei se ole käynyt mielessäsi?”. Ihan kuin tämä olisi jotain leikkiä. Hän avaa kylpytakkinsa – niitä muotoja ei arvaisi takki päällä. ”En halua sinua enää kotiin.” Nukkuisit kunnolla. Ehkä se ajaja on tullut tunnontuskiin. Se hullu soittelee koko ajan. Kalat vaan ui ja paskantaa. Lähdittekö pois sateen takia? Virtuaalitodellisuus on siis totaalisesti totta. Ei kai hän soittele sinulle? Tuntisitko äänen? Hän halusi insestipuhelun 4-vuotiaan kanssa. Tuollainen voi pilata elämäsi. Niistä puheluista saa rahaa. Löysimme sieltä alastoman ruumiin. Ei siinä ollut paljon tekemistä. Alkoi tulla pimeä. Menimme sinne kalastamaan. Hän myy enemmän kuin luuletkaan. Olin tänään alastonmallina. Mahtavaa jos Alex Trebek ostaisi kuviani. En kestä loputtomia hyväilyjä. Rakastan rankaisevaa suudelmaa. Pidemmälle meneminen tietää vaikeuksia. Se raha olisi ollut tosiaan tarpeen. Jätinkö tänne marisätkän? Vihaan Losia. Kaikki vaan vetävät kokaa ja lässyttävät.

I remember only how the car bounced off the road and ended up in the water. Sisters are strange. "Do you want a beer?" "Is it not too early?". Then, soon as I empty one, she brings another. "Don't say you haven't thought it." Is this some kind of game? She opens her bathrobe - you would never have imagined she had a figure like that with the robe on. "I don't want you to come home anymore." You should sleep properly. Maybe that driver has qualms. That lunatic keeps on calling all the time. Fish just swim and shit. Did you go away for the sake of the rain? Virtual reality is then completely true. He doesn't call you? Would you recognize the voice? He wanted to have an incest call with a 4-year old. That can ruin your life. I get money from those phone calls. We found a naked body there. There was not much to do. It started to become dark. We went there fishing. He sold more than you think. I was a nude model today. Triffic if Alex Trebek would buy my pictures. I cannot stand being endlessly caressed. I love a punishing kiss. Getting further means difficulties. That money would really be necessary. Did I leave a joint here? I hate L.A. Everyone does coke and keeps on babbling.

(collage poem based on Robert Altman’s Shortcuts)

• • •

Rita Dahl (born 1971) is a Finnish writer and freelance editor. She graduated in Political Science at the University of Helsinki and also holds a BA in Comparative Literature. Her debut poetry collection, Kun luulet olevasi yksin, was published in 2004 (Loki-Kirjat), and her second book, Aforismien aika (PoEsia), came out in the spring of 2007. Her travel book about Portugal, Tuhansien Portaiden lumo - kulttuurikierroksia Portugalissa (Avain) was published a month later. She was editor-in-chief of the poetry magazine Tuli & Savu, in 2001 and also edited a cultural magazine, Neliö (www.page.to/nelio), which had a special issue on Portugal, for whose printform Dahl was responsible. In 2007 she is publishing a portrait about the Finnish poet Jyrki Pellinen (PoEsia). Dahl also edited an anthology of Central-Asian (and international) women writers (Like). This anthology includes speeches that were given in the meeting of Central-Asian women writers arranged by the Finnish PEN, August 2007, as well as pieces of fiction. She is editing and translating an anthology of Contemporary Portuguese Poetry into Finnish. Dahl is a vice-chairman of Finnish PEN.

Astrid Cabral, "Birdish"

Translated from the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin


Entre folhas secas ou verdes
canta ao balcão da janela
um pássaro estrangeiro.

Tal o olhasse sem enxergá-lo
conheço-lhe o passarês
sem jamais decifrar-lhe a voz.

Não é hoje que me aflige
essa terrível surdez
a vedar-me sua mensagem.

Céus, são tantas as linguagens
que sempre me deixam à margem
cega ao que pássaros sabem.


Among some green or dried out leaves
there sings upon the window sill
a foreign bird.

Just as I gaze at him and don’t quite see him clear
I know his Birdish
yet cannot quite decipher it.

It did not begin today
this dreadful deafness that afflicts me
blocking out what he would say.

Heavens, how many languages there are
that leave me on the outside
blind to what all birds must know.

• • •

Astrid Cabral is a poet, critic, novelist and former diplomat from Manaus, the capital of the Amazonian region of Brazil. She has translated numerous works into Portuguese, including Thoreau's Walden. The environmental awareness that characterizes much of her writing has made her one of the leading figures in the Amazonian cultural identity recovery movement.

Alexis Levitin's translations have appeared in well over two hundred literary magazines, including Partisan Review, Grand Street, Kenyon Review, and, of course, Osiris. He has published twenty-four books of translations, including Guernica and Other Poems by Carlos de Oliveira, and Soulstorm, by Clarice Lispector.

"Birdish" is part of a selection of poems from Jaula (Cage) by Astrid Cabral that will be published in Calque 4, due in April 2008.

Pizarnik Translator's Introduction

by Madeleine Stratford

These three texts are from Alejandra Pizarnik’s final book of poetry, El infierno musical, published in 1971, shortly before the author’s death. The source texts come from the latest anthology of Pizarnik’s complete poetry, edited by Ana Becciú, who claims the “new” versions to be more faithful to the poet’s original manuscripts. I chose to translate them as a group, because they are formally and thematically related. First, they are the only poems in the El infierno musical to present the same formal structure: three double-spaced sentences lacking cohesion among them. Then, they seem to complete each other as far as content is concerned. To my knowledge, they have not yet appeared together as a triptych in English.

The first text, Signos, shares strong thematic links with the second, Fuga en lila. The love that the body remembers in the second line of Fuga en lila seems to refer to the first line of Signos, where “Everything makes love to the silence.” The mention of como encender la lámpara (like lighting a lamp) seems to be linked both to the silencio como un fuego (silence like fire) in the second line of Signos and to the light which becomes a drum in the last line. The last line of Fuga en lila clearly summarizes the first two of Signos, which is mostly about silence and how it is both a temptation, a sexual attraction (“Todo hace el amor con el silencio“), and an expected gift or a promise (“Me habían prometido un silencio como un fuego, una casa de silencio”).

In Signs, I preferred to translate hace el amor as makes love to instead of makes love with, because this act of love felt intrusive. It does not happen between two equals, but rather between an overwhelming everything and a little nothing, silence. I decided to translate the definite article el in order to keep the contrast between the actual silence (as opposed to silence in the abstract sense) and the one that the lyrical I was supposed to get as promised. Finally, I understood the segment “Me habían prometido” as an impersonal formulation quite common in Spanish, and translated it into English as a passive structure. This enabled me to put more emphasis on the lyrical I by making it appear right at the beginning of the line, as in the original.

As the word fuga suggests, the second poem is both a sort of escape and a musical composition. As for the Spanish word lila, it can refer both to a color and to a flower, and its ending evokes the note “la,” which strengthens the musical connotation of the title. Unfortunately, this wordplay is bound to be lost in English, since the word lilac does not end with the syllable “la.” Furthermore, English speakers tend to call this note “A,” referring to the diatonic scale instead of the fixed-do system. The first line of the poem has a repetitive structure: sin para quién echoes sin para qué. This creates a fugue-like rhythm. It is thus important to keep the repetition. Here, Pizarnik plays with linguistic categories: para qué and para quién are question phrases, but Pizarnik uses them in a nominal context, as synonyms for razón (reason) and destinatario (addressee). I chose to translate the uncanny effect of the words instead of focusing solely on their meaning. As for the second line of the poem, it is grammatically ambiguous, mainly because of the infinitive, encender (to light or to turn on). Usually, one would expect the second verb of the comparison to share the same subject as the first one, el cuerpo. Yet here, because the second verb is not conjugated, it is impossible to know for sure who or what the subject of encender is. Once more, Pizarnik seems to be playing with grammatical categories, treating encender like a noun, as in “el hecho de encender.” I have chosen to recreate Pizarnik’s ambiguity by using a present participle, which permitted me to evacuate the subject.

As for the third text of the series, Del otro lado, its thematic connection with the other two seems to depend mostly on the musical theme. In Signs, there are silences and a drum. In Fuga en lila, there is a fugue and a silence, and in Del otro lado, the word música (music) appears four times, and the word voz (voice), twice. In this third poem, the silence desired by the lyrical I, both its temptation and its promise, has disappeared. Only music and voices are left, which could explain why the lyrical I is sad. While light was present in the first two poems (fuego and luz in Signos; lámpara in Fuga en lila), it has faded away in Del otro lado, which takes place during the “night of a wolf’s fangs.” Thematically, the first two poems seem to be both “on the same side,” while this third one, is “on the other side,” as its title indicates. As for the structure of Del otro lado, it is interesting to observe how close it is to that of a musical fugue. Indeed, the theme (or exposition) stated at the end of the first line,“cae la música en la música is repeated word for word at the beginning of the third line, and then altered to produce a variation on a theme (como mi voz en mis voces). Thus, it was important for me to reproduce this fugue-like movement in the English translation.

According to Pizarnik, only the reader can “complete” her poems, make them “whole” and meaningful by reading and interpreting them:

“Únicamente el lector puede terminar el poema inacabado, rescatar sus múltiples sentidos, agregarle otros nuevos. Terminar equivale, aquí, a dar vida nuevamente, a re-crear”.

This is without a doubt a wonderful invitation not only to read and interpret her poetry, but also to translate it and give it a new life.

Madeleine Stratford
Québec City, March 2, 2007

Interview with Aline Desentis Otálora

by Rebecca Crocker

Rebecca Crocker: Aline, describe a bit about your personal background, where you were raised and with whom. Who were the principal influences in your childhood?

Aline Desentis: I grew up in southern Mexico City, in the neighborhood of Los Reyes, Coyoacán, along with my parents and my three older siblings (two sisters and one brother). Almost since I was a baby, I have been in love with the written word and thanks to my father's support, I learned to read very young, at age 2. Ever since I can remember I have been surrounded by reading and I made up stories to entertain my cousins. During the fifth grade, I began my learning process by writing stories about extraterrestrials and an essay in which I imagined what would happen if people had tails like animals. Later during my adolescence, I began writing poetry, although I won a contest in 1984 when I was in middle school for a surrealist story entitled "The River of Smoke." My main influences included my mother and my grandmother, assiduous readers, and later on my sister Carla. But my primary influence was my friend and teacher Alonso Lujambio who encouraged me to write since childhood and gave me serious critiques, first of my extraterrestrial stories and later of my poetry. He recommended readings for me (The Old Man and the Sea, A Happy World, Benedetti) but down the road I leaned more toward my grandmother's passion: magical realism and García Márquez.

RC: When did you begin to write, both as a hobby and also professionally? Where did you study when you were in school?

AD: For me, writing has always been a hobby and a medicine. I never think "Okay, I am going to write something now," but rather it's as if small demon was dictating me images, sentences and whole stories. I completed my professional studies at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM) where I studied Social Sciences, but I must admit that what I enjoyed most about my time there was the creative writing workshop.

RC: Who are the primary writers who have inspired your work, and why?

AD: Generally speaking, it's been the Latin American writers, because they describe realities that are similar to mine: Jorge Amado, García Márquez (he's a monster of a narrator), Elena Garro. Recently I read Celso Santajuliana and I loved it. Lastly, Bruno Traven and Alfredo Bryce Echenique, but I can also say that I have other special authors: Herman Melville, Michael Ende, Umberto Eco, and Tolkien.

RC: Explain to us what's in the background of "Dead Dog." Why did you write this story, how is it related to your life? The environment described in the story, is it something that you believe actually exists to a certain extent in rural Mexico, or is it rather a metaphor, or something that you fear for the future?

AD: You're not going to believe this, but I lived in the neighborhood of "Perro Muerto" for three and a half years, and after everything I saw there and lived through, I can tell you that honestly, the story has few exaggerations. My son got sick with fright when, at age 2 1/2, he first discovered a dead dog in the street. And, well, I've always been interested in writing about these neighborhoods on the edge of highway, with their brightly colored announcements for town dances and the stench of road kill. Marginalization is a constant factor in almost any human settlement in Latin America.

RC: In your opinion, what are the primary challenges that Mexico faces today? And could you speak specifically about Oaxaca?

AD: I think that the primary challenge facing Mexico is its lack of autonomy, as much in economic terms as politically and culturally. We are always copying models rather than creating our own model. In Oaxaca we face the culmination of this lack of autonomy: a crisis in which those who have always governed refuse to leave their seats of power, while new forces are trying to seize those seats of power. And the people are in the middle of all this, struggling as always for their autonomy and their own forms of organization.

RC: What do you have planned for the near future?

AD: I am preparing a book of stories based on popular legends and myths called "Historia de todas partes" (Story of All Places). It's slow going because each story is like a small birth, but it's going. In terms of plans for the immediate future? Finding a job!

RC: And finally, is there anything you would like to communicate to your new North American readers?

AD: Well, just that they should read the work of writers from underdeveloped countries so that they can truly understand other realities, and I hope they enjoy "Perro Muerto."