The new poetry book from Sixteen Rivers Press, Plagios (Plagiarisms) Volume Two by Mexican poet Ulalume González de León, couldn’t have come at a better time.
During National Poetry Month, emerging from the pandemic, and grappling with war in Ukraine, González de León’s poems are more timely than ever. They discuss the relationship between the living and dead, in addition to her reworked texts, which she called “plagiarisms.”
This volume is the second in a three-volume set of the works of González de León in Spanish and English. The dual language book, wonderful for Spanish and English speakers, is the only English translation of this poet’s body of work.
González de León, born in Uruguay in 1928, studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of Mexico and became a Mexican citizen in 1948. She was part of a movement of women writers whose work experimented with personal identity and language itself.
This second volume, like the first, was translated from Spanish into English by local trio Terry Ehret, Nancy Morales and John Johnson. The first volume in both languages of her work came at the beginning of the pandemic, and this second one comes as we begin to emerge. Notably, the translation process for volume two was almost entirely on Zoom.
Ehret, poet laureate of Sonoma County from 2004 to 2006, says, “Our usual process of bringing our individual translations to a group meeting to hash out a version we could all agree to benefitted from the give and take of an in-person conversation—not to mention good food and glass of wine.”
Fortunately, when the pandemic began, they could meet online.
“Zoom allowed us the opportunity to continue to translate. Still, we experienced the obstacles of working from home within a new medium,” explains Morales. “Defining a work rhythm and how to inform our translation with so many competing factors became real. This project felt simultaneously bright and grim. Bright because we were making art, and grim because it was so charged and uncertain.”
Entirely new worlds emerge when we read writers that communicate in other languages besides English. And the world of González de León is worth the immersion.
Volume two contains work that Diego Alcázar Díaz says, “holds an essential part of Ulalume González de León’s literary project: reworking of texts and themes that at first do not seem poetic, but become so as they are masterfully crafted by that duende which Rosario Castellanos said characterizes Ulalume’s work.”
Duende is a Spanish term meaning a heightened state of emotion manifesting into authentic actions. Ehret describes the challenge and pleasure of translating the work with regard to duende.
“One of the best ways to read these poems is with the original text she was borrowing in hand, just to see the playfulness and duende at work,” says Ehret.
Johnson agrees, “Ulalume’s poetry reminds us over and over that we live in a world of others, among the words of others, and that we are all participants in the act of meaning-making, which is above all a pleasure.”