I got Mark Statman’s translation of Never Made In America a year ago just as my life became so full of commitments (I began to take care of my ailing old father) that I had no time to sit down and read. I have a working knowledge of Spanish, but as I think about it now, I have read, and still do, the dead poets like Juan Ramón Jiménez who I’m translating as we speak. So the Spanish I am used to is older and deader too. Fortunately, Never Made In America has introduced me to a living breathing Spanish speaking poet from Uruguay, Martín Barea Mattos, who is partly a resurrection, partly a mystery, and partly a joy because his language, a tongue I know, is new, and as I read, I can see the good fortune I have had to have this book waiting for me.
Part of the discovery in reading Never Made In America is seeing and loving how playful two languages can be. When Martín writes
with exploding O’s, Mark translates it
which is very much like the original, but playing its own game too. In the poem Lo subhumano es la maquina when the poet writes
musitando sooombra, exagerando
sommmmbra, despilfarrando som-braaaa
the translator writes
whispering: shaaaadow, stretching
shad-d-d-dow, tossing, shadooow
And the titles can be fun as well when LIRIO DE LIRIO becomes LILY DELERIUM for example.
LIRIO DE LIRIO
sumemos la edad
de cada ser human vivo
para vivenciar que somos más útiles
que los señores qué en nombre de dios
suman la edad de los muertos
sumemos la edad de los muertos
de cualquier hombre de dios muerto
llamemos a los muertos por su nombre
y al dios
sumemos su vida
a nuestra única
que la muerte
let’s add the age
of each living human being
to show how we are more useful
than those gentlemen who in the name of God
add the ages of the dead
let’s add the ages of the dead
in the name
of any dead man of God
let’s call the dead by name
and the dead
let’s add their lives
to our single
we are more
than the death
In La (E) resultó economia de lenguaje, a four page poem that is part homage to the letter E, a vowel English and Spanish share, the fact that the Spanish E can morph into an English S adds to the variety of sounds so in the Vimeo above, which was recorded by Bill Lavender at Mundial Poetico de Montevideo on the 25th of October, there is an organic call and response between the translator and the poet, which you can hear as you read the beginning of the poem below where the mellifluous E appears in many of its effervescent forms.
La (E) resultó economia de lenguaje
La educación al sur y norte del ecuador
la eda del edén
la educación en efecto efimera
el ego el eje
como la electricidad
electrodoméstico elefante elegante elemental
elenco elevado en ascensores
elipse de elite
The (E) came out of an economy of language
the equation south and north of the equator
the age of Eden
education in fact ephemeral
the ego the axis
electric appliance elephant elegant elemental
actors elevated in elevators
ellipse of elite
Most translations, including mine, don’t turn out well because the original poem infusing its words with the sense and the sound of the language is almost impossible to replicate. In his earlier translation of Federico García Lorca’s Poet in New York, Mark Statman, who collaborated with Pablo Medina, kept the masterpiece a masterpiece. With Martín Barrea Mattos, he has had the terrific advantage of being able to talk to the poet and even argue over a word or two. Never Made In America is visual and visceral in both languages and affects every reader both inside and out with a lot of goosebumps and laughter, a lot of awe and shock, and like I said before, there is a lot of discovery as well.
I was happily surprised to see Martín Barea Mattos play with a favorite poem of mine, Charles Baudelaire’s Une Charogne, which he translates into a poem of his, La carroña de la carroña. There is a character throughout Never Made In America , Carlos Baúl del Aire, an urban gentleman who can be tongue in cheek but also very dark and serious. Baudelaire talking to his mistress compares her to a rotting carcass they come across on their walk; Martin talks to his notebook about litter perhaps, tossed food on the sidewalk, a waste of commerce. In the modern world it’s not only your mistress, it’s the city, it’s the world that is rotting; the poem may be funny but it is also ominous. I have typed out the first page of La carroña de la carroña below, what would be the first four stanzas of Baudelaire’s poem.
La carroña de la carroña
¿Te acordas de lo que vimos, hermoso cuaderno esa linda mañana de verano
cuando nos encontramos?
Una carroña y asquerosa en la filosa intersection de las esquinas.
Con su tapa levantada,
como un toldo caliente
transpiraba venenos y brazos revolvientes.
Contenía de manera descuidada y cínica
el vientre lleno de gases y el hambre.
El sol pegaba en la mugre
como para cocinarla
devolviendo cada moneda a la naturaleza del hombre
en todo lo que ella para él había trabajado
El cielo miraba la magnífica antropofagia
como si fuera una flor plástica y carnívora.
El olor era tan fuerte que pensaste
que te ibas a desmayar ahí, en el asfalto.
The corrupted flesh of corrupted flesh
Do you remember what we saw, beautiful notebook this pretty summer morning
when we met?
Our corrupted flesh
colored and filthy in the cutting intersections of the corners.
With its cover lifted,
like a hot canopy
sweating poisons and revolving arms.
its womb full of gas and hunger.
The sun glued the filth
as though cooking it,
returning every coin to humans
all the money for which they’d worked
The sky watched the magnificent cannibalism
as it were a plastic, flesh-eating flower.
The smell was so strong you thought
you were going to pass out, there, right there, on the asphalt.
Never Made in America is published by Lavender Ink. You can check them out here:
Here is a Youtube of Martín Barea Mattos and Mark Statman performing from Never Made in America at Mundial Poetico de Montevideo, 25 October 2017, at Cabildo de Montevideo recorded by Bill Lavender.
Here are some Martín Barea Mattos Youtubes: