Craig Epplin

Glosses on Translation

I've done translations from Spanish and Portuguese, and I have worked with a number of genres—poetry, manifestos, essays, opera, and an unclassifiable collage of fragments. These are some of my favorite passages, first in my translation and then in the original, each preceded by a short gloss.

Anonymous, General History

This fragment is from a motley selection of texts compiled by Reinaldo Laddaga. It simulates a continuation of a volume by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares called, in English, Things that a Robot Needs to Know. The texts are read by robots and are set to music, original compositions and versions of extant songs. "Songs" is not exactly the word for them, but it's the word we have.

Medea, seeing in these herbs and in these virtues the confection that she had brewed, went to Jason and slit his throat. And she made flow all the ancient blood. And as the blood flowed she took the cauldron from over the fire with the herbs prepared, lukewarm as was required. And, since the blood had flowed, she plunged her hands into the cauldron and drew from the herbs and the juice; and she opened Jason's mouth and poured from them into his mouth and from them she poured into the wound.

Medea, pues que estas yerbas y estas virtudes vio en su confección que había guisado, llegó a Jasón y degollolo. E hizo salir toda la sangre vieja. Y mientras la sangre salía tomó ella el caldero de sobre el fuego con sus yerbas confeccionadas, entibiadas cuanto era menester. Y, pues que la sangre fue salida, metió las manos en el caldero y sacó de las yerbas y del zumo; y abrió la boca a Jasón y metiole de ello en la boca y de ello le echó en la llaga.

César Aira, "The Wicker Trumpet"

I translated this essay, originally written in 1995, for The Coffin Factory. It is one of my favorites by Aira. The world he draws is pure exhaustion and illumination, and it ends with a small epiphany about books and what they're made of.

Going no further, expect nothing from publishers. The future, if there is a future, lies in self-publishing. Soon enough, thanks to technological advances, books will be homemade, everyone will make them.

At this point, it's worth asking, what are books made of? Except that the question should be, what aren't they made of? Everything turns out to be appropriate in the long run: any topic, any intention, any attitude. Every book is a book, but every one is distinct because they have drunk from the numberless postures of the social life of humanity. They do so and will continue to do so as long as there are people and books. No need to worry about originality because it would be virtually impossible for it not to exist. It's as if the book had always been an experimental object, the infinitely renewed proof of an absolute particularity.

Fabrício Carpinejar, "Eighth Hill - Poem 1"

This short poem was published in Rattapallax poetry magazine, where I work as an editor. The final line gives a new inflection to the first two. The oranges are the lamps, burned out because they lack vitality. That vitality, in light of the final verse, becomes synonymous with electricity, as if evoking the field of waves that surrounds us always.

The unripe oranges,
burned-out lamps,
floated in the patio's
drain
like halted juice,
away from electricity.

As laranjas prematuras,
lâmpadas queimadas,
boiavam no esgoto
do pátio,
com o suco parado,
isoladas da eletricidade.

Arturo Carrera, Written with a Nictograph

(full text)

This selection is from Arturo Carrera's first published text. The original version has black pages and white text. He crosses out certain stanzas, couching this practice in terms of a sacrifice, a notion that runs throughout his poetry, wherein the strophe becomes an excess, present but absent at the same time.

the scribe has disappeared

I point at the empty place
where the dead rejoice

The night penetrating
the organ swollen with ink, penetrating
and making the same sound
as death penetrating

i attend to its duration in the instant
EXORBITANT SILENCE

its feast in the opaque, in the full, in the flat

el escriba ha desaparecido

Señalo el sitio vacío
donde los muertos se divierten

La noche penetrando
y el glande inflado de tinta, penetrando
hacen el mismo ruido
que la muerte penetrando

asisto a su duración en lo instantáneo
SILENCIO DESORBITADO

su fiesta en lo opaco, en lo pleno, en lo plano

Andrea Cote, Chinatown 24 Hours

The last lines of this selection, taken from a collection of poems that's all about things—and in particular things that are not domesticated to the familiar human home—accelerate. The cantata makes us run but not to flee the home, rather to close it up and disallow the becoming-rain of the house itself.

And I feel the faith of the man who works to win the rain, the very same water that touched her, bathed her, where she had slept. And I know that everyone's frightened of that story told from a dropper with its same old cantata not in disuse that makes us run hurried and close the doors of the houses that
otherwise would fill up with rain
and would be of rain until they fell.

Y siento la fe del hombre que trabaja por el premio de la lluvia, que es el agua misma que la tocó a ella, que la bañó a ella, en la que ella ya durmió. Y sé que a todos les espanta ese rumor a cuentagotas que viene con su misma cantata sin desuso y obliga a correr apresurados y cerrar las puertas de las casas que
de no ser así se llenarán de lluvia
y serán de la lluvia hasta caer.

José Kozer, "Lorine Niedecker, Absorbed"

It's not easy to make a selection from José Kozer's poetry: his verses bleed into one another; they straddle the breaking of lines in long sentences that add always one more clause, always one more qualification to the previous one. Here the subject of the first sentence, the object of the second, makes a delayed appearance.

It doesn't besiege me. I don't hear it. An echo rotten, decomposed. Broken ricochet.

No me asedia. No lo oigo. Eco podre, descompuesto. Rebote roto.

Yiyi Jambó, Manifesto

I once attended a gathering of cartonera publishers from throughout Latin America. Each of them had written a manifesto outlining their individual poetics. The most audacious of them was by the Paraguayan press Yiyi Jambó. It is written in a mix of Spanish, Portuguese, and Guarani, a textual embodiment of Paraguayan language itself.

Books by Yiyi Jambó Cartonera have eyes, lips, nose, sex and legs, they speak for themselves like little posthuman animals, but... have no fear of books by Yiyi Jambó, they don't bite...

Libros de Yiyi Jambó Cartonera tienen ojos, lábios, nariz, sexo y piernas, hablam por si solos como animalitos post-humanos, pero... non tengan miedo, los libros de Yiyi Jambó ellos non muerdem...