Translator’s Note

P. Scott Cunningham

César Vallejo is not lacking in translators, attracting literary giants as diverse as Edith Grossman, Rebecca Seiferle, James Wright, and Clayton Eshleman. Because Vallejo’s poetry is so robust, each of these translators finds an original and effective way to approach his work. However, the one thing I couldn’t find in any of them when I started getting obsessed with Vallejo was versions that replicated the rhyming structures of the originals. Most of Vallejo’s work derives from or reinvents traditional forms. His early work in particular can be highly regular, but even the poems in his great “experimental” book Trilce are very much what we’d call “formal” in post-Confessional America. English doesn’t invite compound rhymes in the same way as Spanish does, but it was important to me to attempt to replicate the sounds I hear when reading the poems aloud in their language of origin. One of Vallejo’s favorite metaphors is that of bells ringing, and his poems contain incredible two-, three-, and even four-syllable rhymes that sound, to me at least, like mini bell-choirs. These kinds of rhymes are very beautiful and perhaps impossible to translate accurately, but the poems here in Waxwing are part of my quixotic attempt to do so, without, I hope, sacrificing accuracy of overall meaning. On that note, I think it’s important to add that I’m firmly in the “Edith Grossman school of translation” that shuns word-for-word literalism in favor of a more holistic recreation of the poem in a second language. These translations are first and foremost pleasurable acts of devoted reading, and my hope for them is that they impart some of that pleasure to other readers, too.

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