I first came across Ana Martins Marques’s poetry about a year ago in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. At the time, I was at a coffee shop waiting for another writer, Marcílio França Castro, to discuss translating some of his wonderfully zany short stories. He arrived like Santa Claus with a bag full of books, some his own, others not. Much to my excitement, Christmas came early when he then proceeded to shower me in gifts of books. The first book he pulled from his bag and slapped on the coffee table was the recently published O livro das semelhanças. “Ana Martins Marques,” he told me, pointing at the cover, “is the best living poet in Brazil. Never mind she’s my ex.”
Busy translating Marcílio’s prose, I wouldn’t crack open O livro das semelhanças for several months. When I finally did get a chance to read Ana’s poetry, I was delighted by the simple beauty of her poems. I was also impressed with the breadth of topics she investigates in her “book of similitudes,” where she highlights unlikely and insightful similarities between words and things, emotions and material matter, romanticized memory and quotidian experience, translations and their originals. When I got in contact with Ana to discuss translating a list of poems I had chosen, and much to the credit of the quality of her poetry, I found that many of them were already being translated. Luckily, however, not all of them were under construction in English, and she graciously helped me select numerous poems from her newest book.
Ana’s poetry is clear and economic, something that can be a double-edged sword for a translator. On the one hand, word selection and meaning often have a visible path to follow, whereas syntax can be a challenge, as well as keeping the translating from being more “wordy” than it should. This is especially true when considering Ana is no fan of punctuation. And by that, I mean she uses very little punctuation, particularly commas and periods. Yet this is precisely one of the features of her poetry that works so well. To be true to her poetry in the crossing over from Portuguese to English, I have allowed the similitudes between the two languages to do the work for me whenever possible — perhaps more than I would with other poets — while at the same time, I have used measured judgement to alter syntax and improvise word choice in the name of the flow and continuity of her “punctuation-deprived” poems in English.about the author