Circe Maia was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1932, but she has lived most of her life in the northern regional capital of Tacuarembó where she taught philosophy and worked translating French, Greek and English authors into Spanish, including works by Cavafy and Shakespeare. In 1972, when the military dictatorship took power in Uruguay, military police broke into her house in the middle of the night and arrested her husband for supporting the MLN Tupamaros, leaving Maia behind only because she had just given birth to their youngest daughter. She wrote of this experience in her autobiographical novel Un Viaje a Salto (Ediciones del Nuevo Mundo, Montevideo, 1987), published in a bilingual edition by Swan Isle Press in the U.S. in 2004. Her poem Por detrás de mi voz was set to music by Daniel Viglietti in 1978 as Otra voz canta. This song became a Latin American anthem against the military regimes that committed forced disappearances.
I first came to know Maia’s work when I was on sabbatical in Uruguay in 2010-2011. There she is considered a national treasure. Her poems can appear deceptively simple, but are deeply philosophical. In this, the poet who Circe Maia resembles most is Wislawa Szymborska. Like Symborska, Maia’s poems are often playful, ironic, but with the weight of history behind them. And like Symborska’s, they are relevant across time and culture.
Amir Hamid, who chose Circe Maia as one of the poets for his authoritative studies of the history Uruguayan poetry, Orientales, Uruguay a través de su poesía, compares Maia to the great French poet Francis Ponge and says her work, like his, dazzles with its accuracy and detail. The resonance of Maia’s poetry is like the ringing of a fine bell, Hamid says. It gives us a world. And who could ask for more? In 2013, when Maia was honored at the International Festival of Poetry in Cordoba on the occasion of the publication in Argentina of La pesadora de perlas, poemas de Circe Maia, Eduardo Galeano wrote, “This book helps to repair an injustice. It is unfair, very unfair that so many connoisseurs of the best poetry have not yet discovered Circe Maia. The revelation will be a high joy. I envy them that magical moment. It is one that will last.”
I selected and translated her poems for El puente invisible/ The Invisible Bridge: Selected Poems of Circe Maia (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015) but have kept translating her work from her ten published collections and have been increasingly drawn to the poems, like these two, that grow out of her connection to of the land around her adopted home of Tacuarembó.
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