I first started translating contemporary Spanish poetry in 2004, after a semester as a Fulbright lecturer in American poetry at the universities of Vigo and Santiago de Compostela in Spain. When I went there I was familiar with the work of some of the major poets of the early twentieth century — Machado, Alberti, García Lorca — but it occurred to me that I knew nothing about poets of my own generation and younger Spanish poets working now. While I was there, I picked up all the anthologies I could to remedy that situation.
Certain names, Juan Lamillar’s among them, appeared in several different anthologies. The first poet I took on as a translator was Julio Martínez Mesanza. After publishing translations of individual poems in various journals, I put together a bilingual collection, Europa: Selected Poems of Julio Martínez Mesanza, which appeared in 2016.
I continue to translate from Martínez Mesanza, but I’ve been working primarily with Juan Lamillar's poetry for the past several years. While both are distinguished poets in their sixties who have won major literary prizes in Spain and both engage the formal tradition to some extent, as poets they are about as far apart as the regions where they grew up: austere Castile for Julio and sunny Andalusia for Juan who comes from Seville.
As the two examples in this issue suggest, Juan’s poems are not always sunny in outlook, but a focus on light and shadow runs throughout his work. Time and its changes, from the shifts in weather during an afternoon, to the seasons, the different stages of a love affair, or the particular details memory brings out in the course of a life, are a central theme in his poems, as is the nature of art, with its drive to stop those changes momentarily and find beauty in them.
While Juan has written everything from rhymed sonnets to free verse, “Labyrinths of Light” and “Rain and Time” are typical in their reliance on the traditional Spanish meter of endecasílabos, or eleven-syllable lines, as a kind of base while allowing for occasional longer or shorter lines. The effect is a seemingly effortless combination of the casual and the musical, which I try to approach in English by using loose iambic pentameter as the base but including a few other lines that don’t fit the meter.
A broader challenge has been to find English parallels for Juan’s distinctive poetic voice: clear, even colloquial, but also musing and very attuned to the subtleties of complex moods. And then there’s his exquisite sense of pacing. Juan’s poems have room to explore the connotations and overtones of an assertion or feeling, yet they never seem baggy or repetitive. It’s been a delight working with his poems, and I’m pleased readers will have a chance to get a sense of them here.
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