Four Uruguayan Poets:
Arbeleche, Guerra, Lucas, and Magliano

Jesse Lee Kercheval

These four poems are from an anthology I am co-editing called Taken by the Light/ Copado por la luz: Poems About Uruguay that will be published first in Uruguay by Editorial Yaugarú and then next year in the U.S. by Diálogos Books. This a personal anthology, one that grew out of a conversation with my co-editor, Uruguayan poet Laura Chalar. The wonderful new anthology The Poem’s Country: Place & Poetic Practice, edited by Shara Lessley and Bruce Snider, got me thinking about poetry of place and how much I learned about Uruguay from reading Uruguayan poets. And there is no shortage of Uruguayan poets to read! With only 3.3 million people, Uruguay is the smallest Spanish speaking country in South America, but it has a long and vibrant tradition of poetry. The four poets here represent Uruguayan poetry through several generations.

Jorge Arbeleche (born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1943) is one of the most senior and respected living Uruguayan poets. I love the way his “Muerte en el verano”/ “Death in the Summer” touches on the international nature of poetry. It is a variation on César Vallejo’s famous “Black Stone on a White Stone” / “Pierdra negra sobre una piedra blanca,” a poem about the Peruvian poet imagining his death far from home in Paris. I heard that echo in Arbeleche’s poem and loved working on the translation with that in mind. Arbeleche’s poem is also very much about Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay and home to half its population. He writes “in the afternoon / the old women of the neighborhood / drink mate on the sidewalk” and that is what is happening outside my window on a Sunday afternoon as I write this note.

Silvia Guerra (Maldonado, Uruguay, 1961) is the senior of the three women poets included here. Uruguay has more than a century of strong women poets, stretching from poets like Delmira Agustini (1886-1914) to the present in an unbroken chain, generation to generation. Guerra has written essays about or interviewed many of the major Uruguayan women poets and is active in keeping alive the poetry of Nancy Bacelo (1931-2007). Guerra’s “That Space is Mine”/ “Ese espacio que es mío” is from her selected poems Un mar en madrugado recently published in Argentina. I translated it with Jeannine Pitas. It is the first section of a longer poem about what place really means, in life, as well as poetry.

Claudia Magliano (Montevideo, Uruguay, 1974), like Virginia Lucas, is a lesbian poet. Uruguay passed an equal marriage act in 2013 and feminism and gender issues are a strong theme in contemporary Uruguayan poetry. I have long been an admirer of Magliano’s poetry and I just started translating her latest book El corazón de las ciruelas. Her “In the Prado”/ “En el Prado” is about the neighborhood of Montevideo where Magliano grew up. It represents one of the most common forms of poetry of place, a poem about childhood, about a place that used to be home. It is also one of the first poems I translated from the book and it is always interesting — and scary — to settle into a new project and find my way into a new poet’s voice.

Virginia Lucas (Montevideo, Uruguay, 1977) book Amé.RICA, translated by Jen Hofer, is forthcoming from Litmus Press. I enjoyed translating Lucas’s “Rambla” which is about the most iconic location in Montevideo, the long walk along the waterfront that runs the length of the city. As Lucas writes, “Not the ramblas. This rambla distills landscapes, slight rises of the river,” but Lucas’s poem is anything but a tourist’s postcard.

As you might guess, I am keen on Uruguayan poetry and am always eager to introduce readers to it. Until recently, Uruguayan poetry has been difficult to find in English translation, but this is no longer so. Here is a list of some of the places you can read more Uruguayan poetry:


Hotel Lautreamont: Contemporary Poetry from Uruguay (Shearsman, 2011), edited by the editor of Dispatches Kent Johnson and Uruguayan poet Roberto Echavarran is the perfect place to start and it includes more poems by Silvia Guerra.

América invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets (University of New Mexico Press, 2016). The anthology I edited with poets under forty. It has a wide variety of poetic styles and each poet has their own poet/translator so a variety of translations styles as well.

Touching the Light of Day: Seven Uruguayan Poets (Veliz Books, 2016). A selection of earlier poets, none still living, Julio Herrera y Reissig, Susana Soca, Alfredo Mario Ferreiro, Líber Falco, Pedro Piccatto, and Humberto Megget, translated into English by the Uruguayan poet Laura Chalar. I especially love Líber Falco.

Individual collections:

Some of the greats—

Mario Benedetti: Witness: The Selected Poems of Mario Benedetti, translated by Louise Popkin (White Pine Press, 2012).

Marosa di Giorgio: I Remember Nightfall, translated by Jeannine Marie Pitas (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2017). Also, Diadem: Selected Poems, translated by Adam Giannelli (BOA, 2012) and The History of Violets, translated by Jeannine Marie Pitas (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010).

Circe Maia: The Invisible Bridge/ El puente invisible: Selected Poems of Circe Maia, translated by Jesse Lee Kercheval (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015).

Ida Vitale: Garden of Silica, translated by Katherine M. Hedeen and Victor Rodriguez Nuñez (Salt Publishing, 2010).

Books in translation by other, younger Uruguayan poets—

Never Made in America: Selected Poems of Martín Barea Mattos, translated by Mark Statman (Diálogos Books/Lavender Ink, 2017).

The Red Song by Melisa Machado, translated by Seth Michelson (Action Books, 2018).

Fable of an Inconsolable Man by Javier Etchevarren, translated by Jesse Lee Kercheval (Action Books, 2017).


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