Claudia Prado: Poems from THE BELLY OF THE WHALE

Poetry by CLAUDIA PRADO
Translated from the Spanish by REBECCA GAYLE HOWELL

Poems appear in both Spanish and English.

Translator’s Note

These poems and versions are from Claudia Prado’s El Interior de la Ballena (Editorial Nusud, 2000), a novel-in-verse based on Prado’s agrarian family legacy in Patagonia. Prado is an Argentinian poet and filmmaker known for making groundbreaking, socially progressive art. El Interior de la Ballena was her debut, a poetry collection that received the bronze Concurso Régimen de Fomento a la Producción Literaria Nacional y Estímulo a la Industria Editorial del Fondo nacional de las Artes (this is the third place award for the biggest literature prize in Argentina). Mixing fiction with oral history, Prado imagines her ancestors’ 19th century migration from the Basque Country into Argentina and, ultimately, southward into the oceanic desert. These poems offer a rare look at the Patagonian plateau between 1892 and 1963, years of intense immigration and population growth, written through a feminist lens. In addition to poems written in the poet’s own voice, the book also makes wide use of monologue and persona techniques, weaving together this intergenerational story through a multiplicity of voices: here speaks a woman who, against her will, is taken to that desert; here is revealed the thoughts of an orphan laborer; here, a chicken thief celebrates his sad prize. In El Interior de la Ballena, Prado uses her page to privilege the often unseen and unheard, composing in silence as much as sound, and in so doing creates a poetics of Patagonia itself. When read together, the poems quilt a place, time, and lineage through a story of strong women, wounded and wounding men, and a rural and unforgiving landscape from which hard-scrabble labor is the origin of survival.

—Rebecca Gayle Howell

1922 | un paseo

con movimiento stro gira el volante
el otro brazo acodado
sobre la ventanilla del ford T
sostiene un cigarrillo
que podría incendiar el campo
las dos mujeres atraviesan una planicie demudada
por la luz oblicua de la tarde
ignoran al niño que en el asiento de atrás
extiende los brazos para sentir el viento
más allá de las mesetas se ve un atardecer
pintado para amantes

 

1922 | a ride

with one strong arm she turns the steering wheel
and hangs the other out the Ford’s window
ashing a cigarette that could set fire to the whole earth
two women crossing a plain changed
by that slant afternoon light
forget the child in the backseat
stretching his arms out to touch the wind
past the mesas see the sky painted for lovers
a setting sun

 

 

1954 | esposos

Te seguí una mañana
hasta el final del camino
y juntos
miramos el mar, el cielo
y las hojas
carnosas y brillantes
que había dejado la lluvia.
– ¡Qué día
para olvidar el trabajo
y disfrutar del paisaje!
– No sé – dijiste y vi
que la mañana
de verdad era fría
y no había qué hacer
en la playa desierta.

 

1954 | spouses

At dawn
I followed you
to the end of the road
and there, together, we
looked:
the sea the
sky the
leaves
plump and bright
that the rain gave
What a day!
Let’s forget work
and just look!
I don’t know
you said,
and then I saw
the morning was cold
and the beach
abandoned
We had nothing
to do

 

Claudia Prado was born in Argentinian Patagonia and currently lives in Jersey City, New Jersey. She is the author of three books of Spanish-language poetry: El interior de la ballena (Buenos Aires: Nusud, 2000), which received the bronze Concurso Régimen de Fomento a la Producción Literaria Nacional y Estímulo a la Industria Editorial del Fondo nacional de las Artes; Viajar de noche (Buenos Aires: Editorial Limón, 2007); and the forthcoming Primero (Argentina: Editorial Caleta Olivia, 2019), from which some translated poems are soon to appear in Washington Square Review. She is also the author of a chapbook, Aprendemos de los padres (Amsterdam: Rijkasakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, 2002), which featured collages by Víctor Florido, as well as some English-language versions, and was published with support from Fundación Antorchas. Her poems are published internationally, in leading newspapers, journals, and anthologies, including: Antología de poesía de la Patagonia (Málaga, CEDMA, 2006), Poetas Argentinas: 1961–1980 (Buenos Aires, Ediciones del Dock, 2007); Desorbitados: poetas novísimos del sur de la Argentina (Buenos Aires, Fondo Nacional de las Artes, 2009), and Penúltimos, 33 poetas de Argentina (México, UNAM, 2014). She also co-directed the documentaries “Oro nestas piedras,” about the poet Jorge Leonidas Escudero, and “El jardín secreto”, about the poet Diana Bellessi. From 2006 to 2011, Prado co-facilitated the poetry workshop Yo No Fui at Ezeiza’s Women Penal Detention Center (Argentina), and in 2018 she was a participant at the New York Foundation for the Arts’ Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program. At present, she facilitates Spanish-language creative writing workshops for numerous immigrant organizations in New York and New Jersey and is a current Fellow of Utopian Practice at Culture Push (New York), awarded for boundary-pushing, interdisciplinary, and socially engaged artwork.

Rebecca Gayle Howell’s most recent book is American Purgatory, selected by Don Share for Great Britain’s 2016 Sexton Prize and named a must-read collection by Poetry London, The Millions, and the Courier-Journal. She is also the author of Render / An Apocalypse, which received wide critical acclaim, most notably by David L. Ulin for the Los Angeles Times who called it “remarkable.” A translator of women writing from the Global South, Howell debuted with her version of Amal al-Jubouri’s Hagar Before the Occupation / Hagar After the Occupation, which was shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award, longlisted for the Banipal Prize, and selected by Library Journal as a best book of poetry for 2011. Among Howell’s other honors are fellowships from United States Artists, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Carson McCullers Center, as well as a Pushcart Prize; she serves as the Poetry Editor for Oxford American.

Claudia Prado: Poems from THE BELLY OF THE WHALE

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