Translation: Poems from The Dickinson Archive

By MARÍA NEGRONI
Translated by ALLISON A. DEFREESE

Poems appear below in English and the original Spanish.

 

Translator’s note:
The Dickinson Archive is a series of 72 short meditations exploring the creative process through the lens of New England poet Emily Dickinson’s lifework and words. Dickinson said she was in the presence of poetry when “I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off.” The Dickinson Archive is a book that elicits such responses. Its poems, based on a few of the 9,000 words that Dickinson used most often, get under our skin and into our bones—whether our internal scaffolding is thick as a mammoth’s tusk or delicate as the rib of a songbird. Though María modestly describes the book as a “tribute,” the unique and unconventional pieces in this archive showcase Negroni’s own experimentation with form and language. Moments in these translations where word choice or grammatical structure may give the reader pause are not accidents; they are examples of Negroni at her finest as an experimental writer forging a cadence, locution, and syntax all her own. The Dickinson Archive is a book about play and creation. What light and lightness to translate such poems, to join this dialogue between women that spans continents and centuries, to channel the spirit of Emily Dickinson’s work through María Negroni’s words.

Decisions
No—posthumous—inquiry will manage—never—to see what I wrote. What I lost each time—to
discover what a home is: stiff body inside the openness it has created. No one will know how
much I insisted, how much I demanded—and with no defenses—on my way to a single surprise,
without the sun ever reaching my puritan heart from the endless side.
So many raw sensations from before feeling, from before wanting to feel, from long before being
—diastole ablaze—a prologue speaking from flower to flower.

Decisiones
Ninguna –póstuma– pesquisa conseguirá de nunca ver lo
que escribí –lo que perdía cada vez– a fin de averiguar qué
es un hogar: cuerpo tieso en lo abierto que creaba. Nadie
sabrá lo que insistí, cuánto y sin defensas reclamé, abocada
a un asombro, a uno solo, sin que un sol llegara al puritano
corazón, del lado sin final. Tantos sentires crudos de antes
de sentir, de antes de querer sentir, de mucho antes de ser
–diástole encendida– prólogo hablando entre flor y flor.

 

Danger
I didn’t want to depend on only one being. I would have died from the trembling and waiting. I preferred
to babble on like a fool in the language-stained garden, awaiting a sentence—Death sentence—with
only my lute-of-my-own-music. I wanted my mind to dictate words to me, and
not the darkness I was feeling. I wanted to see Amherst in September light, when the air is no
longer air and the mouth fills with what-never-was. Much sweet wine offered—always more
in the neighboring forest. Nothing like a music that can’t be played.

Peligro
Yo no quería depender de un solo ser. Me hubiera muerto
de temblor, de espera. Preferí balbucear como una idiota
en el jardín manchado del lenguaje, esperar su sentencia
–de Muerte– con mi laúd de música mía. Yo quise que
la mente dictara las palabras, no lo oscuro que sentía. Yo
quería ver Amherst a la luz de septiembre, cuando el aire
deja de ser aire y la boca está plena de lo que no tuvo.
Dulce vino mucho que se da de beber, siempre más, en el
bosque de al lado. Nada como una música que no se puede
tocar.

 

 

Disaster
Banishment that begins—yet continues—in the Garden of Delight, ignites a curiosity in the
mind, sharp and chilled. And then, in austere society, learns to forget, also singing. In dead of
night: a metered word arrives from so far away, brief prison. Tough laws cover frigidity with
frigidity. With style comes absence, with poems deprived of the world comes the world. With
what mute howl shall I go meet the one I cannot be?

Desastre
En la exclusión que empieza –pero sigue– en el Jardín
del Goce, poner en ascuas la cabeza, aguda y resfriada. Y
después, en sociedad austera, aprender a olvidar también
cantando. Es noche plena: palabra en metro que viene
de tan lejos, breve cárcel. Dura ley cubrir con frialdad la
frialdad, con estilo la ausencia, con poemas sin mundo el
mundo. ¿Con qué alarido mudo iré al encuentro de quien
no puedo ser?

 

 

Fortitude
Someone knocks on a door. A shadow appears. No one knows who it is, nor what has come to
curl up in the southernmost regions of the soul.
Its presence concise—it hard-moves, lumber-suffering—leaving behind shelves filled with work
by Whitman, Emerson, Mr. & Mrs. Browning.
A most somber ceremony, in a room set for doubt and seclusion. In such silence, fears are tamed,
love faked, a rough-hewn draft drawn up, concerning what is only certain on the inside.
Violence is a forgotten tenderness.

Fortaleza
Se golpea una puerta y aparece una sombra. Nadie sabe
quién es, ni qué viene a ovillar en el sur del alma.
La presencia es escueta y avanza a durísima pena, dejando
atrás anaqueles, con obras de Whitman, Emerson, Mr. &
Mrs. Browning.
Ceremonia muy sobria en un cuarto dispuesto para la
reclusión y la duda. En ese silencio se educan los miedos,
se disimula el amor, se pergeña un tratado sobre aquello
que es cierto sólo por dentro.
La violencia es una ternura olvidada.

 

 

Disciplines
The garden gives seminars on invisibility. Uncertainty—suddenly—takes shape and enters the
poem room, filling it with houseflies, theologians by profession. Given such hermeneutics,
understanding dies and what dies has a price—what is said—everything.
The garden plans its own ambush.

Asignaturas
El jardín da seminarios de invisible y lo inseguro, de pron-
to, cobra cuerpo, entra en la habitación de los poemas y la
llena de moscas de profesión teólogas. En tales hermenéu-
ticas, lo que se entiende muere y lo que muere cuesta –lo
que se dice– todo.
El jardín es su propia embestida.

 

 

María Negroni (Rosario, Argentina) has published over 20 books, including poetry, nonfiction and novels. Islandia, Night Journey, Andanza (The Tango Lyrics), Mouth of Hell, and The Annunciation have appeared in English, and her work has also been translated into Swedish, Portuguese, Italian, and French. María Negroni received a Guggenheim fellowship for poetry in 1994, a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship in 1998, the Fundación Octavio Paz fellowship for poetry in 2001, and The New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in 2005. She also received a National Book Award for her collection of poems El viaje de la noche, a PEN Award for Islandia as best book of poetry in translation (New York 2001), and the Premio Internacional de Ensayo y Narrativa de Siglo XXI for her book Galería Fantástica. She taught at Sarah Lawrence College from 1999 to 2014, and is now director of Argentina’s first creative writing program, at Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero.

Allison A. deFreese‘s translations of María Negroni’s work have been shortlisted for Asymptote’s Close Approximations Prize and appear in CAGIBIThe Festival Review, and Sequestrum. Her recent book translations include María Negroni’s Elegy for Joseph Cornell (Dalkey Archive Press, 2020). The Dickinson Archive is forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press/Deep Vellum Publishing.

Translation: Poems from The Dickinson Archive

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