Writing in the Face of Chaos: Poet Lila Zemborain

Translator’s Note

Lila Zemborain
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

It is difficult to discuss these selections from Rasgado without first introducing the text and the main premise of Lila Zemborain’s project. “Zemborain goes into the very center of pain,” writes Sandro Barrella in his review of Rasgado appearing in the Argentinian newspaper La Nación on February 18, 2007. Lila Zemborain’s seventh book of poetry recounts, in the shape of a diary dating from September 11, 2001 to September 11 of the following year, the pain and devastation which ensued after the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City. As Barrella suggests in his review, Rasgado follows the same poetic premise underlying Zemborain’s previous book, Malvas orquídeas del mar, “a poetry of the elements,” where love is transmuted into microscopic visions of cells, fluids, chemical reactions. Rasgado does operate under the same premise; yet, in this work, the microscopic visions provide the reader with a lens through which to observe the destruction of substance, matter, and even language. Against all odds, the poems succeed in reconstructing language, a new and different language and, by the same token, a new and different reality out of the debris, both literal and figurative, of those attacks.

Even as Rasgado functions as a book-length sequence, the three sections of the text are also separate sequence poems — hexagon, cell, and catalysis. The five translations presented here come, perhaps not surprisingly, from cell. These selections first find the lyrical subject exploring and experiencing a complex palette of emotions via visceral imagery that then morphs into a statement reflecting whatever is happening in her surroundings. …the microscopic visions provide the reader with a lens through which to glance at the destruction of substance, matter, and even language. For example, “march 27, 2002” leaps from its incantation of the bodily emission of “endorphins” to the seepage of water into soil, all of this serving as a description of how emotion seeps through individuals and through entire spaces. Zemborain goes on to use references to Proust (“april 8, 2002”), Pizarnik (“april 14, 2002”), and a lower-Manhattan-esque dreamscape experienced with her father (“may 5, 2002”) to present us with the means — language, dream — by which the lyrical subject might attempt to apprehend her surroundings. Each of these efforts feels incomplete or insufficient until we see Zemborain’s language reintroduce viscerality, and this movement between precise, often formal, scientific terminology and intensely lyrical language has really been the nexus of our collaboration as translators — one of us has often translated with an eye towards capturing the emotion and lyricism of the text, the other has worked towards maintaining the precision of the language. These roles switch with different poems, and, best of all, we are able to share our decisions and our questions with Lila herself, which has been an invaluable resource.

As a book dedicated to Lorenzo, the author’s son whose name is repeated as some form of incantation as the book opens, the work affirms life over death, language over silence and, with it, artistic creation as a means of coping with and overcoming trauma. Rasgado not only needs to be translated with respect being paid to both the Argentinian- and New York-based poetics informing the composition of the text, but it also needs to be appreciated as a personal statement, a personal affirmation of art’s viability and limitations in the face of overwhelming chaos. As translators, it is important to capture the language as literally as possible, in terms of meaning, but also to capture the emotion, the questioning and the discovery, that happens to the speaker of these poems.

Printed from Cerise Press: http://www.cerisepress.com

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