Lynn Levin : 2LP Conversations

Birds on the Kiswar Tree


How did you come to translate Odi Gonzales’s work?

In 2002, I began to make contact with Cusco-based poets and writers in advance of a trip to Peru. A lucky string of emails led me to Odi Gonzales, who was then studying in the US. I translated a number of his early poems. Then, in 2005, he sent me La escuela de Cusco [Birds on the Kiswar Tree], and I was so captivated by the passion and rebelliousness of the poems that I translated the whole book.

How closely do you think translation of syntax is tied to the translation of tone and rhythm?

Gonzales’s poems speak assertively, and the poet’s use of complex periodic sentences lends his lines accumulating power. My translation closely follows the poet’s syntax, and I hope that recreates the drive of the poems.

When translating Birds on the Kiswar Tree, were you seeking an idiom, and what do you think of rendering local color in translations?

I sought to recreate the elegant and formal language that Gonzales uses in the poems. I think of that as speaking in his idiom, as opposed to seeking another style of speech. He does include much local color: references to foods, festivals, customs, and landscape. In some cases, I retain the original words, for example, cuy for guinea pig, as well as many of the names of flowers and birds. The foreignness adds flavor, and I include glossaries for the poems that define the foreign words.

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