Potomac Review Editor, Zachary Benavidez, describes an evening of Spanish poetry with Maria Teresa Ogliastri.

On Wednesday night, students, faculty, staff, and community members gathered in a lecture auditorium to hear Maria Teresa Ogliastri read from her latest book of poems, Polo Sur/South Pole.  The poems were inspired by her father, she said, speaking through her Spanish-English translator Patricia Bejarano Fisher.  The story goes:  Maria Teresa had asked her father what he wanted for his 92nd birthday, and initially he said it didn’t matter because it was too complicated.  After she pushed, her father said he had long dreamed of riding the rivers of South America to the South Pole.  Indeed, an impossible journey, physically!  Sadly, he died a year later, and Maria Teresa felt she needed to give him his gift the only way she knew how, through the power of imagination.

The book is divided into three parts.  The first is Reptile Matters/Asuntos del saurio, which describes the jungles of South America.  Here are some lines from “Voracity/Voracidad”:

Searching for the coldest continent                                     Bajamos en busca del continente mas frio
we went down where the river goes to die                         alli donde el rio va a morir
it is freezing cold                                                                      hay un helaje

I try to imagine myself at the summit                                 intent reconocerme en la cumbre
not in this scorching humidity                                              y no en esta humedad que lo calcina todo

what am I doing in this green labyrinth                              me pregunto que hago en este laberinto verde
that absorbs me like algae?                                                    que me absore como alga

The second part, I am the Voice of My Own Fear/Soy el miedo que me hablo, focuses on the father.  The final part, Fragments of a Gem/Fragmentos para una gema, is a “dialogue” between the daughter and her father, while he is sick in the hospital; though the poet calls this section a dialogue, the father remains silent.  Here is the first stanza from “”Day/Dia” found in the third, final part of the book:

And then to prove your power the eclipse came               Y entonces para demonstrar tu poder vino el eclipse
I don’t want to see the light                                                   no quiero ver la luz
that takes you away                                                                 esa que te lleva

Each poem is printed in English and Spanish, set side by side, but the real treat on Wednesday night was hearing Maria Teresa read her work in her Venezuelan Spanish.  The emotion and song of each word spilled forth.

Another treat of the reading was hearing about the challenges of translating poetry.  Patricia Bejarano Fisher said first she and her partner, Yvette Neisser Moreno,  translated the poems literally to get the message.  Then they transformed the translation for the rhythm and melody they heard conveyed in the Spanish form.  Luckily, Yvette is a Native English speaker and a poet herself, which aided the two very much; also, as Patricia is a native Spanish speaker, she was able to inform Yvette of nuances and idioms that can only be learned by growing up in the language.  A long, challenging but enjoyable and satisfying effort.  (Patricia admitted that sometimes as she’s reading the translation, she wants to revise it, as any writer would feel after publication.)

There were questions, comments, and some secrets revealed, that out of respect for the poet, I won’t share here.  It was a special evening, enjoyed by many students from the Foreign Languages department and many other Spanish-speaking students in our ESOL program.   I’ll leave you with an answer to one of the questions about the inspiration and purpose of this work.  Maria Teresa said she kept writing the poems and only felt sure about them when she heard the voice of her father in them.  Thus, the poems memorialize both her father and the journey of her relationship with her father.  But, she emphasized, she is still learning about her own book and her own relationship with her father through readers’ questions such as this.

The books is South Pole/Polo Sur, and it’s published by Larry Moffi at Settlement House.