Queer Latinx Poetry

Ledbury Poetry Festival’s Queer Latinx Poetry & Translation Showcase on June 29th was a fitting conclusion to Pride Month, celebrating diverse voices and creative collaborations across continents. Organized by the Poetry Translation Centre (PTC), which marks its 20th anniversary this year, the event highlighted the PTC’s commitment to bringing international poetry to English-speaking audiences. Comprised of two live events occurring simultaneously – one in Ledbury and one in Buenos Aires, Argentina – this showcase offered a broad perspective on poetry through a ‘queer’ lens.

Bern Roche Farrelly, Participating Producer at the PTC, opened the showcase with a thought-provoking speech on the inherent queerness of translation. While translation might seem “predicated on binaries” (altering a text from one language to another), Roche Farrelly argued that in reality, “translation complicates everything.” It “does away with neatness and binaries,” resulting in texts that “don’t easily fit into categories, but embrace ambiguity or bothness” – an experience familiar to members of the LGBTQI+ community.

Roche Farrelly also managed the PTC’s Queer Digital Residency (QDR) in 2022, the organization’s first explicitly queer project. The participants in this residency, both present at the showcase, were Paula Galindez, an Argentinian poet, translator, and translation professor, and Jon Herring, a British linguist, translator, and writer.

In Buenos Aires, before reading her work, Galindez touched on Argentina’s current political and social situation, where “otherness” and those who don’t conform are not accepted. She then spoke about “how language is made strange” or ‘queered’ “by poetry,” and asserted the importance of poetry and the strength it can give readers, arguing that “repetition in poetry has a very special role.” Repeating words can take away their meaning; “once the word becomes devoid of meaning, we can […] resignify it.” In this way, Galindez encouraged listeners to seize power by redefining the homophobic slogans and mottos used to discriminate against the LGBTQI+ community in Argentina.

Next, Herring read his English translations of the work of Osvaldo Bossi, an Argentinian poet and writer. Bossi, who read his poems in their original Spanish from Buenos Aires, spoke in a low, deliberate, and soulful way. This made him perhaps the most enjoyable poet to listen to, even without understanding his words. Thanks to Herring’s translations, English speakers can enjoy Bossi’s evocatively lyrical yet deeply relatable writing. In ‘Delusion (for Jay Garrick)’, the speaker laments “that too much / literature’s ruined [him]” for romance – a thought all poetry-lovers must share from time to time. Contrary to what the poem’s title suggests, the speaker’s desire is simple: “Could I just roll / over in bed one day and bump up against / his neck, or even a big toe // – the loneliest toe of all?” The years of yearning evident in the speaker’s voice elicit empathy from the reader. As Herring read ‘This can’t last’ in English, the lines, “I’m feeling like I’m inside a badly-translated / poem but it’s beautiful,” earned a laugh from the audience, appreciating the meta-humor of such a moment.

In addition to showcasing the results of the Queer Digital Residency, the event also featured Argentinian poet Diana Bellessi’s latest collection, To Love a Woman. The collection was translated into English in 2022 by Leo Boix, an Argentine-British poet, translator, and journalist. A reverent silence fell as Bellessi received the microphone in Buenos Aires. Described by the PTC as “the godmother of feminist / LGBTQI+ / Lesbian poetry in Argentina,” the respect evoked by such a title was instantly shown as she began speaking. Bossi and Galindez, sitting on either side of her in Argentina, turned towards her, heads resting on their hands, listening with rapt attention.

By translating Bellessi’s poetry into English, Boix has done English speakers a great service; her writing is tactile and palpable, with a focus on the senses that offers readers insight into how Bellessi perceives and interacts with her surroundings. In ‘To Love a Woman’, the speaker considers the difference between words and action: “When I say the word / neck / Do I softly suck / until I sink / the tooth here? // Am I perhaps touching you?” She begs – or perhaps demands – of her lover, “Don’t send me to the corner // Don’t make of me a witness / that watches themselves touch you with words. // It is the named hand / not the name / that desires to hold your buttocks.” ‘San Miguel del Monte’ further exemplifies Bellessi’s sensual style of writing: “me cradled in her arms / and she in the rhythmic bosom of my / feeling.” It ends with the mournful realization, “Oh love, what I could not / give, I knew not how to receive.”

Throughout the showcase, it was notable that each pair – poet and translator – was separated by the vast distance between Europe and South America. Boix, translator to Bellessi. Herring, translator to both Bossi and Galindez – the latter having translated Herring’s poetry into Spanish in return. It was heartening to watch their communication through the screen; even when expressed in a foreign language, the gratitude and respect they had for each other spoke for itself.

The cooperation required to make this event possible extended beyond poets and their translators; organizing two live, simultaneous events in Ledbury and Buenos Aires was a phenomenal feat of teamwork that required great effort and coordination from both sides of the Atlantic. It was, unquestionably, a memorable and impactful success.

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