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A Mission To Publish, Translate, Puerto Rican Poets

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Amanda Hernández and Nicole Cecilia Delgado, co-directors of La Impresora. Credit: courtesy of La Impresoraby SWAN – Southern World Arts News (san juan / paris)Wednesday, June 19, 2024Inter Press Service

SAN JUAN / PARIS, Jun 19 (IPS) – On meeting Amanda Hernández, one is immediately struck by her infectious energy and her generous sharing of information about Puerto Rican writers and books. At a recent literary festival in the Caribbean – the BVI Lit Fest in the British Virgin Islands – she urged participants for instance to check out the works of several emerging authors from her home territory.

A poet and publisher, Hernández is carving out a place not just for Puerto Rican poetry but also for independent publishing on the island, producing attractive volumes through specialist methods.

She and fellow poet Nicole Cecilia Delgado run La Impresora, which they describe as an “artist-led studio dedicated to small-scale editorial work and allocating resources to support independent publishing.”

Based in the north-western Puerto Rican town Isabela, La Impresora specializes in Risograph printing, a mechanized technique that is also referred to as digital screen printing. Risograph uses “environmentally friendly” paper, ink and other materials, and is becoming increasingly popular among independent graphic artists and publishers worldwide.

Along with this, Hernández and Delgado state that one of their main objectives is the “learning, use and improvement of traditional publishing, printing, and hand-made book-binding techniques.”

Another important objective is the translation of poetry and other genres by Puerto Rican writers, especially underrepresented authors. Such translations are published in bilingual, handcrafted books, as La Impresora seeks to “strengthen the link between literature and the visual arts”, and to reach readers both within and beyond Puerto Rico, the directors say.

“Our poetry reflects on our shared context of resisting injustices and finding new ways of creating revolutionary practices and dynamics, battling the austerity measures and violence imposed upon us,” Hernández and Delgado explain on La Impresora’s website.

Regarding language, the poets say that this is essential “when creating content and thinking about accessibility, distribution, outreach, and possible networks.” Although they have mostly edited and published Spanish literature written by Puerto Rican authors from the island and the diaspora, they have been “integrating more bilingual (Spanish/English) publications” and translation projects.

“We acknowledge that English is not our mother tongue and represents complicated colonial power relationships in Puerto Rican history. However, we also know it works as a lingua franca that allows for communicating with people from all over the globe, enabling alliances and collaborations,” they explain.

Hernández expands on different aspects of the poets’ work in the following interview, conducted by fellow writer and editor Alecia McKenzie, SWAN’s founder. The discussion forms part of an on-going series about translators of Caribbean literature and is done in collaboration with the Caribbean Translation Project, which has been highlighting the translation of writing from and about the region since 2017.

SWAN: How important is translation for your mission of editing and producing “contemporary literature in Puerto Rico, with particular emphasis on Puerto Rican poetry written by underrepresented authors”?

Amanda Hernández: We recognize the importance of translation as an overall way of tending to accessibility; reinforcing the distribution of our titles outside of Spanish-speaking countries; as a means of establishing new collaborations and possible co-editions, and as a way of growing our network of readers and collaborators.

We started publishing mostly in Spanish, and we still do, but we’ve been acknowledging how translation projects (Spanish/English) have helped us widen our scope as an independent editorial project, throughout and outside of the Caribbean, at the same time helping us carry out our mission of publishing and sharing the work of contemporary Puerto Rican underrepresented authors.

SWAN: You’ve stated that “language is essential when creating content and thinking about accessibility, distribution, outreach, and possible networks.” But you acknowledge that English is not your mother tongue and “represents complicated colonial power relationships in Puerto Rican history”. Can you tell us how you navigate these issues when La Impresora publishes bilingual / translated work?

AH: The nature of our written and graphic content, the poetry we publish, the artists, writers, and projects with whom we collaborate, including our personal views, politics, and editorial methodology, are based upon alternative and subversive practices that challenge precisely these complicated colonial power relationships that have forcefully tried to shape our Puerto Rican history and literature.

We decide to use the colonizing language as a weapon, as a vehicle to suggest new and politically committed ways of writing, publishing, and thinking about our context and geography.

SWAN: You both speak several languages, including Spanish and English. Where and how did you begin learning languages?

AH: We are both fully bilingual (Spanish and English). In Puerto Rico, currently, the education system teaches English as a second language. It started in 1898, when we became a colony of the U.S. territory, having been a Spanish (Spain) colony before that since 1493.

During the 1900s, English was forced upon the Puerto Rican education system in an attempt to assimilate the population, but failed to be stated as the primary language. In 1949 Spanish was again reinstated as the official speaking and learning language all through primary and secondary school, and English became a “preferred subject” that has been officially taught in schools until the present time. So, we both grew up learning to read and write in English in school, also through television and movies.

SWAN: How did your interest in translation begin?

AH: My interest in translation has developed alongside my desire to work on and publish my poetry, and the poetry of other writers and colleagues. The possibility of being able to participate in a broader network of readers, writers, publishers, literary festivals, and so on, has proved to be a gratifying and important formative experience.

Recognizing the value of translation as a practice that considers the importance of broadening the scope and circulation of the literature and books we create has been a realization I have assumed both as a poet and editor.

Producing Las horas extra by writer Mara Pastor; Image courtesy of La Impresora

SWAN: You’ve translated and published works by several writers. Can you tell us about the particular challenges of bilingual publishing?

AH: We have published translations of our work, either translated by us or by other colleague writers. In some cases, we’ve worked with and published writers who also self-translate their work, like the Puerto Rican poets Ana Portnoy Brimmer and Roque Raquel Salas Rivera. We greatly admire their work.

We’ve also published bilingüal broadsides including poetry from the Cuban writer Jamila Medina and the Puerto Rican poet Aurora Levins Morales, alongside others. One of the first bilingüal projects we worked on (2018) was a reedition of a book by the Peruvian poet José Cerna Bazán titled Ruda, originally published in Spanish in 2002.

Our edition included a translation and notes made by the North American Hispanic Studies professor Anne Lambright. This project was funded by Trinity College, Connecticut. More recently we published Calima, by the Puerto Rican literary critic and professor Luis Othoniel Rosa.

This bilingüal publication includes two experimental historic-science-fiction narratives, an interactive graphic intervention by the Puerto Rican artist Guillermo Rodríguez, and was translated to English by Katie Marya and Martina Barinova.

Some of the challenges we’ve faced working with bilingüal publishing, aside from the aforementioned complicated relationship we Puerto Ricans have with the English language, have had to do, mostly, with our approach to design and with the complexity that comes with poetry translation.

Poetry requires the translator, and editor, to pay attention to many more details aside from the literal meaning of the written word. There is also what is suggested but not literally stated, idioms, the flow and rhythm of the poem, the versification, its metric structure, tone and style, and these all have to be simultaneously translated.

Regarding the design of bilingüal poetry publications, finding new and well-thought-out ways of addressing format, aesthetics and the overall reading experience and fluidity of the books we publish has given us the chance to experiment and challenge our editorial approach.

We don’t have a standardized composition and/or design for the books we publish, so each one involves an original conceptualization process that takes into account the weight of their content in relation to their physical materialization.

SWAN: How important is translation for today’s world, especially for underrepresented communities?

AH: As publishers we mostly work on the editing, designing, printing, and distribution of contemporary Puerto Rican poetry, focusing on content that represents our true motivations, struggles, and rights as Puerto Ricans.

We recognize the power and autonomy poetry provides as a shared practice and cultural legacy, as a way of reflecting upon and passing down to younger generations a critical and compromised poetic that intends a genuine portrayal of the underrepresented history of our archipelago. Translation becomes a way of widening our reach and sharing our true experiences as Caribbean islanders with the world.

SWAN: In the Caribbean, as in other regions, it sometimes feels as if countries are divided by language. How can people in the literary / arts / educational spheres help to bridge these linguistic “borders”?

AH: Including translation practices in the work we do and publish as a Caribbean community is a great step towards bridging these linguistic gaps or borders.

Publishing bilingüal editions; including interpreters in the work we do and the events we organize, not only for the written or spoken language, but also considering sign language and braille; allocating resources intended for the discussion, research, and workshopping of translation as a way of strengthening our creative networks are achievable ways of connecting the geographically disperse and linguistically diverse Caribbean we live in.

SWAN: How do you see literary translation evolving to reach more readers?

AH: New technologies and editorial practices are constantly reshaping our views and the ways in which we circulate our content and share our literary resources with a worldwide network of readers and writers.

The possibility of developing new readers, writers and literary communities and coalitions gains strength as we consider the importance of accessibility, representation and circulation. Translation is a key factor to consider when assuming strategies to achieve these goals.

SWAN: La Impresora combines graphic art, handicraft, poetry, and translation in its overall production. Can you tell us more about the significance of this combination?

AH: Our practice revolves around the sharing and learning of skills that combine poetry, graphic art, book art, translating, editing, editorial design and risograph printing. We edit, design, print, bind by hand and distribute the books La Impresora publishes.

This combination of practices helps us sustain an autonomous and independent operation where we can envision, decide upon and construct the type of books we enjoy and the content we consider relevant in our Puerto Rican context.

The artisanal approach to our publications is of great significance to the work we do, since all of the content we publish is handmade, and we celebrate the ways in which this has shaped the relationship we have with independent editorial work.

SWAN: What are your next projects?

AH: Regarding bilingüal and/or translation projects, we just recently printed and published La Medalla / The medal by Marion Bolander, under a grant awarded by the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC) and the Fondo Flamboyán para las Artes.

Bolander is a Vietnam veteran and this book includes poems written by him during his time in service, poems written later on in his life and a compelling interview that contextualizes the author’s relationship to military service, the United States, Puerto Rico and to poetry.

We have been working with the poet and self-translator Urayoán Noel on the publication of his next book titled Cuaderno de Isabela / Isabela Notebook, which includes texts written by the poet during his visits to our workshop in the coastal town of Isabela, in the span of three consecutive years, as part of a residency program for writers we recently established.

We are also starting to work on two publications by Central American women poets. In collaboration with the curator Vanessa Hernández, who runs a local art gallery called El Lobi, we invited the Guatemalan poet Rosa Chávez to Puerto Rico as part of a collaborative residency program between El Lobi and La Impresora.

The possibility of a bilingüal poetry publication is currently being discussed regarding her residency and visit. The Salvadoran poet Elena Salamanca will also be visiting us in Puerto Rico, accompanied by her translator, the North American independent publisher Ryan Greene, and we will be working on the publication of a bilingüal edition of her latest book Incognita Flora Cuscatlanica.

SWAN: the Decade of Indigenous Languages began in 2022, launched by UNESCO. What does this mean to translators?)

AH: The mobilization and resource allocation, regarding preserving and circulating the work of black, brown, and indigenous people, writers, and artists is long overdue.

The role native languages have played in our development as artistic, cultural, and political civilizations is beyond question, and this recent recognition could be seen as an opportunity to honor their worldwide importance. There is still a long way to go in the search for reparations and equal opportunities for BIPOC communities at a global scale, and concerning translators, this provides an opportunity for the consideration and visibility of translation projects that uphold these standards. – AM / SWAN

© Inter Press Service (2024) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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