ARTLOOK #8 | February 2005

Reviewed by:
Glenda Guest

Written by Carmen Ibis Novoa
Translated by Beatriz Copello
Published by Bema Publications, 2004

Bilingual: Spanish & English

Tittle: evasion/evasion


I’m always wary of poetry in translation, mainly because it’s impossible to translate the subtleties of one language into another-there are words in a language that have no equivalent in another. The rhythms and rhymes of poetry are disturbed by translation, and words and word combinations in each language have nuances that are lost when a translator attempts to either translate word-for-word or for what they see as the idea behind the words. Whichever way, the reader of translated poetry misses out.

That said, evasion/evasion appears to work well in its translation from Spanish to English, although, as I’m not a speaker of Spanish, it’s not possible for me to do a comparative reading. For a bilingual reader it is possible to read both versions as each poem is printed in the original Spanish and the translated English.

Carmen Ibis Novoa tells stories in her poems, and this may be the reason for their translatability-that the stories are not multi-layered but are clearly what they are: a recording of how the horrors of civil war impact on the individual.

The collection is in two sections, ‘Tiempo de Lobos’ (‘Time of Wolves’) and ‘Tiempos de Nostalgia’ (‘Times of Nostalgia’). Many poems have a short introductory setting of the scene, and this works well at locating the reader in the moment.

The opening poem ‘Estrenando la noche’ (‘Doors and Bolts’) is probably the most evocative and is written from the point of view of a just released political prisoner arriving the village where he-or she-was captured. The physicality of the village reflects the mental and moral disintegration of Uraguay’s ‘dirty war’ and the country’s struggle for freedom: The breeze that brings the stench/of rancid foods/ of everyday stews./I move out of my way/clotheslines where rags/that one day were clothes hang. The problems of translation show here, however, as the English version is seven lines longer than the compact 12-line Spanish original; and the use of ‘that one day were clothes’ in the quoted lines is awkward in it’s use and points ahead instead of ‘once were clothes’ that is the past.

Other poems in the first section take the reader into the mind of the person waiting at home for a loved one to return from clandestine night activities, as in ‘My Nights Without Him’; into the jails in ‘Paths and Fireflies’-‘I can’t believe there are young people in this den, and yet’-and into the terror of the fear of capture and torture in ‘Clandestine Men’.

Novoa’s writing is evocative and engrossing, and well worth the read for glimpses into a political life that Australians will, hopefully, never know. Beatriz Copello’s translations appear to be sensitive to the original. Above all, the poet proves that the personal really is the political, and expresses this in deeply felt and restrained poetry.


Glenda Guest is the literature editor of artlook, and a freelance writer, critic and editor.