The first of our ‘Palabras Errantes: Poet Profiles‘ is Mercedes Araujo. Born in Mendoza in 1972, she spent time studying in Madrid and has now settled in Buenos Aires. She writes both poetry and prose in addition to her work as an environmental lawyer for the Argentine government.
She has published several collections of poetry including ‘Asperos esmeros’ in 2003, ‘Duelo’ in 2005, ‘Viajar sola’ in 2009 and, most recently, ‘La Isla’ in 2010. Her work was included in the anthology ‘Poetas Argentinas 1960 – 1980’ and her debut novel, ‘La hija de la Cabra’, was awarded last year’s Premio Nacional de las Artes and is due to be published later this year.
Have you always wanted to be a poet?
Since I was very little I was determined to become a writer, even if I didn’t really know what it meant to be one. More than anything I was a voracious reader and, starting from when I was eight, I just read everything. That link with books and fiction helped me live in an imaginary world of words and that’s something that marked me since I was very young.
How would you describe your poems to someone who doesn’t know them?
Pretty much everything I write has to do with nature. It has to do with a certain type of subjectivity – more often than not a feminine subjectivity – that is lodged in nature. I feel like this comes from my relationship with the land when I was a little girl, surrounded by mountains and deserts. Writing about nature you can construct a lot of metaphors about life, but obviously I have to be careful not to make it too simple.
I don’t write with very rigid or formal constraints in terms of the metric and the rhyme, but there are some lyrical elements to my work. When I use a word, I want all the facets of the word to resonate – and that’s the challenge really.
A poet’s work basically involves searching and reading, finding the right word and then fine tuning the work until it sounds as good as it can.
What are your thoughts on Palabras Errantes as a project and poetry translation in general?
I loved the project; the whole idea is very interesting to me. I was curious to see how people from another culture and who speak another language would react to the work, because most Latin American writers are circulated around the continent and in Spain, but rarely in Great Britain.
When you translate poetry, you almost have to rewrite it. When you translate prose there is a linear aspect that allows you to translate it in the same way it was written and with the same meaning. The difference is that, in poetry, the words can have a multitude of different meanings.
When I read my poems in English I noticed that the translator had played a lot with the words, he didn’t follow the linear narrative at all. Well, it was very interesting indeed.
Extract from ‘The life of butterflies’
Translation by Paul Merchant, courtesy of Palabras Errantes
In the hundred metamorphoses
I have seen you,
or, in the sureness of that incredible physical feat
that is your voracious appetite
able to exterminate my garden
leaving no food, nutrients, spots of damp
however tiny, yet enough for those small
wild flowers to last the winter
lean, sallow, gaunt,
lying back waiting
saying with certainty as at the beginning
with insistent pulsing
why does all that make you sad
all that, now distant and blurred
if even after this war
back to your garden, with wounded feet,
will come the exultant body.
Meanwhile, any tiny thing will suit
for painting the thousand-coloured garland
whose beauty announces the sadness of life,
because only we – the bloodless animals-
confuse a bright, fresh glow
that the tide returns to us
with the breathing of two dragons.
You know the evils that separation leaves,
a maggot prey to the planets’ influence
faces a small sparrow:
the sparrow comes close and the maggot tied
to a stick gives itself up to the beak.
There is not even an outline
of repentance, or future.
Such confusion, these wings
prehistoric moth, scaly wings
were they born with the will
to ignore absence?
And if I say: I have no strength
even with the clumsiness they give me
When I walk through the street, will the sun
have abandoned me
or will it allow the movement
spun between landscape, body, spirit?
Like the moon moth -I thought-
you will be left without a mouth
and I without sustenance, colour, earth or air.
have those pretty wings, folded up,
but they also fall though they pursue
beauty, and each transformation
a silk thread wraps them in
wears them down in the battle for eternity, for food,
leaves them there.
Like words which are fresh
promises, of snow water,
hidden in the arteries of a basalt hill
gulping oxygen to begin again
such is my offering
I shelter you in the crimson cloak
and then the gift
-you already know it-
the torch, the fire in your hands
pure courage for that mission of yours
to bring things to their subtle state.
First mystery: time,
waiting is my nature
as a ghost of weeds
nettles, thistles, dandelions I eat,
these three feet and the body
which seems an unbroken block
at dawn, because perhaps during sleep
or precisely during sleep,
at a whim it heals that wound
is sweetly and delicately relieved.
All can be delayed if you stop
and lock your two feet to a tree,
monsters, sad memories
a headless doll
in childhood horror and desire are twins.
The stars say your flight is detached,
you keep yourself for the shadier parts
of jungles, what is left of what you were,
you will go and I who pray to future springs
and ask feed me, enlighten me
nail that metal to my temple, to my memory
pin me to the chosen cloth
where those graces hang
here the tiny shadow of burning trees
here your mother’s stories, here small stones
with your name, or else offer those warlike birds
my wings with their grey ocelli
it would not be bad for this body to end
loaded in a confused bird’s beak
floating in Brazil’s rough sea
and in those waters would I be able
to take on the form of the tide?
Dreaming as a moth brings a sky
a thought of sky
where enormous blue
whales rise up
among majestic clouds
courage must be like this, in dreams.
It may be difficult to go on: there are reindeer, beasts,
and we are not the branch or the breeze that moves it
salt or water, sky, land and sea
in an autumn garden I pass my afternoons,
and I can say wind, lightning
or that today is pure fire, that your mother expelled you
from her belly to the world, I’ll celebrate.