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Uruguayan poet’s campus visit includes reading

LILLIAN McGILL | Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Speaking solely in Spanish, acclaimed Uruguayan poet Silvia Guerra Díaz read her poetry Tuesday at the Snite Museum of Art. 

Immediately following each poem, Notre Dame students from the class “Spanish American Poetry in Context,” taught by Professor Ben Heller, shared their personal translations of Díaz’s poems in English.

Junior Emma Wolff said Heller came up with the initial idea for the poetry reading. 

“Our professor has a really friendly relationship with [Díaz],” Wolff said. “He thought it was obviously a great idea for us to interact with a living poet, because with a lot of the poems we read, the poets are no longer with us.”

Students selected the poem they wished to translate from a list provided by Heller, Wolff said. The reading included Díaz’s poems “Ánima Mundi,” “Cloto” and “Ojo de Agua,” among others.

“It was on a first come, first serve basis,” Wolff said. “We read the poems beforehand in Spanish, and I just chose whatever title spoke to me.”

Heller said translating poetry is a collaborative process between the teacher and the student that seeks to reproduce the essentials of the poem in a new language. 

“These translations are not done from one methodological stance. Some of them are more literal, while others are more free translations,” Heller said. “The common denominator is that each student and I, as the leader of the group, tried to capture both the precision and the strangeness of the poems in Spanish and bring that back over to English.”

Junior Morgan Hankamer said it was most difficult to find the balance between translating the poem literally and capturing the essence of what Díaz wanted to express through the poem. 

“Because poetry is so subjective and often isn’t literal, translating it from one language to anther is fairly hard to do,” Hankamer said. 

Reading the translations to Díaz was a nerve-wracking experience, senior Kristian Hila said. 

“Having the poet that wrote it sit right next to you, there’s the fear that when you read it, it’ll have a much different meaning than what she intended,” Hila said. “You don’t want to screw it up with that.” 

Prior to the poetry reading, Díaz visited the students in class, where they discussed her life, her poetry and how she became interested in writing, Wolff said. 

“She was so sweet,” Wolff said. “It was a great experience to have, interacting with living poetry.” 

The reading was cosponsored by the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, the Department of Special Collections, the Hesburgh Libraries, the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies, the Henkels Interdisciplinary Visiting Speaker and the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts.

Contact Lillian McGill at lmcgill@nd.edu