LORETTA COLLINS KLOBAH
& MARIA GRAU PEREJOAN
Loretta Collins Klobah and Maria Grau Perejoan are co-editors and translators of The Sea Needs No Ornament/El mar no necesita ornamento, a bilingual anthology of contemporary women poets from the English and Spanish-speaking Caribbean that we recently excerpted as a poetry spotlight. In this interview, they talked to us about their intensive collaboration, their poem selection process, and how the anthology’s bilingual form contributes to its impact and interpretation.
How did the two of you come together to collaborate on The Sea Needs No Ornament/El mar no necesita ornamento?
MGP: The Sea Needs No Ornament/El mar no necesita ornamento is a Puerto Rican project. Up until 2016, my experience as both lecturer and postgraduate student in the region had been limited to the English-speaking region. Since my two main areas of specialisation, about which I had theorised and practised, are Caribbean Literature and Literary Translation, I decided it was time to expand my scope into the Spanish-speaking area. After my PhD and thanks to a scholarship, a first research stay brought me to the University of Puerto Rico where Loretta and I met thanks to Dr. Carmen Haydée Rivera. We found out we both believed that more translation work is needed in Caribbean literature and particularly translating women writers. Loretta proposed the project, we devised it together, and I won a Fulbright Scholarship that allowed me to go back to Puerto Rico the next year to start making it a reality.
LCK: I can add to Maria’s description of our meeting and the initial phases of our project by saying that when she first visited my university office, I had for some time been thinking about ways in which the Caribbean literary community already seeks to build bridges between islands and Diaspora(s) across the language divides and what more could be done. Because I have researched and taught Caribbean literature and culture for thirty years and I write creatively and publish my poetry collections with Peepal Tree Press, I’ve had opportunities to meet Caribbean writers and form literary friendships with many of them. At book fairs and literary festivals I had recently attended, my conversations with women writers had made me particularly aware of their concerns.
When Maria asked me about potential translation projects, I immediately suggested a bilingual collection of poetry by Caribbean women poets who had started publishing books primarily since the beginning of the 21st century. That kind of anthology had not been produced in twenty years. Moreover, the anthology published more than two decades earlier by M.J. Fenwick, Sisters of Caliban, provided translations of poems from various Caribbean languages to English. We decided that our anthology, in addition to translating Spanish poems to English, would also translate poems from the English-speaking Caribbean to Spanish.
I think one of the strongest assets that we have had as a translation partnership is that for this first collaborative project, we were able to work face-to-face with each other daily for months at a time. We learned different kinds of linguistic research skills and approaches to the poetic line from each other, derived and adapted from our individual backgrounds as translators or writers.
— Loretta Collins Klobah
What was the editing and translating process like working as a team?
MGP: We translated the more than a hundred poems included in the anthology in both directions together. Both our linguistic knowledge and literary knowledge made us good translator companions in that we are both bilingual and Caribbeanists, but Loretta is a poet and her mother tongue is English, and I am a literary translator and my mother tongue is Spanish.
LCK: We both have knowledge of Caribbean Creole languages, which means that we were committed to finding ways to maintain a viable feeling of Creole expressions in our translations of any poem that included them.
I think one of the strongest assets that we have had as a translation partnership is that for this first collaborative project, we were able to work face-to-face with each other daily for months at a time. We learned different kinds of linguistic research skills and approaches to the poetic line from each other, derived and adapted from our individual backgrounds as translators or writers. We also shared all of our drafts with the included writers and received their feedback.
What was the selection process like for the poems and what do you think makes the poems in this anthology so outstanding?
MGP: In regard to the poets, themselves, all have shown in their oeuvre an on-going commitment to writing poems that address both women’s experiences in the most intimate and public realms and Caribbean cultural and social imperatives. We chose to include poems on an array of subjects, written in a diversity of moods, tones, and poetic styles. In order to suggest the breadth of the poets’ concerns and writerly approaches, we have included an ample selection of three—in all cases—and as many as five—in some cases—poems by each author.
LCK: When we began the preliminary research for the project, we read single-author collections and contemporary poetry anthologies extensively. We chose some of the most powerful, innovative, and striking writers and their best poems, finally arriving at the number of thirty-three Caribbean poets. However, Maria’s emphasis on our intention to create a coherent anthology that still portrays the range of concerns, themes, and stylistic approaches to poetry by each writer does identify our main priority.
As you just mentioned, The Sea Needs No Ornament / El mar no necesita ornamento is the first bilingual anthology of contemporary poetry by women writers of the English- and Spanish-speaking Caribbean and its Diasporas to be curated in more than two decades. Why do you think it has been so long since something of its kind has been published?
MGP: An anthology such as The Sea requires a very specific type of curator, a lot of time, and an engaged publishing house such as Peepal Tree Press. When we conceptualised it, we could have never foreseen the many hours over a period of two years that it would take the two of us working nearly full-time, face-to-face and (in the final stages) by long distance, to complete the anthology. To me, two of the key aspects that were instrumental in its completion are, on the one hand, our commitment to the project, how vital we thought it was for the work of these thirty-three poets to cross language divides and reach wider reading audiences within the region and beyond; and secondly, the PEN Translates Award that we received in the midst of the project. News of the award arrived right after we had spent half a year working in post-Hurricane María Puerto Rico and feeling intensely satisfied but exhausted.
LCK: Translations of even single-author collections by women poets from the English-speaking Caribbean exist but are quite rare. Our project wasn’t like the work of translating a book-length sample of one writer’s poetry, either. Fenwick’s anthology employed six translators. Maria’s description of the labor-intensive commitment involved is key, and the knowledge and linguistic skill set required.
But, also I think the timing of the work to coincide with the hurricane aftermath in our working environs made it important to us to finish the project with our best efforts.
Poetry and fiction publishing by Caribbean women has been on-going for decades. Readers should have had more multilingual anthologies available during the last twenty years. We have such a significant number of excellent writers coming from the region and the larger Caribbean world.
Presenting the poems in bilingual form is a way of celebrating the multilingual nature of the Caribbean archipelago. Both monolingual readers of English or Spanish and bilingual readers can read and enjoy the book.
— Maria Grau Perejoan
How do you think presenting the anthology’s poems in bilingual form adds to their interpretation and impact?
MGP: Presenting the poems in bilingual form is a way of celebrating the multilingual nature of the Caribbean archipelago. Both monolingual readers of English or Spanish and bilingual readers can read and enjoy the book. As bilingual speakers ourselves, we expect bilingual readers to also take pleasure at looking at both versions. Ultimately, we hope that our anthology will be read widely in both the larger English- and Spanish-speaking worlds, and that the book will encourage others to translate individual books by our contributors.
LCK: I’ll only add to Maria’s comments by saying that each poem in the collection is presented first in its original language of composition and then its translation, with both versions placed side-by-side on opposing pages. It’s easy to glance from the English to Spanish versions of the poems to compare lines, and that is a pleasure in itself for readers enjoying and interpreting the poems, no matter the level of their knowledge of a second language.
What other works by Caribbean women that have been translated into English would you recommend?
MGP: I would like to suggest two single-author bilingual anthologies translated by two women translators, like in our case. First, Puerto Rican poet Mara Pastor’s anthology Deuda natal/Natal Debt for which she recently received the Ambroggio Prize from the Academy of American Poets. The anthology is curated and translated by María José Giménez and Anna Rosenwong and will be published in 2021 by the University of Arizona Press. Secondly, Un cuerpecito son muchas partes/A little body are many parts by Cuban poet Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, which was translated by Abigail Parry and Serafina Vick and co-published by Bloodaxe Books with the Poetry Translation Centre.
LCK: Another good book by Legna Rodríguez Iglesias is the poetry collection Miami Century Fox, translated to English by Eduardo Aparicio (Akashic Books, 2017). A collection of Shara McCallum’s poetry and essays curated and translated from English to Spanish by Adalber Salas Hernández, La historia es un Cuarto/History is a Room, is forthcoming in 2021 from Mantis Editores in Mexico.
Interview by Cindy Brzostowski