Monday, January 15, 2007

... is available for $20 American (U.S.) or Canadian (Canada), postage inc. Inquiries may be addressed to Brian Campbell.

It is also available at
Pages Books in Toronto and
Audreys Books in Edmonton 10712 Jasper Ave., 780-423-3487, toll-free 1-800-661-3649

Sunday, December 03, 2006

"the books within the eardrum"

David Leftwich, whose blog Eclectic Refrigerator was a reliable source of superb posts before he let it go into deep freeze about a year ago, wrote this appreciation of the poem Fiesta back in Oct. 2005. Now that the definitive edition is finally available, I thought I'd post it. Get a load of David's nifty collage. (My translation decisions for this poem are discussed below.)

Brian Campbell has been translating Nicaraguan poet Francisco Santos for several years and now has a book of translations coming out from a Costa Rican press. For those of you not heading to your local Costa Rican bookstore this week, Brian has posted some translations and the introduction at Undressing the Night. Here is a sample:


The glass beyond the fiesta
the books within the eardrum
the quotidian in the blood --
and the madman with his dirty fist
comes out of the mineshaft
waving a flower

-Fransciso Santos, trans. Brian Campbell

The line "books within the eardrum” really resonates – it seems to condence into one line the whole aural appeal of poetry, the sounds that unlock like skeleton keys the doors to deep memory. If Santos can do this in one short poem, I can’t wait to read more.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Francisco Santos (Photo: Brian Campbell)

Monday, September 04, 2006


Leonel Rugama, 1949-1970


One afternoon Leonel recommended
-- to improve my vitality, strength -- that I exercise
going on to say that by this he did not mean
"spiritual exercises."
We talked also about the girls
who passed on their way from work or school
about others that went into and came out of a certain
shoe store
about another on the corner selling fried pork
then he read me a poem about a young girl
who had died in Vietnam.
Today, another afternoon,
I see on the front page of a daily
the photo of his body riddled by the
and recall how José Coronel Urtecho
once said to me,
"Poets? They're good for nothing."

That's my translation. Here's the original:


Una tarde Leonel me recomendó
-- para la flacura -- hacer ejercicios
aclarándome que no se trataba de
"ejercicios espirituales"
Hablamos acerca de las muchachas
que iban o venían del trabajo o del colegio
de las que entraban o salían de una tienda
de zapatos
de otra que pasaba vendiendo chancho
también me leyó un poema sobre una guerrillera
Ahora -- otra tarde que veo su cuerpo acribillado
por la G.N. en la foto de un diario
recuerdo que José Coronel Urtecho
una vez me dijo: "Los poetas no sirven para nada."

Leonel Rugama, Nicaragua's best-known Sandinista guerrilla poet, died in combat against Somoza's infamous Guardia Nacional at the age of twenty. José Coronel Urtecho was a widely respected older poet who survived peacefully through both the Somoza and Sandinista regimes.

Apparently (in a scene whose description irresistably brings to mind the denoument of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid -- please pardon my semi-relevant synapses) Rugama and two others held off an entire batallion of armed regulars, including tanks and cannons, for quite a long while before they were finally killed.

His death profoundly affected an entire generation of Nicaraguan writers.

At least one talented contemporary -- Franklin Caldera (who has written some words of praise for the jacket of our upcoming bilingual edition, translated by yours truly) -- writes in a highly engaging account that he was so affected by Rugama's death that he stopped writing poetry for 30 years out of the feeling that as he himself didn't have the courage to die for his convictions as his friend had, he would always be unworthy to be a poet. Francisco Santos, also a personal friend, responded with the elegy above.

Looking up Rugama on the net, I discovered he was indeed quite a poet. A bilingual edition of his work can be found here. Quite a few poems of his can be found here.

Below is a translation I just did of perhaps his most famous poem. Well, actually, it's a "composite" translation, because in researching what follows I came across at another translation of the same poem on the net, and as mine was still a bit rough in spots, I adopted a few nice turns of phrase (particularly the ringing final phrase) from that one.

A fact that is worth knowing before reading the poem: Acahualinca is the Nahua name of the area of present-day Managua. In the lower class barrio that bears that name (where Francisco's parents now live, incidentally), near Lago de managua (Lake Managua, also known by its Nahua name, Lago Xolotlan), anthropologists found a lengthy track of deep, perfectly preserved human footprints all going in one direction, towards the lake. The prints, buried under layers of hardened lava, have been dated at six thousand years old. Part of the excavation is on display -- a mysterious, peculiarly awe-inspiring site, if only because it is so old... I've seen it, and you can see pictures of it and a good account of it here. A number of Nicaraguan poets have written about it, and perhaps some day I will too. Anthropologists speculated for the longest time that the footprints were made by people fleeing a volcanic eruption. That's what it looks like to the casual eye. Now, though, it is known that they were simply walking.

Clearly, though, "the people of Acahualinca" are an extinct people -- but their blood flows in the veins of any Mestizo or native person from Nicaragua today.

Anyway, here goes. I hope I (rather, we) managed evoke at least some of the spellbinding qualities in the original.

Leonel Rugama

Apollo 2 cost more than Apollo 1
and Apollo 1 cost a lot.

Apollo 3 cost more than Apollo 2
Apollo 2 cost more than Apollo 1
and Apollo 1 cost a lot.

Apollo 4 cost more than Apollo 3
Apollo 3 cost more than Apollo 2
Apollo 2 cost more than Apollo 1
and Apollo 1 cost a lot.

Apollo 8 cost an enormous sum, but no one minded
as the astronauts were Protestant
and from the Moon they read the Bible
to the joy and amazement of all Christians.
On their return Pope Paul VI gave them his blessing.

Apollo 9 cost more than all these put together,
including Apollo 1, which cost a lot.
The great-grandparents of the people of Acahualinca were
less hungry

than the grandparents.

The great-grandparents died of hunger.
The grandparents of the people of Acahualinca were less hungry
than the parents.
The grandparents died of hunger.
The parents of the people of Acahualinca were less hungry
than their children.
The parents died of hunger.
The children of the people of Acahualinca will not be born
because of hunger,

and they hunger to be born, only to die of hunger.

Blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the Moon.

-- From Out of the Woodwork, April 13, 2005

Sunday, September 03, 2006



Esta noche en Las Vegas, Nevada
una colina de sal renace mujer
y abre de nuevo las piernas
y un Lot anónimo sufre raros sueños.

My translation:


This evening in Las Vegas, Nevada
a column of salt retransfigures into woman
who once again, spreads her legs wide --
while an anonymous Lot suffers rare dreams

All kinds of discrepencies here. Those middle two lines would literally, word for word, go --

a hill of salt is reborn (with connotatoins of appears again as, aquires new vigour as) woman, even more literally rebirths woman
and opens anew its/her legs (literally the legs)

I had to make choices -- among pronouns, verbs, adjectives -- and for certain strict literalists among us, may have strayed unacceptably wide. "Colina" (hill) and "columna" (column) are similar in sound, and one subtly evokes the other here, unlike hill and column or pillar; "colina" is also more melliflous than "hill". At the same time, however, the literal translation of the biblical "pillar of salt" is "estatua de sal". Pillar of salt therefore wouldn't do -- just too hackneyed, and nor did he write the corresponding cliche in Spanish. Hill of salt to me was boring -- and I imagine there are lots of columns in those Vegas casinos; indeed, casinos are columns of sorts. So I went with column, to mirror the sonic values of the poem. "Retransfigures" -- well, that coinage has an exalting connotation that captures the invigourating feel of renacer better than simply "is reborn", "turns into" or "transforms into..." so there you go. I went rare. Including rare dreams.

Rare dreams could be more simply strange dreams, remarkable dreams, unusual dreams, uncommon dreams -- all perhaps more accurate on literal levels, but, as adjectives, boring as they proclaim they aren't. But then there are the Sp. expressions "rara excepcion" and "rara perfeccion", lit. "rare exception/perfection", and the use in physics meaning "rarefied". "Rare" also mirrored the original. So I went rare, as I said. Not just medium-rare...

-- From Out of the Woodwork, April 8, 2005

Saturday, September 02, 2006



El vaso fuera de la fiesta
los libros en el oído
lo cotidiano en la sangre
El loco con el puño sucio
sale de la mina mostrando
la flor.

My translation:


The glass beyond the fiesta
the books within the eardrum
the quotidian in the blood --
and the madman with his dirty fist
comes out of the mineshaft
waving a flower

This one is from Francisco's book Viendo y volviendo, and will be included in the upcoming Undressing the Night bilingual edition that will be coming out, hopefully, soon. The poem was easy to translate, due to the striking juxtapostions and a certain parallel musicality in English.

Flor has so many implications in Spanish: it can mean praise, as in decir (echar) flores a una "saying/pouring out flowers at one" is to pay pretty compliments to a girl, flirt; there is an expression de flor "of flower"(common in Cuba, Peru, Venezuela) that means "very good, splendid", and then hijos como una flor "children like a flower" -- lovely children. Then there's en la flor de la edad -- in the flower of one's life -- and en la flor de la vida, in the prime of one's life. You get the idea. Hence FS can get away with the generality "sale de la mina mostrando la flor" -- literally "comes out of the mine showing the flower" -- because flor is so rich in connotations in his language. I made the madman wave the flower, making up for the comparitive paucity of connotation in English with a more vivid image (perhaps -- yeah, I think so). Seemed a good idea. (Actually the choice was quite instinctive. And frankly, I didn't know how rich flor was in Spanish until after doing the translation. But I stick by it, after a careful examination of the dictionary.)

Vaso by the way can be translated variously as glass, tumbler, vessel, container, vase, urn, glassful, blood vessel, even ship (unlikely, yes, but...) So much choice -- and in Spanish, all these meanings are possible. I chose glass I suppose mainly because soundwise it plays off fiesta, and then, it just seems more vivid and party-like than vessel. Also, blood is used in the next line, so that puts blood vessel out -- but who would want blood vessel there? An interesting suggestion or two -- but yuck.

I won't go into reasons why I feel this is a marvellous little construction of ultra-rapid associations. Literary analysis -- the whole effort of translating the experience of poetry into plodding (or even dashing) prose -- is not really my thing. But over the next while I'll be posting some of these translations and talking about the translation choices. To me that's fascinating.

-- from Out of the Woodwork, Apr 8 2005

Men Playing With Words: Canto Published in Dusie

Francisco Santos, myself, and Allen Sutterfield
on the evening we wrote "Canto"

It was a suffocatingly muggy evening, June 14 of this year. Both Allen and I were in Toronto, and had arranged to get together with Francisco at a friend's place, where Allen, who resides now in Guelph, Ont., was staying. Since wine seemed a necessity (isn't it always where poetry takes place?), we made a long treck in the stifling heat along Danforth Ave. to the nearest LCBO to pick up a two litre bottle of cheap Italian red, and almost lost our evening in a pizza joint waiting for an excruciatingly slow with-the-works to go... as we waited, though, we did read and discuss a couple of poems from Anna Akhmatova' Selected, which I had picked up at a used bookstore along the way. By the time we got back to our friend's place, it was already closing on 9 pm. As Francisco and I were living/staying halfway across town, it seemed the evening was up almost before it began. (We had planned this get-together weeks in advance.) Over drooly pizza and sweaty juice glasses of wine (our friend's wine glasses were stored we couldn't find where), we laughed ironically at the inconvenience of throwing a party -- or doing anything worthwhile, it seemed, on the spur of the moment in Toronto. Suddenly something in our conversation -- I think we were talking about Creeley, who had recently died, and I remember now I even read out "I Know a Man" earlier that evening -- reminded Francisco of a verse he had written more than two decades ago, which he remembered as this:

Llévate este silencio

para que conozcas
de mi

which I immediately translated as this,

Take this silence
of a

that you may know
the flight
of my

Francisco wondered if I had included it in the bilingual selected which I was in the process of bringing together at the time. He had always had an affection for this verse because it brought together silence/bird/flight/song and notions of taking/knowing/possession in one brief utterance... great concentration of language was evidently a poetic ideal of his, too.

Well, I hadn't.

Allen, trickster that he is, suggested this possible alternative (he doesn't know Spanish), which he intoned in a deep south accent:

the silence of a bird
that you
may know
how my song

Then Francisco came up with another variation, and somehow or other, we were off: a game was created: to see how many variations on that verse we could come up with using those exact same words. These we jotted down in Francisco's notebook, which we passed around round-robin style. Each time we came up with a wilder and more improbable variation, we doubled over in gales of laughter. At one point -- after about fifteen variations, when it seemed there were no possibilities left, the notebook was passed to Francisco. After a moment of mulling, he came out with this:



this bird




"Hey, Francisco," we objected, "you didn't use all the words!"

"But this is an exception!" he said back with a raised finger. Gales of laughter again.

Henceforth exceptions, if exceptional, were allowed. I came up with a variation on his variation, and then we came up with six more conforming -- more or less -- to the original constraints. At this point, our friend came back. We all knew we had done something pretty significant artistically.... we were elated, minds on fire. A title sprang forth -- Canto -- and a dream of little chapbook and reading somewhere, at the Art Bar Poetry Series or Guelph's Woolwich Arms. In any case, it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable evenings of pure creative fun any of us had had in a long time. At our request, our friend -- Tony Marques, I'll let his name be known, another dedicated word craftsman who remains in an unpublished nether world -- turned on his computer and I transcribed what we had written into a wordpad file, and emailed it to all of us.

Tony took the picture above with my camera to commemorate the occasion.

That was that... or so it seemed.

The next week, looking through one of Francisco's earlier collections to find the poem and include it in the selected, I discovered that he had misremembered it: that he had written comprendas (comprehend, understand) el vuelo de mi canto, not conozcas (know). I called him up to see which version he preferred for the bilingual edition. He said, ah yes, but I much prefer comprendas. Subtler, he said. But know sounded better rhythmically in English, so I stuck with my translation of that evening -- but tacked the original Spanish version on as the concluding variation in Canto. After 23 variations, I suppose the singer would understand the song...

Anyway, Canto I later submitted to Dusie -- it struck me as down their particular alley -- and it was taken. You can read it here.


David said...

Sound like a very enjoyable evening that produced great results. “Canto” reminds of jazz improvisation, each player riffing off the main theme and each other to create something wholly new, fluid and different every night.

Friday, October 21, 2005 8:22:15 PM
Pris said...

There's nothing more fun than bouncing off poetry with kindred souls. Thanks for the account and the photo!

Saturday, October 22, 2005 8:45:52 AM

Thursday, September 01, 2005

From Out of the Woodwork, Apr. 1, 2005

Some truly exciting news. A bilingual edition of poems by the Nicaraguan poet Francisco Santos (translated by yours truly) is being published by a Costa Rican press, Editorial Lunes... very soon, within the next few months. This project has been on various burners of mine (front, mostly back) for the past seventeen years, ever since I first met Francisco in Toronto, where he still lives, in 1988. At first I translated his poetry for the pure pleasure of it, but after doing a dozen or more highly readable translations, the dream of a book naturally came into view. Since then, I've translated some 40-odd more. The book should run to about 130 pages.

Some of these translations were printed in Indigo, a bilingual literary magazine put out about a decade ago by the Hispanic Studies department of York University, Toronto. However, as neither of us have been all that persistant at submitting to lit magazines (yes, as C.Dale puts it so well, writing and publishing are really not the same... ), Francisco's poems have not, I believe, received the attention they deserve.

Nevertheless, in Nicaragua, Francisco gets a few poems published every few years in La Prensa Literaria (see here and here), the cultural supplement of La Prensa, Managua's most prestigious daily. He has published three books, and was included in the 1975 Anthology of Nicaraguan Poetry (ed. Ernesto Cardinal), and the1974 anthology 7 poetas centroamericanos. He is known in Nicaraguan cultural circles as one of a dozen-odd poets that comprise the largely displaced "Generacion del 60" , poets who emerged from 1960-1975 or so, years marked by war, revolution, and cultural strife.

Editorial Lunes I'm happy to say comes well-recommended, and in Nicaraguan society, well-connected. Over the last four years or so, it has published more than thirty books, nearly all of them poetry; seventeen of these will be launched at Costa Rica's Festival de la poesia coming up in July. Lunes is run by Norberto Salinas, whose most recent poetry collection (also put out by his press) was reviewed by El Nuevo Diario, the other major daily in Managua. Salinas is also coordinator of, a non-profit project whose purpose is to make books by Nicaraguan writers available on the internet (for an article on that, also in El Nuevo Diario, click here). Distribution will be largely up to hands, winds, and of course, electronic winds.

Here is a short poem of Francisco Santos for a taste. Unrepresentative of his later surrealist style, it's neveretheless good for starters. It was written when he was 16:


I'm rich!
I swagger down the streets
allowing my poems to grow --
and my hair
and my beard
(which is almost non-existant)
My shoes are worn down, they're done for
my clothes rag-tag, in tatters
I feel joy
I'm rich
Within me, I bring flowers
My pockets are bursting
with poems

For Hispanophones and -philes, here's the original:


Soy rico
camino por las calles
dejando crecer mis poemas
mis cabellos
mi barba
que casi no me crece
Mis zapatos están gastados
mis ropas luyidas, nistas
y sin embargo
Soy alegre
Soy rico
Llevo conmigo las flores
mis bolsas están llenas
de poemas.

You can look forward to more of his poems on this blog...