Alfredo Silva Estrada

Monday's El Universal includes this article on Alfredo Silva Estrada ("Silva Estrada homenajeado"), whose poem "Los moradores" I've translated into English at Antología.

I'm familiar with Silva Estrada's work as both a poet and translator. Thanks to his translations from the French into Spanish, I've gotten to know the wonderful work of two Lebanese poets, George Schehadé (Beirut, 1907-Paris, 1989) and Salah Stétié (Beirut, 1929). Angria Ediciones in Caracas has published Silva Estrada's beautiful translations of these poets, as well as his own recent collection Al través (2000).

Last Sunday's Papel Literario in El Nacional featured several pieces on Silva Estrada's work. Included among these is an essay by Silva Estrada on his translation methods, entitled "La traducción es el agua de mi tercera sed." He writes:

" 'One consecrates oneself to others in order to know oneself better,' my friend the Swiss poet Vahé Godel, translator from Armenian to French, has written. Although there could be a great deal of truth in that affirmation, I confess I have never, at least in a conscious manner, guided myself by that design. But in each translation, inevitably, one undoubtedly projects oneself up to a certain point, and finds a piece of oneself, a partial, mysterious affinity which had not been felt at the beginning of the work. I want to add that I do not only translate poets for whom I have an explicit affinity, but also those whose strange palpitation, quite different and distant from my own, captivates me from the first reading. I translate (I prefer to say: I pour) as though moved by a fatality, a passion, and an insatiable curiosity of my spirit, and a need to give myself to others, to open my borders."

Venezuela's state-funded publishing house, the famous Monte Ávila Editores, has published two excellent collections by Silva Estrada: the anthology Acercamientos (1992) which includes an introduction by Rafael Castillo Zapata and Por los respiraderos del día/En un momento dado (1998).

Silva Estrada's versions of Salah Stétié in La tierra con el olvido (Angria Ediciones, 2002) are poems I continually return to, savoring their arid lines. Whether in his own poems or in his translations, Silva Estrada remains attuned to the silences that can make poetry an antidote to chaos.

In the introduction to La tierra con el olvido, Silva Estrada describes when Stétié first gave him a copy of the book, published in France as La terre avec l'oubli in 1994:

"As he offered me a copy he said, with a certain timidity: "These are the poems of a life." A life, it is understood, that begins to face old age with an exceptional corporeal courage incorporated into the poem and an unusual lucidity. Here, what could be merely pain and nostalgia becomes a discovery of language and a constellated revelation, a revelation of the human body and the cosmos..."

Silva Estrada's versions of Stétié's untitled poems in that collection have the merit of sounding and reading impeccably as poems in Spanish. Finding this collection for the first time in Venezuela several years ago I felt an immediate confluence between Beirut, Paris and Caracas. Not in a geographical or political sense, but rather through the images and rhythms of Salah Stétié's translated lines. Poetry as an immediate and ancient form of dialogue.

"...Pero la otra mujer, ella es su dolor en el espíritu
Con su bello rostro y sus ojos oscuros
Habiendo la fusión de la nieve disuelto el hombro
Y sus dos manos y sus dos brazos se volvieron
Ese duro torrente de la devastación del corazón
El vientre también donde hubo una hierba de delirio
Ahora no es más que estrecho de los torbellinos
Istmo del viento"

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