Translation Portfolio: Claudia Prado and Rebecca Gayle Howell curated by Mihaela Moscaliuc

Translation Portfolio: Claudia Prado and Rebecca Gayle Howell curated by Mihaela Moscaliuc
November 26, 2022 Moscaliuc Mihaela

Translation Portfolio: Claudia Prado and Rebecca Gayle Howell


On El interior de la ballena, by Claudia Prado


Claudia Prado is an Argentinian poet and filmmaker known for making groundbreaking, socially progressive art. El interior de la ballena (Editorial Nusud, 2000) was her debut, a poetry collection that received the bronze Concurso Régimen de Fomento a la Producción Literaria Nacional y Estímulo a la Industria Editorial del Fondo nacional de las Artes.


El interior de la ballena is a novel-in-verse based on Prado’s agrarian family legacy in Patagonia. Mixing fiction with oral history, Prado imagines her ancestors’ 19th century migration from the Basque Country into Argentina and, ultimately, southward into the oceanic desert. These poems offer a rare look at the Patagonian plateau between 1892 and 1963, years of intense immigration and population growth, written through a feminist lens. In addition to poems written in the poet’s own voice, the book also makes wide use of monologue and persona techniques, weaving together this intergenerational story through a multiplicity of voices: here speaks a woman who, against her will, is taken to that desert; here is revealed the thoughts of an orphan laborer; here, a chicken thief celebrates his sad prize. In El interior de la ballena, Prado uses her page to privilege the often unseen and unheard, composing in silence as much as sound, and in so doing creates a poetics of Patagonia itself. When read together, the poems quilt a place, time, and lineage through a story of strong women, wounded and wounding men, and a rural and unforgiving landscape from which hard-scrabble labor is the origin of survival.


Poet Irene Gruss wrote for Clarín (Argentina’s largest newspaper), “Claudia Prado joins a surprising list of writers of her generation and the next who […] chose to maintain contact with an extreme landscape and its quiet.”


Critic Anahí Mallol wrote for Diaro de Poesía (once Argentina’s leading poetry journal), “El interior de la ballena is a poetry book of strange and exquisite texture …. What is told is that which the inheritors receive, those remains which have repercussions on children’s imaginations and games, on the consciousness of oneself, backlight by a shared past …. [L]ike the landscape of the Patagonian desert, the elements presented are as minimal as possible, but in the immensity of time and space, coordinates are lost. What remains as the book’s subject is in fact loss, insignificance in the company of emptiness. That is why one of the main elements (of the desert, of the family history, of the poem) is silence.”


Additional critical praise, as well as poems from the book, appeared in some of the most recognized literary magazines and newspapers of the country, including La danza del ratón and La revista/Diario La nación. Other poems were selected for anthologies published in Argentina, Spain, and Germany, including Antología de poesía de la Patagonia, selection and preface by Concha García (Málaga: CEDMA, 2006); Poetas Argentinas (1961-1980), selection and preface by Andi Nachon (Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Dock, 2007); Desorbitados: poetas novísimos del sur de la Poetas Argentinas (1961-1980), selection and preface by Cristian Aliaga (Buenos Aires, Fondo Nacional de las Artes, 2009); Patagonia literaria VI — Antología de Poesía del sur Argentino, edited by Claudia Hammerschmidt and Luciana A. Mellado (Germany: DAAD, 2019).


The poems included in this selection lean into the imagination, merging oral history with fiction, redeeming her family’s generational silence by turning it into an undeniable, if quiet, music.


Rebecca Gayle Howell


Rebecca Gayle Howell in conversation with Mihaela Moscaliuc


Mihaela Moscaliuc: What are some of the core thematic interests or concerns of El interior de la ballena, this innovative novel-in-verse by the Argentinian poet and filmmaker Claudia Prado? What in particular attracted you to this collection?


Rebecca Gayle Howell: El interior de la ballena is a hybrid work that merges family history with fiction, memoir with the imagination. It tells the story of one family’s subsistence migration into the Patagonian Desert, from the late 19th century forward. Prado’s ancestors immigrated from the Basque Country to Argentinian Patagonia, during a time of massive migration from the one region to the other. (For reference, Argentina now hosts the largest Basque diaspora in the world). The poet grew up hearing stories of hard work and resilience from her grandparents, but noticed that among these stories, silence sometimes shaped memory, and memory, silence. As a poet, Claudia became interested in these silent spaces, how issues like point of view, nostalgia, shame, and gender often collaborate to write (or unwrite) personal histories. This in turn affects subsequent generations, how they see themselves and their relationship to place. Of course, the wide, semi-arid landscape of Patagonia is also built of time-worn silences. In El interior de la ballena, Prado contemplates and merges these two kinds of silence into a new poetics.


She also foregrounds the erased stories of women. I am devoted to supporting women poets who are writing from extracted landscapes, which are often rural. We so rarely get to read rural stories written by women, even though women are very often the primary leaders of these households and communities. Ecofeminism teaches that we have long conflated womanhood with landscape in both metaphor and action—-that we must now understand nothing happens to the land that does not also happen to a woman’s body, and nothing happens to a woman’s body that does not also happen to the land. What then are we missing, in our larger human narrative, when we erase the knowledge that rural women carry? And how might that erasure be especially dangerous during climate change? These questions guide my work as a translator, yes, and also as an editor, teacher, and writer. In my own poetry I tend to explore stories of woman-identified protagonists who are liberated or bound by their places. But these questions are also why I edit books like Crystal Wilkinson’s Perfect Black; teach books like Mária Sánchez’s Land of Women (trans. Curtis Bauer); and translate poets like Amal al-Jubouri and Claudia Prado. I want to do whatever I can to broadcast these voices.


Mihaela Moscaliuc: Would you comment on the range of strategies and stylistic features of El interior de la ballena?


Rebecca Gayle Howell: Critic Anahí Mallol wrote for Diaro de Poesía (once Argentina’s leading poetry journal), “El Interior de la ballena is a poetry book of strange and exquisite texture…. What is told is that which the inheritors receive, those remains which have repercussions on children’s imaginations and games, on the consciousness of oneself, backlit by a shared past…. [L]ike the landscape of the Patagonian desert, the elements presented are as minimal as possible, but in the immensity of time and space, coordinates are lost. What remains as the book’s subject is in fact loss, insignificance in the company of emptiness. That is why one of the main elements (of the desert, of the family history, of the poem) is silence.”


Because Spanish is a fusional language, metrical patterns in Spanish-language verse tend to be polyrhythmic: quite dynamic and full of music that evolves as the poem evolves. Here, Claudia is working against the natural tendencies of Spanish, inviting the language to bend instead toward silence, a silence that is both reverential and revelatory. Claudia has recorded readings for each of the poems published here, and I think even the monolingual English reader will be able to hear just how distinguished Claudia’s accomplishments are. The poems are ghostly, and yet they are stunningly present. They create an atmosphere of timelessness, but one that is time stamped. They sing from a historical arc that is multigenerational, larger than any one individual’s life span, and yet they honor the individualized truth. In these ways, as Mollol and other Argentenian critics have noticed, Claudia has created a poetics that is of Patagonia—not set in Patagonia or about Patagonia, but rather, aligned with and informed by the unique intelligence of that particular place. And in this new system of poetry, she searches for the wide horizon lines between memory and truth, ancestors and self. Perhaps what she finds in the end is that, actually, very little divides these states of being.


Mihaela Moscaliuc: I wonder if, as an accomplished poet and translator, you bring to the process of transporting this work into English certain ideas about what should be prioritized in translation (that is, what features of the original can or cannot be sacrificed)? Or, in other words, what mattered most to you, as poet and translator, as you recreated this collection into English?


Rebecca Gayle Howell: My first priority when translating is to collaborate directly with the poet in equitable ways. I work with living women writers; to bring their books into English, we work closely for years at a time. Line by line, draft by draft, we share notes and corrections, and the source poet receives the last editorial authority on all versions. Literary translation is, in and of itself, an art of collaboration—as I’ve just detailed, I choose to work directly with the poets who I am translating, but even when this is not the case—the translator of literature is collaborating with forces like time, place, climate, history, cultural nuance, religions. Unlike other kinds of texts, literature carries its meaning both inside the words on the page and also, somehow, underneath them. It is one of the magic tricks that makes literature so thrilling to read, and also the one that sparks transcendent imagination and new understanding. So, the literary translator must first be a keen listener. We must learn how to listen for a poem’s multiplicities of meaning and music, both stated and unstated. I want to be such a listener. For me, the work is relational.


What is often called “translation loss” is inevitable. A poem is a living being, not an artifact of information. Further, poems make themselves in many, and very different, ways across language systems. In order to translate poems, one must invite the poem into a kind of rebirth. English will never be able to do what Spanish does, or Japanese, Russian, or Arabic. I don’t see this as a problem; rather I think it is an opportunity to newly understand the human capacity for transcendence. The simultaneity of this practice—that a poem can differently and equitably exist in more than one utterance—-gives me a lot of hope.


Specific to Claudia’s poems, it is very important to me that my versions also bend the English toward silence, to best honor her artistic innovations, and also that the versions reincarnate the multivocality of her collection, which pivots on contrapuntal points of view. But nothing is more important to me than making versions that Claudia’s happy with.


Mihaela Moscaliuc: Would you say a few words about the process of working or consulting with Claudia Prado as you were translating the poems, and about the role of collaboration in translation?


Rebecca Gayle Howell: El interior de la ballena / The belly of the whale is the title of our forthcoming US edition of Claudia’s book. It will be published in 2024 by Texas Tech University Press, in partnership with Arizona State University’s Desert Humanities Initiative, and it will be a completely bilingual edition. By this I mean, everything in the book will appear in both Spanish and English, from the Foreword to the Afterword, subverting the assumption historically made by US publishers, that US readers are reading in English. It is core to my ethos as a translator that any book of versions I publish also includes the source poems, but our forthcoming edition of Claudia’s book will take the next important step forward. I am a student of Spanish; I am not fluent in Spanish. As I’ve said, the translations included in our forthcoming book are composed by me, in direct collaboration with Claudia. Over the last several years, we have passed drafts back and forth, back and forth; called each other on our birthdays; invited each other to our homeplaces; worried about the pandemic together; encouraged each other to rest and enjoy life despite our worries; then passed more drafts back and forth. Any critique she sends, I accept; but also, as women artists working together, we care for each other and take care of each other. It’s a whole motion. I’m grateful to our editor at Texas Tech UP, Travis Snyder, who really gets what we are doing and wants to build the book around it.


While I’ve worked alongside Claudia, I’ve been collaborating with other women artists on a couple of other projects. The first is What Things Cost, an anthology of labor rights poetry coming out from University Press of Kentucky this spring, which I’ve co-edited with Ashley M. Jones and our associate editor, Emily Jalloul. The second collaboration is with the composer Reena Esmail. Together, we’ve written A Winter Breviary, a solstice song cycle just published by Oxford University Press, as well as Say Your Name, a cantata just premiered by Amherst College, featuring soloist Sherezade Pathaki. Increasingly, I am interested in arts practices that create shared ownership over the work, unsettling capitalist ideas about individualized artistic genius and success.


Working with El interior de la ballena has taught me a great deal about a poetics that I too participate in: a way of making poems in which the poem does not use a place as a device, but rather surrenders to the larger knowing held by a place, in which the individual human is just a part of a much larger, much older story. It’s a deep ecology poetics, not an eco-poetics. It is not ‘nature’ poetry; it is not a poetry where one green place fits all. It is poetry tuned to very specific, regional, marginal places. What Claudia Prado has made in  El interior de la ballena astounds me. I’m changed by the years I’ve spent close to this book, and I’m so grateful to Claudia for all that her poems, and her friendship, has taught me.





1918 | barraca


Golpean los dados, giran
sobre el fieltro oscuro
se detienen antes o después
de lo que esperaba.
Las primeras paladas de yeso
golpean la pared,
me da risa estar en cuclillas
y empezar de nuevo.
Aunque pagan bien
tantos metros blancos
perfectamente lisos,
yo en las paredes
veo la cara pura de un dado
que aún no marcó la suerte.
“El próximo tiro
lo ordenará todo”
pero cada vez que caen
los dados y giran en la mesa
pierdo y me encuentro
cubriendo de nuevo
paredes de yeso,
de abajo hacia arriba
como pidiendo a Dios
perdón por tentarlo.


Con un tiro idéntico
a los otros entendí mi suerte:
dejé juego y trabajo,
eran la misma cosa.
cuando duermo en la calle
y me despierto golpeado
sé que es Dios,
que me persigue y me pega.
Ya no tengo nada,
sólo mi desgracia
tan fiel que la cuido
como otros lo que ganan.



1918 | crap out


On the dark felt table
the dice hit and spin
They stop too early,
too late  I throw my first
plaster to the wall
I can’t help but laugh,
squatting, starting over
All this smooth white
pays good, but what I see
is the face of clean dice
not yet scarred
My next shot will—
but every time
the dice spin
I find myself
plastering walls
again, starting
again on my knees
groveling to the same
god who got me here


Every shot, the same
until I understood
that every shot is the same
So I quit them both
the game and work
Now, when I sleep
in the street and wake
beaten, I know
who is to blame
Bad luck, so loyal
I love it,
just as everyone does
what they have earned



1942 | el ladrón


La carrera continúa
por encima de las casas,
la brea
de alguno de los techos
retiene brevemente
mi zapato,
también las piedras
que caen detrás nuestro
y golpean con las chapas
parecen algo mío.
Afición precoz
al robo de gallinas,
por el gusto
de sentirnos peligrosos.
Como otra regla
de este deporte viejo
mi cuerpo me precede
cambiado por el vino.
Se dice
que me quedan unos días
ligeros como el ritmo
de mis pies contra los techos.
Mientras corro
nombro igual que el médico
mi enfermedad
con términos científicos.
Toco el suelo
antes que los otros,
un alambre tejido
corta la oscuridad
en leves rombos.
Sé que estoy mintiendo
pero grito:
“son tan flacas
que da bronca”, en lugar
de las ganas de robar
vienen ganas de matarlas.


me resigno a que me atrapen,
a mi alrededor
yacen seis o siete cuerpos
de gallinas redondas,
inertes como piedras.



1942 | the thief


The race continues
across tin roofs
My shoe catches on the tar
Pebbles fall behind us
clanging, reminding me
of all I’ve lost
Stealing chickens!
My old game!
And the game’s only rule:
I’m drunk and
my body runs
without me
I’ve been told
my days are done
Quick as my feet
on these rooftops
I run and shout
the name of my disease
in my doctor’s voice
Fence wire flashes,
small night diamonds shine
I hit the ground
before anyone else
So I lie  They’re so thin
you’ll lose your mind! 
Forget stealing
You’ll want to kill them
to kill them—


I don’t care if I’m caught
All around me, round chickens
Still as stones


1947 | naufragio


Hace años
repito como excusa
o trabalenguas
una frase que no entiendo.


Zapatos, cajones
un pañuelo de señora
el mar
era un catálogo confuso
de lo que se había
vuelto inútil
y de pronto
surgía una cabeza,
una boca
ansiosa en busca de aire
y las manos
se aferraban
al costado de los botes.
Hasta que uno decidió
que éramos demasiados.


Repito: “Lo maté
para que no muriera
el otro allá en el agua.”

En alta mar
el hombre que salvé
me prometió un campo
y animales.
Sin saber que cumpliría
– la tierra
era el recuerdo más lejano –
pregunté si también
eran mías las riquezas
que el mar se había tragado.



1947 | shipwreck



Years ago—
I repeat
my excuse, my riddle,
what I don’t understand


Loose shoes, a box,
a woman’s square
The sea is a sea
of the useless
then a head rises
A mouth, gasping
Hands grasping
for any boat’s bow
We don’t have room 
the guy next to me says,
from safe inside the boat
So I made room


I killed him
I killed him 
so the other guy could live—
I repeat
pointing at the water



The one I save
promises me pasture,


Who can remember land?


I tell him I want
all the gold
this sea swallowed



Claudia Prado was born in Argentinian Patagonia and lives in Buenos Aires. She is the author of three books of Spanish-language poetry: El interior de la ballena (Buenos Aires: Nusud, 2000), which received the bronze Concurso Régimen de Fomento a la Producción Literaria Nacional y Estímulo a la Industria Editorial del Fondo nacional de las Artes; Viajar de noche (Buenos Aires: Editorial Limón, 2007); and Primero (Argentina: Editorial Caleta Olivia, 2019). She also co-directed the documentaries “Oro nestas piedras,” about the poet Jorge Leonidas Escudero, and “El jardín secreto”, about the poet Diana Bellessi. In 2018 she was named a Fellow of Utopian Practice at Culture Push (New York), awarded for  boundary-pushing, interdisciplinary, and socially engaged artwork.



Rebecca Gayle Howell is the author of two award-winning novels-in-verse, American Purgatory (2017) and Render (2013), and the English-language translator of Amal al-Jubouri’s Hagar Before the Occupation / Hagar After the Occupation (2011), which received a Best Poetry Book of the Year from Library Journal and was a finalist for both the Banipal Prize (U.K.) and The Best Translated Book Award (U.S.). Among her other honors are the United States Artists Fellowship, The Sexton Prize (U.K.), the Pushcart Prize, and two winter fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Howell is the long-time poetry editor of the Oxford American and an Assistant Professor of Poetry and Translation for the University of Arkansas MFA program. Her translation of Claudia Prado’s El interior de la ballena is forthcoming from Texas Tech University Press.

*photo credit: Victoria M Bee

Mihaela Moscaliuc is the author of the poetry collections Cemetery InkImmigrant Model and Father Dirt, translator of Carmelia Leonte’s The Hiss of the Viper and Liliana Ursu’s Clay and Star, co-editor of Border Lines: Poems of Migration, and editor of Insane Devotion: On the Writing of Gerald Stern. The recipient of two Glenna Luschei Awards from Prairie Schooner, residency fellowships from Chateau de Lavigny, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the MacDowell Colony, an Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and a Fulbright fellowship to Romania, Moscaliuc is associate professor of English at Monmouth University.