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Jen Hofer and Maria Rivera Name Names in “Los Muertos”

By Harriet Staff

Poet and translator Jen Hofer has been at work translating a poem into English by Mexico City poet Maria Rivera, reports SoCal Focus. The poem, called “Los Muertos,” names those killed in Mexico’s ongoing drug cartel violence–which we’ve written about here and here–and also works as an account of how the United States’s drug consumption plays a part in the bloodshed. The poem was rejected for publication in Mexico many times over, suggesting to Rivera that she publish it here, that it might “find its way as a mojado south to Mexico.” UCLA literature grad student Roman Lujan co-translated, with Hofer, and “read the first draft at the literary salon. He took the mostly English speaking crowd in the darkened room straight to Mexico City’s Zocalo.”

“This has to be a point of reflection of American society,” Lujan told me sitting next to stacks of poetry books in his second story West Hollywood apartment, “hey this problem, we are part of the problem, the only way to stop this is to legalize drugs or we produce them here, so we don’t have to import them or we fight together against the bad guys, whoever the bad guys are.”

What was the process of finding the right English word? What was the back and forth translating Rivera’s poem? I had to know more. Until I talked to Hofer and Lujan I’d thought of translation as the act of creating a work that stood parallel to the original, with the spirit of the original but freestanding as its own new work of literature. Hofer has translated many poems form Spanish to English, and doing so she always tries to make obvious the debt of the original.

“The langugage in this poem is extremely, extremely straightforward, and simple,” Hofer said, “and I don’t mean that in any way as a negative critique in fact it’s very difficult to write, in my opinion, strong work using simple language.”

Read the entire SoCal article, which includes a phone interview with Rivera, here. And watch a video of her reading the poem above. The full English translation can be found at Jacket2.

Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, August 31st, 2011 by Harriet Staff.