“Obscure” is not the same thing as “somber”; it’s not the same thing as “dark.”
In a crowded corner of a SoHo bookstore, the audience begged for one more poem. Maria Negroni, the poet and SLC Spanish faculty member, smiled and conferred with her translator. They had brought no more poems in English, but the young translator insisted she could do one by memory: Negroni's poem was unforgettable.
The new book of poetry is just one of Negroni's recent accomplishments. A prolific writer and translator, she recently won the prestigious International Prize for Essay Writing from Siglo XXI, a publisher in Mexico City, for her book Galería Fantástica ("Fantastic Gallery"). Last year she helped launch Babel, a translation magazine, at Sarah Lawrence.
The following is an expanded version of the interview included in the print version of Sarah Lawrence.
SLC: What was the inspiration for your new collection of poetry, Andanza?
MN: I wrote three books that I call the Buenos Aires trilogy. The first is a book that I did with a visual artist, Jorge Macchi, called Buenos Aires Tour. It's a poetic guide to Buenos Aires. We broke a glass on top of a map of Buenos Aires, so it's a very arbitrary guide.
The second one is a novel, called La Anunciación, which deals with the political experience in Argentina during the '70s. And the third one is Andanza, which is a book of poems. It is inspired by the tango. It's a very erotic dance, but it's also a very sophisticated, intellectual dance. I took the eight basic steps of tango as my form. Every stanza is eight lines. I don't know which came first, the dance or the idea for the book. But they grew up together. My parents have danced tango all their lives; it's a very Argentine dance.
SLC: Is there a type of writing you prefer-poetry, nonfiction, fiction?
MN: I don't believe in genres. I believe in your perception of language. When I write, it is always as a poet who is making the decisions.
SLC: What was the inspiration for Babel?
MN: A few years ago, I began encouraging students to translate as a way of better understanding what they are reading and also capturing more of the richness of the language that comes forth in poetry. Then I realized that I had very talented translators among the students, and I started playing with the idea of having a magazine. This is the second year that we've published Babel. We recently did a reading at Cornelia Street Café in Manhattan. It was fantastic. We had French, Italian, Spanish, Turkish.
SLC: What are your goals for the magazine in the future?
MN: It will evolve. I would like to have more faculty involved. There are many faculty in the college who, in one way or another, deal with translation. I think it has a lot of potential.
SLC: Why is translation important in today's world?
MN: It is a very complex question. Translation has to do with diversity, difference, with the way different cultures perceive the world. And so that would be reason number one: It opens up the world and perception. You cannot go through a translation process untouched. It is a very deep process. You inhabit that other poet, and for the time that you work on her or him, you are that person. You cannot translate someone if you are not fully into the whole process of creation. You are creating anew.
Reason number two: when you translate, you work at a very deep level with language, and you inevitably become aware of the gap that exists between words and reality. Most people are usually not aware of that gap. In normal life, we think that language obeys us. But that's not true. And I think that awareness is a sort of antidote against dogmatic thinking. Poetry and translation help you move with that ambivalence, to recognize that there are no guaranteed, fixed, closed concepts. That there is always something that you cannot grasp. I think that the task of translating reminds you of that, constantly.
SLC: What are some of the challenges a translator encounters?
MN: The challenges that a translator can face are the same challenges that a creative writer faces because you have to make the poem work in your language. You always have to translate into your mother tongue. That's where you have more mastery of the language. It's not a question of a literal, word-by-word translation. You have to understand what the poem is trying to do, what the characteristics of the poet are. You have to get his or her rhythm, diction, and then the world of obsessions that is underneath what is written on the page. Then you can work with all that and come up with your own version.
For example when you have to translate an emotion, there are so many words that you can use. You have to make a choice that makes you aware that there is no literal meaning to words. "Obscure" is not the same thing as "somber"; it's not the same thing as "dark." It depends on how the poet is using them, the context. This helps you be aware that language is a creature; it's alive. It's not an easy instrument that you use at your convenience. Every word is a world made of sounds. The words are charged. They are energetic entities.
SLC: Can we get a little background on your life? Has the life of an expatriate influenced your work?
MN: I came to the United States in 1985; I did my PhD at Columbia. I stayed until 1994, and then I went back to Argentina. I came back to the US to work at Sarah Lawrence in 1999. Absolutely, living away from my country has influenced my work. The displacement, in whatever shape it takes, makes more evident that gap that I was talking about. Being far from your roots, from your family, from your culture, your society, opens up the lens a little bit. You have a slant look at both your own culture and the culture you live in. It has some disadvantages too, as you can imagine. But I think that it helps you to have a little bit of mistrust of what other people take for granted.
Meghan Klien ’09
In February, the Student Filmmaker Coalition held a two-day film festival organized and curated entirely by students. Meghan Klien ’09 founded the Filmmaker Coalition and drew on her experience from previous campus screenings to pull off the successful event.
SLC: What inspired you to organize a film festival?
MK: At past screenings all the films ran back-to-back for up to six hours. Because of the way the event was structured—it was too long, there was no intermission, and every film was accepted—a lot of people didn’t stay till the end. It’s discouraging for the students when people leave. I thought the event should be on two separate days so it was more like a festival.
SLC: How do you think it went?
MK: More people came than I expected, probably close to 200 on Friday night. I think it ran amazingly well compared to other times I’ve been involved. We teched it before to make sure all the DVDs worked and to check the sound. We got 32 submissions, and we played 22. I was really grateful so many people submitted.
SLC: Did you have a favorite film in the festival?
MK: One of the best ones was The Terrestrial Happenings of Winslow Hollowbody by Aaron David DeFazio. I’m actually helping Aaron produce the sequel, so I’m really invested in his work. His film and Neil Murphy’s Breadwinner were selected as the two club favorites, and each received $250 to put toward film festival entry fees.
SLC: Can you talk about some of your own film projects?
MK: The first film I made here was about a guy who was having problems meeting girls because he was using terrible lines, like “Did you get arrested earlier? Because it must be illegal to look that good.” Then he meets this girl who essentially schools him and says you’ve just got to be yourself. I’ve also taken three film history courses. The latest one is an independent study focusing on different genres of comedic film.
SLC: What’s your opinion about the film community at SLC?
MK: I’m happy with the festival, and I’m glad that it’s giving the film program more attention on campus. It was very small when I started, and I think it’s getting bigger and better. I love that I ended up coming here because film is not the sole focus of my education—I’ve also done a lot of literature and cultural studies classes, which I think were really important. That’s one of the strengths of studying film at Sarah Lawrence.
SLC: What are your plans for after graduation?
MK: I’ll be trying for production assistant positions in the New York area. I will also continue my writing, and I intend to submit screenplays to festivals.
by Sophia Kelley MFA ’10