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An Interview with WWB Poetry Contest Winner Jacob Rogers

By Words Without Borders

Jacob Rogers’s translation of “An Apocryphal History of the Discovery of Migration” by Alba Cid was one of four winners of WWB’s poetry in translation contest, presented in partnership with the Academy of American Poets. The winning selections will be published in Poem-a-Day and in Words Without Borders every Saturday this September. Jacob Rogers will participate in WWB and AAP’s event celebrating the contest winners, World in Verse: A Multilingual Poetry Reading,” on September 17 at Word Up Community Bookshop in New York City.


WWB: What drew you to Alba Cid’s work?

Jacob Rogers: I love this question because my encounter with her work was so wonderfully random, and it happened during my first trip to Galicia, which was also a product of chance in its own way. Having grown up and spent most of my life in North Carolina, it’s hard to explain the sheer joy and strangeness of traveling across an ocean to learn a completely different language, only to stumble into a bookstore and flip through a Galician literary magazine, only to find yourself reading a poem about North Carolina!

That poem was published alongside “An Apocryphal History of the Discovery of Migration” and another (which was translated by Meg Berkobien for The Offing) and I immediately fell in love with all three poems, and everything of hers I’ve read since. I have a hard time putting my finger on just what it is about Alba’s work that calls out to me, but I think a big part of it is the unique combination she’s found of voice and perspective in these delightful, gorgeous natural history poems. Each and every one makes me feel like I’m learning about the world I inhabit, and combined with Alba’s aesthetic sensibilities, I think this makes for truly singular poetry.


WWB: What were the challenges and pleasures of translating “An Apocryphal History of the Discovery of Migration”?

Jacob Rogers: These poems can be difficult because of the way they seem to maneuver so seamlessly between spaces and registers. I’d describe the language as colloquial and conversational, above all. But at the same time, Alba’s poems often deal with esoteric subjects and arcane matters of (natural) history in a way that makes them feel dreamlike, despite the precision and clarity in her writing.

I’d say that my biggest challenge and greatest pleasure was finding that perfect balance between rich, beautiful, and yet conversational language while keeping the unavoidable technical terminology (things like “locking mechanism,” for example) from breaking the spell for readers. And to be honest, the translations I’ve done of Alba’s poems are the kind that make me question whether I’ve put too much of my own voice into them. But I’d like to think I managed to have my cake and eat it too, in that sense, and that my endless drafting and redrafting has resulted in English versions that really make her poems come alive in English! A boy can dream . . .


WWB: Were you in conversation about the translation? If so, what was the process of working together like and were there particular issues you ended up discussing?

Jacob Rogers: It was a relatively independent process. Alba and I went back and forth some at the earlier stages, and there were some discussions about the poems on a broad level (what they’re like, what her writing is like, etc.), and she did look at the final version and had some very helpful suggestions on fine-tuning things here and there.


WWB: Are there contemporary Galician poets who you wish more people were reading?

Jacob Rogers: I’m really happy to have recently discovered the work of Olga Novo, who writes these gorgeous, playful, often surreal poems grounded in rural spaces and people she grew up around. I also love what I’ve read of Marilar Aleixandre, who came to Galician as a second language and who writes lots of poems dealing with natural subjects and the idea of having a “forked tongue.” Though I’ve only read two of Samuel Solleiro’s poems, and I have yet to get my hands on his debut collection, I feel confident on the strength of those two (and his fiction) that he’s a brilliant writer, and I’ll always have my soft spot for people who toy with conventions and play with reader expectations.

There are a couple of writers whose fiction I’ve been translating, and whose poetry I’d like to get to at some point soon: Antón Lopo, whose work often explores the body and identity. His style has jumped around all over the place over the years, which I think is always fun to experience as a reader. Secondly, there’s Luisa Castro, and though she’s only published one full collection in Galician (she writes primarily in Spanish), there’s an electricity to everything she writes, an earth-shattering power vibrating under the surface of both her poetry and her prose that never ceases to leave me stunned. And even if we only count the one collection in Galician, it’s a seminal book that totally redefined the poetry landscape in the late ’80s.

But there are so many more. There are some great translations from Galician being done by people like Erín Moure, Keith Payne, and Neil Anderson, just to name some of the most active translators, and the Emerging Translators Collective will be publishing some work by María do Cebreiro (tr. Neil Anderson) and Ismael Ramos (tr. Meg Berkobien) in the coming months!


Jacob Rogers (Haifa, 1994) is a translator of Galician prose and poetry. His translations have appeared in AsymptoteBest European Fiction 2019PRISM InternationalCagibiYour Impossible VoiceNashville ReviewThe Brooklyn Rail InTranslation, Lunch Ticket, and the Portico of Galician Literature, with work forthcoming in Copper Nickel and ANMLY. His translation of Carlos Casares's novel, His Excellency, came out from Small Stations Press in 2017. 


Read Alba Cid’s “An Apocryphal History of the Discovery of Migration,” translated by Jacob Rogers

Published Sep 16, 2019   Copyright 2019 Words Without Borders

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