by Emma Villazón (Bolivia)
translated from Spanish
by Thomas Rothe
print book | bilingual edition
8” x 5” | 62 pages
available now for
release date: November 15, 2019
what can be inferred from the thousands of fervent women who want to be presidents of their own space and war?
she carries mastodons on her shoulders
what should each of us do with our ancestors and the sky?
she pulls green geese out of her fists
the river of speech is simple simple never captured
words are not manageable finite accumulative nuts
the women know this or presume it but remain in cages
and it’s simple simple words are not things but clouds
it’s time to trim language with your razor-sharp star body
if one of these days a fear-stricken fish bloomed from your shadow,
what would you learn at that moment?
what would you not learn?
Praise for Expendables
Emma Villazón’s posthumous book, Temporarias (Expendables), absorbs all the forces of writing literature profoundly connected to the exploration of different voices and otherness. The poetic word emerges from a crisis of temporality and commits to the adverbial or transformative role of women both in language and capitalist societies. In this book, the “she” abounds like a momentary opening, like a flesh and blood character, but at the same time like a calm eternity in which “she” is every woman. Here we read how contemporary women formulate questions and embark on journeys to find a place where transformations are possible.
—Claudia Pardo G., Bolivian poet,
author of Residuos de noviembre: pieza asimétrica del tiempo
In the last decade or so, a number of first translations into English from the work of major Southern Cone women poets have appeared in fast succession. Among these genius writers are Amanda Berenguer, Silvia Guerra, and Marosa di Giorgio of Uruguay, along with Alejandra Pizarnik, of Argentina. Now, in this important translation work by Thomas Rothe, the amazing Bolivian poet and scholar Emma Villazón, who died at the El Alto Airport of Bolivia, in 2015, at the age of thirty-three, is added to the mix. She is, among this growing, stellar group (to us gringos, anyway), perhaps the most radically forthright of all. And this particular work, Temporarias, posthumously published in her country and Chile, is a book that speaks out, and into, the politics of economic-racial marginalization and concomitant mass migration. All of it from a resolute, feminist vision. Few poets, anywhere or whenever, have accomplished so much in so little time. There is little doubt, I believe, that Emma Villazón, already considered one of the singular Andean poets of the early 21 st century, will become ever more read and studied in many languages.
—Kent Johnson, author of Prize List
A Note from the Translator
Temporarias is a volume of poetry that Emma Villazón left unfinished when she passed away on August 19, 2015. The latest version of the manuscript, dated July 25, 2015, includes 21 poems, which have been translated into English for this chapbook. Written through multiple voices of women workers, the poems in this book stitch together relationships between labor, immigration, and gender, all issues that concerned Emma as they arose from her own experience of immigrating to Chile in 2010 and struggling to find a stable job.
While living in Pirque, a rural municipality outside Santiago, Emma would regularly make the hour-and-a-half commute to the city center for university studies, work, and poetry recitals. Movement around Santiago allowed her to observe the different realities of Chile’s capital, from the historic downtown and financial sector of Las Condes, to middle-class neighborhoods in Ñuñoa and La Florida, as well as the shantytowns in La Pintana and the agricultural fields that surrounded the home she shared with her partner Andrés Ajens in Pirque.
Emma came from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the largest city in eastern Bolivia, which serves as a gateway between the Andes and the Amazon. While a university student in Santa Cruz, she had become interested in the linguistic diversity of the Amazon and studied the grammar of several indigenous peoples from the area. Her poetry reflects this fascination with language: its relationship to power and nationality, its instability and residues, the slippery meanings of words when dissected and rearranged on paper. She also adamantly questioned typical notions of national literature: she often rejected the label of Bolivian poet, for example. It is no surprise that she took an interest in translation as a creative process influenced by the displacement of language from one cultural setting to another. Her translation into Spanish of Kent Johnson’s “Notes on Notes of Translation” remains a testimony of this other facet of her work.
Emma’s final, unfinished book was published posthumously as Temporarias y otros poemas in 2016 by La Perra Gráfica in La Paz and in 2017 by Das Kapital in Santiago, each edition curated by Marcelo Villena, Giovanna Rivero, Mónica Velásquez, and Andrés Ajens. In the preface of both editions, the editors included a text written by Emma for a public grant which she had applied to in Chile in 2014. As the editors emphasized, the text is framed within the context of a circumstantial application form and Emma may never have wanted to publish it if she had completed her book. Regardless, the reflections on her own work provide valuable insight into the writing process of this particular project, so I have taken a cue from those editions and decided to include a translation of that text here. The manuscript she submitted, titled Temporeras (Spanish for “migrant women farmhands”), is what would eventually become Temporarias, the 21 poems that I have rendered as Expendables.
About the Author
Emma Villazón Richter (Santa Cruz de la Sierra, 1983 – El Alto, 2015) was a Bolivian poet and essayist who lived in Santiago de Chile from 2010 until 2015. She studied Law and Hispanic Philology at the Universidad Gabriel René Moreno in Santa Cruz and she held an MA in Latin American Literature from the Universidad de Santiago. She is the author of Lumbres de ciervo (2013) and Fábulas de una caída (2007), winner of the 2007 Petrobras National Poetry Prize (Bolivia). Along with Andrés Ajens, she co-edited the journal Mar con Soroche. On August 19, 2015, Emma unexpectedly died after suffering a stroke at the airport in El Alto, on the outskirts of La Paz, where she was visiting as a guest for the XX International Book Fair. Several of her works were published posthumously in Bolivia and Chile, including the short story collection Desérticas (2016) and the volume of poetry Temporarias y otros poemas (2016 and 2017).
About the Translator
Thomas Rothe (Berkeley, California, 1985) has translated the poetry and prose of various Latin American authors, including Rodrigo Lira, Jaime Huenún, Julieta Marchant, and Margarita García Robayo. His translations have been published in Asymptote, MAKE Magazine, InTranslation, Jacket2, The Arkansas International, and OOMPH!, among other journals. He lives in Santiago de Chile.