The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America

Richard Gwyn
Publication Date: 
Thursday, November 3, 2016
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‘A glittering bilingual anthology.’ – George Szirtes

The Other Tiger serves as a window on what is, to many readers, still another world. It is a great and generous gift, a legacy that will endure.’ – New Welsh Review


The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America is an anthology of Spanish language contemporary poetry from the Americas. Produced bilingually, with Spanish and English versions on facing pages, it is a welcome addition to the canon of translation, focusing on poets born since 1945.

Richard Gwyn has arranged the poems thematically – Where We Live; Memory, Childhood, Family; the Natural World; Politics, Journey and Exile; Love, Sex and the Body – to cut across nationality and the generations, illustrating the things poets have in common, and how they differ, across continents.

The Other Tiger (the title is a nod to Borges – “the one not in this poem”) consists of 97 poets from 16 countries, born over five decades. It includes work from Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Bolivia and El Salvador. Among the mix of poets are established names such as Juan Manuel Roca, Daniel Samoilovich, Mirta Rosenberg, Romulo Bustos Aguirre, Clemente Riedemann and Jorge Fondebrider. The younger poets featured include Andres Neuman, Damsi Figueroa, Alejandro Crotto and Carolina Davila.

The resulting anthology is an eclectic and catholic mix of fine poetry and fine translation that opens a window on to a relatively neglected group of literary worlds. The poems are at once exotic and other yet recognizably drawing on a poetic tradition that includes Novel prize-winner Octavio Paz. They conjure big landscapes and moments of tenderness, celebrate the individual but also engage with the politics of so many repressive regimes in Latin and South America. The Other Tiger vividly reflects the many contrasts present in the lives and literatures of the peoples of this continent.


‘By turns delicate and bold, passionate and tender, political and intimate, Richard Gwyn’s vivid translations provide a fascinating and timely introduction to this great poetic continent.’– Daniel Hahn

‘This big, generous, varied and colourful anthology contains a whole continent of marvellous poetry. It is a feat of translation, but also of empathy.’ – Patrick McGuinness

‘This is an indispensable and comprehensive introduction to Spanish American poetry of the last forty years which no reader of poetry should be without. We already know it, thanks to Borges, Cardenal, Neruda, Parra, Paz, and Vallejo, as one of the great world poetries, but what is so exciting here is the deepening sense, as you read on through Richard Gwyn's beautifully voiced, meticulous translations, of that illustrious pantheon being replaced by a new generation of urgent voices, some old acquaintances, some entirely new – some, crucially, of equal significance.’ – W.N. Herbert

‘An incisive overview of recent, innovative writing we're not likely to find elsewhere in English. The preface is solid: informative, intelligent, and immensely useful to both novices and old hands; the thematic organization is revelatory and moves us far from the rather pedantic, strictly historical or geographical focus of so many other anthologies; and the translations are beautiful and to the point. This is a book that belongs in every library, private or institutional, that has shelf-space for volumes of poetry. I think Alastair Reid, to whom the book is dedicated, would have been very happy with the tribute.’ Edith Grossman


Review by Martha Sprackland, Poetry London

Friday, September 1, 2017

The tiger belongs to Borges, 'el otro tigre, el que no está en e verso', in a line which opens this Latin American anthology. It's the presiding spirit of the book, which Gwyn decided to track down', hoping that he might 'glimpse its shadow in the poems'. The tiger evades language, the 'mood' of a poem, that near-untranslatable something that causes the shiver of recognition'. We find it in Eduardo Milan's 'The Tiger's Leap': a 'metaphor / for detachment from prose', or in Darío Jaramillo Agudelo's 'Cats': 'When spirit plays at being matter / it turns into cat'...
          There are many pleasing felicities, like the loose-limbed first line of Edwin Madrid's poem, equally gratifying though very different in each language:

Viví asi una temporada de cruda actividad 

I pursued my wild ways like that, for a spell
         ('de /delicis de le Noche' ['from Pleasures of the night'])

I loved Ricardo Herrera Alarcó​n's questioning, surrealist litany, which begins by asking 'What does a lonely man do in a lonely house?' and ends in tumbling lines of renunciation, of boarding-up:

And if the house wants to be alone?
And if the furniture wants no one to look at it?
And if the air refuses all breath?
And the bathtub all blood?
And the chimney all fire?
And the paper blank of all words?
And death all dominion?
   ('Un hombre solo en una casa sola' ['A lonely man in a lonely house'])

Also Veró​nica Zondek's 'Ausencia' ('Absence'), with its strange and beautiful dedication 'To Maria, to her tombstone of smoke', and Beatriz Vignoli's 'Función de la lírica' ('Function of Lyric Poetry') which describes the 'double symmetry' of a deathbed scene that plays out both in the dying father's hospital room and the opera on the television...
           There are many homes, here, in poems that evoke the very construction and also the impermanence of a place to live, along with a concern with borders and belonging, the fickle beacon of the American Dream, American bars, American lovers  - it is hard to frame the literatures of Latin America without the shadowy, alluring violence of its powerful neighbour to the north.

God said:
Love your neighbour as yourself.
In my country
he who loves his neighbour
is dicing with death.
                                                ('Dios dijo ['God said']), Gioconda Belli

... Gwyn's translations are beautifully clear. He manages to resist at least one of the hazards of the single-translator anthology - that his poetic voice will intrude...
          This is an enthusiastic, full-hearted anthology from a very skilled translator whose versions are a joy to read - vibrant, sympathetic, imaginative... Overall The Other Tiger does an admirable job; it is a volume that should appeal to any reader interested in the poetries of Latin America, brimming as it is with undiscovered riches. I'll go back to it again and again, and join Gwyn in his hunt for that mysterious third tiger.

Martha Sprackland is editor of Offord Road Books, a founding editor of multilingual zine La Errante, and poet-in-residene for Caught by the River. Her pamphlet, Glass as Broken Glass, was published by Rack Press in 2017

Review by Maggie Harris, Planet

Thursday, August 3, 2017

I admit a thrill of anticipation with this publication. As a Guyanese writer living in Wales, I find a sense of comfort in the historical and cultural links between 'my' continent and Wales. Latin America has always represented a mysterious and 'other' world to me: were it not for the accidents of history from 1492 onwards, I may well have been within the classification of the 'Spanish Americas' - a  classification which Richard Gwyn does not use '...for the fact that many poets would feel that this tied them too closely to their colonial pasts'.
        Think Latin America and we imagine coups and communion, Sandinistas, cocaine crops, Peron, the disappeared. But this collection offers us much more; it's a vital chronicle of contemporary voices. From historical and ongoing tribulation there is a powerful echo of human resistance, which blossoms through into a celebration of resilience. While many of these poems are shot through with powerful evocations of suffering, such as the most disturbing 'list poem' I have ever read, The Dead, by Mexican poet Maria Rivera:

Here they come
the decapitated,
the amputees.
the torn into pieces

They are equally creatively constructed, ironic, wry and playful, such as this from Mexican poet Luis Felipe Fabre's 'Infomercial':

Lady Macbeth Stain Remover offers you
an incredible solution that will revolutionize
        domestic hygiene

and full of surprise and pathos:

... whenever I begin to talk
and reminisce about shags with Velasquez. . .
Now it's more normal for me to go into a
church ... because I like the light that certain
candles cast ... on my tits

'The Tyrantess', Diego Maquiera, Chile.

        This is a rich, multi-layered collection of poetry in translation, from countries bonded by history and a language that is not indigenous. Translation summoned challenges - not only of meaning, but intent and mood. Selection was based on poems written after 1945, by still living writers; this gave Gwyn the opportunity to discuss some poems in depth with the poets, a process which would by nature have become a conversation, and add to the translations. The preface is an admirable asset to the reader, as is the grouping of poems into six sections, simply titled from 'Where we live', to 'What becomes of us'.
        Although I'm a non-Spanish reader, I loved the placement of the originals on facing pages, a constant reminder of the poet's presence.
        One of Gwyn's aims was 'to make available poetry that spoke to contemporary readers' and these poems unquestionably do that. In Alejandro Crotto's poem 'Pigeons', after hunting, two young boys are:

... forcing the fingers up to
where the sternum ends, twisting them
inside the still-warm body, grasping and
     pulling down,
we rip out the large intestine and belly, yank
     out the lungs
like a pink sponge sticking to the ribs,
kidneys, liver, stilled heart

        Their activity is a striking metaphor for our journey through the poems, mimicking the intimacy, almost invasion, into heart and mind, a textural exposure to the wide range of subject matter from love to violence, both historic and everyday.
        The reality of people living in fear is powerfully exposed in Andres Neuman's poem 'Buenos Aires on the Fly', sited among memories of named places and lost people

... the brown/ pestilence of the river, ashamed
       of it's history
and of sinister helicopter flights,
the terror, blows...

while in 'Panorama', Chilean poet Jamie Pinos writes of the city as a construct in a continent prone to natural disaster

...culture is savage/and is built with equal
     parts of sap and blood.
The habitat
a big little rubbish tip of peripheral modernity
at the foot of the Andes
beneath the immense sky of America.
....places and things/barely offer any
a phantom town/lodged in a river of oblivion

        In Clemente Riedemann's powerful poem, 'The man from Leipzig', the past and the present are permanently connected by location, his great-grandfather 'carried the whole sea in his cheeks', their stories on migrating 'belong somewhere else', not this time-tunnel where

...only fog, a maize napkin to wrap up the old
     wooden ships: the Steinward, the
Hermann, the Brigantine, Suzanne, and the 
Alfred. All in search of paradise. For all of them
disappointment and forest.

Like so many migrants,

My father's father's father had to speak in
another language, to squeeze out, once more,
the semen of daybreak.

This poem exemplifies for me the purpose of an anthology like this, where poets see themselves as carrying an ancestral baton. Like Seamus Heaney in his poem 'Digging',* Reidemann brings to life

The man of leipzig, the carpenter, brought
      me to earth in the pencil behind his ear,
from which I have come down to organise
the world with words.

This brief review does not do justice to the many layers within this book. Buy it and prepare to travel.

*Seamus Heaney's famous poem 'Digging' links the use of his pen with that of his father's spade. My poem 'Warrior', uses a similar analogy through my Madeiran grandmother.

Review by Suzy Ceulan Hughes, New Welsh Review

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

(This is an extract. For the full review, see the Wales Arts Review website)


Gwyn is a sensitive translator, using the ‘Poet to Poet’ method to ensure faithfulness to the original and to capture the distinct voice of each of the poets represented here. There were many poems that stood out for me on a first reading, and several poets whose work I should like to know better. And doubtless the list will expand as I dip in again at more leisure. For now, I shall with difficulty pick just one poem from each section: ‘The Dead’ by María Rivera (Mexico), whose lists and repetitions drum, and drum in, the horrifying familiarity of violent death in the poet’s country, serving as a homage to all the lives lost; ‘Cats’ by Darío Jaramillo Agudelo (Colombia), with its striking images and several beautiful two-liners, including, ‘The states of matter are four in number: / liquid, solid, gaseous and cat’; ‘Regent’s Canal’ by Jorge Fondebrider (Argentina), which quietly evokes the disorienting ‘otherness’ felt by a foreigner in a foreign land; ‘Fragment from Tree’ by Jessica Freudenthal Ovando (Bolivia), with its genealogical incantation of family names, relationships, secrets and causes of death; ‘Walking Backwards’ by Humberto Ak’Abal (Guatemala), whose five, brief lines are dense with meaning; and ‘Equatorial Cruise’ by Diana Bellessi (Argentina), whose images haunt both the female narrator and the reader.

If it is hard for me to select six poems from the 155 contained here, how much harder must it have been for Gwyn to select these from the hundreds he must have sifted through? For me, the choice is simply a matter of personal preference in the moment, but Gwyn shouldered the responsibility of choosing poems that would represent not just individual poets, but also literary movements, particular moments in history, entire nations, a whole continent. The Other Tiger serves as a window on what is, to many readers, still another world. It is a great and generous gift, a legacy that will endure.



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