It’s not indispensable, poet, that you write it.
You won’t help her die by doing so.
You won’t bury her more.
If anything you’ll unearth her. A foot
among clods of humus in the Wax Museum.
—from "To the Nicaraguan Poet Francisco Valle, Exhorting Him to Not Write His Corresponding Elegy to Alejandra Pizarnik," by Carlos Martínez Rivas, translated by Carlos F. Grigsby (Winter 2017)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
I’m struggling to remember this, but it was most likely one of my own poems, so someone who didn’t speak Spanish (I mostly write poetry in Spanish) could read it.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
One reads so many things all the time that it’s hard to definitively come up with a list of names—and even then, that list would probably quickly shift. When it comes to certain translations, however, I look up to Richard Wilbur’s Molière, Alfonso Reyes’ Mallarmé, John Ashbery’s Rimbaud, Edward FitzGerald’s Khayyam. Jorge Luis Borges’ ideas on translation were particularly eye opening.
What other professions have you worked in?
High school teacher.
What did you want to be when you were young?
Many things: a mathematician; a philosopher; a writer. I stuck with the latter.
What drew you to write a translation of this piece in particular?
Carlos Martínez Rivas is a major poet who is virtually unknown, due to his reluctance to publish. In Nicaragua, in particular, he is the most influential writer of the last decades. Since translation can be a way of reevaluating a text and, at the same time, disseminating it among a new readership, it seemed to me that he needed to be translated. Also, it’s a great poem.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Of course. Though in ways somewhat mysterious to me, I’m sure Managua, Mexico City, Barcelona, Paris, Edinburgh, and Oxford have all influenced my writing. Mexico, Barcelona, and Paris’ bookshops widened my horizons; Managua’s wonderful and unpredictable nightlife; Edinburgh and Oxford’s beautiful libraries.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Not particularly. Though my best ideas come to me in the shower or during long walks.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I’d like to write the script for a long novel-like TV show.
What are you working on currently?
I’m currently working on a translation of Rubén Darío’s Cantos de vida y esperanza; an academic article on another of Darío’s books, Los Raros; and putting the finishing touches on a collection of poems I hope to publish soon enough.
What are you reading right now?
Temporada de huracanes by Fernanda Melchor. You should read it.
CARLOS F. GRIGSBY is a poet and a translator. He published the poetry collection Una oscuridad brillando en la claridad que la claridad no logra comprender. He is completing a doctorate in literary translation and Spanish American literature at the University of Oxford.