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Antonio Gamoneda: L?pidas, translated by Donald Wellman PDF E-mail
Gamoneda is a witness to the devastation of living.

University of New Orleans Press, 2009

Lápidas, or Gravestones, by Antonio Gamoneda recalls events that shaped this poet's life. Gamoneda is a witness to the devastation of living. The book of poems deals with themes of love and grief, a balance that is only intensified by our knowledge of the Spanish Civil war, the Franco dictatorship, and the early loss of his father. The war, not unlike any other civil war, brought division and destruction to the physical and emotional landscapes of its people.

Gamoneda's memories are traumatic. They speak for a "silenced and suffering" people through the brilliance of word choice and the richness of the Spanish language.  Antonio Gamoneda is considered one of Spain's most important voices. He is the recipient of numerous awards and in 2006 he received both the Cervantes Prize and the Premio Reina Sofia, the highest honor in Spanish literature.

Gamoneda's father, also a poet, died shortly after Antonio's birth in 1931, leaving behind the only book he published. Antonio became literate by reading his father's book at a time when schools were closed because of the war. Antonio Gamoneda did not publish his first book, Sublevación inmóvil (Motionless Revolt), until 1960. Since then he has published countless essays and over fifteen books of poetry.

Donald Wellman amplifies our understanding of Gamoneda's poems with his precise and masterful translations. In Gamoneda's poem "Canción de las espias" or "Song of the Spies" for example, there are instances when a word is better understood in Spanish because of the language's descriptive quality. Wellman has a wealth of experience thinking in two languages, and his translations capture the poetry to convey clearly what Gamoneda intended.  Some lines in "Song of the Spies" and elsewhere in the book make the difficult job of translator look easy, yet even the smallest word in Spanish can lose its impact when translated to English. The opening line, "No hay salud, no hay descanso" literally means "There's no health, there's no rest."  The word "salud," however, can be used to describe the state of our health or welfare, a word that in Spanish also means "bienestar" or "wellbeing."  The poem is better served with "wellbeing,"

Wellman's choice over the more literal "health": "There is no wellbeing, there's no rest" speaks for the collective experiences, the larger state of those suffering in that moment.  The word choice may be a small decision, but it is an illustration of the important and calculated work that goes into translation.

The line that follows is difficult to deliver in English. Gamoneda writes,"El animal oscuro viene en medio de vientos…" and Wellman follows through beautifully with, "The dark animal arrives in the midst of winds…" The latter half of this line is more problematic to translate. Wellman's genius is displayed through his translation. Gamoneda writes, "…y  hay extracción de hombres bajo los números de la desgracia." The difficulty lies in the meaning behind these words, a meaning that can easily be lost if not carefully examined. "Extracción" means "extraction" and "bajo los numerous" means "beneath the numbers." A non-native or inexperienced speaker might consider the literal translations without understanding the framework behind the words. Wellman's choice is an interesting one. He finishes the line with "…and there is a file of men marked with the numbers of misfortune." As readers we are asked to consider the word "file" in place of "extraction." The word "file" does not seem fitting when we deconstruct the line, but this view stands only if the word is taken out of context. "There is a file of men marked with thenumbers of misfortune," a number set in place, already existing, a record of men and their lineage, their "extraction." These men are "marked" in that they stand beneath a preexistingcurse. Here is a nunaced translation of the phrase, a deeper understanding of its words.

The poems in Gravestones are successful, able to stand on their own in English. This book of poems, beautifully translated by Donald Wellman, takes us to a painful and significant time in our shared history. This is an important book for us to read and we are lucky that it has been reawakened in English after so many years.

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