Poetry. Latinx Studies. Women's Studies. Translated by Carlos Lara. It's hard to believe that the books of Blanca Varela (1926-2009), considered one of Peru's greatest poets, as well as the first woman to win the Federico García Lorca International Poetry Prize, have not been translated into English until now. Originally published in Spanish in 1978, this new publication of ROUGH SONG, heralds the long overdue introduction of a major Latin American poet to English-language readers. Born into a family known for advancing art in Latin America, Varela lived briefly in Paris in the late '40s and '50s where she quickly became friends with Andre Breton, Jean-Paul Sartre, Henri Michaux, Simone de Beauvoir, Alberto Giacometti, and in particular, Octavio Paz, who called Varela "the most secret, timid and natural of them all."
Returning to Lima in the '60s, she established herself as one of Peru's key literary intelligentsia. The poems in ROUGH SONG, these "flowers for the ear," range wildly in form, from two lines to seven pages long, and each presents a world of intense precision in language, fully conscious of reality and its metaphysical limits—"yes / the dark matter / animated by your hand / it's me." Varela's deceptively simple poems hold a mysteriously delicate weight far beyond their length. A formidable voice in Latin American literature, Blanca Varela is destined to inspire awe and summon new readers for years to come.
"These haunting songs unfold with the mysterious precision of fractals, bending their interiors into pliant, living forms. As I get to know Blanca Varela's work, in Carlos Lara's beautiful translation from the Spanish, my ear becomes attuned to the smallest moving gradations, the spider that 'doesn't dare descend one / more millimeter toward the ground,' a surrealism I associate with Alejandra Pizarnik, Henri Michaux, and I'm so grateful to have come to it."—Alexis Almeida
"What a surprise to find in the work of this mid-century Peruvian poet a mind and style that so resonate with my own. Varela's poems are almost violent in their suddenness, their brevity. Unsentimental and often bleak, they are always surprising. Discovering her enlarges my picture of the world."—Rae Armantrout
"In ROUGH SONG, Blanca Varela uses language to create 'on the empty plate' and cuts reality open. Originally written in the '70s, this work remains both unpredictable and surprising. In these pages she condenses and transmutes the world into text and texture so that what emerges is legible and sharp. Here 'the word / slithering / will be your footprint.' Let us follow."—Gabriela Jauregui
Katherine M. Hedeen @ Kenyon ReviewExcerpt @ Harper's MagazineBest Poetry Translations of 2021 @ Action Books
Blanca Varela (1926-2009) was born in Lima, Peru, into a family of artists and writers. She studied at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, where she met Sebastián Salazar Bondy, Javier Sologuren, Francisco Bendezú, and Jorge Eduardo Eielson, with whom she would define a Peruvian poetry movement called "la Generación del 50." It was there that she also met her future husband, the painter Fernando de Szyszlo. Octavio Paz wrote the prologue to her first book, Ese puerto existe (1959), for which he also helped find a publisher in Mexico. Varela and de Szyszlo lived at various points in Florence, Italy, and Washington D.C., where she worked as a translator before returning to Peru in 1962. Her work has been translated into English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian, among other languages. She won the Octavio Paz Prize for Poetry in 2001 and was the first woman to win the Federico Garcia Lorca City of Granada International Poetry Prize in 2006. Varela was honored in 2007 with Spain's Queen Sofia Prize for Ibero-American Poetry.
Carlos Lara is a translator and ex-poet from Chula Vista, California. His version of Blanca Varela's CANTO VILLANO (ROUGH SONG) was published by The Song Cave in 2020. With Tamas Panitz, he also translated The Selected Poems of Charles Tomás (Schism, 2022). He is the author of Subconscious Colossus (Schism, 2021), Like Bismuth When I Enter (Nightboat, 2020), The Green Record (Apostrophe, 2018), and, with Will Alexander, THE AUDIOGRAPHIC AS DATA (Oyster Moon, 2016). He lives with his wife and son in Los Angeles.