The debut English language poetry collection by noted Mexican author Isabel Zapata, A WHALE IS A COUNTRY explores humanity's relationship to the natural world through a multitude of poignant angles.
The animals that populate the poems of Isabel Zapata's A WHALE IS A COUNTRY invent us: they lead us into the forest of our own humanity. Their songs, growls, and silences speak in a language we took for lost, but now we hear it anew: in tender, crystalline, quadrupedal poems that invite us to recover our connection to the kindred lives with which we share this world.
An extinct marsupial is a ghost. A tortoise is an ancient spirit wandering an island at the end of the world. A stuffed polar bear is the modest proof of a terrible defeat. From the microscopic waters where the hardy tardigrades make their home, to the ardent imagination that forged the impossible jackalope, to the nature preserve in Woodside, California, where Koko the gorilla learned sign language, every ecosystem appears before us as a site of discovery and communion.
Zapata’s poems often delight, then unsettle; again and again, she peels back the layers of what human beings take for granted about our experiences, surroundings, and relationships with both. In the end, they urge us into a state of witness bound up with humility, outrage, devotion, and care.
Poetry. Essay. Hybrid. Film, Nature. Women's Studies.
"I have been anticipating Robin Myers’s translation of A WHALE IS A COUNTRY (Una ballena es un país) by Isabel Zapata. These razor-sharp poems are rendered with clarity and require the reader to sit up, to pay attention to the world around us. Not only is the poet ‘interested in the language of animals,’ she presents for us our precarious entanglements with the environment as destroyer gods and sensitive custodians. It’s clear to the poet: the choice is ours. She asks ‘What does it say about us that we murder what we want to keep?’ as a rhetorical device to prove our fickle commitment to this planet, its animals, and ultimately to ourselves. This is a book of ecopoetry, rendered bilingually, that I will return to again and again." — Rajiv Mohabir, author of Whale Aria
Article @ Poetry DailyReview @ The CommonExcerpts @ Waxwing MagReview @ Words Without Borders
Robin Myers is a Mexico City-based poet and Spanish- to-English translator. Her latest book-length translations include In Vitro by Isabel Zapata (2023), Bariloche by Andrés Neuman (2023), The Book of Explanations by Tedi López Mills (2022), Copy by Dolores Dorantes (2022), and The Dream of Every Cell by Maricela Guerrero (2022). Other translations have appeared in Granta, The Baffler, Kenyon Review, The Common, Harvard Review, Two Lines, Waxwing, and elsewhere. A 2023 National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellow, she was longlisted twice for the 2022 National Translation Award in poetry and among the winners of the 2019 Poems in Translation Contest (Words Without Borders / Academy of American Poets). As a poet, Robin's work has been selected for the 2022 Best American Poetry anthology and appears in the The Drift, Poetry London, Yale Review, Denver Quarterly, Annulet Poetry Journal, Massachusetts Review, and other journals. Her collections have been published as bilingual English-Spanish editions in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Spain. She is an alumna of the Vermont Studio Center, the Banff Literary Translation Centre, the Community of Writers, and Under the Volcano.
Isabel Zapata was born in Mexico City in 1984. She studied political science at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) and philosophy at the New School for Social Research, in New York. She is the author of the titles Las noches son así (Broken English); Alberca vacía/Empty Pool translated by Robin Myers-bilingual edition (Argonáutica / Lumen); Una ballena es un país (Almadía); In vitro (Almadía) [In Vitro: On Longing and Transformation translated by Robin Myers, (Coffee House Press, 2023)]; and Tres animales que caben en el agua (Almadía). Her work has been included in Mexican journals such as la Revista de la Universidad de México, Periódico de poesía, and Letras Libres, among others; and international publications such as World Literature Today and Ancrages (Canada). In 2015 she, along with four friends, founded Ediciones Antílope under the motto, "We make books that we would like to read," and their catalog includes narrative, la crónica, poetry, and essay. She received a 2016-17 grant from FONCA's Jovenes Creadores, a prestigious government program supporting Mexican artists and writers.