Couloir Hanson on translating Eunice Odio

Couloir Hanson


on translating Eunice Odio


Throughout her entire oeuvre, Odio plays with similar themes. In her earlier work, Odio analyzes the relationship between the lover and the beloved. In later poems, Odio will go on to explore the relationship between the creator and the created. In Odio’s mind, creation is linked to sacred poetic language, which engenders a new reality. Hence, throughout her poetry, Odio includes biblical allusions, such as the “thirteen pilgrims.” She also plays with common epic tropes, such as embarking on a descending journey to bring healing and order in many poems, including Declinaciones del monólogo and El tránsito de fuego: Parte II. The erotic, as seen in Declinaciones del monólogo, plays a central role in Odio’s poetry. Through the erotic, Odio discusses the relationship between sexuality, the poetic body, and existential awareness. By touching upon the physical, she also transgresses the limits of conventional love poetry, becoming at once incredibly avant-garde yet also completely rooted in her humanity.

In two parts of Declinaciones del monólogo, Odio writes of calzarme, be it “calzarme sus arterias y mi voz” or “me calzo mis arterias (y mi voz).” Calzar brings two images to my mind: fitting feet into shoes or fitting puzzle pieces together. In the first rendition of “calzarme sus arterias y mi voz,” the lyric “I” speaks of fitting disparate pieces together, of his and of mine, a combination that cannot last. She is also speaking of it passively, in the infinitive form. In this spirit, the image of tailoring these two pieces together came to me: they will synthetically fit on the lyric “I,” but not organically. In the second use of “me calzo mis arterias y mi voz,” the lyric “I” takes agency over her own veins and voice, reflected in the conjugated verb form. I highlight this evolution in agency by translating me calzo this time as “I wear.” Immediately below, I translate me pongo as “I don,” which is both a literal translation (albeit a rather old-fashioned one) and a translingual pun — in Spanish, don is an honorific derived from Latin dominus, master of a household. In this context, don places additional emphasis on the mastery of the lyric “I” over herself.

In Spanish, you can express a desire in a commanding tone by using constructions like “que no me llamen.” In translating this forceful wish into English, I thought of it as “please no one call me,” highlighting the vulnerability and intensity of the lyric “I.”

The most common translation of “I like you” into Spanish is te quiero — to me, it is also one of the most careless. Te quiero connotes “I want you” and “I’m fond of you.” In attempting to transmit Odio’s erotic spirit as well as this poem’s struggle between love and independence, I opted for the “I want you” variation.

In all her poems, Odio plays with the different genders words have in Spanish. In this poem, the salient example is el aire, “the (masculine) air.” He links the human with the eternal: immediate, waiting, and about to become reborn. A counterpart to the lyric “I,” a masculine to her feminine. Thus, I emphasized the air’s masculinity in my translation (“the letters of his name”), subtly alluded to in the original through Odio’s purposeful use of de l aire as opposed to a possible de aire (deliberately including the implied masculine “l”), and the gendered adjectives aligerado and perfecto.

about the author

Eunice Odio (1919–1974) detested biographies. “The affairs of my private life are the most private and, in general, no one knows them, except me.” Even so, I will attempt to provide a brief sketch of Odio’s lives — both the inner poetic life she constructed and the outer tragedy she lived — to better color her work.

Octavio Paz once told Odio that she was “of that line of poets who invent their own mythology, like Blake, like St. John Perse, like Ezra Pound; and they are rubbed out, because no one understands them until years or even centuries after their death.” And as mythological Odio’s writing certainly is: she plays with language and gender and reality, often relaying her own mystical experiences in her poetry, inspired by old epics.

Odio’s biography is impossible to extricate from her own personal mythology. For the longest time, scholars believed her birth year to have been 1922, perhaps due to Odio’s coquetry, until it was discovered that Odio had in fact been born in 1919. Her own death is even further shrouded in mystery: she was found ten days after her death, alone, in her bathtub in Mexico sometime in 1974; the exact date is uncertain. Suspicions as to how she died abound: suicide by venom, an accidental slip in the tub, assassination. The one certainty from Odio’s life is that she migrated from Costa Rica northward, seeking a home for her fierce individuality and expression. She never found it.

about the translator

Couloir X. Hanson is a daughter of three worlds: Costa Rica, Germany, and the United States. Her favorite authors are magical realists, like Juan Rulfo and Julio Cortázar and Gabriel García Márquez — authors who challenge objective reality. Couloir first read Eunice Odio when writing her high school thesis partially on Odio’s Tercer poema (Consumación) and has been haunted by Odio’s mythological poetry ever since. In her free time, Couloir enjoys picking wildflowers, playing chess, and singing opera. After graduating from Penn, Couloir will work in real estate, where she hopes to use her whimsy to see what is and imagine what could be.