Claudia Nuñez de Ibieta on translating Tamara Grosso

Claudia Nuñez de Ibieta

on translating Tamara Grosso

These four poems are from Cuando todo refugio se vuelva hostil (When Every Refuge Turns Hostile), which Grosso published in 2019, and I first heard her read in 2020 during a virtual event featuring pandemic poetry. Just the way she had numbered her days, way before all of us began counting each pandemic day, proved to be an example of her signature style. Examining herself and her social milieu, her verses trace the coming of age and awareness of a young and avid reader and writer for whom words are not just the currency of everyday life, but a practical science. Making observations of tangible moments or psychological ones, Grosso questions emotions, prejudices, old habits — her own and others’. In clever quips, anxiety-inducing moments are brought under control by the power of words.

In a sense, translating these poems into English was quite straightforward when it came to word choice, for meaning, but striking the same tone as the original is the challenge, the goal. For example, in “Day 15,” “poemas de desamor” becomes “unlove poems;” it seems to be an easy and transparent choice and I’m not unhappy with it at all, but I can’t shake the sense that the word desamor will always sound more dramatic than the word “unlove,” and I can’t change that. More of a puzzle, in the same poem, was the verb ilusionarse, for which the translation becomes a compound of verbs, and offers the chance to try various combinations until the one sounding most lyrical is found.

In another poem, “Day 20,” the use of a funny expression might have posed a puzzle, but since it’s actually not a widely used colloquialism necessitating a determined English equivalent, a literal translation worked well to elicit the same quizzical response it provokes in the original. Suffice it to say, the choice phrase in question, the “mayonnaise jar” from which Grosso decides not to remove herself, serves as the phrase with which she declares where she is writing from. It’s an imaginative metaphor, a form she often employs, along with her wry humor, to surpass or solve the question posed by the poem. In her well-meditated but short answers, her poetry empowers both writer and reader. Her succinct texts, born into a world of strong social media use, are meant to be shared widely. The fact that Grosso is adamant that anyone should be able to find her poems — “anyone, for instance me at age thirteen, at fifteen, when I didn’t know which books to buy, when I lived in Ciudadela, when I didn’t read poetry” — has garnered her thousands of enthusiastic Spanish-language readers and followers. It’s the translator’s intention that this generation of English-language readers have the chance to engage as well.

about the author

Tamara Grosso was born in 1991, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She earned her degree in communication studies from the University of Buenos Aires. Grosso has worked as an editor and media content coordinator, and managed press for the publisher Eterna Cadencia, while incessantly writing and publishing her poetry along the way: Entre el blanco y el negro (De la Grieta, 2015), Márgenes (Objeto Editorial, 2016), Guatepeor (Modesto Rimba, 2016), Cuando todo refugio se vuelva hostil (Santoslocos, 2019), with work also appearing in the poetry anthology Otros colores para nosotras (Continente, 2018). Additionally, she is one of the coordinators of the poetry workshop Cómo perder el miedo y volver a encontrarlo (“How to lose your fear and find it again”).

about the translator

Claudia Nuñez de Ibieta grew up in Los Angeles, California, and Santiago, Chile. In college, she majored in history while translating and subtitling MTV music videos for Chilean TV. She lives in Tempe, Arizona, and has worked as a bookseller, Spanish teacher, interpreter, and translator. Her academic translation includes work published by the Academy of American Franciscan History and by ASU’s Hispanic Research Center. Her literary translation includes work published by and She’s also an active member of Cardboard House Press’ Phoenix Cartonera Collective.