Emails from Colombia

By Sophie Powell

The past few weeks I have been in a fascinating email dialogue with Hernan Torres, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the Universidad del Cauca in Popayán, Colombia. Previously a Fulbright Scholar and Research Fellow at Washington University in St Louis, he is now in charge of editing Cuadernos de Antropologia y Poética, an interdisciplinary publication on poetics and interpretive anthropology. He also translates English, French and German poets into Spanish. He explained that his reasons for translating were rooted in his work as an interpretive anthropologist: "I have always been very interested in symbols and their multiple meanings. I have attempted to employ poetic translations—language into language—as a metaphor to better explain the various problems and complexities involved in the process of translating cultures."

Torres is also the grandson of Guillermo Valenica (1873-1943), the significant Colombian poet and translator who was one of the leaders of modernismo. This experimental movement in Spanish literature was distinguished by its exotic imagery and its rejection of the materialist world of the day. It provoked a striking intellectual awaking in Latin America and its effects could be felt even in politics and economics. Notably, although Valencia's poetry dealt predominantly with the fate of the poet in an indifferent world, he led an active political career as a statesman and diplomat and was twice a candidate for the presidency of Colombia. He is best known for his first volume of poetry, Ritos (1898, rev. ed. 1914), which contained both original poems and free translations from French, Italian and Portuguese. In his later years he abandoned original poetry almost entirely, concentrating on translations. Unfortunately his work has not been formally translated into English, although you can view some of his poems online in Spanish.

Torres also mentioned to me that he himself writes poetry and is putting together "a small text" which he plans possibly to name Homo Poeta (antología minima). His son-in-law, Andre Torres, who is friends with my husband, tells me that he is exceptionally talented. I look forward to reading it. I also hope to continue our email dialogue and further, to understand the merits and constraints of translation from an anthropological perspective.


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