Eulalia Books, founded in 2020 by Michelle Gil-Montero and Román Antopolsky is an independent publisher of literary translations with a particular interest in contemporary Latin American poetry and hybrid-genre works. Affiliated with the undergraduate Literary Translation minor at Saint Vincent College and staffed in part by faculty and students, Eulalia’s mission is to “publish ex-centric and ecstatic work that has never before appeared in English translation.” Eulalia believes that poetry thrives outside the margins of privilege, engaging with translators who work on the ground to find these books. Eulalia has published eleven broadsides, chapbooks, and full-length collections; it has three titles forthcoming in the next year.
Daniel: “We publish ex-centric and ecstatic work” is a compelling mission. How do you define “ex-centric” and “ecstatic”? Which Eulalia publications exemplify these attributes? How does the editorial team know when a manuscript has these qualities?
Michelle: With the word “ex-centric,” we hope to encapsulate what has been a major part of our mission from the beginning: to highlight areas of the Latin American poetry landscape that are persistently underrepresented—whether because the Anglophone view of Latin American poetry has long been centered on poets from urban capitals and/or writers with a connection to the United States, or because the poets lack any of the other marks of privilege that tend to determine what is translated and read outside of Latin America. As readers and translators of Latin American poetry—my co-editor, Román Antopolsky, is himself a Latin American poet, an immigrant from Argentina—we have long been frustrated by how limiting and arbitrary these determinants can be. By publishing only poets whose work has not yet come into English, we already begin to break the old pattern somewhat, and I think that all of our books qualify as “ex-centric,” though some more than others. Our goal is not so much to cover all the blind spots but, perhaps more important, to reveal the blind spots, making a reader aware of what they might not know.
“Ex-centric” has meant different things for us. Our first chapbook, Prepoems in PostSpanish by Jorgenrique Adoum, is a good example. Adoum was a major Ecuadorean poet who, though praised by Neruda as the “best poet of his generation,” had nonetheless never been translated—partly because his poems are so linguistically “eccentric” and difficult to translate, and partly because Ecuador has been positioned somewhat off-center of the Latin American literary map. Other times, “ex-centric” has addressed endangered languages and language politics, as with Night in the North (written in the contested language of Portunhol), and A Sea at Dawn (the first full-length book of poems in the indigenous language of Mapuzugun to be published in English). Katabasis, remarkably, was the first book of poetry by a Colombian woman to come into English—a sharp reminder of the degree to which our Anglophone construction of “Latin American poetry” has centered male writers.
My hope is that the meaning of “ex-centric,” in terms of what we publish, will continue to expand to encompass other underrepresented corners of Latin American poetry. It’s a very defining idea for us. Our designer, Tyler Friend, communicates this idea in their book designs, which tend towards obliques, diagonals. One of my student interns commented: “it feels off-center, almost perilous, and I wonder if that feeling like you’re about to fall off the edge is part of the ex-centricity?” I really like that observation.
Finally, by “ecstatic,” we mean we want to avoid prescribing a particular aesthetic, while maybe signaling to poets exploring unconventional language and forms. The weirder the book, the more we can resist the tendency to homogenize. In the books we have published so far, “ecstatic” has been expressed by a range of aesthetics, from the linguistically intricate and baroque to the arrestingly stark. Here again, we look for poetry that clearly emerges from its own poetic necessity and pleasure—and we far prefer eccentricity to safe, acceptable, familiar ways of writing. For example, our first full-length book was an eco-lyric by Argentine poet and publisher Romina Freschi. The speaker dialogues with Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz—an “ecstatic” poet—while meditating on her relationship with the urban landscape of Buenos Aires. The intensity of this meditation—as her imagination exerts this extreme pressure on the world, and vice versa—releases strange, transcendent possibilities for language. Our second book, also a long poem, reads entirely differently—it is essentially a memoir, in short vivid snippets, of the poet’s childhood in Artigas, a border town between Uruguay and Brazil. In an innocent-eye point of view, the poet recounts early experiences—characterized by shame and incomprehension—of his poverty, marginalization, and discrimination as a speaker of Portunhol. The ecstasy of this book, in my view, is its many eruptions of joy and vision, which always feel completely unexpected because they spring from the linguistic landscape that Severo has created, which feels so threatened, undernourished, and stark. I could go on to explore what I see as the “ecstasy” in our other books, but you might get the idea!
I think I do! Such evocative framing, such nuance as Eulalia focuses on poets within the vast geography, cultural as well as physical, of Latin America. Please tell us more about particular themes that Eulalia seeks to highlight for Anglophones within the rich and varied streams of Latin American literature. Does the press include literature of the Spanish-language diasporas within your purview? (I am thinking of how, for instance, the University of California Press, the University of New Mexico Press, and Arte Público Press at the University of Houston each have substantial catalogs of Hispanic literature in the US.). Or, in the other direction, do you plan to consider diasporic literatures within Latin America, perhaps addressing various African influences across much of the continent, or Japanese in Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Paraguay, Bolivia? Above, you mention translations from Portunhol and from Mapuzugun. Have you also considered other trilingual translations, say Mayan / Spanish / English or Quechua / Spanish / English?
Looking ahead, we are very eager to expand our focus to more languages, countries, and regions within Latin America. It is, yes, such a vast and varied geography, with so many poetic traditions and streams of influence at play.
Part of my impetus for starting this press was, in fact, my work translating a somewhat “underground” poet from a rural region of Argentina, J.C. Bustriazo Ortiz. His poetry, despite its recognized genius, barely made it to publication, even in Argentina, because he was from a marginalized region of a country that tends to direct its attention and resources disproportionately to the capital; living in Santa Rosa, La Pampa, as a person without financial means or cultural capital, he was just so remote from those privileged literary circles. But his work—which interacts intensely with the indigenous (Ranquel) culture and language, and totally upends the Spanish language and the template of the Western poem—is a perfect example of how some of the most striking poetry within Latin America has yet to be published in translation, or even to be translated/accessed by Anglophone readers. Román and I are committed to keep our door open, primarily, to that kind of work—and there is so much that we hope will be translated.
Thus far, we have published a trilingual Mapuzugun/Spanish/English edition, and we hope to receive submissions of books written in, or otherwise engaging/incorporating, other indigenous Latin American languages.
We don’t want our books to be viewed as “windows on the world,” i.e., as representatives of national literatures. Although Katabasis, for example, was the first book of poetry by a Colombian woman poet to be translated into English, that book resists reductive readings as merely such. We prefer to think of our translation as, in the words of Don Mee Choi, an “anti-neo-colonial mode” that destabilizes/subverts the notion of national literatures and languages-as-power (also cf. Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson, and their writing on the “Deformation Zone”).
Please talk about Eulalia’s process. For instance, how would you describe the partnership between author, translator, editor/publisher? Is one party the main driver, or is it a team effort? Does the press have a house style or encouraged perspective on translation (e.g., strong views on “domestication vs. foreignization”) or does the press encourage the author and translator to present their own vision? How are the inevitable knotty problems of translation resolved?
We have a very collaborative process, and our whole (albeit small) editorial staff is involved with every book. One of the strengths of our process, I believe, is that we read and edit each translation closely. Román and I, as native speakers of Spanish and translators ourselves, do very close, comparative readings of the translations. He meticulously reads for issues with interpretation, including the translator’s representation of the book’s syntax and style, and I delve into the English phrasing. We’re a nice editorial duo. In our experience as translators, not all presses, particularly the larger ones, edit so closely.
And yes, we do think a lot about the poetics of each translation. We ask our translators to include a preface or note articulating their approach, and in most cases, we dialogue with them on that text. That piece is very important to us, because it helps the reader to appreciate what it is they are actually reading (which is a translation, not the “original”; it is both another book and also the same book), and because we want to do our part to expand the conversation about the poetics of translation. We hope to continue to publish books (like Erín Moure’s chapbook Sleepless Nights Under Capitalism and the forthcoming Poetry’s Geographies: A Transatlantic Anthology of Translations, edited by Katherine M. Hedeen and Zoë Skoulding, a co-production with Shearsman Books in the UK) that foreground translators’ discussions of their poetics. We’re open to, and excited by, a range of perspectives—though, when selecting books for publication, we definitely favor translations that reveal a cohesive, well considered vision—and we appreciate translations that take exciting risks and liberties. I have heard poets whom I respect argue that “first” translations have a responsibility to be “accurate copies” of an original work, and not to take such liberties and risks, but I disagree—in my experience, “accuracy” takes many forms, and we all know that it’s a fraught notion to begin with, especially when we’re talking about poetry. Rather, we leave space for translators to foreground their own vision, and to reveal how the poetics of their translation responds to the demands and excitements of that particular book. Eulalia frequently publishes side-by-side translations, positioning the two texts in dialogue and, I think, affording the translator some freedom.
Collaboration and a keen awareness of others in the field are clearly strengths for Eulalia. For instance, you are collaborating with Shearsman on Poetry’s Geographies. Who else do you see as models and allies?
We are inspired by so many presses, like Action Books, Cardboard House Press, Circumference Books, Ugly Duckling Presse, Veliz Books, The Operating System, and others. It’s a very rich ecosystem right now of presses committed to contemporary writing in translation, and I think we’re all part of one great effort, and we all lift each other up.
Eulalia is affiliated with the undergraduate Literary Translation minor at Saint Vincent College (Latrobe, Pennsylvania)—you are a Professor of English there and direct the minor. Please tell us more about Eulalia’s role as a teaching press. How do students apply for the minor, what roles do they play at the press, what do they go on to do? Not many small liberal arts colleges have a press—I imagine you see significant benefits to this arrangement, presumably cross-fertilization of ideas, and so on, yes?
The press offers a wonderful opportunity for experiential learning at the college, which is small and rural, and a school where students who enter the program have not typically been exposed to contemporary poetry, let alone poetry in translation. I teach poetry, and translation, and I teach both as relational forms of poetics—as inevitably, but to different degrees, guided and constrained forms of writing. Also, I am very keen on teaching students about small press publishing, which is the very sphere where so many of the now-canonical books that they read in their literature classes were first published. Students get involved in a number of ways, one of which is my Small Press Publishing class, in which they dabble in book arts and book theory, and ultimately, produce a hand-made chapbook for the press (for a chapbook series that we’re developing which publishes poets from the local community whose work has not yet been published). Our very small English department includes concentrations in both publishing and literary translation, and it hosts that 18-credit minor in Literary Translation, which is open to interested students across the college (typically appealing to those already pursuing language and literary studies). Saint Vincent, for a small school, is pretty unique in offering curricular and extracurricular opportunities in publishing and literary translation, and already, recent alumni have developed careers in translation and publishing and as poets. The teaching dimension of the press is, certainly, another expression of its “ex-centricity;” English students read beyond, and learn to be critical of, the established canon; they get, in my opinion, a fascinating glimpse, from the vantage point of a tiny ant (i.e., a small press that publishes translations of poetry from a still-underrepresented part of the world) of the publishing ecosystem. They become more aware, and more critical of, the processes that determine what gets published, what gets read, and what is allowed to enter the conversation.
Thank you, Michelle, for your insights and explanations. I love your image of the small but doughty ant. Ants are, of course, disproportionately strong; they are supremely collaborative beings who shape and maintain a healthy ecosystem. I am surely just one of many who look forward to seeing where this ant leads us next. I most definitely anticipate the Skoulding/Hedeen anthology Poetry’s Geographies and other upcoming Eulalia Books publications. Forza Eulalia!
Daniel A. Rabuzzi is a poet, novelist, and literary critic with a particular interest in translations, speculative / weird fiction, and works published by small presses.
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