three barricades three barricades
and one dark night

Five Poems by Julia Ferrer with an introduction and translations by Brandon Holmquest

Julia Ferrer

In 2009, tired of hearing me complain about my translation projects constantly being derailed by various copyright issues, my friend Renato Gómez (poet and psych-rock musician from Peru, currently a resident of Barcelona) gave me a small pile of books he’d been involved in publishing back in Perú. He said something like, “Here, shut up and translate these. All the writers are dead, their heirs are chill and they just want the work out there.”

The first thing that caught my eye was a tiny little book, bright blue cover, called Gesto, by Julia Ferrer. It caught my attention because of the color, yes, and also (I sheepishly confess) because the photographs of her revealed one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. The quality of the poems, however, soon put such things far out of mind.

I know almost nothing about Julia Ferrer. She was born in Lima in 1925, and died in 1995. She taught theater in universities and had a very hard time publishing, seeing only two books printed in her lifetime, in 1958 and 1966. Gesto, which contains excerpts from both books as well as material drawn from magazines and unpublished manuscripts, came out in 2004, in an edition of 309 copies. In a way, she barely existed as a poet, lacking the kind of official status granted by a growing shelf of publications, regular public readings, invitations to conferences and so on. Presumably also lacking the odd way such things have of convincing the people in one’s life that the habit of writing is a legitimate pursuit, as opposed to a waste of time better spent on other things. On first read, this seemed rather sad to me, this liminal status, but after two or three trips through the book it became something I found perfectly suited her poetry.

There is a quietness in Ferrer’s work which I hoped to make my translation reflect. I used a lowercase “i” instead of the usual capital vowel meaning “self,” and consistently chose the shortest, simplest English word from among the acceptable options. Ferrer had a way of using repetition to produce rhythm through the length of a poem, and a reliance on an idiosyncratic kind of romanticism in her images.

The question of why Ferrer lived such a marginal life as a writer is an open one. It may well have been by choice. She may have simply not known the right people in the Perú of her era. It almost certainly had something to do with the fact that she was a woman, but I suspect that the nature of her work had a lot to do with it, too. She’s not exactly avant-garde, but also sort of is, in addition to being a bit of a Romantic, with a touch of surrealism. It remains as difficult to pin Julia Ferrer down as a poet as it is to get one’s head around any one of her poems, which remain, somehow, slightly inexplicable. A reader or a translator can literally disassemble her work looking for that which makes it function as it does, and find nothing, no single technique, nothing in the language itself that adds up to the effect of the whole. Her poems are nearly always significantly greater than the sum of their parts. In the end, it is most likely this which is her great strength as a poet.

—Brandon Homquest

[24 pasos en el mismo sitio]

by Julia Ferrer

24 pasos en el mismo sitio

24 suspiros en el día

24 llantos 24 besos


24 pasos en el mismo sitio

24 colores en el día

24 blancos 24 negros


24 pasos en el mismo sitio

24 angustias en el día

24 niños 24 muertos


24 pasos en el mismo sitio

24 bostezos en el día

24 caras 24 espejos


24 pasos en el mismo sitio

24 intentos en el día

24 malos 24 buenos


24 pasos en el mismo sitio

24 trayectos en el día

24 cielos 24 infiernos


24 pasos en el mismo sitio

[24 steps in the same place]

by Julia Ferrer

24  steps in the same place

24  sighs in a day

24  sobs  24  kisses


24  steps in the same place

24  colors in a day

24  whites  24  blacks


24  steps in the same place

24  agonies in a day

24  children  24  dead men


24  steps in the same place

24  yawns in a day

24  faces  24  mirrors


24  steps in the same place

24  attempts in a day

24  evils  24  goods


24  steps in the same place

24  journeys in a day

24  heavens  24  hells


24  steps in the same place


translated from Spanish by Brandon Holmquest

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Circumference Podcast Series #2:
Idra Novey

by: Montana Ray

In this series Montana Ray talks with translators about their process and poetics. Ray will explore and challenge our understanding of the craft and its role in contemporary literature.


In this episode Idra Novey talks about her translation practice, including the differences between translating prose and poetry, how she came to Clarice Lispector, and how translation relates to the act of writing. Novey also discusses the importance of an international awareness to her poetics and how a wider view of the world relates to writing politically and compassionately.

With music and poems by Jorge Ben, Paulo Henriques Britto, Café Tacvba, Goutam Datta, Idra Novey, and Tim Maia. Plus Novey’s translations of Clarice Lispector and Manoel de Barros.

Idra Novey is the author of Exit, Civilian, a 2011 National Poetry Series Selection, and The Next Country, a finalist for the 2008 Foreword Book of the Year Award in poetry.  She’s received awards from the Poetry Society of America, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the PEN Translation Fund. Her recent translations include Clarice Lispector’s novel The Passion According to G.H., forthcoming from New Directions and Penguin UK.  She’s taught in the Bard College Prison Initiative, at NYU, and in Columbia University’s School of the Arts.


i catch your fire sometimes for a moment in my palms.

Four new poems by Slovenian poet Tone Škrjanec, translated by Ana Pepelnik and Matthew Rohrer.


by Tone Škrjanec

one še vedno spijo boli jih grlo ker so

prehlajene in želijo si še in še souvlakija

(in še enega prosim) stiska jih pri srcu

ko zapuščajo mesta ki jih imajo rade

(kot vse nas) njih včasih bolijo ledvica preklinjajo

in so tečne zelo jih boli ob njihovih

cikličnih mesečnih krvavitvah nikoli

nimajo pleše razigrane so in plešoče

grizejo si prste in ustnice imajo slabe

živce temnosivorjavo barvo kože poleti

nosijo japonke in šotor imajo zelo malo

denarja preklinjajo kot furmanski konji

pijejo ouzo da jih meče po tleh preganjajo

muhe z noge ubijajo komarje in rojevajo otroke.


by Tone Škrjanec

they are still asleep their throats are sore because

they have a cold and they want more and more souvlaki

(and another one please) their hearts ache

when they leave places they love

(like all of ours) their kidneys sometimes hurt they swear

and they are grumpy it hurts them bad when they have

their monthly periods they never

go bald they are playful and dancing

biting their fingers and lips they have bad

nerves darkgreybrown color of skin in the summer

they wear flip-flops and a tent they have very

little money they swear like sailors

they drink ouzo until they roll on the floor they chase

off flies from their legs they kill mosquitoes and give birth. 

translated from Slovenian by Ana Pepelnik & Matthew Rohrer

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It’s Good To Be Alive: Dmitry Kuzmin comes to New York

by: Tanya Paperny

New York’s Russian Bookstore #21, located on the second floor of an unassuming office building, at the end of a flight of drab stairs, was the venue for a Russian-language reading and talk by poet, editor, critic, and translator Dmitry Kuzmin on April 18.

The store is oddly named considering it’s the only Russian-language bookstore in Manhattan (though there are a few in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach). It reminds me of every library in every Russian home (or formerly communal apartment, rather) I’ve ever visited: dark brown bookshelves covering all walls from floor to ceiling, stacked with aging books, some piled on top of one another to make space. Russian Bookstore #21 is filled with the classics, volume after volume of full collections by Chekhov and Tolstoy, sprinkled with contemporary works and works in translation. The design of Russian books is mostly tacky, and the paper stock of older books published in the Soviet Union yellows and flakes rather quickly. The wall décor in the store complements the merchandise: kitschy fading art posters and a black and white enlarged photo of several men, including Vladimir Lenin. Read full article