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A Life Distilled Through Poetry

Author Amelia del Castillo explains what spurred her to release her first collection of bilingual poems.

En español | Amelia del Castillo says she considers herself ageless, because poets are timeless. Born into a military family in Matanzas, Cuba, she says she's close to 90 years old, but won't say exactly how close. She is more likely to define herself by her sign, Gemini, and its twofold nature: while she is a poet, a storyteller, and an essayist, she made a living as an accountant when she came to the United States in 1960.

But age and astrological sign aside, the world most likely knows her by her writing. She has published eight poetry collections and a short-story volume. Her poems have won four international awards, and her short stories won first prize in the Calliope and Polyhymnia contest in Biscay, Spain.

This month Castillo comes out with her tenth book, Fugacidad del asombro/Vanishing Amazement (Ediciones Baquiana), a bilingual poetry collection that explores the ability to feel awe and enjoy things as they gradually disappear.

It's her first bilingual book, spurred on, she says, by her new neighbors at the Palace Suites, a retirement community in Miami. When word got around that an international award-winning poet lived among them, she was invited to read in the community theater. There was only one hurdle: Castillo's poetry was written in Spanish, so just a handful of residents would understand. "I began translating my work just to please these friends who wanted to get acquainted with my poetry but could not read Spanish."

The title, she says, explains the theme: "the fleetingness of everything we have, and have had; the fleetingness of life. It is definitely a continuation of my work," she adds, "only more knowledgeable, deeper, and more realistic."

Q. Can you tell me about the process of translating Fugacidad del asombro into English?

A. I asked some people who I thought might do a better job than I to translate my poems into English, but the results were awful. The translation was perfect, but it was not my voice, it was not poetry. One day I said to myself, "How can I say this in English?" Then, miraculously, the answer came to me. It is not really a translation; it is my personal version of Fugacidad del asombro. Perhaps an American poet would say it differently, but I wanted to tell it in my own way. It may not be the most appropriate way of expressing it, but it's a reflection of me, it sounds like me. After reading the English translation, a friend of mine commented: "It is still not your voice." I replied: "It can't be because my voice needs to be in my native language. But this is my voice in English."

Q. Is your creative process different in English than in Spanish? Do you take into consideration the different forms you have worked in like essays or short stories?

A.  No. I just read the poem several times in Spanish, I ponder over it, feel it, say it aloud, and the result is what I call "my very personal English version." I firmly believe in the illumination that is the artistic creation. It is a talent, a gift, even though that in itself is not enough; you still have to polish your work. Poetry comes naturally to me; I put very little work into it. I put more effort into an essay or a story. I am also a composer, but I think that music and poetry are innate in me, they come to me, and I just write them down. Poetry comes to me without requesting permission—it's quite indiscreet and inopportune at times!

Q. How would you describe your poetry?

A. I have been told that there is more shadow than light in my poetry. That's possible, but I am not a gloomy person. If there is shadow, it's because happy moments don't lend themselves to writing, but are to be enjoyed thoroughly. It's different when something hurts or shakes you. Maybe that's why there is more shadow, but not because there is no light in me.

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