Guillermo Parra

Guillermo Parra was born in Cambridge, MA and lives in Durham, NC. He has published Caracas Notebook (Cy Gist Press, 2006) and Phantasmal Repeats (Petrichord Books, 2009). He writes the blog Venepoetics and is translating the work of Juan Sánchez Peláez and José Antonio Ramos Sucre into English.

What is (or has been) your favorite editing project and why?

A favorite project, and one I’m still working on, is the translation of two books by the Venezuelan poet Juan Sánchez Peláez (1922-2003). The two manuscripts are my English translation of Elena y los elementos (1951) and Animal de costumbre (1959). Reading Sánchez Peláez over the last few years has been an education in the history of Latin American Surrealism, as certain names appear at times and over large distances in his books, including Rosamel del Valle, César Moro, or Éluard and Duchamp.

Sánchez Peláez drew allegiances with French surrealism as a reader early on during his university studies in Santiago, Chile, through his apprenticeship with the collective poetics of the Mandrágora group, and later living in Paris in the mid 1950s. His Spanish is a dislocated, precise tool he fine-tunes over decades, publishing very infrequently, a total of seven titles during his lifetime. I have taken my time with these translations, going over many versions for each poem, adjusting the words to varying results. I’ve been lucky enough to work with his widow, Malena Coelho de Sánchez Peláez, in Caracas for this project. In the summer of 2009, we spent two weeks going over the manuscripts every afternoon at her house, comparing our ideas and responses to his work in English.

Juan Sánchez Peláez is gradually being read by an international audience, thanks in part to an edition of his collected poems published in Spain in 2004 by Editorial Lumen. In Venezuela, he is acknowledged by several generations of poets as a major influence. Writers as varied as Eugenio Montejo and Juan Calzadilla claim him as a mentor, the poet who remade Venezuelan poetry at mid-century. Having the chance to read him as closely as translation requires has been an invaluable experience.

Two Poems from Helen and the Elements (1951)
Juan Sánchez Peláez
(Venezuela, 1922-2003)

translated by Guillermo Parra

Transfiguration of Love

She, the heroine of the infernos
Unravels in man
The turns of the head
Like kings in a postcard.

In a foot the children’s shears
In my mouth a tip of the frantic sun
Like the golden stain
In death,
Like the message from paradises
In the robes sleeping freely
Transforms the forest into nightingale gloves
In snow grapes,
In the conspiracy
That her hands mention.

The one who varnishes the shadow the purest enigma is over there
So as to hide her within the Ocean
Her temples returned to the magic air
Beneath a beach she traced signals in disenchantment
Waiting for the vertigo that flowed from that nuptial crisis
Or each loss among fluorescent bays
In the waves that hang over dawn
Or a flaming cup to the left so as to reach the


The blessed chariot of your breasts acclimates, the land of my
     first voices,
their open wounds, their stricken sparrow-hawks in the
     snow-covered landscape.

A woman named Blanca manipulates the scarlet cage of
An obscure power goes beyond the limit.
Does she scream, imagine, feel?
She weaves a thick shell of sea breeze, alleviates decrepit

The pale girl leads me to a garden in ruins.
I see her naked, under a grand suburb of palm trees,
exporting the gold of the sunset toward a miraculous country.

The silent hour has returned.
The heavy harbors of your eyes orbit me.

You have to disseminate yourself, body and soul,
in the mellifluous realm of the roses.

Washerwomen in their white tunics pass beside me with their
     innocent bonnets
and their hands given over to a rite.

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