Is there a house built of words that serves as a refuge? The Colombian poet Sandra Uribe Pérez tells us that such a place exists and that it can be conjured up by anyone. In the comments we talk about the life of the author and end with another poem. This episode was written and narrated by Alexa Jeffress.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I 've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Hello! Welcome dear listeners of Tres Cuentos, the bilingual podcast dedicated to the literary, historical, and traditional narratives of Latin America.
I’m Alexa Jeffress, and the poem that we just heard is titled “Hope”. It was written by Emily Dickinson, who was a literary influence of today’s author, the Colombian poet Sandra Uribe Pérez.
After translating the Spanish poet Miguel Rollón’s book of poetry from Spanish to English with my colleague Caroline Whitcomb, the publisher Valparaíso Ediciones asked us to translate another book. It was an anthology of poems written by eighteen Colombian poets. We were so excited and eager to complete this project because it gave us the opportunity to get to know many contemporary poets and familiarize ourselves more deeply with the Spanish spoken in Colombia. We accepted the offer and immediately got to work studying the voice, style, and biography of each poet.
The first time I read Sandra Uribe Pérez’s poems, I felt something special. I was drawn by the beauty with which she writes about homes, words, and poetry itself. I then began to share her poems with my students when I taught Spanish at the University of Virginia. I am happy to say that in my translation class, the students always enjoyed studying and translating Sandra’s poems.
Today, we are going to share two poems by Sandra Uribe that are titled “Belated Hypotheses” and “Cartography.” Both poems can be found in the book Contemporary Colombian Poetry, a bilingual anthology published by Valparaíso Ediciones.
The two poems were translated by Caroline Whitcomb, and I will tell you more about her in the comments below.
The poem that we will hear first describes a decrepit house with humid, cracked walls and smoke that suffocates the poetic voice. The poem imagines what the house and patio with a fountain could be like under different circumstances.
From: Contemporary Colombian Poetry, Valparaíso Ediciones, 2020
If my house were made of words
the silence wouldn’t reduce me to ashes,
the damp and the cracks
wouldn’t be more than metaphors
for the cold that feeds off my bones.
If my home were a poem
it would have a fountain at the patio’s center
and the rusted coins,
in memory of so many lost wishes,
wouldn’t speak in hunger’s pockets.
If the wall’s mortar
were made of uncontainable breath,
if vowels filled the hours
with a smoke that didn’t choke us,
it would be difficult to get away from the fire,
to distance yourself when crackle becomes song
and the light climbs your throat:
the words for death
wouldn’t fill the air,
I couldn’t, like now,
forget how to breathe.
Let’s return from the world of a house that is burning with suffocating smoke. The poem that I just read, “Belated Hypotheses,” evokes the image of a decrepit house reigned by cold, hunger, and silence. It presents a person who imagines a better future, a future in which words and poetry can rescue a person. The poetic voice creates an alternate reality of her house and her world. She imagines a place in which people no longer suffer from hunger and don’t have to throw coins into a fountain in hopes of getting some food. It is a place where people can speak freely and breathe calmly without worrying about death.
I have always thought of my own house as a refuge, a safe place to be with family. It’s a place where I can escape the difficulties of the world, whether they are political, professional, or personal. For many people, home is a place that is associated with peace, food, and family. In this poem, the poetic voice imagines a house built with words that could serve as a place of refuge for this person who feels suffocated by the world around her. Although her house is cracked and in ruins, she thinks of how it could be a different home.
For many people, poetry has the power to help us communicate difficult feelings. In this poem, Sandra writes about the power of words to express what silence cannot. The poem also suggests that words and written text can help us imagine a different and better future for ourselves and our communities. Her poetry succeeds in painting a vivid picture of a house that exists in the imagination of the poetic voice.
I think it’s easy and feels natural to connect with this and other poems written by Sandra because they explore human themes like grief, lack, hunger, silence, and not having a voice. Her poem expresses the importance of words to try to communicate these universal themes that we can all relate to.
[About the translator]
The two poems we read today were translated by Caroline Whitcomb. Caroline holds a Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of Virginia. Her published translations include the collections "Detroit Doesn't Love You Anymore" by Miguel Rollón, and "Contemporary Colombian Poetry: An Anthology," both in collaboration with Alexa Jeffress and Valparaíso Ediciones USA. A lover or poetry in both Spanish and English, she lives in Boston with her husband and two dogs. You can find out more about Caroline and follow her professional journey here.
Now it’s time to share a little bit about today’s poet. Sandra Uribe Pérez is a Colombian poet, journalist and architect who was born in 1972 in Bogota. Sandra began to write poetry when she was just 12 years old, and she has published various books since then, including Sola sin tilde (in English, Orthography of Solitude) and Círculo de silencio (in English, Circle of Silence).
In an interview with Octavio Pineda for the newspaper Paso Libre in January 2021, Sandra shared that since participating in some literary workshops that explored themes like the power of images and cadence and musicality in verse, in her own words, “I have always wanted to provoke shock and cause a blow or an outbreak in the reader, given that this effect of repercussion that it causes is essential in my work.”
Although we don’t see this much in the poems we bring you today, many of Sandra Uribe Pérez’s poems have touches of humor and irony. In the same interview with Paso Libre, Sandra says that “while there are some subjects in which irony doesn’t fit, there are topics that invite me to strip them of their masks and let them escape from the margins.”
In her poems, she also plays with the “metaliterary” to comment on the process of writing poetry and the relationship that we have with words. Metaliterature exists when a written text references another text. For example, when a narrator writes about the process of writing a text, or when a poem mentions a novel, directly or indirectly. Sandra’s poems that we are reading today suggest that poetry gives life, illuminates, and reveals the world’s truths. Her poems offer poetry as something that can give and threaten life and existence itself.
And now I ask you, dear listeners… Have you ever thought or felt something that you couldn’t quite put into words? This happens to me sometimes. I can’t find the words or the medium to adequately describe what I feel or think about the world. For Sandra, poetry is the answer.
In an interview with Hermann Sáenz Prieto, she comments that “poetry is and will continue to be the way in which humans communicate our most intimate emotions and give meaning to the world. Poetry is a fertile ground for raising our voices, shaking profoundly and combating indifference in the face of reality.”
In other words, poetry can help us communicate our opinions and fight for what we want to see in the world. For her, poetry is also a way of speaking about the conflicts of power and environmental problems that we face.
Some of the literary influences that the poet lists are Juana de Ibarbourou from Uruguay, Aurelio Arturo and José Manual Arango, both from Colombia, Emily Dickinson from the United States, Jorge Luis Borges from Argentina and Federico García Lorca from Spain, among others.
Despite having written profound, beautiful and high-quality poetry for many years, Sandra Uribe Peréz’s works are just now being recognized within and beyond Colombia.
Well, that is all for today. I’ll leave you with one final poem from this woman whose excellent poetry teaches us the power of words. The poem that I will read next, “Cartography” captures the essence and vitality of written text.
I trace the poem and its nakedness terrifies me.
The fervor with which it clings to paper
is the same as that of blood in transit.
Each word is an illumination
that precedes the mist,
a right step towards the abyss.
And that inked truth that confuses my eyes,
that map of hours about to die out
becomes a useless memory of your time.
The shadow is now a bird from which you cannot flee.
All music of the written burns within your veins
and condemns you to your own destruction.
And with those words from Colombia, we end today’s episode. In the next episode, Melanie and Carolina will take us to Dominican Republic where we will meet the poetry of Kianny Antigua.
Until the next poem!
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The list of credits per song can be found in the transcript.
Thanks for listening, adios, adios.
Poesía colombiana: Sandra Uribe Pérez. Published by Círculo de Poesía: Revista Electrónica de Literatura. https://circulodepoesia.com/2017/09/poesia-colombiana-sandra-uribe-perez/.
Sandra Uribe Pérez: Acerca de la autora. https://sandrauribeperez.wordpress.com/about/
Sandra Uribe, plasticidad de la palabra construida desde el silencio. Interview with Sandra Uribe by Octavio Pineda. January 22, 2021. Published by Las 2 Orillas.
Sandra Uribe: Busco provocar asombro y un estallido en el lector. Interview with Sandra Uribe by Octavio Pineda. January 7, 2021. Published by Paso Libre.
Dora Castellanos y Sandra Uribe: Dos poetas en el día de la poesía. Interview with Dora Castellanos and Sandra Uribe by Hermann Sáenz Prieto. March 21, 2021. Published by El Unicornio.
Arquitectura de una poética. ByMartha Cecilia Andrade Calderón. November 27, 2021. Published by Diario del Huila.
Colombia’s Bloody History. By Richard Skretteberg. December 1, 2015. Published by the Norwegian Refugee Council.