Translator's notes

Nelson

By Paula Simonetti

Paula Simonetti is an important emerging poet in Uruguay. She is a social activist who has written powerfully about the poor. Dealing with pressing social and feminist issues, her writing departs from the norm by bearing witness to poverty, domestic abuse, mental illness and marginalization.

These poems come from Paula Simonetti’s first poetry collection, En la boca de los tristes (2014), published when she was 25, and based on her experience working at a homeless shelter in Montevideo. Many of the poems in the book are third person vignettes of particular characters, with the titles being simply the names of the people portrayed. Others are reflections by the speaker on her struggle to process the suffering she witnesses, and on poetry’s role in making visible and giving a voice to the marginalized and voiceless. While the overriding mode is hyper-realism, there are some surprising surrealist moments in many of the poems.

The language is extremely bare and sober. In part, this matches the subject material, but it also reflects a wider Uruguayan aesthetic of emotional and verbal restraint in poetry, as seen also in Idea Vilariño and Circe Maia. Many of the images and terms repeat across the book. The use of repetition is particularly powerful in the elegy ‘Nelson Is Dead’, which returns again and again to the stark fact of a man’s death in a powerful enactment of grief.

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