A series of intimate and captivating interviews by Rachel Zucker with poets and artists about quotidian objects, experiences or obsessions, Commonplace conversations explore the recipes, advice, lists, anecdotes, quotes, politics, phobias, spiritual practices, and other non-Literary forms of knowledge that are vital to an artist’s life and work. One feels, when listening to Commonplace, the pleasure of eavesdropping on the kind of unexpected, intriguing connections that only happen when interesting people sit together in a small room and talk about their real concerns and ordinary lives.

Episode 61: Rosa Alcalá (Translation Series, Ep. 1)

Episode 61: Rosa Alcalá (Translation Series, Ep. 1)

Episode 1 of Commonplace’s special series on translation

Rosa Alcalá is the author of three full-length collections of poetry, most recently, MyOTHER TONGUE (Futurepoem), and translator of several full-length translations including the recently released New and Selected Poems of Cecilia Vicuña (Kelsey Street Press) for which Alcalá received a translation fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts in 2015.

Alcalá talks to Commonplace host Rachel Zucker about the experience of translating and transcribing the poetry and performances of Chilean-born artist Cecilia Vicuña. Alcalá speaks about growing up in Paterson, N.J., having been a child interpreter and mediator for her Spanish-speaking parents, language shame, studying at Brown and meeting Vicuña for the first time, studying transcription and ethnopoetics with Dennis Tedlock at SUNY Buffalo, grappling with how to record ephemerality, inaudibility, temporality, volume, tone and the feeling of listening (and mishearing) when translating, transcribing, and editing Vicuña’s multi-lingual performances for the book Spit Temple. Alcalá describes her long friendship with Vicuña, accepting the invitation to edit and translate Vicuña’s New and Selected, retranslating earlier translations, how the work of translating others affects her own writing, poetry as a space to say what is impossible to say in any language, literary and linguistic heritage, her interest in the NY School poets (especially Frank O’Hara and Bernadette Mayer), raising a bilingual child, and her poem “Heritage Speaker” from MyOTHER TONGUE.


Books by Rosa Alcalá

MyOTHER TONGUE (Futurepoem, 2017)

A Third Instance, with Craig Watson and Elisabeth Whitehead (Instance Press, 2014)

The Lust of Unsentimental Waters (Shearsman Books, 2012)

Undocumentaries (Shearsman Books, 2010)

Translations by Rosa Alcalá

New and Selected Poems of Cecilia Vicuña (Kelsey Street Press, 2018)

Spit Temple: Selected Performances of Cecilia Vicuña (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2012)

Bestiary by Lourdes Vazquez (Bilingual Press, 2004)

Guardians of the Secret by Lila Zemborain (Noemi Press)

Mauve Sea-Orchids  by Lila Zemborain (translated w/ Mónica de la Torre)

Books by Cecilia Vicuña not translated by Rosa Alcalá

About to Happen (Siglio, 2017)

Read Thread / The Story of the Red Thread (Sternberg Press, 2017)

Samborami (Chainlinks, 2011)

The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry (editor) (Oxford University Press, 2009)

Instan (Kelsey Street Press, 2002)

The Precarious / QUIPOem: The Art and Poetry of Cecilia Vicuña (Wesleyan Poetry Series, 1997)

Unraveling Words and Weaving Water (Graywolf, 1992)

Other Books and Writers Mentioned in the Episode

Édouard Glissant’s “Poetics of Relation” (University of Michigan Press, 1997)

Walter Mignolo

Jena Osman

Frank O’Hara

Langston Hughes

Bernadette Mayer

Joe Brainard

Dennis Tedlock & ethnopoetics

C.D. Wright

Rosemarie Waldrop

Keith Waldrop

Amiri Baraka

Daniel Borzutzky

Raúl Zurita

David Shapiro

Federico García Lorca

Juliana Spahr

Rubén Darío

Other translators of New & Selected: Edwin Morgan, Eliot Weinberger, Christopher Leland, James O’Hern, Anne Twitty, Esther Allen, Suzanne Jill Levine, Urayoán Noel

Other Relevant Links

Original music for our translation series by composer and sound designer Nathaniel Wolkstein.

Episode 62: Khadijah Queen

Episode 62: Khadijah Queen

Episode 60: Robin Coste Lewis

Episode 60: Robin Coste Lewis