In addition to her work as one of contemporary Mexico’s most critically esteemed poets and essayists, Tedi López Mills is herself a translator, of poets including Anne Carson and Gustaf Sobin. Translating a poet as competent in the target language as you are (actually, I often suspect Tedi speaks better English than I do) can be an intimidating task, but in our case it has proven fruitful, as Tedi’s experience as a poet-translator informs her understanding and appreciation of my endeavours to make her poems work in English.
If López Mills’ 2009 verse narrative Death on Rua Augusta, which won Mexico’s prestigious Xavier Villaurutia Prize, with its noir- inspired psycho-narrative propulsion, marked a seminal departure from her prioritization of traditional lyricism, her most recent book of poems, Friend with the Crippled Dog (Amigo del perro cojo), from which this series of poems was taken, forms something of a bridge between the two modes of writing. These five poems, which form one of the book’s several chapter-like sections, immediately struck me as appropriate for Modern Poetry in Translation and the London Book Fair’s showcase of Mexican literature. Unusually honest in their description, they don’t deny the artifice, boredom, and excess of the public literary life, but process that mundaneness with the poet’s ear for language and enough detachedness to allow for an ironic appreciation without a suffocating cynicism or despair. As the narrator imitates her fellows in questioning the African who sings (a character I’m pretty sure I’ve met at literary encounters of my own) I’ve done my best to imitate López Mills in English.