Ugly Duckling Presse

Materia Prima

Amanda Berenguer

edited by Kristin Dykstra, Kent Johnson

translated by Gillian Brassil

Fall 2018
Materia Prima: Selected Poems of Amanda Berenguer is the first English-language anthology of poetry by this major author. Berenguer is widely considered--along with her now-legendary compatriot Marosa Di Giorgio--one of the singular post-World War II poets of Latin America.  A key contribution to Uruguay's famed literary Generación del '45, Berenguer’s work is among the most stylistically and conceptually varied oeuvres of the past decades, anytime, anyplace: Ranging from classic, measured lyric to Dickinson-inspired gnomic utterance; from metaphysical and erotic rhetorical effusion to condensed and radically concrete experiment; from seemingly apolitical languor to pointed ideological dissent, Berenguer spans tones, chords, and moods like few poets ever have in any language, period. This mastery of the poetic spectrum is a mark of her inimitable genius and accomplishment, so far barely known to English-language readers. Excerpt ˇ


from "Avec les gemissements graves du Montevideen", tr. Kristin Dykstra

I’m Amanda – from Montevideo –
daughter of Amanda, cow-eyed
                        contemporary deity
                        blackbird heart with lightning bolts
where the flash that shatters night comes to roost
           it flaps joy inciting life
daughter of Rimmel, father
                        fighting cock
                        cruel Cerberus
                        or tender marrow under the feathers
                        almost compasses almost arrows
sister of Rimmel, sacrificed and dear
                        dead because the dead
                        from the kingdom of the dead
                        surrounded him

soy Amanda – montevideana –
hija de Amanda la de ojos de vaca
                        diosa contemporánea
                        corazón de mirlos con relámpagos
donde anida el rayo que quiebra la noche
            aletea la alegría la vida conmovida
y de Rimmel padre
                        gallo de riña
                        violento cancerbero
                        o tierno migajón bajo las plumas
                        casi brújulas casi flechas
hermana de Rimmel el sacrificado y querido
                        muerto porque los muertos
                        del reino de los muertos
                        lo rodearon
Close ˆ

About the Author

Amanda Berenguer
Photo credit: José Pedro Díaz
Amanda Berenguer (1921 - 2010) was a vital presence in Uruguayan literary life for more than six decades. She is a key figure in the “Generation of 1945,” known around the world for its energetic experimentation. Her first book appeared in Montevideo in 1940, followed by a steady stream of collections recognized for their excellence. Awards for her contributions included, among many others, the prestigious international Casa de las Américas Prize for Poetry (1986) and two national Uruguayan prizes for her collection La dama de Elche. Berenguer’s lifelong dedication to the arts included work with little presses and radio programming, as well as collaborations with dancers and musicians. She is widely regarded, in her country and beyond, as one of Uruguay's greatest poets.

About the Editor

Kristin Dykstra
Kristin Dykstra’s recent translations include books by Reina María Rodríguez, Juan Carlos Flores, Angel Escobar, and Marcelo Morales, all from the University of Alabama Press. She is co-translating and editing Maqroll’s Prayer and Other Poems, a collection by Álvaro Mutis forthcoming from New York Review Books. Dykstra was a 2012 NEA Translation Fellow and won the 2014 Gulf Coast Prize for Literary Translation.
Kent Johnson
Kent Johnson is co-editor of Resist Much/Obey Little: Inaugural Poems to the Resistance and Homage to the Pseudo Avant-Garde, a collection of poems, both published by Dispatches Editions. In 2015 UDP released a pamphlet of his annotated translation of Cesar Vallejo's only known interview.

About the Translator

Gillian Brassil
Gillian Brassil studied translation at Brown University and was the recipient of a Fulbright fellowship in Madrid in 2012. She lives in Brooklyn and works for a production company in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Other Contributors

Roberto Echavarren
Roberto Echavarren is an award-winning poet, novelist, essayist, playwright and translator from Uruguay. Among his many poetry collections are Centralasia, El expreso entre el sueño y la vigilia (The express between sleep and wakefulness) and Ruido de fondo (Background Noise). Echavarren is director of La Flauta Mágica publishing company, specializing in critical bilingual editions of poetry and the rescue of major poetic works written in Spanish.

Advance Praise

How fabulous to discover — on my 71st birthday! — a major poet I knew nothing about! Is it that Uruguay is easily hidden behind the bigger Latin American countries, or that as a woman she is often disappeared behind the men? Amanda Berenguer, a major voice of the Uruguayan group of artists & thinkers known as the Generation of ’45, is finally getting her due in anglophone territory with the fine translations of this well-edited collection. Hers is urgent work, “wingenious” and “mythovulsive,” feisty yet lyrical, playful yet deeply serious, explorative yet assured. A great achievement.—Pierre Joris
We are lucky to get this anthology, which acquaints us extensively with Amanda Berenguer’s poetic cosmogony. It transports us to a planetarium where we float in ever-fluctuating cosmic landscapes. Berenguer’s constant "variants" of images, themes and graphics make me think of Emily Dickinson, while her vision has Blake’s vastness and exuberance. In her poetry, desire is so grand and ubiquitous that it is like a giant in a solitary cosmos. Even a blackbird has a "heart with lightning bolts" and / "The apple is brilliant / and dangerous: / one alone can set an orchard on fire." In "Of Cats and Birds" she writes, "When I meet a bird / I climb onto its wings without asking / and I fly among the heliotropes." I climb into Amanda Berenguer's pages and soar among cats, Möbius strips, quinces, blackbirds, The Magellanic Clouds.—Ewa Chrusciel
Across a long life Amanda Berenguer produced the most extraordinary poetry in a staggering variety of styles and forms. From complex longer poems like "Moebius Strip" to the exquisite grace of short poems fashioned with simple, richly evocative words, from concrete poems to such highly personal late masterpieces as "Leonardo Da Vinci and I" or "After Emily Dickinson," decade after decade Berenguer created highly original, unexpected poetry charged with surprise and intensity. Materia Prima is a beautifully balanced anthology that reveals the range and force of Berenguer's genius. An experimenter constantly finding new ways into the strangeness and exposed rawness of life, Berenguer's work goes on speaking in these powerful translations so carefully prepared by eight gifted translators. We owe them the greatest thanks.—Peter Boyle
Finally! A collection by the long overlooked “Amanda –from Montevideo–” in English. Materia Prima shows us the great range and depth of one of the quintessential voices of 20th century Spanish American poetry: from “light years of vertiginous / bliss” to “sea-sunset”, from “the scaly stomach / of the bottle” to “art with ass.” And the translations? These poems in their own right—showcasing some of the most talented translator-poets of our time—wash over us like an “intense wave of love.” —Katherine M. Hedeen