The Island of the Songs
Author, María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira
Translated by William F. Blair with Pablo Rodríguez Balbontín
Iowa City, November 2013
During her life time María Vaz Ferreira’s poetry was sparingly published in regional Uruguayan and Argentinian magazines and periodicals. Only upon death’s approach did she collect selected poems into a publishable book format. After her death in 1924, and with her preceding consent, her brother, Carlos Vaz Ferreira, published that first book of poetry, La isla de los cánticos. The poetry in La isla de los cánticos demonstrates her mastery of the Spanish language, poetics, and poetic themes, and her innovative adoption of modernista images and tropes. She uses these elements to create poetic tension and a sense of melancholy, seducing the reader into her world of solitude and despair. Continuing her legacy, The Island of the Songs is the first full-length English translation of Vaz Ferreira’s seminal work, presented in a bilingual edition. The design of the book (dimensions, cover, and font) is an homage to the original 1924 edition, which is now a rare text, almost exclusively protected in special collections.
About the Author:
María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira, born in Montevideo in 1875, was the vanguard for women poets in Uruguay in the early twentieth century. Critics have variously categorized her work as Parnassian, Symbolist, Romantic, and Modernist, implying that she wrote across literary styles. Her poetry addresses themes of longing, hetero- and homoerotic love, solitude, and alienation. Vaz Ferreira is perhaps most closely identified with modernismo, wherein her work can be read as shared human experience and an assertive expression of female consciousness. In addition to poetry she wrote three dramas in verse and composed musical scores. She became a professor of literature and Secretary of the University for Women in Montevideo. Afflicted with episodic depression and chronic illness, she died at age 49. Although her literary work is truly outstanding, to date few poems have been available in translation. The Island of the Songs is the first full-length translation of her book La isla de los cánticos, published posthumously in 1925.
About the Translators:
William Blair is formerly a hand and microsurgeon who, during his academic career, published over 200 research papers, book chapters, and abstracts, including the textbook Techniques in Hand Surgery. He holds an MFA in Comparative Literature – Literary Translation from the University of Iowa and has participated in the International Writing Program’s Translation Workshop. He has translated María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira’s work extensively. Co-translated and published works include two books of poetry by Vaz Ferreira, Lichen by the Uruguayan poet Luis Bravo, and Great Vilas by the Spanish poet and novelist Manuel Vilas. Pending book publications include a hybrid text and a novel, both authored by Vilas. Translated poetry is pending in various journals, including Literal, Exchanges, and Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry. Blair founded Song Bridge Press in 2013 to promote Spanish language literature in translation, and to nurture emerging writers, poets, and translators.
Pablo Balbontín is a native of Sevilla, Spain, and enjoys a deep appreciation for Spanish language poetry. He is a graduate of the University of Sevilla, where he earned undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and Literary Theory, and a graduate degree in Screen Writing. He is presently an MA candidate in Spanish Literature at the University of Iowa, where he is investigating the interrelationships among literature, gaming, and the media in the context of digitalization. His interests include sharing Spanish culture and literature through translation; he has co-translated and published four books of poetry by María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira, Luis Bravo, and Manuel Vilas.