Natural History

Poems

José Watanabe

Translated by Michelle Har Kim

Illustrated by Eduardo Tokeshi

Title Details

Pages: 112

Illustrations: 5 b&w images

Trim size: 5.500in x 8.500in

Formats

Paperback

Pub Date: 05/01/2022

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6216-8

List Price: $19.95

Subsidies and Partnerships

A copublication of Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and the University of Georgia Press

Published with the generous support of Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Natural History

Poems

José Watanabe

Translated by Michelle Har Kim

Illustrated by Eduardo Tokeshi

Poems that engage the reader's imagination about our place in nature

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  • Description
  • Reviews
A contribution to ongoing cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary conversations about language, nature, and Asian migration across the Americas, this dual-language edition of Natural History by the Peruvian poet José Watanabe is finally available in both Spanish and English for the first time.
Watanabe's poetry offers a lucid perspective on the human condition; each poem combines philosophical reflections with a language in which the concern for the aesthetic is not overshadowed by the impact of honesty. Watanabe constantly reminds us that to be alive means to fight relentlessly against death and that often our only and most valuable weapon in such a hard-fought battle is the written word.

—Latin American Literature Today

A vital force in Peruvian poetry, these poems are menageries and tales synthesized through physics, philosophy, and materialism. Watanabe's singular gaze is a master lesson in the poetic gaze, and I'm thrilled to see Natural History in English translation, opening up his brilliance to an American audience who will find a poet with kinship to a long tradition of naturalist poetry. Michelle Har Kim has rendered an attentive and precise translation of Watanabe's ineffably lucid work.

—Carmen Giménez Smith, author of Be Recorder

Translation of poetry always manages to lose something. As Robert Frost once said, 'Poetry is what gets lost in translation.' This is particularly true when the original text has been written in a vernacular language as rich and colorful as that of José Watanabe. Kim's translation, however, is rigorous and sensitive to the poet's linguistic and rhythmic peculiarities. She has preserved the cleanness of the poems, creatively remedying the impossibility of translating dialect variants and complex metaphors that are particular to the flexibility of the Spanish language. Nothing sounds artificial in the poems but rather fluid and genuine. The result is admirable as when, for example, she moves from free verse to metrical verses. The book reveals taste and excellent skills in both languages and will be a great authority on José Watanabe's work.

—Carlos Yushimito, author of Lessons for a Child Who Arrives Late

Watanabe forged his own contact zone, bridging poetic language and raw experience. He was singular, excruciatingly unique and yet continues to be relevant with his pressing, visceral poems of the earth and of human and nonhuman existence. For each new generation, Watanabe's work is like a lightning-rod drawing our energies to the present, to all that is present. To achieve as refined and intuitive a translation as Michelle Har Kim's, it takes not only an attuned bilingual ear but also a specific kind of rigor, the kind that fends off any exoticizing or preciousness. Indeed, amidst our age of environmental crisis, Watanabe's intimate urgency is startling, and Kim's translation brings this to us passionately, auspiciously, almost like a convocation.

—Anna Kazumi Stahl, author of Flores de un solo día

At every turn, Natural History reveals the power of perspective and prods the reader to take in the surreal details of their surroundings.

—Layla Benitez-James, Harriet Books

About the Author/Editor

JOSÉ WATANABE (1945-2007) is one of Peru's most revered contemporary poets. His repertoire of articles, screenplays, anthologies, and children's books is best known for its seven original volumes of poetry. Watanabe was awarded the Casas de las Américas Prize in 2000 for his anthology El guardian del hielo (The Ice Guardian); he is also remembered for his adaptation of Antígona, which rendered into free verse for the renowned theater troupe El Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani.