By Samantha Hilyer
Eulalia Books, a poetry-in-translation publisher at Saint Vincent, released a new poetry collection on Oct. 15. “Katabasis,” authored by Lucía Estrada and translated from Spanish to English by Olivia Lott, is the first full-length collection of poems written by a Colombian woman to be translated into English.
Estrada received the Bogotá Poetry Prize in 2017 for “Katábasis,” which was also named a finalist for the 2019 Colombian National Poetry Prize. Her poems are described by author Andrea Cote Botero as breaking the stigma surrounding Colombian poetry and having a translucent quality, “as though writing were not about using language but traversing it.”
The title of the book, “Katabasis,” is a word with Greek roots meaning “descent.” The title is fitting, according to Eulalia’s website, because it refers to both classical knowledge quests into the underworld by epic heroes and, more broadly, to any journey into madness, darkness and the unknown.
Lott is praised in the Kenyon Review for her specific and careful translations which kept Estrada’s poetic style and deeper meaning intact. By reading other works that influenced Estrada’s own work and words, Lott undertook a journey of writing research in order to do justice to Estrada’s poems.
Michelle Gil-Montero, professor of English and the publisher of Eulalia Books, said that Eulalia Books has been working on the project of “Katabasis” from submission review, editing, proofing and gaining publicity for around a year in total. The Eulalia Books team, which also includes some of Saint Vincent’s students, are proud of their work on this particular project.
Several members of the team were even openly thanked by Lott in the acknowledgements section of the book for their work with the manuscript.
“Like translation, editing work is often ‘invisible’ labor, so it is nice to see our students being named and explicitly credited for their work,” Gil-Montero said.
“Katabasis,” as described by Gil-Montero, is a “stunning, richly layered collection of poems.” However, she said, because there is not necessarily a “market” in the United States for contemporary Colombian poetry, Estrada’s work might have been easily overlooked, despite its many good qualities.
“At Eulalia, we have been finding that when we deliberately run against the neo-colonialist forces that still predominate in world literature, we run into very exciting poetry, the poetry that interests us the most,” Gil-Montero said.
Katabasis is available for purchase at eulaliabooks.com.