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Exchanging Lives

Exchanging Lives makes available for the first time in English the work of an outstanding Latin American poet, the Argentinian Alejandra Pizarnik. Pizarnik’s work has been celebrated in feminist criticism for its subversive use of violent myth (comparable to the later work of Angela Carter).


Susan Bassnett, Alejandra Pizarnik
Translation, Poetry
Date published
1 May 2002

But Exchanging Lives is not a conventional translation, because the translator, Susan Bassnett, herself a published poet, enters into a personal dialogue with Pizarnik’s poems. The dialogue is both about finding womanist concerns that poet and translator share but also differences. Pizarnik, who described herself as ‘a silent woman/... who sometimes flows with language,’ speaks of social isolation and not belonging, whereas Bassnett finds herself fighting for personal writing space from the clamours of work and ‘the mothering wings [that] hold back my writing hand’. Above all, Bassnett finds that her own poetry has been changed through the act of translating Pizarnik. The effect of the dialogue in the book is to bring the person of Pizarnik, as well as her poems, into closer focus.

Exchanging Lives contains four sections. The first is of translations from Pizarnik’s Árbol de Diana (1962), a book that put Pizarnik, for Octavio Paz, among the ‘finest Latin American writers’. The second juxtaposes translations of Pizarnik with poems by Susan Bassnett, which enter into a dialogue of difference. The third section, ‘Asia of my imaginings’, is a sequence of poems by Bassnett that could not have been written without the experience of translating Pizarnik’s daring, subversive work. The fourth brief section condenses the recognitions of identity and difference.

Susan Bassnett is Professor of Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick.

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Alejandra Pizarnik

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Susan Bassnett

Susan Bassnett is Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Warwick, and Professor in the Centre for Translation and Comparative Cultural Studies which she founded in the 1980s.

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