Tag Archives: Bethany Naylor

La Conirina, Poet in Translation


After a long break from writing for this website I have returned with  a renewed focus, drive and desire to grow. According to my admittedly limited experience, one of the best ways to make progess within yourself is to look to others and see what they have done, what they have conquered and what they have achieved. With this in mind, over the coming months I would like to introduce, or perhaps reintroduce our readers to some of the fascinating people I have met on this journey so far. The first of these will be the Chilean actress, playwright and poet, Constanza Carlesi del Río, or ‘La Conirina’ and one of her fantastic poems which I had the good fortune to translate this year.

Constanza’s Isla de los Lobos was performed in Valparaiso in 2015, shortly before her arrival in Spain whereupon she immediately submerged herself into the Spanish theatre scene, both writing and touring as an actress with a troupe of fellow students. In 2016 she published La Estratega, a collection of deeply intimate poems. In 2018, several of the poems from part one and two of the collection were recorded with a group of international musicians to form an album which has met high praise. Last year, this incredible collection made it’s way into my hands and upon my second reading of it that first day, I decided that this was the poetry I had been looking for, the one I needed for my final year translation project, the one which could open my mind. After a long period of deliberation and a strong guilt towards the poems I had to leave behind, I finally left Hallward Library behind me, several freshly printed copies of ‘Los Protegidos’ in hand.  


Before presenting the original poem and translation, it seems appropriate to talk a little about the collection as a whole, and what ‘Los Protegidos’ brings to it. Fiercely feminist and with a strong voice, Constanza has experimented with political themes from the very first poem in the collection, ‘La Estratega.’ Yet Portavoces, from which ‘Los Protegidos’ has been taken, contains the most ostentatiously political poems, whilst also continuing other currents running throughout the collection such as spirituality, conflicting cultures and loss. During her lifetime, Constanza has been been no stranger to the persistent presence of loss, a motif which forms an inherent part of this collection and is addressed in more detail in ‘La Electra que no fui…’ and ‘Doce años’. In the particularly heart wrenching ‘La Electra’, Constanza suggests an emotive image of how her father’s death drives her poetry. “Te veo…/…………otra vez muerto, otra vez poema, otra vez tú… respirando.” 


The theme of loss returns in ‘Los Protegidos’, yet this is now channelled towards societal loss in the form of the lost childhoods, indigenous lands, religions, even personal histories and independent thought. The familial lands have been lost in the rise of corporations and private property, native spirituality has faded in the shadow of the Church, and even the children are left with no garden in which to play, lost in the urban jungle of towering apartment blocks. Loss still lingers in the shadow of death, a presence not one of her poems neglects to pay homage to in some way. The curious dead in this poem will return in ‘Manifiesto de Aguas Pacíficas’, but for now, Constanza ominously alludes to a lack of understanding and an abuse of death in modern society, saying “[n]i a la muerte la respetamos/ maldecimos y juzgamos.” 



Relating to these losses, another theme which emerges is how capitalism, consumerism and all of the desires of modern day society have threatened our world. This tendency towards corruption seen in humanity has been hinted at previously. For example, in ‘Manifiesto de la Muerte’, the powerful yet natural forces in the first stanza are brutalised when applied to humanity in the second.

Los perros gemían,

los gatos se erizaban,

la mar rugía,

el bosque se erguía,


pero la mujer ya había gemido,

mientras su cuerpo entero se erizaba,

los celos del hombre rugían

y el egoísmo se erguía.


  These themes of corruption continue throughout the poem with the idea of private property, in particular, being rejected through the many iterations of ‘cuadrado’. The pervasiveness of these damaging ideas and influences becomes of utmost importance in the ‘questionnaire’ portion, where recognisable symbols of modernity are juxtaposed against war, weapons, flesh and blood, all alongside the constant repetition of the ‘cuadrado’ in which we have lost ourselves.


With regard to these destructive undercurrents of capitalisation, in ‘Yo creo’, Constanza writes that she does not believe in “la libertad de comercio”, “los rascacielos”, “alturas”, “seguridad”, nor in “los centros comerciales,/ ni en la publicidad”, giving new meaning to the stanza in ‘Los Protegidos’ where our questionable safety under the wing of the Church is addressed. The Church is aligned with the safety of the skyscrapers in which Constanza does not believe, she gently mocks the image of their spires built so high, “dónde a díos,/ le pica la cabeza.” She gives them some responsibility too, for the loss of the indigenous lands and cultures, the rituals and rites. Constanza has already shown an interest in these disappearing spiritual affairs in poems such as ‘La Bruja’, and suggests her own personal beliefs in ‘Contemplaciones Venecianas I’. Reflecting on the ‘portal’ of the Cathedral, she writes 

Porque si alguien cree

en una estatua,

yo creo en el arte,

en los espíritus benignos

y en el “gran viaje”


In ‘Yo Creo’, Constanza ends on a characteristic note of optimism. After listing what she does not have faith in, what she does not support, she reassures us that she does believe in the poet, she does believe in him, and she does believe in her. This undying faith is present in ‘Los Protegidos’ and will become an integral part of the play, a reflection of the same pure positivity which emanates from Constanza in both life and lyric.



Whether you speak Spanish or not, I would highly recommend watching Constanza’s youtube performance either before or whilst you read the translation, to get an idea of the strength of her delivery and a better feel for the poem.  The Spanish original is found below the translation, along with an explanation of a few translation choices.


The Protected Ones

In memory of my ancestors and in awareness of those to come


Who are we when by miracle we exist?
Who are we if survival is an annoyance?
A mass of bodies unknowing…
a flock in common flowing…
or the little ones who continue to play
in the neighbour’s garden.

Effectively, no.
Because now there are no neighbours nor garden,
even if the little ones are playing still.

There is not even a piece of earth,
nor a sack, nor a seeding,
nor a shadow of what once was
the land of the great-grandparents,
nor the great great grandmother’s
maleficent stories,
nor the ghost of Aunty
María Claudina,
nor Uncle Rigoberto’s
old guitar,
nor Grandfather Estebanio’s
sung verses.

Today the familial lands
belong to the silence,
to the dry leaves,
to stony grounds,
to a speaking wind,
to the curious dead,
to dirty hands,
and to more than one business deal.

Today, we are a square
of what was before the earth.
And yet, we are without hearth,
with no property squared,
nor full purse….

It’s complicated
speaking amongst friends,
when not even a trace remains
of earth nor neighbours.
And if it’s not metre squared,
nor metre made private,
we are destined
for the cruel condemnation
of the gypsy under obligation.
And what is yet worse,
a gypsy without tradition,
nor romances to pray,
nor mythology to sing,
nor a church to cry.

We are of a very strange race,
and a boring one,
we are not hairy,
nor smelly,
nor do we speak
in a special tongue,
no ancestral rites, nor roots.
The truth, is that we could become extinct
and nobody would remember us.

We are: like lepers without leprosy,
like madmen without madness,
like fat people without a belly,
like scholars without a cranium,
like kings without a throne,
like politicians without a party,
like a church without a god,
like a sect without an angel,
like a body without a soul…

In reality we are:
like the mouse of the computer,
like the keyboard of the writer,
like the microphone of the singer,
like the stage of the actor.

Maybe we are somewhat useful,
but not essential.
After all, humanity continues,
we are secure in the piece
of the square
that we inherit from our parents,
secure, as long as
a meteor doesn’t obliterate us before.
But we are so sure
that even the biggest disaster
will not finish us off.
Not even death do we respect,
we judge and we curse her.

We are an ill-fated race,
in disguise,
of pacts,
without peace,
without name,
of supply and demand,
sleeping happy, insomniac,
ignorant, dead zombie,
individual, individual, individual.

I feel the unhappiness,
like a dominant discovery.
I feel protected,
in a uniform square:
a box without garden,
but with windows.

We are the generation   ↵    (square) :

↵ press,
↵ audience,
↵ consumerist,
↵ scam,
↵ bombs,
↵ headline,
↵ cooking,
↵ fanatics,
↵ cancer,
↵ weapons,
↵ explosion,
↵ flesh,
↵ politics,
↵ lie,
↵ porn
for over 18s,
↵ satellite,
↵ by international
↵ european union,
foreign signal,
↵ the envy of
↵ I don’t care
if it’s not for sale,
↵ I’m hungry,
↵ eat healthy,
or you will die,
↵ buy, buy,
watch out for thieves,
↵ Latin America is so dangerous,
↵ champions,
Brazil, Argentina, France,
↵ I don’t know anything about football,
↵ marginal,
↵ nothing,
just me in a metre squared.

That’s how we are now,
protected, adrift.
Blown by the luck,
or by the fate
of misfortune.
We are safe in the fortress,
of a castle made of sand,
of a sky scraper,
right up here, where
it tickles God’s crown.

We are advanced,
we can spend an entire day,
in the  ↵    .

What is the earth?
A planet that turns,
something that you step on,
something that stains your shirt,
something that makes dirt,
something that turns to dust,
something lowly, something unclean,
something brown, greyish.
Agricultural matter

It turns out there was and will be,
a pre and post history,
where we lived and will live
on the earth.
But for now
we are and will continue to be
the protected ones.




Translators note


In choosing to translate this poem, my goal had not been to produce a replication in a perfect sense, but rather to raise an effigy of the poem, to hold up a mirror and see it’s honest heart, and to find out what drives both poem and poet. Therefore, it has been my great pleasure to work in close partnership with Constanza over the last months, investigating together the intricacies of this poem. Through deep discussion, each verse has been considered both in terms of what it contributes to the poem, and how that relates to the collection as a whole. Given that the poem is not intended to be read in live performance and would accompany other translations, the decision was made to give greater importance to the deeper meaning and natural flow in English rather than any specific vocabulary choice.13975274_10209095461840278_2121321688567665240_o




En memoria de mis ancestros y a conciencia de los que vendrán


¿Quiénes somos cuando por milagro existimos?
¿Quiénes si sobrevivir es un fastidio?
Una manga de masa inconsciente…
un rebaño en cauce corriente…
o los pequeños que siguen jugando
en el patio de los vecinos?

Efectivamente, no.
Porque ya no hay patio ni vecinos,
aunque los pequeños sigan jugando todavía.

Ni siquiera un pedazo de tierra,
ni un costal, ni siembra,
ni una sombra de lo que fue
el campo de los bisabuelos,
ni los cuentos maléficos,
de la tatarabuela,
ni el fantasma de la tía
María Claudina,
ni la guitarra vieja
del tío Rigoberto,
ni los versos cantaos
del abuelo Estebanio.

Hoy las tierras familiares
son del silencio,
de las hojas secas,
de suelos pedregosos,
de viento parlante,
de muertos curiosos,
de manos sucias
y más de algún negocio.

Hoy día somos un cuadrado
de lo que ayer fue la tierra.
Y sino, somos calle,
sin propiedad cuadrado,
ni bolsillo lleno…

Es complicado
hablarse entre amigos,
cuando ni rastro queda
tierra ni vecinos.
Y si no es metro cuadrado,
ni metro privado,
estamos destinados
a la cruel condena
del gitano endeudado.
Y lo que es aún peor,
un gitano sin tradición,
ni romances que orar,
ni mitología que cantar,
ni una iglesia pa’ llorar.

Somos de una raza muy extraña
y aburrida,
no somos peludos,
ni hediondos,
ni hablamos
en lengua especial,
ni rastro, ni rito ancestral.
La verdad, es que nos podríamos extinguir
y nadie se acordaría de nosotros.

Somos: como leprosos sin lepra,
como locos sin locura,
como gordos sin panza,
como eruditos sin cráneo,
como reyes sin trono,
como políticos sin partido,
como iglesia sin dios,
como secta sin ángel,
como cuerpo sin alma…

En realidad somos:
como el ratón del ordenador,
como el teclado del escritor,
como el micrófono del cantor,
como el escenario del actor.

Puede que seamos algo útil,
pero no imprescindible.
Después de todo, la humanidad prosigue,                                                estamos seguros en el pedazo
de cuadrado
que nos heredan los padres,
eso siempre y cuando
no nos explote un meteoro antes.
Pero estamos tan seguros,
que no acabará con nosotros
ni el mayor desastre.
Ni a la muerte la respetamos,
maldecimos y juzgamos.

Somos de una raza funesta
de pactos,
sin paz,
sin nombre,
de oferta y demanda,
dormida feliz, insomne,
ignorante, muerta zombie,
individual, individual, individual.

Siento la infelicidad,
como un hallazgo imperante.
Me siento protegida,
en un cuadrado uniforme:
una caja sin jardín,
pero con ventanas.

Somos la generación ↵ (Cuadrado):
↵ prensa,
↵ audiencia,
↵ consumista,
↵ estafa,
↵ bombas,                                                                                                                                     muerte,
↵ titular,
↵ cocina,
↵ fanáticos,
↵ cáncer,
↵ armas,
↵ explosión,
↵ carne,
↵ política,
↵ mentira,
↵ porno
para mayores de 18,
↵ satelital,
↵ por cable
↵ unión europea,
señal extranjera,
↵ ¡la envidia de
↵ no me importa
sino se vende,
tengo hambre,
↵ hamburguesa,
come sano,
↵ sino te mueres,
compre, compre,
↵ cuídese de los ladrones,
Latinoamérica peligrosa
↵ ¡fútbol!
↵ Brasil, Argentina, Francia,
no se nada de fútbol,
marginal,                                                                                                                              otredad,
↵ nada,
sólo yo en un metro cuadrado.

Así somos ahora,
protegidos a la deriva.
Arribados a la suerte,
o al azar
de la mala fortuna.
Asegurados en la fortaleza
de un castillo de arena,
de un rasca cielos,
justo ahí, donde a Dios
le pica la cabeza.

Somos avanzados,
podemos estar un día entero,
en el ↵ .

¿Qué es la tierra?
Un planeta que gira,
algo que se pisa,
algo que ensucia la camisa,
algo que se hace barro,
algo que se convierte en polvo,
algo bajo, algo sucio,
algo color marrón, grisáceo.
Materia de la agricultura.

Resulta que hubo y habrá,
una pre y post historia,
donde vivimos y viviremos
en la tierra.
Pero por ahora
somos y seguiremos siendo
los protegidos.




Final thoughts

Several decisions have been made during the translation process which might need further explanation to those bilinguals amongst the audience. Part of the problem of poetry translation is, I have found, needing to find a way to work around the impossible. By sharing these brief notes I hope to shed some light on my thought process during this exercise.


Una manga de masa inconsciente… / A mass of bodies unknowing…

The image provoked by the original text here is fascinating, it is highly lyrical and metaphorical, and as such, hard to replicate in the target text. In conversation with the poet, she explains her reasons for the choices of vocabulary, in particular the “manga de masa”. As with “ni rastro ni rito” later on, the words have been chosen for their assonance and the images they conjure over their meaning. Prompted further, Constanza points me towards a later stanza in which zombies appear, and tells me “como un grupo de zombies…una masa humana sin pensamiento.” Specific word choice has, therefore, been sacrificed in order to retain this lyricism and deeper meaning.

Los cuentos maleficos… / The maleficent stories…

Due to the purpose of this translation as a read-along text and the expected audience, as far as possible the order of verses has been maintained in order to allow the audience to look between the different translations at their will. Due to the many possessives, this stanza is one example of where this strategy would have lead to awkward phrasing in the English text, and it has therefore been reordered to improve clarity and style. Whilst this translation is not intended for oral performance, it has been considered important that the final product hold merit of its own accord, reordering the verse is one way in which this is achieved.

El gitano endeudado… / The gypsy under obligation

The rhythm in this in this stanza is smooth and lilting, conjuring images of music even before the final lines, and it has been considered important to replicate this in the target text. The meaning of “gitano endeudado” relates to the idea of a life lived in debt, a feeling of owing something to somebody, and therefore unable to live under your own free will. Bad for most, this idea is a particularly repulsive one when imposed upon the gypsy’s way of life. In rewording this idea as “gypsy under obligation” the lilt is gently encouraged throughout the stanza, which then emphasises the sadness inherent in the life of a gypsy without tradition nor mythology to sing.

Ni a la muerte la respetamos…/ Not even Death do we respect her

 Although it is certainly less common to personify Death as a woman in English, the decision has been made here to emphasise the “her”. Firstly, this helps to retain the rhythm and assonance in the target text, yet more importantly, it aims to reinforce the idea of Death as a woman, drawing attention to the different ways that death is abused in the modern day. Constanza draws attention herself to the importance of this line, lamenting that in our western manner of living death is no longer accepted as part of the process of life, and how in situations of war we kill with impunity.  

Un castillo de arena…/ A castle made of sand…

One difficulty encountered in translating this poem was knowing when to leave ambiguity in or when to add clarification. Whilst on occasion articles have been added to improve the natural flow of the English, sometimes the English has actually been prolonged in order to conserve the ambiguity, and reflect the same rise and fall of hope. For this stanza, the poet and translator were in agreement that ambiguity was key, and therefore “Asegurados en la fortaleza, / de un castillo de arena” has been translated as “We are secure in the fortress/ of a castle made of sand”, to provoke the same brief illusion of hope before the weakness of sand is introduced.


A final thank you to the wonderful human being that is La Conirina, and farewell. If you wish to support Constanza on her journey, you can support her facebook page here, her youtube channel here, or buy her book here.



Written by Bethany Naylor, founder of and writer for the Making Her Escape team. Bethany writes often about solo travel experiences, her own experiences with mental health, literature and history.

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