Katherine M. Hedeen
Translator’s Note: Mario Obrero
I only just met Mario Obrero (Madrid, Spain 2003) a few weeks ago at a book launch in the Huerga y Fierro Editores bookstore in Lavapiés; my co-translator, Víctor, a bit earlier than that, in Fall 2021. But we, along with pretty much anyone keeping tabs on contemporary Spanish poetry, have heard a lot about him. He is something of a wunderkind: he began writing poetry at age 7 (supposedly because the batteries in his Nintendo had died); he won his first big poetry prize at 14 (the Félix Grande National Young Poet’s Award); at 17 he became the youngest poet to receive the prestigious Loewe Young Poet’s Prize (2020); he currently hosts a television show in which he interviews top literary figures for Spanish television (when he’s not attending college).
Ever skeptical of prize culture, the cult of youth, and rich kids, we had our doubts. But, here’s the thing, Mario is truly an exception to the rule. From Getafe, a lower-middle-class suburb of Madrid, he is at once humble and wise beyond his years, an unapologetic leftist, and, most importantly, an extraordinary poet, with influences ranging from Federico García Lorca to Antonio Gamoneda to Juan Carlos Mestre. The poems included here are from Peachtree City, the book awarded the Loewe Prize and published by Visor Libros in 2021. They chronicle Mario’s year-long high school study abroad in Peachtree City, a small city near Atlanta, Georgia (noted for its extensive use of golf carts, according to Wikipedia). His trip cut short by COVID, the book ends in lockdown at Mario’s home in Getafe.
To consider this work calls out the estranged space between the “original” Peachtree City in English and the poet’s “translation” of it into Spanish. To translate it back into English gives rise to the defamiliarizing sensation of translating contemporary U.S. life back into itself. Chick-fil-A, wall-to-wall carpeting, waffles, teeth whitener, Walmart supercenters turn odd, out of place, foreign. This is precisely why these poems, critical, urgent visions seen through a “non-native’s” eyes, have much to say to U.S. readers about ourselves.