Ana María Shua


Ana María Shua, born in Buenos Aires in 1951, has earned a prominent place in contemporary Argentinian fiction with the publication of over fifty books in nearly every literary genre: novels, short stories, flash fiction, poetry, theater, children’s literature, humor, folklore, anthologies of myths and legends, film scripts, and essays. Her works have been translated to many languages. She has received numerous national and international awards, and a Guggenheim Fellowship for her novel El libro de los recuerdos (The Book of Memories, 1994). Her other novels include: Soy Paciente (Patient, 1980); Los amores de Laurita (Laurita’s Loves, 1984), which was made into a movie; and La muerte como efecto secundario (Death as a Side Effect, 1997). She is recognized internationally as a master of flash fiction.


Eugenio Polisky is a poet and translator living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His published translations in English include works by the poet Irene Gruss. He grew up speaking both English and Spanish in Argentina. In addition to his translations and writings, he hosts a weekly radio show in Buenos Aires on Shakespeare and Elizabethan drama.


Zack Rogow was a co-winner of the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Award for Earthlight by André Breton, and winner of a Bay Area Book Reviewers Award (BABRA) for his translation of George Sand’s novel, Horace. His co-translation of Shipwrecked on a Traffic Island and Other Previously Untranslated Gems by Colette was published by SUNY Press. His English version of Colette’s novel Green Wheat was nominated for the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Award and for the Northern California Book Award in translation. Rogow edited two volumes of TWO LINES: World Writing in Translation. He teaches in the low-residency MFA at University of Alaska Anchorage.

Translating “Syllables” by Ana María Shua

 by Zack Rogow and Eugenio Polisky

Ana María Shua (1951– ) is an internationally renowned author, writing in Spanish and living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Best known for her collections of flash fiction, or microfiction, she has also written novels, short stories, books of humor, folklore, and film scripts. Her publications total more than forty full-length works. 

When we read that her biography also mentions that she has written poetry, we emailed Ana María Shua to ask if any of her poems remained untranslated in English. Her response was not what we expected: “I was so surprised for your message! I had never thought to publish these poems in English. In fact, they have not been published in Spanish. They are something like my little secret.” 

Knowing how much we liked Ana María Shua’s writing overall, and how adept she is at compact forms, we asked to see the unpublished poems. She sent us a group of writings that included a series of senryu: “I am attaching…a short collection of senryus, almost like haikus but with a different content. (Nature is fundamental in haikus, senryus have to do with human concerns). I love the structure: 5-7-5 syllables…really challenging in Spanish. Of course, 5-7-5 doesn’t have to be respected in translation.”

We loved the poems and decided immediately to create an English version. Given the freshness, humor, and poignancy of the Spanish text, we quickly set aside the idea of following the traditional 5-7-5 syllable format. Instead, we used a method grounded more in translations such as Robert Hass’s The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa, where the translator captures the feel of a short form rather than trying in such a short medium to cram the translation into a rigid form. That gave us the freedom to recreate the almost punchline delivery of Ana María Shua’s series. 

In collaboration with Ana María Shua, we selected which poems to include in the series, since her choices were not finalized in Spanish. We also worked with her to find an order for the senryu, since that, too, was tentative in the draft she gave us. The collaborative process with Ana María Shua was extremely exciting for us as translators, and the author was incredibly generous and flexible in working with us to create a finished English version. 





Tu piel despide

un suave olor a humo.

Estoy ardiendo.


Your skin gives off

a soft smell of smoke.

I’m on fire.


Las palabras son

como el agua que fluye.

Y como diques.


Word are like

flowing water.

And like boulders.



otra sed, pero también




another thirst, but also



Mis viejas tetas

azota sin piedad

la primavera.


My old tits

thrashed mercilessly

by springtime.


Con tanto amor

¿sudar, soñar, parir?

¿Matar muriendo?


With so much love

we sweat, dream, give birth?

Dying, do we kill?


Comprar lechuga,

manos grandes y eneldo

para la cena.


Buying big hands—

lettuce and dill

for dinner.


Sois bienvenidos.

Dejad toda esperanza

en el perchero.



Abandon hope, ye

who hang your coats here.


Selva cerrada

maraña tropical

en mi cantero.


Dense forest,

tropical tangle—

my flowerbed.


Desde el balcón

plástico, sangre y niebla,

luna de ciudad.


From my balcony:

plastic, blood, and fog—

city in moonlight.


La noche duele,

abre y cierra furiosa

su zarpa gris.


Nighttime hurts,

furiously it opens and closes

its gray claw.



sábana de mis sueños,

mortaja rota.



sheet of my dreams,

torn shroud.


Piel que fuí,

íntegra yo y mi piel,

que ahora es lastre.


Skin that I was,

entirely me in my skin,

now just weighing me down. 


Pescado en lata

que fue señor del mar,

que fue sirena.


Canned fish—

once lord of the sea,

once mermaid.


Todas las piedras

son iguales, excepto

la piedra mía.


All stones are the same


my stone.



© The Acentos Review 2018