Song of the Flies

María Mercedes Carranza
[An Account of the Events]

Translations by Margarita Millar

Available now!

Canto de las Moscas (Song of the Flies), by the late Colombian poet María Mercedes Carranza, was published for the first time in 1997, following a decade marked by extremely high levels of violence in Colombia. At this point the country had already endured nearly half a century of armed struggle between government and rebel groups, and had more recently experienced the emergence of paramilitary forces and warring drug lords.

Carranza wrote these twenty-four poems, each bearing the name of a town or city that had been the site of large-scale violence, as a sort of chronicle and commemoration of the tragedies the people endured. The titles reflect a contradiction characteristic of Colombian reality: the beautifully-musical and whimsical place-names stand in cruel contrast to the events that marked them as massacre sites. Written in a form similar to Japanese haiku but not adhering to its strict line-and-syllable counts, the poems are short and spare.

Carranza’s powerful work largely speaksfor itself, but the elucidation of a few references may be helpful for readers unfamiliar with the Colombian context. For instance, “Canto 6/ Barrancabermeja” refers to a city in northeastern Colombia that takes its name from the reddish dirt of the Magdalena River banks along which it stands. Bermeja means red, calling to mind the blood that has run through Colombian rivers because the bodies of murder victims are commonly dumped there. In “Canto 9/ Segovia,” the name Julio Daniel refers to poet and journalist Julio Daniel Chaparro, assassinated in that town in 1991. The name Vista Hermosa (Beautiful View) in Canto 11 is of course particularly ironic, given the bleak and barren imagery of the poem. The “Flower War” in Canto 23 is a reference to ritualized Aztec warfare.

Carranza was born in 1945, in Bogotá. She was a widely-respected figure in Colombia: a cultural journalist, member of the National Assembly, and founder-director of the Casa de Poesía Silva in Bogotá, an organization which advanced the creation, nurturance and dissemination of poetry. Her overarching passion, in a passionately-lived life, was her art. She believed in the power of poems to change and heal a country that had endured seemingly endless murder, truncated lives, unfulfilled dreams, and unspeakable levels of brutality.

In May of 2003, María Mercedes Carranza put out a call for poetry submissions for an annual poetry festival in Medellín, with the theme of “Let’s Lay War to Rest.” She received over 30,000 poems from Colombians clamoring desperately for peace. This overwhelming response, filled with anguish about the situation in Colombia, that she herself had written about, may have been too much to bear. Carranza committed suicide in July 2003. The events that preceded her death are a moving and painful illustration of the destructive connection between violence and personal life in Colombia.

Canto de las Moscas / Song of the Flies, dedicated to the slain presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán, stands as a timeless testament to both the poet’s power and impotence in the face of devastating violence.

It is a pleasure to present this new bilingual edition in honor of María Mercedes Carranza’s contribution to the poetry of Colombia and the world.


“Margarita Millar has done Maria Mercedes Carranza the inestimable service of bringing her Canto de las Moscas into musical, faithful and quietly resonant English. The poems ring like bells from the center of the destruction that engendered them and then echo into an almost unbearable stillness.  These sensitive translations will enrich and inevitably sadden anyone who reads them.”
—Sidney Wade, author of Stroke

978-0-915117-19-2   64 pages. Perfect bound. 4.25 x 5.5 inches.

 

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About María Mercedes Carranza

Some Information
Carranza was born in 1945, in Bogotá. She was a widely-respected figure in Colombia: a cultural journalist, member of the National Assembly, and founder-director of the Casa de Poesía Silva in Bogotá, an organization which advanced the creation, nurturance and dissemination of poetry. Her overarching passion, in a passionately-lived life, was her art. She believed in the power of poems to change and heal a country that had endured seemingly endless murder, truncated lives, unfulfilled dreams, and unspeakable levels of brutality.