Ulalume González de Leόn

Ulalume González de Leόn

Ulalume González de León was born in 1928 in Montevideo, Uruguay, the daughter of two poets, Roberto Ibañez and Sara de Ibañez. She studied literature and philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the University of Mexico.

While living in Mexico in 1948, Ulalume became a naturalized Mexican citizen. She married painter and architect Teodoro González de León, and together they had three children. She published essays, stories, and poems, and worked with Mexican poet and Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz as an editor of two literary journals, Plural and Vuelta. She also translated the work of H.D., Elizabeth Bishop, Ted Hughes, Lewis Carroll, and e.e. cummings.

In the 1970’s in Latin America, González de León was part of a generation of women writers challenging the traditional identities of women, marriage, and relationships. Her poetry earned her many awards, including the Xavier Villaurrutia Prize, the Flower of Laura Poetry Prize, and the Alfonso X Prize. Ulalume González de León died in 2009 of respiratory failure and complications of Alzheimer’s.


This second of three bilingual volumes presents several short collections of poems González de Leόn produced from 1970 to 1975. Through her experimentation with unconventional syntax and borrowed texts, the poet skillfully blends anatomical, scientific, and philosophical vocabulary with richly erotic imagery to question our assumptions about identity and intimacy.

Reading the poems of Ulalume González de León may be compared to the experience of sitting under the big tent holding your breath, your eyes riveted on a tightrope walker high above you. Take in her deft hand at composition, efficiency of language, word sounds—-and all at once you are seeing through the poet’s eyes. This volume of laudable translations will surely bring new readers to a twentieth-century poet for the ages.

—Ana Castillo, author of My Book of the Dead and So Far from God

In her geometrically precise, Escheresque poems, Ulalume González de León reconfigures habits of thought and perception with tenderness and empathy, navigating synchronous intimacies between the living and the dead, between the shadows that create us and the clarities that consume us. Line by line, the poems converge on untold journeys that migrate from soul to soul, even as they pollinate the imagination and escape the physics of love and time. They arrive where we dwell, one poem within the other, the birth of each surging as it breaks. What’s more, the finely wrought, scrupulous translations chart the shifting realities, the cumulative mysteries, by doing what the poems do: They live and breathe, and invoke the untouchable language of silence.

—William O’Daly, author of Yarrow and Smoke and translator of Pablo Neruda’s Book of Twilight

This second volume of Plagios/Plagiarisms contains an essential part of Ulalume González de León’s literary project: a reworking of texts and themes that are masterfully crafted by the duende that Rosario Castellanos said characterizes Ulalume’s work. Under the mask of the poet resides a feminine voice—full of wisdom, curiosity, and tenderness—whose echo is conveyed in luminous translations that expand the audience of the original Plagios.

—Diego Alcázar Díaz, author of  “ ‘Eternidades de imitación pasablemente diseñadas’: tradición y apropiación en los Plagios de Ulalume González de León

Sample poems from Volume Two:

Exchanges https://exchanges.uiowa.edu/issues/without/new-article-3/

Clade Song http://www.cladesong.com/gonzalez.formsoflight.html

Poetry Daily https://poems.com/poem/in-search-of-the-lost-body/

Read poems from Plagios/Plagiarisms Vol. 2.

Plagios/Plagiarisms, Volume One

Poet, essayist, and translator Ulalume González de Leόn believed that “Everything has already been said,” and thus each act of creation is a rewriting, reshuffling, and reconstructing of one great work. For this reason, she chose the title Plagios (Plagiarisms) for her book of collected poems. Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz called González de León “the best Mexicana poet since Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz,” recognizing the visionary quality of her work. This first of three bilingual volumes presents several short collections of poems González de Leόn produced from 1968 to 1971, each of which explores the ephemeral nature of identity and its dependence on the ever-shifting ground of language and memory.

To read Ulalume González de León is to enter a feast of unspoken and spoken words, a carousel of emotions, and most of all to be submerged in her exquisite language. With poems that sense love and absences as well as those that explore both language and the poet’s inner self, this bilingual collection, beautifully translated, presents the work of one of Latin America’s most extraordinary poets.

—Marjorie Agosín, author of The White Islands and Harbors of Light

Ulalume González de León’s poems are whimsical, paradoxical, and elegant. Octavio Paz described them as “aerial geometry” with a “lucid gaze.” “The Wonderful Exercise of Waking,” the title of one of her poems, could be a description of the aim of her work: helping us learn to “live alert.” Though González de León deserves a much wider audience, very little of her work has been available in this country until now. Plagios/Plagiarisms presents her poems in both the stunning original Spanish and in an excellent English translation.

—Mary Crow, author of Addicted to the Horizon and translator of Roberto Juarroz, Vertical Poetry: Last Poems

Read poems from Plagios/Plagiarisms (Volume One) by Ulalume González de Leόn.

About the translators

Terry Ehret is a poet, teacher, translator, and one of the founders of Sixteen Rivers Press, a regional publishing collective run by San Francisco Bay Area poets. She earned a BA from Stanford University and an MA from San Francisco State University. She has published four collections of poetry: Lost Body (1993), Translations from the Human Language (2001), Lucky Break (2008), and Night Sky Journey (2011). Literary awards include the National Poetry Series, California Book Award, Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize, Northern California Book Award for California Poetry in Translation, seven Pushcart Prize nominations, and an NEA Translation Fellowship. She has led summer travel programs for writers in Ireland, Wales, and Tuscany. She is currently working on a three-volume bilingual edition of the collected published poems of Mexican poet Ulalume González de Leόn. From 2004-2006, she served as the poet laureate of Sonoma County where she lives and teaches. See more on Terry Ehret.

Nancy J. Morales, a first-generation American of Puerto Rican parents, earned her bachelor’s degree from Rutgers College, a master’s in teaching English as a Second Language from Adelphi University, and a doctorate in education from Teachers College at Columbia University. She has taught at Dominican University, College of Marin, Sonoma State University, and other schools, from elementary to graduate levels. Currently she is a board member for the Northern California Chapter of the Fulbright Alumni Association and teaches Spanish to private clients.

John Johnson’s poetry has appeared in many print and online journals, including Boxcar Poetry ReviewClade SongTriggerfish Critical Review, and Web Conjunctions. He is a long-time student of the Spanish language and has studied letter-press printing with Iota Press of Sebastopol, producing chapbooks and bilingual broadsides.

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