Easthampton appoints new poet laureate

  • María José Giménez is the new poet laureate of Easthampton. Giménez also does translation work in Spanish, English and French. Gazette file photo

  • María José Giménez is the new poet laureate of Easthampton. Giménez also does translation work in Spanish, English and French. Gazette file photo

For the Gazette
Friday, July 05, 2019

María José Giménez had spent years working as a translator, moving between texts in Spanish, English and French. And Giménez, a native of Venezuela who has also lived in Canada, had also written poetry.

But Giménez, now of Easthampton, wasn’t prepared for the title they just received last week: They have been named the city’s second poet laureate.

“It’s such a huge honor,” Giménez said at a recent reading at Easthampton’s Luthier’s Co-op to introduce and celebrate the new poet laureate. “My number-one intention is to continue making connections between my work and other people’s work and to express my gratitude towards the community for holding me and receiving my work so well.”

Giménez, who’s 42, didn’t feel they’d met some of the benchmarks that might qualify one for the title of poet laureate. They hadn’t yet published a chapbook, for example, and Giménez hadn’t been reading at open mics or submitting work to journals in the past year, though they had continued to write poetry. Plus, they had only lived in Easthampton five years.

But Easthampton’s outgoing poet laureate, Gary Metras, for one, says Giménez’s work speaks for itself.

“María José’s poetry has a personal and a universal quality,” said Metras, part of the Easthampton panel that chose his successor. “That might seem like a contradiction, but it’s not. This quality just flows out of their being and imagination.”

Before turning to poetry, Giménez’s work as a translator — an interest that began with a childhood love of bilingual dictionaries — had followed their study of French at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. After that, Giménez moved to Montreal and studied Spanish at Concordia University.

“Most of my academic writing was in English and French, and so I felt like I needed to keep up with my Spanish and make sure I didn’t lose it,” Giménez said. “That was one of the best decisions, going back to school.”

In Montreal, Giménez met Hugh Hazelton, an American-born writer and translator, who became an important mentor. Giménez then built ties with the city’s Latino-Canadian community, began translating texts in English, Spanish and French, and has since won a number of awards and prizes for that work, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.

But perhaps most importantly, translation work led Giménez to publish original poetry.

“I’ve been writing for a lot longer than I’ve been translating, but it wasn’t until I started translating other people’s work that I started seeing myself as a poet and as a writer,” said Giménez. “And that came from the writers, really directly from the writers I translate. They inspired me and encouraged me to publish my work.”

As Easthampton poet laureate, Giménez intends to host additional events like last week’s reading, where they shared time with photographer and poet Henry Amistadi, spoken word poet Nicole M. Young and singer-songwriter Diana Alvarez.

“I can’t think of anyone better to be poet laureate,” said Lea Chiara, a teacher, artist and a friend of Giménez. “I’ve been inspired by them since I moved to Easthampton.”

Giménez’s website is mariajosetranslates.com