Aguasaco’s 'The New York City Subway Poems' marks two firsts for Ashland Poetry Press

10/30/2020 ASHLAND, Ohio – There’s a common thread that ties stories from New York’s subways to the Ashland University campus.

That thread is poetry, or more specifically, the Ashland Poetry Press.

Now heading into its second half century, the editors’ desire to diversify the press’s content has brought the APP two firsts this year: its first publication of poetry in translation and its first author of color.

The New York City Subway Poems (Poemas del metro de Nueva York) is a collection of poetry en face (English version on one page facing the Spanish translation on the other) from Carlos Aguasaco, a central figure of the New Hispanic Poetry in the U.S. and an Associate Professor of Latin American Cultural Studies at the City College of New York.

The project put Aguasaco together with Ashland University Spanish Professor Jennifer Rathbun, the APP’s associate editor, who also edited The New York City Subway Poems. “I had just recently become involved with the Press. You know, service,” said Rathbun. “All faculty do service to the University.”

And after seven years chairing the Department of Foreign Languages, Rathbun was ready for a new challenge. Having already completed more than ten Spanish-to-English works, she suggested that the APP was ready for a translation series.

“(Rathbun) is a well-known and established translator in the poetry world,” Aguasaco said. “I knew of the Ashland Poetry Press, but I didn’t know (Rathbun’s) connection” to it.  So, when Rathbun sought out Aguasaco in January of 2019 for the APP’s first translation publication, he said, “It was an honor. Immediately, I said ‘yes’.”

The two worked together on the selection of poems, with Rathbun as editor and Carol O’Flynn and Pilar Gonzalez translating. The collection gives a voice to the new wave of immigrants found daily on the city’s subways and who are changing the city for the next generations.

The process was interrupted, but by no means derailed, by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rathbun recalled sitting in her kitchen on Zoom calls for a solid week as she and Aguasaco pored over every detail. Every publication requires extreme attention to detail, she said, but even more so when a poem in two languages has to line up on facing pages.

“For me,” Aguasaco said, “it was a dream that was going to come true.”  Already well known in international poetry circles, Aguasaco, is the editor of the Hispanic editorial house Artepoética Press in New York, the organizer and curator of The Americas Poetry Festival of New York and the author of six books of poetry.

A native of Colombia, Aguasaco’s work has been translated before, including an Arabic translation that sold out at a popular book fair in Cairo, Egypt. But his experience working with Rathbun was outstanding, he said. “I have never seen the level of commitment Dr. Rathbun had,” Aguasaco said. “Her Spanish is perfect” and she walked the book through every step with every member of the team, from editing the poems, to the design of the cover to the printing at Bookmasters in Ashland.

“I have never received so much care from any publishing house,” he added.

The response to and sales of the collection – which is available via Amazon, Small Press Distribution and the AU Campus Store – has been very good. And with every appearance and every reading, Aguasaco gives credit to Rathbun, the APP and the university, which is he said seems like the least he can do.

Already, Rathbun said, the APP has started to get requests for more books in other languages. Next up, she said, is a collection of Jewish poems, due out in January.

“We want to do three to four per year,” she said, which would mean a considerable amount of work. “I’m just donating my time,” said Rathbun, “but I love it.”

Ashland University is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.eduvalues the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students.###