Professor launches successful publication
by Alicia LeBlanc
August 1, 2007
Assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese Jorge Sagastume
Assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese Jorge Sagastume came to Dickinson in 2003 to teach Hispanic literature, and has made quite a splash by internationalizing Dickinson’s Spanish program, most notably for his work as editor of Sirena: Poetry, Art, and Criticism, a biannual international and multilingual journal.
A predecessor to Sirena, Semana Poética (Week of Poetry) was a week-long poetry festival sponsored by the Spanish and Portuguese department in an effort to bring together poets from diverse nationalities to present their poetry through readings and workshops.
Semana Poética’s organizers wanted to publish a corresponding poetry booklet for the festival, and they approached the dean for funding. They were approved, however the project never got off of the ground.
When Sagastume arrived at Dickinson and heard that the department was going to drop the project, he said to himself, “There’s money, so why not do it?” He decided to take on the project himself, but to approach it differently than was previously proposed.
Sagastume explains, “It was supposed to be Spanish-language poetry, but the first issue in 2003 included multilingual poetry, art and criticism.” After the second issue, The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote a piece on Sirena and Sagastume was subsequently contacted by the Johns Hopkins University Press, who wanted to publish Sirena.
Sirena officially debuted with poetry in its original language and translations into both English and Spanish. Seven issues later, Sagastume says that “it is the only journal in existence that publishes in original language and two other languages.”
Equally impressive is the breadth of languages that have been published in Sirena. “So far,” explains Sagastume, “we’ve published in Spanish, English, Greek, German, Japanese, Korean, Hebrew, French, Italian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Russian, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Estonian, Chinese, Dutch, Slovenian and Serbian.”
This international poetic melting pot has attracted the interest of many poets, and Sagastume tries to balance big-name and emerging poets in Sirena. “We always try to have a big name in every issue, like Günter Grass, Adrian Mitchell, Clara Janés or Astrid Cabral Félix de Sousa, so we do contact some poets, but mainly we receive poetry through submissions. I get an average of 60 submissions per week.”
The biggest challenge of a publication like Sirena is the translation work needed to correctly express the poems in a foreign language. “We use professional translators of literature and I do many of the translations myself,” he says.
Johns Hopkins has been helpful in distributing the journal, which has 150 subscribers to the print edition and 5,000 subscribers to the electronic edition. Sagastume adds, “Johns Hopkins is in negations with Ingram Book Group to distribute Sirena with Barnes and Noble and Borders.”
Sirena is not the only way in which Sagastume has broadened the Spanish and Portuguese department’s reach. He is also director of the Quéretaro program in Mexico and sought to create a new Dickinson partner-program for students wishing to study abroad in South America.