María T. Balogh: Bilingual poet’s second collection shifts to second language


Evie Hemphill interviews María T. Balogh, professor of Spanish, creative writing and South American literature, and author of Bailar Caribeño, the new Cumbia Soul, and other poetry collections. Here are excerpts:

[. . .] Balogh published her first volume of poetry two years ago – in Spanish, her native tongue – but took a different approach with her second book. Composed in English, “Cumbia Soul” also differs in that it branches out into multiple genres.

UMSL Daily caught up with the UMSL alumna, originally from Barranquilla, Colombia, to discuss her new collection, her writing and her teaching role in the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Languages.

JAC027Where did the title of this second book – “Cumbia Soul” – come from? It was titled after the first poem in the collection, only it is an abbreviated version of it. Somehow, just saying “Cumbia Soul” rather than “I Am Cumbia Soul” seems more impacting. Cumbia is the most representative of Colombian Caribbean folklore. It is a tri-ethnic (African, Native South American and Spanish) rhythm that brings together elements of these races in its music, dance steps and garments, respectively. I am a daughter of such combination as well, and so I claim my Cumbia Soul.

[. . .] Beyond the switch from Spanish to English, how does “Cumbia Soul” compare to your first collection, “Bailar Caribeño”?  The main difference between the two is the mix in the content of the second. That is to say, “Cumbia Soul” has poetry, fiction and an essay whereas “Bailar Caribeño” is a collection of poetry alone. The themes of the poems are similar, faithful to the prevalent themes of my poetry. Quite a few of them are English versions of the Spanish ones in my first book that have been revised more extensively.

In the rousing title poem you speak of “wild Caribes” and “timid Tubara” and “African slaves” and “Spanish Criollos” all playing a part in a multifaceted, dance-like identity. Are there ways in which this sets the tone for the rest of your book?  In a way yes; it establishes the identifiers of the poetic voice and the setting for the following tales of cross-cultural, multiethnic identities that emerge throughout my works. [. . .]

For full interview, see

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