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Posts Tagged ‘Mexico’

Víctor Terán

Isthmus Zapotec poet Víctor Terán, from Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, gave the following speech at a recent gathering of indigenous writers in that state of Southern Mexico. Terán’s work has appeared widely in English, including work in Poetry, World Literature Today, Agenda, and on the Poetry Translation Centre website.

DS


 

Víctor Terán with translator David Shook

 

Makers of literature generally make it in the language they most dominate, generally the language in which they breastfed, their mother tongue; that’s why the question What language do you think in when you write? would be facetious if it weren’t the case that a numberless quantity of writers in “indigenous languages” pretend to write in their mother tongues to win fellowships and prizes. Does this dishonest practice, belonging to opportunists, help or hurt indigenous languages? At first I thought that if this perverse practice didn’t help indigenous languages, neither did it damage them, given that they’ve managed to survive—for more than five hundred years—the national politics of destruction & discrimination that our governments have used to “incorporate” us into a monocultural system they call “civilization” or “modernity.”

Still, today I note with some preoccupation how indigenous languages experience an accelerated process of degeneration & extinction because of the lack of policy that encourages their permanence and development, & because of the exclusive use of Spanish in schools (those called bilingual aren’t as they should be) & in means of communication. The phenomena of homogenization between Spanish & the indigenous languages that make us talk & think according to the logic of the Spanish language & not that of our indigenous tongues (in addition to corrupt practices), like the soapbox discourse of evangelical pastors, the orators of community radio stations, and the literary output of these dishonest writers, leads me to affirm that those in this last group are indeed agents of destruction of our languages.

When, in 1990, the few professionals that wrote in our indigenous languages began a process of empowerment with the support of intellectuals from the left, like the late writer Carlos  Montemayor, we never imagined this perverse practice would so surge. The efforts of the Encuentros Nacionales (in Ciudad Victoria, San Cristobal de las Casas, Ixmiquilpan, Texcoco, and Mexico), begun in 1992, & the establishment of the Association of Writers from Indigenous Languages in 1993, lead to the development of literature grants for indigenous languages from FONCA, the establishment of the House of the Writers from Indigenous Languages, & prizes like the Nezahualcoyotl and the continental Song of America. These achievements now benefit opportunists more than those who actually write in indigenous languages.

Who are these opportunist writers? Those that write their literature in Spanish & then translate (with or without help) the original into the indigenous language they speak. What’s the problem with that? some will ask, acknowledging that translation is a universal practice, both valid & necessary. I respond that there would be no problem if the translation were based on the grammatical structure of the indigenous language, but this, unfortunately, is not the case. How can they translate correctly without mastering the syntax of their indigenous language? If they had mastered it, they wouldn’t write in Spanish in the first case, but in their own language. So the upheaval is severe, as the writers collaborate in the degradation & destruction of the language of their ancestors.

Do these writers understand the destructive role they play for indigenous languages? I’d like to think that they don’t, I suppose it’s because of the dearth of opportunities for personal development within our nation, people are bewildered, then forced to get what they can by whatever means possible, in this case the literary grants  & prizes that do exist; & to guarantee receipt of said stimuli, they pervert their work by writing as clearly & finely as they can in Spanish, to the pleasure of the assessors of our cultural institutions, who are frequently disconnected from the realities of indigenous literature, & whose jaws drop upon reading the incredible Spanish versions, thinking the indigenous language originals say the same thing in the same manner.

What happens when these works make their way back to speakers of their respective indigenous languages? I have seen how they ignore the work with a smile on their lips, after reading the first few pages, & how they quickly forget the act, without comment or discussion, I suppose because these works represent nothing of life in the villages. What they don’t see is the prejudice of the next generations, who, noting how such prize-winning writers write, attempt to write similarly, disgracing their literary careers & the language of their ancestors.

Without fear of mistake I can say that over fifty percent of those who call themselves indigenous writers are fakers. How can this infamous practice be stopped when we live in a degraded national culture of competitions & corruption? I suppose there’s no way, but what is possible is that those who continue creating indigenous literature as an effective instrument of fortification & renovation of our languages invest in the discovery, formation, & expression of new writers in indigenous lamguages, & fight to make effective the laws that dictate “including within educational planning & programs” assignments like the reading & writing of our languages, our history, & the culture of the original nations of our country. It’s urgent that we bring this teaching to the curriculum of our public schools, with school programs at every level of basic education.

Indigenous languages represent the same life as the Mexican culture, to corrupt them because of vanity & materialism is to play irresponsibly with our destruction. The future of indigenous languages will depend on the conscienceness & love that we all have to preserve them, we must lift them up & not rest, we must appeal to the highest—& not the lowest—levels of indigenous literatures.

In spite of the adversarial conditions we face, our languages will find the way forward in this chaotic & changing world. We indigenous writers have much to do to ensure this happens: we place at the forefront honesty, creativity, quality, & innovation in the literary genres we develop, & everything else will come. Without honest literature & without education there’s no future for our languages.

Encuentro de escritores zapotecos, 15 – 18 July 2010
Centro de Artes de San Agustin, Etla, Oaxaca

translated from the Spanish by David Shook

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Peter Kuper’s Diario de Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico (PM Press, $29.95) is my favorite nonfiction comics collection of the past year. The book is more politically aware than Craig Thompson’s Carnet De Voyage, less stylized than Guy Deslisle’s comics travelogues, and more varied in composition than just about anything. I especially appreciate the multiplicity of narratives Kuper has introduced to his own experience of the city and its varied cultures.

DS

I came to your work with some appreciation for Spy vs. Spy and some familiarity with the content of World War 3, and I expected some of that in Diario de Oaxaca. But the tone is different. Though it certainly deals with political unrest, I didn’t feel the agenda of WW3 so much as I entered the contemplative observation of a man in tune with his surroundings. Can you speak to that?

I didn’t have an agenda going into it, the material in Diario grew organically from my experience. It only formed into a book in the last six months of our two years in Oaxaca when I crossed paths with a publisher who ran some pages from my sketchbooks. I had also been writing for an arts website called DART, again with no agenda besides letting people know about Oaxaca and my experience living there. That it did become a book is a small miracle, since I never expected any publisher to be willing to print a book of this sort all in full color.

I like the idea of the graphic memoir, or, as you call it, the “sketchbook journal.” It seems like a very natural form of recollection, and I appreciate the collage techniques you’ve employed. What inspired you? What other artists or contemporary storytellers do you admire?

Traveling in general has been a big inspiration and when I was a child traveling with my family, we always made scrapbooks to remember our trips.We camped through Europe and then spent a year living in Israel when I was ten. This had a big impact on what I did in my art. Collage is a natural form to remember a trip since the experience is always a collage of events and you invariably collect tickets, maps and other scraps as you go from place to place. Artistically Steinberg has been a big influence, but also lots of work by artists whose names I never learned. People in different countries I traveled: Africa and Indonesia and Mexico, who carved masks and animals and wove rugs. Things I saw during Day of the Dead I always  especially loved.

If you were to place Diario on a shelf of books that inspired or influenced it, in whatever sense, what else would belong on the shelf?

R.Crumb’s sketch books, Chris Ware too. There was a book that Dover published of ancient Mexican designs that was always on hand. Steinberg’s Passport, among his many other books, Diego Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros mural work. Steinbeck’s The Pearl, just to name a few.

One of your goals listed at the book’s end is to write every day. Have you maintained the practice since?

My plan was to sketch every day, and with few exceptions I’ve stuck to that. I’ve done another six sketchbooks since I returned, some of which I will be publishing.

A lot of your sketches are pretty complex. Different colored pencils, pens, maybe even the occasional paint. How do you lug it all around? What’s your process like?

Actually I don’t have too much to carry—I use a colored pencil that has 7 colors in the tip—all I have to do is turn the point to change colors. I carry a set of watercolors and 1-2 pens, brushes, a little water and I’m good to go .

What about Oaxaca? Have you been back? Do you keep in touch? How do you know you’re getting the real scoop, instead of the inaccurate media you portray in Diario?

I’ve returned 3 times in the last two years and had a couple of shows and given talks at book stores and at the IAGO museum. We still have a lot of friends there and they keep us up to date on events. Being there allowed us to see first hand the ongoing damage that the governor has been able to inflict tearing up the town with unnecessary road projects to line his pockets.

What are you working on now? What are you taking in?

I illustrated a spanish-language edition of Alice in Wonderland for my Mexican publisher Sexto Piso (They co-published Diario along with my US publisher PM Press). I am about to illustrate Kipling’s The Jungle Book for Sexto Piso as well. I am also assembling all the work I’ve done about New York  that will include work as far back as 1982 and as recently as the sketches I’ve been doing every day. The book will be titled New York Diary.

I have done a number of stories for the Simpson comics—the one I’m working on now, ¡Viva la Bart!, involves Bart going to Mexico and being mistaken for an ancient high priest. Trouble and laughs ensue. Suffice to say, my Mexican ties are ever-present in all my work!

May 2010

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Heaven’s Kitchen

Xby David Huerta, translated from the Spanish by Jamie McKendrick

Heaven’s kitchen is supplied with infernal utensils,
sagging, lilac-coloured cauldrons, fat forks
between whose prongs are tangled strings
of archangels’ spit and frayed voices
that rose from the left-hand shirt of God.

A soup was being cooked when Love appeared,
a rare broth sprinkled with flaming scriptures
and glints of seaside holidays. The oil became fire,
seeped into the skin and stayed, vigorous,
iridescent, in the eyes of the blessed.

The elaborate coven stopped work: elongated odours
invaded the heavenly kitchen; pure spices
for the feverish construction of Spring
and its rippling; Aprils whose flowers are teeth,
whose jaws are crammed with dragonflies;
Eros’s entire wardrobe for the Salad
with its curled coiffure; the brilliance of stabbed embraces
and the sea of hands, blue as can be, multiplying.

X

David Huerta was born in Mexico City in 1949, son of poet Efraín Huerta. He is one the leading poets of the generation that first came to prominence during the 1970s in Mexico. He published his first book of poems, El Jardín de la luz [The Garden of Light] (1972), while still a student at UNAM. It has been followed by numerous collections, among them: Cuaderno de Noviembre [November Notebook] (1976), Huellas del civilizado [Traces of the Civilized] (1977), Versión [Version] (1978), El espejo del cuerpo [The Mirror of the Body] (1980) and Incurable [Incurable] (1987), a long poem in nine parts that encourages the reader to participate in constructing the meaning of the poem.

Aside from his poetry, David Huerta has translated works from Italian and English, and is an editor of the Mexican publishing house Fondo de Cultura Económica. He writes a column for the Mexican weekly Proceso, and teaches literature at the Universidad Autónoma de México. His latest book, El correo de los Narvales, is dedicated to the work of Pablo Neruda.

In 2006 David Huerta was awarded the prestigious Xavier Villaurrutia Prize for the new edition of Versión and for his lifelong contribution to Mexican literature. He is an active member of the Sistema Nacional de Creadores.

Read the Spanish original, listen to the poem in both languages, and learn more about the process at the Poetry Translation Centre website. Look for Huerta’s forthcoming outpost in the next issue of Molossus partner World Literature Today.

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The latest dispatch from an anonymous American prisoner in a Mexican beach town jail, sent from his contraband cell phone. This week: piñatas filled with drugs and money, the six-times-sold refrigerator, and more.

Believe it or not im havin a hard time 2 write a little every day i think of something that happens. Reading, going 2 gym, the store, & candy biz has been keeping me busy. Now i have a friend making me shelves 4 my plancha so im helpin. Really i just stand & watch because i could never cut a straight line & fuck knows how anything in the carp shop gets cut straight. The table saws r made of wood & blades r mostly straight. U have to compensate so u get the most straight line. W practice u can do it. (but as they say n colombia any tool is better than ur finger nails). Get this, there r no blade guards! Not 1! Im really surprised that every1 has all there fingers. I mean there is always a lot of people n there wrkin. U bump n 2 each other (esp me) so statisticly i would think there would be least 1 accident. Oh yeah most every1 has on flip flops. My friend has been wrkin on these shelves 4 weeks. 1st we measured. Then we thought, the main purpuse 4 these shelves is 4 me 2 hide my cell phone. So we came up w the system & made that 1 1st. It’s beautiful. Very well made & im very happy 2 have waited the time.

My 1st year here we had 2 parties 4 christmas. 1 was w the visitors & after 4 us. The 1 after we had drug & money pinatas. Not every1 could go but i chose not 2. But i heard bout it. When the pinata broke they went through like locasts. Most friends got nothing but 1 guy got lots! Several crack rocks & $. They have use the pinatas few other times that i did go to but would never chance going 4 anything. Never get n way of stampeding mexicans when they r going 4 free drugs or $. Bad bad bad idea.

The pink gangster. OMG! U should see this kid! In fact i will try 2 get a pic. Its 2 funny. These guys all dress & act like they r the badest & hardest thing since granit. But this guy is always wearing girly style outfits. Pink & baby blue bandanas that match the pink or baby blue ny yankee hat. Plus i think he has a girly face & really if he had breasts i would believe it was a girl. I promise 2 try hard 2 get a picture of this clown. Thats how i see there people now as clowns or animals.  Either they dress funny or r just a jackleg dumb fucker.

When i got here there was a guy named jose m. Every1 made fun of him cuz he went free but was back the nxt day n time 4 rancho breakfast! Can u imagine being here 4 1yr going free 4 a few hours be4 ur back again? Well he went free after another year & few months & was gone a few weeks b4 he was back. He stayed a few months then went free, hooked up w the christians & was gone a long time. Well he is back again. Whats his crime? Same as the other times, stealing watches from walmart. He sells them 2 buy food. He gets caught at the same 1 i suspect they know him by now. How many times can they same guy get caught b4 they c him coming.

Ah finally a little honesty. A killer who confesses, but not n court. My friend gets a new roomate. Him & 2 others r accussed of killing a brazilan tourist. They ment 2 just rob the guy but he was holding out on them or so they thought. My friends roomate puts a plastic bag over his head. So the guy died a slow horrible death. So when they all get arrested they are screeming conspirsy & all sorts of bull shit. After awhile though the man who put the bag on head breaks dwn & confesses 2 my friend. How he feels really guilty, its all he thinks about so he had 2 tell some1. Well he will have 6 yr at least at least 2 keep thinking bout it.

The gurds 1 job they have 2 do is list. Thats it the rest of the things they get inmates 2 do. I have a guy n my cell that is asleep & snoring again before they get 2 end of the list. There is only 7 of us now. We got rid of the old man creeping jesus. He was 2 damn slow, now he is some1 elses problem.

There is a guy here w patches of hair missing. It looks really weird because it is just a cluster n the back of small & big circles. So i asked 1 day. He use 2 have real long hair, but when he got arrested the police grabbed the hair & dragged him cross the floor & in the process ripped out a clump n the back. He has had those bald spots ever since but now some of the spots r growing hair again.

Electricity is off again. It gets so hot w out a fan going. It was off 4 2 days & 2 nights last time i was online so i may have told u bout aleady. But it is off again. The boss in his infinite wisdom put ac units n all the conjugals upstairs. So the electricity was a bit dodgy 2 begin with, now with all those acs running it will b proper fucked. Luckly 4 me i live n the newest building so we have pwr most of the time it has just been recent that it started cuting off regular. The rest of jail’s pwr goes up & down like the volume on the tv. Ur fan spins slow light is dim the next thing u know the fan is at hurrican speed & light is bright as the sun.

There is a new american here that has quite the story. He claims 2 b a retired USAF major. As well as a doctor & he had a scolarship 2 play basketball @ college. Oh and he has terminal stomach cancer which is why he came 2 cancun. He said his crime was frauding a hotel when he went in w a guest that was staying there & said he was staying also. The security guards figured out he didnt have a room confronted him. He offered 2 pay 4 a room, no go. They sent him 2 jail. He also says that he has a $7000 peso bail. His exwife also n airforce is coming 2 pay the bail. He is going free soon. She comes, goes 2 pay bail & he isn’t n the system. But not 2 worry that happens a lot. So nxt day he is n the system exwife pays the $7000 pesos only 2 find out bail has gone up because he passed 15 days here. Hmmm. Something is fishy here. She didnt have extra $ so he had 2 stay over weekend but she cant visit cuz airforce rules say she cant visit foreign jails. So monday comes she pays the extra bit but he is still here. This was around father’s day & he is still here. He borrowed some $ from richard & was supose 2 have his family send $ to richards wife. He had excuse after excuse why it wasnt done then his brother died by drinking driving then 4th july weekend. The brother that died did it 4 me. I thought then that he was a liar. He also claimed becuse of being a doctor he has been wrkin n the doc office here. So i asked the head doc & he knew nothing of the sort. I now doubt everything he has ever said. The only thing is he has doctor looking hands, knows bout officer school details, tells believable stories bout iraq, & being a doctor. My guess is he was a really good nurse or asistant. The sad thing is he is a likable guy but i dont trust a word he says now. Also when richard went free billy caused big trouble 4 richard & the bastards in charge of the office were able 2 steal more of richards stuff.

Richard called me at 1am the other night. He was going free wanted me 2 take care of some things 4 him. I was 2 give his stuff he left w guy n other cell 2 his wife later that day, give his refridge 2 guy that bought it & i get the very nice table he had made. When i get 2 his conjugal at 7am everything is gone but some dishes, garlic, 3 joints & 2 zig zags. I go 2 office at 9 am w guy who bought the fridge. Office said rich sold fridge 2 6 people & does guy have a recipt. I get rich on phone he explains i get table & the guy gets fridge. The zetas stole it. But they didnt care bout the table so i got it back. The guy didnt get fridge but boss gave him the $. The office guys got some phone credit.

2 be continued…

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Molossus is proud to introduce a new feature by an anonymous American in jail in a beach town in Mexico: Prisionero Gringo. The column will appear weekly, once received by email from our contributor’s contraband cellphone from jail. Los Angeles cartoonist Dave Meyers is illustrating an accompanying comic for each issue of the series. All formatting, spelling, punctuation, and grammar have been left as received, to better convey the reality of cellphone literature.


Ok here’s the deal, this is whats going on. We no longer have laptops w internet n the jail. So i have 2 use my cell phone 2 go online. I have 2 pay 4 24hrs 2 get better rate so i dont go on all the time, every other saturday. If i go on during the week its cuz im on a friends phone & the have a touch screen. So my time is limited + touch screens r a rite bastard 2 type long mails. Right! So may 19th 07 cops kick n door of house i was n w big fuck off machine guns & start shouting @ me in spanish which i dont speak. However i do understand guns & when raised & pointed @ u it meams – lay dwn on floor & put ur hands behind back. Which i did. They handcuff me & start the search of the house.

There is a lot here i will skip over, many details that aren’t so important rite now. They take me 2 the jail on the 21st which is where i’ve been ever since. The jail… What a place. There is so much 2 tell. 1st the guards take ur shoes & what ever else u have on u that is of value. Then u go 2 a cell the called “the office” & take ur clothes & give u jail clothes then they touture & extort $ from u. Now the stuff the gurd took off u he sells it to the other inmates who then sell it on. Same w ur clothes the inmates n the office sell them on u dont get them back unless u buy them. Ur jail clothes aren’t real clothes issued by the jail. They r uniforms donnated by the big name hotels. Kind of funny seeing bunch of myans dressed like they wrk @ the reef hotel. Ok so what happened 2 me n the office? Well they said 2 me i had 2 pay $5k i said thats way 2 much the man said ok come w me. We go outside round the building & the stench almost made me want 2 vomit. The smell of swear on a hot summer day. We walk past a line of wet guys n line w buckets up 2 a hole n the concrete. Ok u no pay everyday u dwn there. He points 2 a hole w a man standing n swear water lifting buckets up. I said let me use ur phone. The news paper put me on frnt page whole bottom half w head lines that said INTERNATIONAL DROGA LAPORATORIA! So the guy in the office called me “El Presadente” thats why they want me 2 pay so much. We wrked out a deal. No work, no beatings, cell w plancha (concrete bed) all 4 the low price of $4k. Once u pay ur ok. No1 bothers u, u can do what u want. How ever u cant escape the noise. Fuckin bout done my head in. They have big sound systen no i mean profesional sound sys. Playing the worst music u can imagine. Rancharo thier version of country music. Rubish. Fuckin truppets tubas & acordians. They have 2 types rancharo romantic & rancharo gangster. The rancharo gangster is popular cause they sing bout being a zeta (look up zeta mafia) sellin drugs 2 gringos havin nice car big house then shoot out w cops. Thats basiclly it. Some times the singers r popular & say bad things bout the zetas so the zetas kill them. But im ok.

I have a mini refridgerator so i get outside food. The government food is shit. We are out of our cell from 9am to 6/7pm. Wed is movie nite they set up big screen & we out till 10 or 11pm. We have 3 visit days from 9-5. Sundays this place is packed. So many kids, every1 has a baby. They have never heard of the condom dwn here. On non visit days i go 4 sun taning 1 hr @ 9am. Then i go 2 gym then lunch then read rest of day. They opened new sections of jail & new terease so its quiter. Im much more relaxed. We use to have a group of cheerleaders most annoying group of cunts u ever meet. They were so noisy w their stupid cheers & they got paid 4 it. They paid them n crack! Oh they sell drugs here, pot coke & crack. Also beer tequila & home made beer. It sounds like complete disorder but it is not. If u steal, fight, bother a visitor u get a real beating. U can request a boxin match w some1 who bothers u. If u owe $ & dont pay or rip off some1 u get beat. So it isnt a free 4 all. There r many more crazy stories bout this place i will tell later this just 2 give u an idea. My process. I was charged w pos w intent 2 sell. Prosacutor appeal n judge raised charges 2 sales, pos intent 2 sell. During “trial” the people that say i sold them drugs never showed up so thier testamony was removed. Then cops give different & contradicting testamony. My whitness told what a model citizen i was & judge gave me 10yr 100days. So i appeal. Nxt judge says im right i no sell drugs there is no proof so i get 5yr 100d. This took 8 months. Some guys here 6yrs no sentance. So i have 1 more chance 2 go. Something called an ampero directo. They take at least 1yr. It is 3 judges that review the case & they have the last word. I have been waiting 1 year 25 days. I could hear the answer any day now. So thats really the basics. I will send u all the emails i have sent out recently so u will have plenty of entertainment.

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The Watchful Heart: A New Generation of Irish Poets, ed. Joan McBreen (Salmon Poetry/Dufour Editions) €18/$32.95

Acclaimed anthologist and poet Joan McBreen has compiled a selection of younger Irish poets, the majority born in the sixties. Most names will be unfamiliar to even quite avid readers of poetry in America, but include Loius de  Paor (in translation from the Irish), Mary O’Donoghue, Patrick Quinn, and Nuala Ní Chonchúir. Despite its origin in a Derek Mahon poem, the title retains some triteness: it is hard, in America at least, to seriously consider any volume of poetry with the word “heart” in its title.

In her introduction McBreen writes that these poets should be considered part of the ongoing dialogue of Irish poetry and poetics. Owing to the limited space allotted each poet—a mere three poems—the book reads just like that, a sort of introductory conversation with the poets themselves, all who have published at least two books, none of whom the reader can fully comprehend here. Unlike Graywolf’s New British and New European anthologies, which are generally more generous in their selection of poems (especially the former), The Watchful Heart does not offer any critical introductions, however brief, but instead begins each selection with a simple biographical note.

Like several other UK anthologies—notably Carcanet’s OxfordPoets series—McBreen’s pairs original poems with brief essays by the poets. The essays are particularly noteworthy, often contextualizing the poetry that precedes them or more satisfyingly expounding on topics ranging from the relationship between poetry and work to poetry in the electronic age to Patrick Chapman’s “Fortune Cookies” aphorisms, a sort of Irish Sargentville Notebooks without Strand’s whimsical surrealism.

The poetry itself is contemporary, fully engaged in conversation with European, American, and world poetry. Irish in origin but universal in theme, the poems within make for good, enjoyable reading. Like the best anthologies, one can open to any page and find something worthwhile.  Leontia Flynn, in her poem “Art and Wine,” writes,

And would you, I mused, perhaps understand me more,
if I could, for a single second, shut the fuck up?

Though in context the question is certainly rhetorical, I speak to the included poets as well as their anthologist when I request that they not shut up but continue to dialogue with world poetry.

Oaxaca Siete Poetas, ed. Raúl Renán & Jorge Pech Casanova (Almadía/Luna Zeta) $75 MXP

In his introduction, Jorge Pech offers a thumbnail sketch of contemporary poetry in the Southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico, beginning with its relative absence—owing, he argues, to its role as a solemn keeper of tradition rather than the innovation needed to fuel good poetry—then detailing the oral poetry of mystic hero María Sabina, the rise of the Isthmus Zapotec poets of the 1970s—whom he claims, with some truth, have never been translated well enough into Spanish to reflect their skill—the eighties, when Oaxacan poets began to write in earnest, and  today, whose poets he praises for having shed the provincialism of past generations.

The volume’s poets, born between 1967 and 1978, are represented generously, in Spanish only, with over ten pages apiece. If trends in translation continue, it’s unlikely that English-language readers will see much, if any, of these poets’ work within the next few decades, when availability is more often the result of professional relationships than quality. Still, for Spanish readers and translators alike the volume is a valuable snapshot of contemporary Mexican poetry. My favorites include Abraham O Nahón, aphorist and aphoristic poet:

Light

Darkness converts us into mystery
& cedes to other senses.
Light has no limits,
its wounds are infinite.

*

Definition

Night:
XXXthe scum beneath day’s fingernails.

*

Tactic

There exists a word that draws our shadow,
that we inevitably are,
that I will never tell you,
that will make me necessary.

*

Creation

Poetry
has created more monstrosities
than God.

(more…)

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It’s now safe to say that Bolaño has been tokenized as the new Latin American writer to love, a sort of younger, hipper García Marquez. The problem of tokenization aside, he has to his credit an extensive oeuvre of quality fiction and—though we have yet to see his best work published in English—poetry. These two new titles celebrate his legacy by allowing the writer, poet, and man to speak for himself, and by presenting his poetry with the art and ceremony it deserves.

Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview & Other Conversations, tr. Sybil Perez. (Melville House Publishing) $14.95

Finally Bolaño can speak for himself, despite the fact that these interviews took place before his English-language boom. Melville House’s collection, introduced by the author’s friend Marcela Valdes, collects his last interview, with the Mexico Edition of Playboy, in July 2003, along with earlier interviews, dating back to 1999 and from the four countries most intimately connected to his work (Chile, Spain, Mexico, and, perhaps less so, the United States). His US interview, from Bomb magazine in 2002, is a testament to their fine coverage of world literature, often preceding or eschewing literary trendiness. Valdes introduction is an unexpectedly

humanizing portrait of Bolaño as an infinitely curious individual, dedicated to the objective exploration of everyday oppression. Bolaño presents himself not unlike what a reader of The Savage Detectives might expect. He’s incredibly well read, his taste international, and he alludes to authors not in pride but with the expectation that others are as well versed in world literature as he is. Fortunately Melville House has glossed persons, books, and movements unfamiliar to English-language readers in the book’s margins.

In his 1999 interview with the Chilean periodical Capital, he says, “I think Borges said that a good writer is normally a good person. It must have been Borges because he said practically everything. Good writers who are bad people are the exception.” This collection of interview proves he’s not an exception to Borges’ rule: that he appears to be as likable a human as a novelist.

“Godzilla in Mexico,” Roberto Bolaño, tr. Laura Healy. (New Directions) Free + $3 Shipping

New Direction’s Bolaño broadside, featuring a poem from The Romantic Dogs (also published by New Directions, in Laura Healy’s translation) is one of only a handful of bilingual broadsides ever produced. The broadside features one of the most iconic portraits of the late poet and novelist (the same photo used for the cover of The Last Interview, above), smoking a cigarette, and is a must-have for any serious Bolaño collector. Instructions for its purchase can be found in the left-hand column of the current New Directions catalogue of forthcoming titles. “Godzilla in Mexico,” which ranks among the best poems of this collection, ends:

Who are we? you asked a week or year later,
Ants, bees, wrong numbers
in the big rotten soup of chance?
We’re human beings, my son, almost birds,
public heroes and secrets.

DS

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