FORREST GANDER: An interview
[Mérida, Yucatán, 21.01.2009]U.S. Poets in Mexico/USPIM, un encuentro de poetas estadounidenses de primer nivel, se llevó a cabo del 12 al 16 de enero en la ciudad de Mérida, en el edificio de Artes Visuales de la Escuela Superior de Artes de Yucatán/ESAY. El salón de usos múltiples en la ex estación de ferrocarriles fue el punto de reunión conveniente para que C.D. Wright, Mónica de la Torre, Jack Collom, Bob Holman y Forrest Gander mostraran algunas de las técnicas y procedimientos más empleados de la poesía norteamericana actual, en un contexto cálido, intensamente humano, pese al clima lluvioso de principios de año y las diferencias lingüísticas.Bajo estas circunstancias de profundas implicaciones emotivas, Forrest Gander accedió a responder una entrevista. El poeta y geólogo californiano, nacido en el desierto de Mojave, ha publicado 10 libros de poesía, entre ellos Eye against eye, Sound of Summer Running (con fotografías de Ray Meeks), Torn Awake, además del ensayo A Faithful Existence, la novela As A Friend y las traducciones Firefly Under the Tongue: Selected Poems of Coral Bracho y No Shelter: Selected Poems of Pura López Colomé, entre otros títulos.Para no perdernos en la traducción, la entrevista se transcribe en su idioma original.
Christian Núñez (CN): How was the experience of being in Merida?Forrest Gander (FG): I love the distinctiveness of the Yucatan.
CN: What was the most important thing of this city?FG: The cultural richness. In the short time I was there, I attended a concert directed by the composer and musician Javier Alvarez, a concert by Ely Guerra, and I received invitations to attend the Literatura y Bebida conference where two poets I admire, Blanca Luz Pulido and Elsa Cross were speaking. Also, I was impressed by the diversity of influences that I saw everywhere around me —Merida is a city showing French, Lebanese, Mayan, and Spanish elements.
CN: Would you say something about the poetry course?FG: The course was very well organized by Sheila Lanham so that poets from Mexico —from Mexico City, Campeche, San Miguel, and Merida —and from the United States and Canada worked together in small groups, talking about poetic strategies, sharing ideas, comparing poems, and offering advice. Then there were nightly bilingual readings that were attended by many local people, some who spoke English and some who spoke Spanish.
CN: For you, what is a good poem?FG: I’ve never been able to define it without limiting it. I know that good poems stimulate my emotions, my intellect, and my imagination, and that the words engage me at the deepest level, through my body, so the impact of a good poem is profound and penetrating and often slightly strange. Good poems don’t merely corroborate the ideas and perceptions we already share.
CN: In your text, the individual experience becomes an indispensable component to transmit sensations to the reader. You make him shake. I have read Final Testament and Repeating Dream, from the book Deeds of Utmost Kindness. It was an intense experience. How do you get it?FG: As it is with you, Christian, or with Fernando de la Cruz, with me, the goal is to try to create not just a commentary but an enactment of complex experience in language.CN: You told me that you are interested on philosophy. Which philosophers have influenced on your reality and how they have affected your work in literature?FG: I think you and I both share an interest in Heidegger, Christian. But I’m very much interested in phenomenology and ethics after Heidegger, in the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emmanuel Levinas, and Paul Ricouer for instance. I’m obsessed with the relation between language and perception.
CN: Every poet wants to translate certain ideal of beauty and because of that desire he builds his speech. How has changed your perception of beauty on your poetry?FG: I’ve come to think that beauty in poetry means “what works” (lo que funciona). It certainly doesn’t only refer to aesthetic balance. Andre Breton famously said that “Beauty will be convulsive or it will not be at all.” These days, what I find beautiful in poems are those moments —and they can be revealed by syntax or line break or image or word choice— that open the unknown and invite me in, that expand my senses and enlarge what it means for me to be human.
CN: Would you talk to us about your novel As A Friend, that was published in 2008?FG: It’s a short novel about the complexity of friendship, about how friendship can be composed not only of mutual admiration, but of jealousy, erotic attraction, and betrayal. And it’s the story of a poet who makes his living as a land surveyor and who acutely impacts the people around him. Remarkably, it has been a surprise hit here in the U.S. and there are already translations coming out in Germany and France.
CN: Which obstacles do you have at translating the poetry of Coral Bracho, Jaime Sáenz or Pura López Colomé?FG: They are three difficult poets, for sure. But as Lezama Lima reminds us, “Solo lo difícil es estimulante.” The work of Saenz is influenced by Aymara linguistic patterns and conceptions. Coral Bracho’s poems are among the most challenging in contemporary Mexican literature —her syntax is so slippery. And Pura Lopez Colome, whose last book Santa y Seña won the Villaurrutia Prize, writes intense, even hermetic explorations of personal experience connected to language. I think translation is basically an impossible activity, but I think it is worthwhile nevertheless. All three of those poets have met new and enthusiastic English-speaking audiences in the United States.
CN: Which are the authors that you most read? Which are your particular interests?FG: It’s a great period for world poetry. In France, the mathematician-poet Jacques Roubaud and the philosopher-poet Edmond Jabes; in Denmark, the ecologically-focused Inger Christensen; in the Middle East, Taha Muhammed Ali and Aharon Shabtai. In the United States, it is still New Directions that publishes the writers I most want to read: Michael Palmer, Nathaniel Mackey, Bernadette Mayer, and Eliot Weinberger among others.
CN: Where is going the contemporary poetry? Do you think there is a break between it and the models of last century?FG: It’s in your hands, Christian. You and Fernando and the young poets of Mexico are going to take contemporary poetry into the future.
CN: Finally, do you have any comment for the readers?FG: Let’s keep crossing the borders —making connections between readers and writers in Mexico and readers and writers in the United States. We need to be in contact with each other. One of the few positive consequences of the nightmarish Bush administration is an awakening in the United States to the importance of translation, to the importance of realizing that we are neither independent nor isolated from the rest of the world. New presses devoted to translation have begun to pop up. Now, I’m answering your questions on the day that Barack Obama is being inaugurated and I feel hopeful for the first time in years. Part of that hope is invested in the potential for making communities with others, across borders, through words, those magical tools that allow us to offer our world to others.
Agradezco de manera especial el apoyo de Melisa Bermúdez para la realización de esta entrevista.
[Foto: Cortesía Forrest Gander]