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Guillermo Parra
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(Juan Sánchez Peláez at his home in Caracas in 1979, by Vasco Szinetar) One of the reasons I became a translator of Venezuelan literature into English is because I discovered the poetry of Juan Sánchez Peláez (Altagracia de Orituco, 1922 - Caracas, 2003). Sánchez Peláez published seven collections of poetry between 1951 and 1989 and had a profound influence on his contemporaries and several subsequent generations of writers in Venezuela. Although he was an International Writing Program Fellow at the University of Iowa in 1969 and lived in New York City in the early 1970s, Sánchez Peláez’s work remains unknown in the United States. I hope that in the near future my translations will lead American readers to Sánchez Peláez’s poetry. In The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: Fourth Edition (2012), the Venezuelan scholar Luis Miguel Isava devotes an entire paragraph to Sánchez Peláez in the entry for “Poetry of Venezuela”: A herald of the Generación de los 60 (Generation of the 1960s), Juan Sánchez Peláez (1922-2003) is considered the most revolutionary, complex, and stimulating Venezuelan poet of the 20th c. His poetry bore some thematic resemblance to previous poets (José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Vicente Gerbasi), but distinguished itself by a revolutionary lang. that combined the grammatical transgressions of the avant-garde with a singular and tender intimacy, recognizable even in his first book Elena y los elementos (Elena and the Elements, 1951). The publication of his Animal de costumbre (The Usual Animal, 1959)—notably in the same year as the downfall of the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez—marked the beginning of a new era of poetic experimentation. The Generación de los 60 enjoyed the newfound creative liberty enabled by Sánchez Peláez. When Sánchez Peláez died, the only North American publication to mention the news was the Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald. The article was an essay by his close friend the Cuban poet Lorenzo García Vega (Jagüey Grande, 1926 - Miami, 2012). García Vega was the youngest member of the famous Orígenes group of poets, which included José Lezama Lima and Fina García Marruz. After García Vega left Cuba in the late 1960s, he lived in Caracas for a time before eventually settling in Miami or as he called it, Playa Albina. I’d like to finish this week as guest author at the Best American Poetry blog with my translation of Lorenzo García Vega's appreciation of Juan Sánchez Peláez. Thank you to Stacey Harwood for the invitation to participate in this blog and thank you, dear readers. *** The One Who Threw Burning Grapes Lorenzo García Vega, Miami, El Nuevo Herald, 26 January 2004 The one who threw burning grapes into hard bays? Who knew how to say it? Only a poet, of course, only my friend Juan Sánchez Peláez knew how. But because it ends up being painful for me to say he’s no longer here, I’ll take a leap that will lead me to a cinema from my youth. How’s this? Some of us poets or men of letters, or... Continue reading
Posted Jan 23, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
DD and RFS read from Intervenir in Mexico City, 21 November 2009. Click on image for video (in Spanish). In the fall of 2014, the Mexican poets Dolores Dorantes (Córdoba, Veracruz, 1973) and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez (Mexico City, 1977) will be publishing a collaborative book of poems entitled, Intervene/Intervenir (Brooklyn: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014, forthcoming). The English translation of the collection (which hasn't been published in Spanish yet) is by the North American poet and translator Jen Hofer (San Francisco, 1971). Jen Hofer is, by far, the most important North American translator working with Mexican poetry today. Her many publications include the groundbreaking Sin puertas visibles: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by Mexican Women Writers (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), and most recently she co-translated Heriberto Yépez's critical study of Charles Olson's travels and research in Mexico, The Empire of Neomemory (Oakland/Philadelphia: Chain Links, 2013). I was introduced to the work of Dolores in 2003 via the network of Mexican poetry blogs, which emerged at the same time as many experimental North American poets took to the blogosphere. Dolores still maintains a blog today (Dolores Dorantes) and for over a decade her online writing and her books of poetry have been essential to me. North American readers can find her work in the volume sexoPUROsexoVELOZ and Septiembre: A Bilingual Edition of Books Two and Three from Dolores Dorantes, translated by Jen Hofer (Denver: Counterpath Press and Kenning Editions, 2007). Dolores lived for many years in Ciudad Juárez and today resides in Los Angeles, CA. Through correspondence with Dolores I arrived at Rodrigo's poetry, via his second collection Estimado cliente (Toluca: Bonobos Editores, 2007). Rodrigo himself is a translator who has brought Jack Spicer and Muriel Rukeyser into Spanish. He lives in Mexico City and Intervene/Intervenir will be his first book to appear in English. I spoke with Dolores and Rodrigo via e-mail regarding their upcoming book with Ugly Duckling Presse. I have translated their responses into English. If anyone would like to read our conversation in Spanish, I've posted it at my blog Venepoetics. I get the impression that Intervene emerges, partly, from the friendship between you two. How did you decide to collaborate on this book? Dolores Dorantes: Intervene came about from an invitation to collaborate with the magazine Kaurab Online. The poet Aryanil Mukherjee wrote to me when he was editing an issue for the magazine with texts created in collaboration. Aryanil wanted three pages from each pair of collaborators and I invited Rodrigo to do something together. For me, the experience of collaborating was so new and getting to know Rodrigo's creative process made such an impact on me (this was my first time collaborating with someone): it was like discovering the mechanism that makes a flower open up, or something like that, so I didn't want to stop. I had already decided to abandon writing poetry in a formal manner, to give up writing verses, but working with Rodrigo made me see the formula for writing... Continue reading
Posted Jan 22, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
(Tom Raworth, February 16th, 2013) One of the best poetry readings I’ve ever attended took place in a comfortable living room with a dozen people listening to the English poet Tom Raworth read at his signature breakneck speed. The night —which began with the raw and powerful folk music of Ben Collier and concluded with everyone chatting amiably throughout the house— was part of the Bonfire Reading Series here in Pittsburgh, PA. The readings always follow a simple but effective format: an invited musician, the featured poet, and an informal gathering afterwards with potluck snacks and drinks. The series has been running since 2012 and is curated by a collective of poets that includes Emily Carlson, Sten Carlson, Robin Clarke, R/B Mertz and Joshua Zelesnick. The members of the collective met while they were poetry MFA students at the University of Pittsburgh several years ago. The idea for a reading series emerged as a natural extension of their friendship, as well as their belief in poetry as an essential part of their everyday lives. As Sten told me recently, when I interviewed him about the reading series: “We wanted to create poetic events that meant something to us.” The series is a reflection of their desire as poets to “create an eventful life together, as opposed to discrete, private acts of writing.” All of the group members are educators and Sten also works as the Managing Director for the University of Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series. My wife Dayana and I moved to Pittsburgh in 2012 from Durham, NC, and befriending this group of poets is one of the reasons we love this city so much. Since we're neighbors, Sten and I tend to meet a couple times a month to talk about poetry at the nearby Kelly's Bar & Lounge in the East Liberty neighborhood. During one of those get-togethers recently (I half-jokingly call them our “poetry work meetings”), I took notes while Sten talked about the Bonfire Reading Series. I also e-mailed several questions to the group members. Between our conversation that night and various group e-mails, the following responses emerged. You all met while studying at the Creative Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh. When and how did the idea for the Bonfire Reading Series emerge? Were there any models that inspired you? Joshua Zelesnick: I think one of the contributing factors to starting the Bonfire series came from the Occupy Movement—and the activism we’ve all been part of in some way. Yes, Pitt made it possible for all of us to meet, but the reading series was not as much informed by our Pitt experience (at least I would say). I remember R/B Mertz reading from her amazing book, Leaves of Money at the kick—off march towards People’s Park here in Pittsburgh (Mellon Green: the Occupy Pittsburgh camp site). Every week we would go to the campsite and read poems—anybody could read. It seemed to always boost morale, and so many people read. I remember meeting... Continue reading
Posted Jan 21, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
(Lorca, Micah and Sunnylyn, photo by Matt Gonzalez) “Looming with the legends” (Sunnylyn Thibodeaux) I've never met the San Francisco-based poets Micah Ballard (Baton Rouge, 1975) and Sunnylyn Thibodeaux (New Orleans, 1975) in person, but we’ve been corresponding via letters, e-mail and telephone since 2007. I was aware of their work before that through our friend in common, the poet Cedar Sigo. Aside from being writers whose work I deeply admire, Micah and Sunnylyn are also the editors of a small publishing venture that goes by the names Auguste Press and Lew Gallery Editions (depending on what type of project they’re working on at the time). Auguste Press/Lew Gallery Editions are not sold anywhere, the only way to find them is to contact the editors directly. Each of their publications is made by hand and printed in limited editions that are sent out to their mailing list of friends and contacts across the country. While their operation is very much inspired by the long tradition of avant-garde poetry in the Bay Area throughout the 20th century, their publications have a loyal following all over the United States. I recently interviewed Sunnylyn and Micah via e-mail, asking them to discuss their publishing venture that’s now in its 14th year. Finding August Press/Lew Gallery Editions books might be difficult but it’s worth the effort. So is their own poetry, which includes Micah’s collection Waifs and Strays (City Lights Books, 2011) and Sunnylyn’s Palm to Pine (Bootstrap Press, 2011), along with a slew of chapbooks, broadsides and limited edition pamphlets. What follows are their unedited responses to five questions I sent them. Could you talk about when and how the idea of Auguste Press emerged? Are there any particular small presses that inspired you? Sunnylyn Thibodeaux: We started in 2000. At New College of California there was a great small press bookstore, Blue Books. I was in awe of the hundreds of stapled selections by poets I’d never heard of and those I had. I wanted to do it too. We could make books and print our friends. Why not? Why not print my work and the work of our friends, come up with a cover, and hand it out to the people we respected. We called it Auguste Press because, well, my birthday’s in August and because I was so enthralled with the work of Lew Welch. We share the Leo status. He’s the 16th and I’m the 17th. It’s embarrassingly that simple. Friends had little presses as well and we learned what we liked and didn’t like through the variety of chaps that Blue Books had. They had these rotary book displays that you could spend hours spinning and pulling out new voices in some new design from someone in New York or Santa Cruz or Boulder. Mike Price & Kevin Opstedal’s Blue Press was highly influential as well as Noel Black’s Angry Dog Press. The community on and off the page through Blue Books, not to mention New College’s Poetics... Continue reading
Posted Jan 20, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
“By this time, from the cold of Bretagne, I got big flannel shirt on now, with scarf inside collar, no shave, pack silly hat away into suitcase, close it again with teeth and now, with my Air France return ticket to Tampa Florida I’se ready as the fattest ribs in old Winn Dixie, dearest God.” (Jack Kerouac, Satori in Paris, 1966) When I was an undergrad studying English at the University of South Florida in Tampa during the early 1990s, my favorite professor was a poet and actor named Kelly Reynolds. The first course I took with Kelly was a night class on Contemporary World Fiction and among the books he assigned was Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Kelly’s passion for the work of Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg (he called Ginsberg “a visionary” one night in class) resonated immediately with me. I soon befriended Kelly and would often stop by his office in Cooper Hall to talk about literature and ask him questions about the Beat Generation writers. In the late 1950s, when Kelly was a young actor living in New York City he had befriended Kerouac, Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. It was through Kelly that I found out about Kerouac’s later years across the bay in St. Petersburg. Thanks in part to Kelly, I ended up studying with Ginsberg briefly at Naropa University in Boulder, CO during the summer of 1993, at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Ginsberg mentioned Kerouac in his lectures, praising his discipline as a writer who wrote nearly every single day of his adult life. A few years ago, while visiting my family in Clearwater, FL for Christmas I decided to take the 15-minute drive down to North St. Pete and check out Kerouac’s house, which today is owned by his brother-in-law and literary executor John Sampas. I've passed by there a couple times since then, the most recent just a month ago. I went with an old friend of mine who also grew up in the Tampa Bay area but who had never been to see the house. (Photo: Joe Morris) My friend Joe and I drove down from Clearwater and snapped a few photos of the place. It still looks pretty much the way it would have back in 1968, the year Kerouac bought the house. It’s a typical suburban Florida house on a quiet street, like thousands of others around it, but for Joe and I that afternoon it was like paying a visit to Kerouac himself, an exciting few minutes of time travel back to the late sixties. As we walked around the house snapping photos with our phones, I kept expecting Kerouac to step out onto the porch and ask us what the hell we were doing on his lawn. In March of 2013, the Tampa Bay Times published an article about the house (“Glimpse inside the St. Petersburg home where Jack Kerouac lived”) and John Sampas allowed the newspaper to take photos of the inside, which pretty... Continue reading
Posted Jan 19, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Jan 16, 2014