Category: Latin America

DESAFIANDO EL CAOS: REFLEXIONES DESDE EL DERRUMBE ELECTORAL y otros artículos de Lucía Scorzelli

DESAFIANDO EL CAOS: REFLEXIONES DESDE EL DERRUMBE ELECTORAL

La vejez de Guillermo Tell, óleo sobre lienzo de Salvador Dali

Después de la dura jornada electoral, me resistí a escribir, como si las palabras se escondieran tras los golpes del domingo. Sin embargo, una frase en redes capturó mi atención: “La tristeza colectiva es otra forma de felicidad antes de reaparecer”. Me quedó resonando porque encapsula exactamente lo que sentí el domingo al ver las expresiones de mis amigos frente a los resultados, esa mezcla de desconcierto, tristeza pero la contención de sabernos unidos. A partir de eso me surgieron varias reflexiones que me parecen importantes.

 

¿RECONFIGURACIÓN DEL PODER EN ARGENTINA?

Por un lado, la victoria de Milei en el balotaje podría ser el inicio de una reconfiguración del poder en Argentina. Sin embargo, no necesariamente tiene que ser trágico para el progresismo, como la primera impresión nos sugiere. Este es un momento crucial para hacernos una autocrítica.

Si algo nos tiene que enseñar esta derrota electoral es que el progresismo, cuando se modera, no funciona. Si cuando gobierna solo se ufana de haber evitado algo peor, no genera esperanzas. Esta segunda ola progresista que se dio en América Latina, en Argentina con Alberto, en México con Obrador, en Bolivia con Luis Arce, no estuvo acompañada de movilización popular como la primera. Eso también puede leerse como un síntoma de la dificultad para hacer política desde las izquierdas en este proceso de hiperindividualismo.

Para la derecha es más fácil; lo que ellos proponen ya es la forma en que vivimos en el mercado laboral y que ya tenemos naturalizado. La idea de que estás solo en esta jungla donde pisas o te pisan, este miedo a cualquiera que hable de lo colectivo porque seguro quiere engañarnos, estas ideas ya se reproducen en nuestras vidas cotidianas. El progresismo tiene que discutir esa forma actual de vida, disputarla, explicar que los comportamientos colectivos nos hacen más libres a todos, que la cooperación nos puede ofrecer más libertad, libertad de tiempo, libertad de la competencia con nosotros mismos, pero debemos dar ejemplos cotidianos de esto. Lograr volver a calar discursivamente en la gente, entendiendo el momento actual, es también tarea de este progresismo.

Y cual es ese momento actual? El sistema en el que venimos navegando está en crisis desde hace rato, y estas avanzadas de las derechas extremas que vemos en el mundo (derechas más radicalizadas en América Latina; partidos neonazis en europa, etc) son solo un intento desesperado de salvar las papas del sistema en el que estamos metidos. ¿Por qué digo esto cuando el sistema hoy parece más vivo que nunca?

 

NEOLIBERALISMO SIN OPTIMISMO HISTÓRICO

Voy a tomar un análisis de Garcia Linera que me parece interesante para comprender esto. Él plantea que vivimos ciclos históricos y en cada una aparece una forma de dominación y de legitimación política, cuando uno caduca aparece otro, y así fue por largos periodos de tiempo. Hoy el ciclo neoliberal está en crisis, podemos notar que ya no se presenta con el optimismo histórico de antes. En la actualidad, no sentimos un tono social que se inclina más hacia el pesimismo sobre el futuro? Este sentimiento se manifiesta en nuestra vida cotidiana: al reflexionar sobre el mañana, ¿no nos asalta la imagen de un caos inminente y desastres? No es mero pesimismo individual; más bien, refleja el clima de nuestra época. Por eso mientras que nuestros padres visualizaban progreso y mejoras, nosotros encontramos difícil concebir un futuro similar.

A este contexto podemos sumar la avanzada individualista que estamos viviendo, donde los anhelos de cambios sociales significativos y compromisos políticos ceden paso al lema de “cada uno para sí mismo”. En un entorno donde todo se individualiza, el espacio público se ve invadido por lo privado. Y asi es que aparece una de las grandes contradicciones de nuestra epoca, la desaparición del poder público en favor de la libertad individual genera una impotencia práctica de la libertad. El poder público ha perdido la capacidad tanto de oprimir como de posibilitar, ya que lo común es lo que impide que la gran propiedad avance sin restricciones. En un país conformado únicamente por dueños, el más fuerte es el que prevalece.

 

DISPUTA DEL HORIZONTE PREDICTIVO

Las sociedades se mueven gracias a creencias y perspectivas, y la política es la pelea por el horizonte predecible, hoy estamos en plena batalla por un nuevo futuro predecible.  Estamos en el medio, justo en ese momento, como bien señalaba Gramsci cuando  “El viejo mundo se muere y el nuevo está por llegar, en ese claroscuro surgen los monstruos”  y si no hablemos de nuestro nuevo presidente, ruido de mate…

Fijémonos ¿qué plantean estas nuevas derechas?. Precisamente la idea de que si el neoliberalismo está fallando es porque se hicieron mal las cosas, hay que volver a las bases, al libre mercado puro. Y son autoritarios, porque es un neoliberalismo que dice: estamos mal por culpa de alguien, del Estado, de los impuestos. Hay demasiada libertad y derechos para las mujeres, para los sindicalistas, hay demasiados inmigrantes que nos quitan el trabajo. ¿Les suena? La receta económica es la misma, pero el discurso es diferente y tiende a volverse popular si está precedido de un gobierno progresista al que poder echarle la culpa.

Esta derecha no será duradera porque las recetas que tienen son viejas y ya se han probado. No resuelven los problemas de la gente, sino que los agravan, porque son incompatibles con el mantenimiento de la familia, con la certeza de vida, con la sustentabilidad de las naciones como espacio de identidad y con la supervivencia de la vida en el planeta.

Esa es nuestra tarea hoy, porque el que entienda las demandas de la gente  y sepa leer el momento histórico será el que logre hegemonizar el nuevo tiempo histórico e imponer un nuevo horizonte.



¿Qué tiene para decir el feminismo a los nuevos síntomas de la época?

artículo de Lucía

Foto: Kala Moreno Parra y agencias

El límite a Milei puede ser el voto femenino. Una frase contundente para datos contundentes, en nuestro país como en distintos países el feminismo se presenta como un freno a las derechas. Según investigaciones de las universidades de Ámsterdam y Bergen[1], las mujeres votan menos por partidos de extrema derecha en países como Argentina, Polonia, Brasil y España. Otros datos indican que si en nuestro país el voto solo hubiese sido masculino como lo era antes, Milei  tendría más del 50% de los votos. Estos datos electorales esconden un gran significado político.

Mientras las fuerzas de derecha intentan resucitar viejas ideas, el feminismo  se presenta  como una posibilidad desde donde pensar un nuevo horizonte, no sólo como crítica de las injusticias del sistema sino como bandera que aglutine diferentes luchas y sea el frente desde el cual fundar una sociedad más igualitaria.

El feminismo ha demostrado su fuerza y ​​masividad en eventos a nivel global, desde los paros internacionales hasta las huelgas de mujeres y las marchas de “Ni una Menos”. Estos movimientos muestran su capacidad para asumir la responsabilidad histórica de un cambio profundo y estructural. Pero no es un hecho dado que el feminismo pueda ser un principio articulador de un proyecto emancipador, es una posibilidad sin garantías.

En los últimos tiempos nuestra sociedad ha experimentado cambios radicales. Vivimos en una era donde todo está en constante cambio, y las ideas utópicas de un futuro mejor cada vez tienen menos peso. De hecho si nos fijamos en algunos discursos políticos, especialmente los de derecha, buscan volver atrás en el tiempo promoviendo ideas como “todo tiempo pasado fue mejor”. Solo miremos los discursos de Donald Trump y “el regresos a la América que supimos ser” o el resurgimiento de ideologías nazis en Europa, o más cerca aún,  Villarruel y su cuestionamiento a la existencia de un Ministerio de las Mujeres y Género. ¿Por qué sucede esto? Porque con la caída de los grandes relatos utópicos cae también la idea de progreso, en una sociedad donde el individualismo extremo reemplaza la idea de una sociedad justa construida entre todos, la colaboración en la resolución de problemas comunes se traspasa al individuo. Entonces los problemas sociales ya no se tratan como cuestiones colectivas, sino que se han trasladado a la esfera individual, donde la responsabilidad recae en el individuo y la mirada está puesta en el propio rendimiento; y donde los medios de comunicación promueven la idea de que podemos ser lo que deseamos,si somos pobres es porque no hemos trabajado lo suficiente,  lo que a menudo desencadena una depresión generalizada, falta de autoestima, desilusión y falta de confianza en las autoridades.

En este contexto, ¿ Que tiene para decirnos el feminismo? El feminismo cobra relevancia al problematizar esta desintegración del espacio público debido a la privatización de la vida. Ha generado un contra-discurso y creado una esfera pública donde ha introducido nuevos conceptos, como por ejemplo la “economía del cuidado”. Además, ha demostrado que el trabajo de reproducción es el pilar del sistema capitalista. A través de protestas, huelgas y trabajos teóricos, el feminismo ha logrado situar estas cuestiones como problemas comunes en el espacio público.

Recuperar la conciencia colectiva, la conciencia de grupo, es fundamental en este contexto porque desde la concientización grupal es desde donde se pueden generar los cambios. Sin embargo, para que el feminismo se convierta en un principio articulador de un proyecto emancipador, es fundamental evitar caer en el particularismo e identitarismo. El verdadero potencial revolucionario del feminismo radica en la posibilidad de repensar  el concepto de sujeto, cuestionando las identidades esenciales y cerradas. Como señala Clara Serra[2], el peligro de caer en cierres particularistas está siempre presente y esa es la gran lucha. No se trata de encerrarse en una identidad rígida, como “las mujeres”, sino de impugnar los privilegios de cualquier sujeto identitario. La verdadera revolución es la posibilidad de pensar otro tipo de sujeto, que problematice las ideas esencialistas del sujeto moderno.  La política debe ser abierta a la diferencia, con la igualdad como principio político, entendida como “igualdad en la diferencia”, no una igualdad que homogenice dejando afuera al diferente sino una donde la verdadera diversidad pueda existir.

El feminismo es una voz clave en la sociedad actual. En lo más urgente el límite a Milei puede ser el voto femenino y yendo a algo más radical puede ser la puerta de entrada por donde plantear una sociedad distinta que recupere el espacio público como principio articulador de la sociedad

[1] Así lo indica un informe publicado por el diario El País, con la firma de Borja Andrino y Montse Hidalgo Pérez

[2] Clara Serra Sánchez es una filósofa, investigadora, escritora y ex política española especializada en feminismo.




 Morning sun by Edward Hopper


HABLEMOS DE POSVERDAD

artículo de Lucía Scorzelli


¿Por qué hoy las noticias no necesitan tener correlación con la verdad para ser creíbles?

Hablemos de posverdad. Esta categoría, hoy muy de moda, fue introducida por el periodismo político e intenta explicar la forma en que se relaciona el poder con la verdad. Nos referimos a discursos que establecen verdades que no pueden ser comprobadas fácticamente. Pero lo interesante, o mejor dicho, lo que nos interesa aquí es que este recurso no solo sirve para los intereses de los sectores dominantes, sino que parece haber un campo dispuesto a aceptarlas, una sociedad ávida de querer creer en algo, donde estos discursos vacíos consisten.

Hoy en día, es cada vez más habitual leer una noticia y no saber si lo que estamos leyendo es real o no. ¿Cómo llegamos a normalizar este fenómeno?Lo que vamos a sostener es que no es casual que surja en este sistema capitalista en su fase neoliberal. Un sistema que no solo es destructivo sino también constructivo. Desde Gramsci pasando por Foucault, el poder ya no puede ser pensado únicamente en su aspecto coercitivo, no solo oprime sino que fabrica consenso, produce una trama simbólica que funciona de manera invisible, naturalizando las ideas dominantes, creando sentido común y escondiendo siempre su acto de imposición. En este sentido el poder pasa a tener una fase productiva, produce subjetividad. Podemos entender al sistema neoliberal no sólo como un mal de los sistemas financieros, sino también como un nuevo orden racional que va construyendo subjetividad.

Vivimos en un sistema que nos impone crearnos a nosotros mismos constantemente. Solo preguntémonos por algunos de nuestros grandes padecimientos actuales, ¿no sentimos culpa de no dar la talla? ¿de no lograr ser exitosos por no esforzarnos lo suficiente? Fijémonos en el tipo de redes sociales que utilizamos: Instagram, Facebook, etc. Acaso, ¿no nos sentimos obligados a presentarnos a nosotros mismos como si nuestra vida fuera una marca ofrecida a un público? Todos debemos construir nuestra personalidad desplegada en imágenes , nuestro estilo de vida en formato stories, cada uno debe proveerse de sus propios medios para hacerse a sí mismo, nos empuja a ser empresarios de nosotros mismos, explotando al máximo así el sentimiento de culpabilidad.

Pero ¿cómo es posible la aceptación voluntaria de esta imposición? Para entender esta cuestión, debemos considerar la idea que impera en nuestro sentido común de que somos seres libres, autónomos, que vivimos en una constante ‘autorrealización’, ya que esta concepción nos lleva a asumir como ‘problema personal’ aquello que es más bien un hecho estructural (estructural en el sentido de que estamos articulados en base a nuestra condición de sujetos sociales, es decir no estamos solos en el mundo y no todo depende exclusivamente de nuestras propias decisiones). De hecho, ideas que hoy nos parecen obvias tales como por ejemplo: si nos enfermamos, es porque no hemos sido lo suficientemente constantes en nuestros cuidados de salud, o si no conseguimos trabajo es porque no tenemos las capacidades para pasar exitosamente entrevistas, no siempre estuvieron presentes ni son generalizables a toda la humanidad, sino que son propias de esta época y de las sociedades occidentales en particular. Los riesgos y las contradicciones de la vida siguen siendo producidas socialmente, el problema es que ahora la responsabilidad ha caído sobre los individuos, el éxito como el fracaso dependen de nuestro esfuerzo.

¿Qué implicancias genera esta concepción sobre los sujetos? En principio, desconoce nuestros vínculos a las herencias y a los legados simbólicos, dejándonos así disponibles para los requerimientos del mundo neoliberal, borrando la conexión a la verdad de nuestra constitución, como si el contexto social y nuestra historia particular no influyeran en nuestras elecciones. De esta manera nuestros padecimientos se convierten en trastornos, promoviendo la creación de un hombre nuevo, desarraigado de su historia personal y social. Esto se evidencia en el consumo cada vez mayor de todo tipo de libros de autoayuda y de fármacos para aliviar el dolor y la angustia de nuestra existencia, para calmar el sentimiento irremediable de ‘estar en falta’.

¿Pero qué tiene que ver todo esto con la posverdad? Hoy en día, el sujeto no solo está obligado a elegir por su propia cuenta su forma de ser, de vestirse y todo lo que tenga que ver con el orden de crear su personalidad, sino también a decidir por sí mismo lo que considera verdadero. Esto  transforma las bases mismas de los argumentos tomados como válidos en la sociedad. Antes, la “opinión pública” nos imponía creencias, “los discursos científicos” nos servían como fuente incuestionable de saber, hoy la base argumentativa del sujeto es “la creencia personal”. Sin ir más lejos, el dispositivo de las fake news funciona en este orden, y extrae su éxito de las diferentes ofertas que promociona en el nuevo orden simbólico del mercado, ofrece ser (ser nacionalista, racista, antiinmigrante, antivacuna, etc) promoviendo hasta el límite las ideas que tiene el sujeto sobre sí. Es por ello que las noticias no necesitan tener correlación con la verdad, solamente tienen que estar en consonancia con las creencias del sujeto a quién van dirigidas.

Este fenómeno de la posverdad se ha arraigado en un contexto neoliberal que promueve la individualidad y la responsabilidad personal, al tiempo que borra las conexiones con nuestras historias personales y sociales. Como resultado de este proceso, enfrentamos una lucha constante por definir nuestra identidad y creer en nuestras propias verdades. ¿Habrá una alternativa a este camino que no deja de profundizarse? Tal vez, como dice el sociólogo Zygmunt Bauman, debemos recuperar el poder de lo público, el interés por la vida pública  donde seamos más que una suma de partes.




Argentina en el Juego Global: Elecciones, BRICS y las Propuestas de Milei

artículo de Lucía Scorzelli


Las elecciones nacionales no solo influyen en el rumbo de Argentina, sino que también se ven impactadas por las relaciones internacionales. En un mundo en constante cambio, es crucial entender el papel de Argentina en la escena global y las ideas de los candidatos en este terreno. El artículo contextualiza el cambio global y analiza la relevancia de los BRICS. También aborda el análisis de Milei y su postura ante la globalización, China y la dolarización. ¿Son sus posturas por ignorancia o por intereses ajenos al país? En este contexto, comprender geopolítica y geofinanzas se vuelve fundamental para preservar la autonomía y posición de Argentina en la arena internacional.


UNA MIRADA AL JUEGO GLOBAL

Primero debemos mirar lo que está sucediendo en el mundo. La dinámica global está experimentando un cambio significativo en las últimas décadas, caracterizado por una desglobalización marcada y el surgimiento de dos bloques de poder bien definidos. Por un lado, tenemos a Estados Unidos y la OTAN manteniendo su posición como una potencia global. Por otro lado, tenemos a Rusia y China que han consolidado una alianza estratégica. Esta alianza comenzó a tomar forma después de la crisis financiera de 2008, cuando Wall Street sufrió un duro golpe con la caída de “Lehman Brothers”. Para lidiar con la crisis, Estados Unidos buscó encauzar sus consecuencias hacia China, lo que marcó el comienzo de un acercamiento económico y político entre Rusia y China. Este proceso que podría considerarse como el inicio del camino hacia un nuevo modelo económico que desafía la hegemonía estadounidense, se vio reforzado con la guerra en Ucrania, al estar diseñada para debilitar a Rusia. Además, exacerbó aún más la competencia entre Estados Unidos y China, especialmente en la búsqueda de recursos como el litio, que podríamos definir como “the new energy order”.

LOS BRICS Y SU IMPORTANCIA PARA ARGENTINA

Estamos ante un nuevo juego, la definición de un nuevo orden mundial. Este escenario se perfila con el ascenso de los BRICS, sería como el equipo que está desafiando a los campeones mundiales de este juego global. Este equipo originalmente está conformado por Brasil, Rusia, India, China y Sudáfrica, y a partir de enero de 2024 se sumarían  Argentina, Arabia Saudita, Egipto, Etiopía, Irán y Emiratos Árabes Unidos. Aunque estos países son diversos, comparten la característica de ser economías emergentes  que buscan mayor cooperación económica y social por fuera de los organismos internacionales dominantes. Los BRICS han creado su propio banco, el Nuevo Banco de Desarrollo, desafiando al FMI y al Banco Mundial.También han establecido un Acuerdo de Reservas de Contingencia para promover una mayor seguridad financiera global. Lo más interesante es que estos países han decidido comerciar usando sus propias monedas, sin depender exclusivamente del dólar.

El ingreso de Argentina a los BRICS se vuelve crucial en este contexto. Más del 40% de las exportaciones de nuestro país tienen por destino alguno de los estados que integran los BRICS. Además, esta asociación podría ofrecer una solución a las urgencias financieras que atraviesa y su falta de dólares constantes. No podemos pasar por alto que Argentina posee una de las mayores reservas de litio, un recurso clave en la actual crisis energética mundial, esto nos convierte en un punto de disputa entre bloques de poder.

LAS PROPUESTAS DE MILEI Y SUS IMPLICACIONES

En este sentido se vuelve relevante hablar de Milei, uno de los candidatos más votados y con grandes posibilidades de ganar, ya que su posición va en contra de la tendencia mundial hacia la globalización. Hablemos un poco de sus propuestas. En términos de política exterior, rechaza a China y la participación de Argentina en los BRICS. Para dimensionar la importancia en estos temas nombremos algunos datos: el PBI combinado de estos países representa aproximadamente el 26% de la actividad económica global. Controlan el 43% de la producción de petróleo y el 40% de la de gas. Formar parte de este grupo podría abrir oportunidades para impulsar nuestro comercio exterior y encontrar alternativas al financiamiento del FMI.

En otras palabras, casi toda nuestra economía depende en gran medida de las relaciones con China En 2021, las exportaciones argentinas representaron solo el 0.38% del total de las importaciones de productos de la República Popular China. En contraste, durante ese mismo año, las exportaciones de productos argentinos hacia China representaron el 8.76% del total nacional. Por lo tanto, rechazar esta relación basándose en afirmaciones como ‘No me gusta China porque es comunista’, como ha expresado el candidato, parece al menos un enfoque bastante ignorante.

DOLARIZACIÓN Y LAS ISLAS MALVINAS

En lo que respecta a la política interna, Milei plantea la idea de dolarizar nuestra economía. Pero aquí está el dilema: por un lado esta propuesta va en contra de la tendencia mundial hacia la desdolarización. La propuesta plantea preocupaciones adicionales, ya que requeriría adquirir grandes cantidades de dólares, lo que podría llevar a un acuerdo desfavorable para Argentina en la que se deba pagar un señoraje a Estados Unidos, como explica el analista político Alfredo Jalife-Rahme. Por el otro, ¿cómo se relaciona esto con las Islas Malvinas? La presencia británica en las Islas se debe a que es una zona sumamente  estratégica, porque conecta el puerto de Ushuaia en Argentina con la región de la Antártida, rica en recursos como gas y petróleo.

Esto, a su vez, podría influir en la disputa sobre las Islas y en nuestra capacidad de posicionamiento frente a gobiernos extranjeros y a inversionistas tales como por ejemplo Paul Elliott Singer, quien tiene historial en este tema (Singer es conocido por su papel en la reestructuración de la deuda argentina, que adquirió a través de su fondo Elliott Management. Él y su fondo llevaron a cabo una larga batalla legal con el gobierno argentino por el pago total de la deuda argentina después del incumplimiento de 2001.). En otras palabras, la dolarización implicaría un revés regional en relación con los BRICS y una posibilidad de entregar la Antártida a la angloesfera. Por lo tanto, las implicaciones de la dolarización van más allá de las cuestiones económicas y afectan a la política internacional de Argentina. Entonces surge la pregunta ¿Las posiciones de Milei son por ignorancia o por intereses ajenos al país?

A MODO DE CONCLUSIÓN

En el contexto de la desglobalización y la reconfiguración de las relaciones internacionales, es fundamental que un líder entienda la geopolítica y las geofinanzas. La propuesta de Milei podría llevar a un escenario en el que Argentina pierda parte de su soberanía y capacidad de negociación en un mundo en constante cambio. Tomar decisiones sabias en estas elecciones no solo determinará el futuro de Argentina, sino también su papel en el escenario global.



Acerca de Lucía Scorzelli

Lucía Scorzelli es estudiante de la carrera de Ciencia Política en la Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA), interesada en el análisis de la realidad política y social. Nacida en Asunción del Paraguay reside actualmente en la ciudad de Buenos Aires, Argentina.

lucindagabriell@gmail.com
Instagram.com @Luci_Scorzelli



 

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series: Marjorie R. Becker, Poet, Author, and Scholar interviewed by David Garyan


Marjorie R. Becker

November 14th, 2023

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:

Marjorie R. Becker, Poet, Translator, Editor, Journalist

interviewed by David Garyan

Marjorie R. Becker’s poems appear in Interlitq’s California Poets Feature



DG: Let’s start from the very beginning. You learned Spanish in childhood, a language that would come to define your career as much, if not more so, than English. How did the language become a part of your life, or rather how did you discover the language?

MB: There are three components to this question: Because my Yale doctorate is in Latin American history, I know Spanish, French, Portuguese, and because of my work as a nutritionist for the Paraguayan Ministry of Agriculture and the Peace Corps, I learned the Paraguayan mestiza/o and indigenous tongue, Guarani. Because of my faith and my life with my ex., I know Yiddish and some Hebrew.

Spanish, though, has been my “ticket to ride,” as I wrote in my multi-genre book about the Mexican dancers I discovered in dialogue with Octavio Paz. Spanish came into my life in Macon, Georgia, my hometown, when a remarkable Puerto Rican woman moved there and told the board of education she would develop Spanish classes in three of the public schools. I was fortunate enough to attend one of those schools, and thus experienced immersion classes in Spanish from third grade throughout high school. In college, I studied in Spain when it was still under Franco’s dictatorial rule. It was truly in Paraguay, however, where I emerged as bi-lingual in Spanish and English.

DG: Your connection to the Spanish language didn’t stop there. You later traveled to Spain to study at the Universidad de Madrid, and then subsequently returned to the New World—specifically to Paraguay—to serve in the Peace Corps. How did these experiences shape your artistic development?

MB: As an undergraduate, I studied creative writing (poetry and fiction) from the late Reynolds Price and the late Helen Bevington. After graduating, one of my mentors-to-be noticed my impassioned interest in helping others, so I developed what he referred to as a “ten year plan.” Part of this plan was to serve in the Peace Corps. Upon receiving that job, I took 100 books and a typewriter with me. There, in the three rented huts in which I lived (there was limited rental property in Paraugya, and women—like me—were brutally punished for living alone) I continued writing a novel. That novel, focusing on a beloved woman I knew who killed herself, later re-emerged in my daily poetry compositions and is part of my Glass Piano/Piano Glass collection.

More generally, working with the Peace Corps (and much of my subsequently teaching,) meant serving others, in the “Nuestra America” (Mariategui) sense—more specifically the hungry and poor. During those years, I received, as we all did, much time to travel. I took trips to Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia as well as many trips through Paraguay. I should add that these journeys, and certainly the amazing people I met, re-created the world I had known, repopulated it as well as revealing much about lush Latin American landscapes.

DG: You culminated your education with a PhD in Latin American history with studies at Duke and Yale, focusing on Mexico’s 1910 revolution. Can you talk more about this experience, along with the impact that this revolution went on to have on a country like Mexico.

MB: After the Peace Corps, I returned to journalism, as I had been a paid intern journalist throughout college summers. I adored working for the Macon (Geogia) News because I found my fellow journalists quite amazing and because my job as a reporter enabled me to devise a series of interviews and stories about race relations in the Deep South, a long concern of mine. By night, though, I wrote poetry and stories.

I was invited to study US history (of the South) by my college mentor. My plan was to write a book about radical southern women. However, once I took the first of my classes in Latin American history with a professor who also had served in the Peace Corps, things changed. That professor noticed my fascination with and concern for Latin America. He thus invited me to become a Latin American historian. Upon agreeing, I learned that I needed to have a specific country of focus.

The reason I chose Mexico and its revolution of 1910 was because my family had participated in an international program, and during this period we received Mexican visitors. I found the individuals remarkable. On their last night with us, they asked my family if we owned a record player. We did. Playing records and dancing, I felt that nothing could be better. (I adore music and dance as much of my research and writings suggest.) Further, as an undergraduate, I had discovered Octavio Paz’s gorgeous and complicated poem “Sun Stone,” which I found intriguing. Finally, though I knew little about it, the fact that Mexico had one of the world’s initial twentieth century revolutions intrigued the progressive I was.

I spent much time living in Mexico, where I conducted original oral historical research and also extensive research into an array of documents at multiple archives, some of which I discovered myself. I was always seeking historical worlds populated by females and males. I also was seeking grass roots democratic movements. While I (especially with my research on my dancers and Paz) discovered the former—the latter was more problematic.

My day-to-day experiences living in Mexico and conducting archival research were challenging, as all this involved seeking out and encountering arrays of documents that told me little about what I sought. But I adore oral history, and that aspect of the research—based on getting to know strangers, seeking their trust—was enthralling. Had I not been repeatedly sexually assaulted in Mexico, my life would have been very different.

DG: A powerful inspiration for you throughout the years has been Frida Kahlo. When did you first discover her work and has, if at all, your opinion changed of it?

The most compelling historical females from my experience as a scholar of Mexico are, in fact, the group of dancers I came across in my research. They entered a Catholic church in 1937 demanding female purity and abnegation, but instead, went on to devise a transformative dance. Such intriguing accounts are the reason why most of my work focuses on the unsung and the poor, particularly females who are unknown.

Nonetheless, Kahlo and Rivera’s defense of Judaism in an often anti-Semitic world struck me as courageous, and, of course, I always felt such sorrow regarding her near lifelong pain.

DG: Let’s continue our discussion about influential Mexican women. In December 2022, you released Dancing on the Sun Stone: Mexican Women and the Gendered Politics of Octavio Paz. It’s a transdisciplinary work of history and literature that looks at Mexican history through the lens of Michoacán females. Can you talk a bit about the writing process, along with the rewards and challenges you came across crafting this particular project?

DB: Thank you for asking about my dancer/Paz project. I was invited to develop a book based on my original approaches to historical writing, many of which have emerged in the journal Rethinking History. One of my remarkable Yale mentors, Florencia Mallon, was a big proponent of writing from one’s subconscious and she suggested that such a method might best fit my own creative approach. In addition, I was enthralled by the dancers I had discovered. Furthermore, I had been teaching and researching Octavio Paz work for many years. All of these factors together coalesced to make me realize that the historical/poetic conversations between Paz, the dancers, and gender might be an intriguing project—conceived through the framework of what I went on to call “gendered time.”

As was also true regarding Setting the Virgin on Fire, I had been trained (through ad-hominem macho attacks) to realize that being creative, female, Jewish and international, were in fact drawbacks in the academy, rather than assets. However, I am also heavily invested in serving others; I felt and still feel the importance of seeking out individuals—more specifically acquainting myself with the ways females (and also males) have experienced the world. It was thus important for me to account for female cultural perspectives because Mexican historiography (notwithstanding recent work focusing on girls and women) has largely been written by men, and/or from a male perspective—the language itself reflects. I thus recognized that the project possessed some challenges.

The work, suffice it to say, was highly intense; I conducted new research into Paz’ poetics, along with the poetics of those he knew. I also returned to my extensive research on the dancers, their pre and post revolutionary worlds. I asked how these worlds and their respective people (who had never met one another in life) experienced gendered time. The research was also intense for other reasons: Mistreatment of others affects me as a person and writer. The hope, however, of revealing worlds that had not previously been revealed, along with the support of my remarkable mentors, including Josh Goldstein, Gil Joseph, Florencia Mallon, David. St. John, Steve Stern, as well as my fellow poets Brenda Yates and Jan Wesley, meant the world to me.

DG: Let’s return to western Mexico and talk about another fascinating work, Setting the Virgin on Fire, which analyzes contemporary Mexican politics from the perspective of Michoacán peasants, who in your view, were an instrumental part in driving the policy of Lázaro Cárdenas, one of the most popular Mexican presidents. Have the conditions of the indigenous population been improving in recent times, or is there some backsliding in this respect?

MB: I was attempting to speak to the relationships between peasants (Mexico’s majority until into the twentieth century) and state, how each affected the other, and I was seeking to write a book sensitive to the multiple groups in Michoacan—females and males, wealthy, landowners, impoverished landowners, those without land, the religious and secular. I am a historical empath and I attempted to reveal the complexity of all the individuals about whom I researched and wrote.

The Michoacan majority was mestiza/o, rather than indigenous. In a number of ways, what Cardenas and his followers did was at once progressive, at least with respect to the impoverished people worthy of attention—at the same time all this was highly problematic in terms of the the land reform that actually emerged. I believe Cardenas did not want to harm Mexico’s poor, despite his own deep anti-clerical instincts in a place as Catholic as Michoacan, yet the land reform did nevertheless go on to do exactly that.

Most crucial, however, was my surprising discovery of the Michoacan dancers, the same courageous people about whom I had written in Virgin, along with many articles, and again in Dancing on the Sun Stone. Though feminism remained “a dream some of us had” at that time in Mexico, the dancing women and their courage illuminated ways toward a more benevolent future.

DG: Your most recent collection The Macon Sex School (2020) harkens back to your birthplace of Macon, Georgia. It’s a collection full of visceral detail—yet, it’s much more than that, because the core of the book is really about feminine liberation. Can you talk a bit about the book, along with the title? When did you start writing it and was the title a nod to the long way you’ve traveled to get to this point in your career?

MB: I have written poetry daily for decades and as is the case with my historical writing, I write poems from my subconscious. However, the “rationale” behind the images, stories, songs, hymns that emerge tend to be poetic and mysterious rather than rational and science-driven (with apologies to poetic scientists out there). The Macon I grew up in was highly racist, sexist, anti-Semitic. The public schools were segregated by race and by gender. It was the Jim Crow south.

As has been true in many parts of the world, females were trained to be silent, submissive, to kowtow to males, to hide their artistry, their intellects, their beings. These are some of the reasons I left Macon and some of the reasons that I became a feminist.

Having said all this, I think I may have learned something about observation regarding female grandeur in Macon. In what sense? Mysteriously, after my beloved father died, my poems—previously narrative, almost journalistic—emerged as songs, as hymns. Thus, The Macon Sex School does emerge, I feel, as a series of praise songs, of work songs, of harmonies extolling worlds in which females, their intimacies, their intricacies, their vast tenderness, alters a world populated by multiple genders, ethnicities, races, and inclinations.

DG: Another interesting area of your studies is the invention of the so-called “Indian,” specifically by the white population. As David Francis, the Canadian historian wrote: “The Indian began as a White man’s mistake, and became a White man’s fantasy. Through the prism of White hopes, fears and prejudices, indigenous Americans would be seen to have lost contact with reality and to have become ‘Indians’: that is, anything non-Natives wanted them to be.” Quite fascinating. Can you talk about your own thoughts on the matter and what your research has uncovered about this?

MB: I think most Latin Americanists—all of whom were compelled to choose between focusing on either the colonial or the modern Latin American worlds, while learning much about their second choice—know that the notion of the “Indian” is a European invention imposed on the Americas. Still, my central focus is modern Latin America, and the remarkable training I received enabled me to devise an array of courses focusing on Colonial Latin American history—precisely at a time when USC had virtually no other Latin Americanists. In my view, the notion that there ever existed some unique, untouched, different-from-all-other-humanity peoples is racist. What I learned from extensive reading and research involves the ways in which historical relationships between Indigenous peoples and Europeans have transformed the world. Due to the combination of European arrogance, ignorance, and indigenous people’s internal disagreements, however, the former emerged “victorious.” As we know, the subsequent consequences on indigenous people ranged from astronomical death tolls (particularly in MesoAmerica though not confined there) widespread illness, and immiseration, but not the complete undoing of indigenous worlds, cultures, and their respective people. The remarkable research developed by the Lockhart school has shown this.

DG: Apart from Spanish, you’re also well-versed in Guarani, a language mostly spoken in Paraguay, but also in places like Bolivia, Argentina, and Brazil, among others. What are some intriguing pieces of literature you’ve come across in the language?

MB: I learned Guarani in order to create female nutrition clubs that I traveled to from my village. In those places, I taught nutrition, first aid, gardening, and, at the request of the women, also embroidery. Though my Spanish was quite strong, all Paraguayans spoke Guarani while only few knew Spanish. I learned Guarani to communicate with the people I was trying to teach.

DG: What are you reading or working on these days?

MB: I am writing a memoir about my vast travels, about those populated and intense geographies, and most particularly, about the music I encountered throughout the Americas. I am one of those people who reads as easily as she breathes; I am in two poetry groups: One that I’ve frequented for many decades—the other more recent. I read my fellow poets’ work, and continue my obsessions with Lorca, with Adrienne Rich, with the work of my mentors David St. John and my teacher Dorothy Barresi, along with the remarkable work of Philip Levine and Carolyn Forche (and many others.)



Author Bio:

Marjorie R. Becker is a native of Macon, Georgia who learned Spanish as a child. She studied in Spain, served in the Peace Corps in rural Paraguay, and holds a Yale doctorate in Latin American cultural history. An associate professor of History and English at USC, she is the author of the poetry collections Body Bach (2005), Glass Piano/Piano Glass (2010) and The Macon Sex School: Poems of Tenderness and Resistance, all from Tebot Bach. She is also the author of the historical monograph, Setting the Virgin on Fire: Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán Peasants and the Redemption of the Mexican Revolution (UC Press, 1996,) and the multi-genre Dancing on the Sun Stone: Mexican Women and the Gendered Politics of Octavio Paz, (University of New Mexico, 2022.) She has received an array of honors and awards, including a Faculty Fulbright Research Fellowship for Mexico, a nomination for a Pushcart Award, a Mellon Mentoring Award, and awards from the AAUW, the NEH, and the ACLS.

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series: Stephen Kessler, Poet, Translator, Journalist, interviewed by David Garyan

Stephen Kessler at the 2023 Santa Cruz County Artist of the Year Celebration
photo credit — SCCTV (Santa Cruz Community Television)

November 7th, 2023

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:

Stephen Kessler, Poet, Translator, Journalist

interviewed by David Garyan

 

Stephen Kessler’s poems appear in Interlitq’s California Poets Feature



DG: Let’s begin with your translations, which include Luis Cernuda all the way to Jorge Luis Borges on the other side of the world. Apart from the vast geography, the writers you’ve translated also vary greatly in style. Can you talk about a project that you particularly enjoyed working on, along with one that posed significant challenges?

SK: Almost every translation project I’ve done has been a pleasure and a privilege and I’ve enjoyed them in different ways for different reasons, and each has presented its own significant challenges.  Probably the book that was the most fun to do, thanks to the playful and irreverent attitude of the author toward his own collection of poems, is Julio Cortázar’s Save Twilight: Selected Poems, first published in Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Pocket Poets Series in 1997, and reissued in an expanded edition about 20 years later after Lawrence had retired and Elaine Katzenberger was editor in chief.  With many different kinds of poems and styles and voices he deployed over about 50 years, the book is completely unconventional and very funny in places, especially his cats’ editorial commentary in prose as they help him assemble the volume.  The Argentine Cortázar, who spent his most productive years in Paris, is of course best known for his short fictions and his novel Hopscotch, but like Borges thought of himself primarily as a poet.

The Spaniard Vicente Aleixandre (Nobel laureate 1977), two of whose books I’ve translated—one early, one late in his career—is in the early work (La destrucción o el amor, Destruction or Love, 1933) very baroque in style, and in the later (Poemas de la consumación, Poems of Consummation, 1968) rather gnomic, so the Spanish in both cases, but especially in the later book, is unconventional and in places agrammatical.  It’s tricky to be true to the original and not make it sound like a mistake in English.  But since this stylistic trait recurs throughout the book, the reader should pick that up and realize the fidelity of what I’m doing, even if they can’t read the facing Spanish.

Cernuda (Spain), Borges (Argentina), and Neruda (Chile) are more straightforward and traditionally lyrical or conversational in style, but I think in part because all three are influenced by English or American poets, the syntax and language are easier for the reader to get on first reading.  That doesn’t make translation any easier, but it facilitates understanding, so at least you (as a translator) know what you’re dealing with instead of being puzzled by unconventional usage, idioms or syntax.

DG: Let’s talk about the politics of translation: Do you have a different approach to the craft when tackling a writer like Borges (on the right of the political spectrum) as opposed to Neruda, for example, who was staunchly on the left?

SK: Borges was certainly conservative, and in the years of the Dirty War in Argentina (1976-83) was anti-chaos, but he was just as disgusted with the fascist generals as with the Marxist guerrillas.  In his poetry he romanticizes the physical courage of both his military ancestors and the knife-fighting hoodlums of old Buenos Aires, but none of that has anything to do with politics.  It has more to do with the reveries of a blind, bookish, physically limited man and his admiration for the “manliness” of others.

Neruda was converted to communism largely on the basis of his experience in Spain in the mid-1930s and his friendships with the poets of the Generation of 1927 (García Lorca, Aleixandre, Cernuda, Guillén, Salinas, and others) and the invasion by Franco and his fascist forces to overthrow the Spanish Republic in 1936.  Until then, Neruda was a romantic and a surrealist.  His famous poem “Explico algunas cosas” explains his conversion to political engagement.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, Neruda is at his worst and most boringly rhetorical when he puts on his Voice of the People persona and speaks as if he’s preaching to a stadium full of workers.  That said, his epic history of the Americas, Canto general, is one of the greatest works of its genre, for sure; I’ve done one of the many translations of Alturas de Machu Picchu from that work, which is a very powerful—and all but impossible to translate, which is why there are so many versions in English—long poem in homage to the anonymous (enslaved) workers who built that mysterious city.

As for differences in approach to translating such different kinds of voices, I consider myself a proponent of the Method acting school of translation.  I try to find in the deepest part of myself, no matter how different my experience or perspective is from the author’s, an identification with what they’re doing (saying, feeling, thinking) and the tone and feel of their speaking voice, and try to inhabit that persona and speak it as I think it would sound if it had been written originally in English.

In terms of “craft,” I bring the same skills and tools to every translation—like a musician so deeply practiced in the technical aspects of his instrument that he can improvise spontaneously without thinking—which are the same ones I use in my original poems: imagination, familiarity with certain traditions, knowledge of prosody, an ear for the sound of the Spanish and how that could be echoed in English, attunement to local or regional idioms, and a certain flexibility and confidence in my instincts developed over decades of practice.  More important for me than “craft” is that you must understand what you’re translating before you take it too literally.  Even native speakers sometimes don’t understand poetry—and sometimes even the poet is composing more for sound or image than “literal” meaning.  (There is some disagreement among translators as to whether there’s even such a thing as a literal translation.)  But you have an ethical obligation to be as true as possible to the original.  So those are some of the elements in play as I approach any poet regardless of their politics or personality.

DG: You came to Santa Cruz in the early ‘70s and since then have contributed greatly to the literary community. Can you speak about how SC influenced your writing, how the city itself has changed, along with the benefits of working outside the traditional LA/SF paradigm?

SK: I first arrived in Santa Cruz in 1968 on a four-year Regents Fellowship to UCSC at the dawn of their doctoral program in literature, but it didn’t take long for me to realize the academy was not where I wanted to be, and a psychic crisis at the end of 1969 (fictionalized in my novel, The Mental Traveler) was the deciding event that ended my career in graduate school.  After a year in Southern California recovering from my psychotic break in therapy, I returned to Santa Cruz and in 1972 started writing for what was then called the underground press, which evolved into the alternative press, and locally was a series of weekly community newspapers that I became more and more involved in as a writer, editor, and eventually (1986) publisher of my own independent weekly called The Sun, which was put out of business by the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

In the early ‘70s I was one among several young poets just starting out, and it was such a tight community, largely wrangled together by Morton Marcus, who taught at Cabrillo College and was the most widely published poet in town, that for a few years many friendships were formed as we egged each other on, sending poems back and forth in the mail and reading in each other’s homes and in one series or another that Mort organized at local restaurants and cafes.  This was a formative time for me; I was reading all kinds of different things and beginning to translate, and being part of a community of poets apart from any academic setting was healthy for my development as a writer after grad school.  I also brought my training as a critic to bear on my journalism, and so was an active supporter of a literary culture that, in those years, was not way out on the margins; it felt like poetry had a place of value as part of the cultural life of the city and region.

The journalism, especially in the opinion columns I started writing then, was a way of infiltrating a nonliterary medium with a poet’s sensibility, and in some ways the essays I was writing for the press were my most “experimental” form.  I also wrote features of various kinds, cultural and political, that made me feel relevant to a range of readers who’d never pick up a book of poems or a little magazine, and as the poetry world felt more and more like a small subculture where so little was at stake that the people inside it had a distorted notion of their own importance, I was more and more engaged with the role of the local press in addressing what mattered in the real world.  So I’ve been doing that, in one form or another, not just in Santa Cruz but when I lived on the Mendocino Coast in the ‘90s, ever since.  For the last 10 years or so I’ve been writing a weekly opinion column for the daily Santa Cruz Sentinel, a legacy paper started by a local family in the mid-1800s and now owned by a hedge fund in New York.  I am still a generalist and write about whatever’s on my mind ranging from personal history to cultural criticism to local and national and international affairs.  I feel it’s the best use of my writing skills as a contributor to the community.

I never thought much about “the LA/SF paradigm” except that I was connected with poetry networks in both places and gave readings and published in various magazines north and south.  I think of myself as a California poet with ties to both LA and San Francisco, as well as in the North Bay and on the North and Central coasts.  But in the intimacy of a smaller town like Santa Cruz I felt I could make much more of a difference, especially as a journalist, and I think I have.  This year the county arts commission named me their Artist of the Year for my accomplishments and contributions over the last 50 years.

As for how the town has changed through the past half century: in a word, immensely.  It’s now much more like a little city with a big arts scene with countless artists and musicians and scores or maybe hundreds of published poets and groups and networks, and in terms of population and development, it’s exploded.  UCSC has had a lot to do with this, and the Silicon Valley-fueled real estate boom since the ‘90s.  But this is a subject much too big to discuss in an interview like this.

DG: Let’s turn towards your novel, The Mental Traveler, an homage to the great Blake’s vision of a cyclical history. At the same time, the main character’s name is curiously Stephen K. and seems to be based on your early experiences. A 22-year old literature graduate student falls into a crisis, going from one psychiatric institution to the other, until, paradoxically, literature provides a revelation, and it’s Robert Bly’s poem “Anarchists Fainting.” Now, the young generation seems more lost than ever: COVID, economic instability, wars. What are some poems you turn to for guidance today?

SK: Stephen K. is caught up in the contradictions between his vocation as a poet and the demands of a respectable academic career in the midst of the tumultuous social, cultural, and political upheavals of that historical moment.  He has a flash of insight after six months in madhouses when he reads “Anarchists Fainting” in Harper’s (later published in Bly’s book Sleepers Joining Hands as “Condition of the Working Classes: 1970”) which, in his heightened awareness, sometimes called paranoia, he thinks is about him.  That is in the final chapter after many disorienting and picaresque adventures leading up to a breakthrough realization.  I’ll leave it at that, but the book is a story of artistic initiation in a supercharged historical context—which at the time, subjectively, felt fraught in much the same way that today does—but today is far worse, with many and far more serious crises than could have been imagined then.

But I didn’t then and don’t now look to any particular poems for guidance.  I read poetry for pleasure and inspiration, not instruction.  Poetry at its best can illuminate reality and show us things we never saw that way before, and for me that’s the most we can ask of it.  It’s really hard to write good, original poems, whatever the theme or subject—love, nature, justice, friendship, identity, consciousness, war, politics, etc.—and a freshly imagined poem of any kind can be helpful in getting me through the day.  But I do not have a utilitarian concept of poetry, or a Garrison Keilloresque notion that it’s necessarily good for us as readers, like eating our vegetables.  There’s so much poetry out there now, competent but generic, thanks to the creative writing industry, and not that much of it is of interest to me.  I’m still reading things from centuries past that I should’ve got around to sooner, like the ancient Greek and Roman epigrammists, or the ancient Persians or Chinese.  I think everyone individually has to find the poems that speak to them and give them what they need.  For me poetry has always been about an intimate connection between what’s on the page and the reader, and like any relationship, it’s different for different people at different times and under different conditions.

I enjoy reading poems to an audience, to hear what they sound like out loud, but my primal and most intense connection with poetry originally was reading it on the page, as in the scene with the Bly poem in The Mental Traveler.

DG: One of the last emails you received from the late Jack Hirschman was “Caro, Stephen, Understood”—in reply to your preference not to get involved in his effort to organize politically-related readings and events. Before his death, he was due to fly to Italy, where as you write, “he was far more famous than in the States.” Those who knew him know they need him more than ever now. Yet, there are still those who’ve yet to discover his work. Can you speak about your favorite pieces of his, and how his work affected your own development?

SK: Jack’s magnum opus is the three-volume 3,000+ page The Arcanes—his Cantos, or anti-Cantos, as he hated Pound—published in Italy and probably hard to find in the States.  Except for a couple of books from City Lights, the rest of his 100+ books of poems and translations were issued by very small presses—though I imagine some of his work can be found online.  But as I wrote in my postmortem appreciation of him, published online in the LA Review of Books, the most important way he inspired, moved, and encouraged people was by his generous presence as a completely unique personality and organizer of a poetry community, mainly in San Francisco.  I declined his call to organize events with a political slant because I don’t have time and I don’t think it does much good except to make the already convinced feel good about themselves for opposing capitalism, war, or whatever.  But Jack was an agitator.  His “Stalinist” politics were kind of a self-caricature, as far as I’m concerned—he was a romantic utopian more than a real communist—and his politics made him seem more ridiculous to some people than he actually was.  So if anyone wants to discover his work, I wish them the best.  But it’s less his prodigious writings than his person that I valued, first as a teacher at UCLA in 1966, and later in San Francisco as a friend and as an example of someone totally committed to poetry.  We had a lot of disagreements about what kind of poetry is of greatest value, or is any good.

DG: Let’s talk about your most recent collection, Last Call (2021). The 169-page collection is your biggest to date, covering a wide range of topics. The noted poet Joseph Stroud, said the following: “There is a wonderful term in Italian—Sprezzatura—which is the art of making the difficult appear easy, a kind of grace that cloaks a deep mastery of craft. I find this quality, this Sprezzatura, everywhere in Stephen Kessler’s work.” And yet, sprezzatura does not at all suggest a lack of effort—it merely implies the appearance of a lack of effort when the presentation takes place. Thus, in truth, to produce this aforementioned “appearance,” sprezzatura actually requires a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears behind the scenes. Can you talk about some of the most crucial aspects, with regard to this project, from start to finish?

SK: That was a very generous endorsement of my work by my old friend Joe Stroud, whom I met more than 50 years ago when we both came to Santa Cruz, and who I consider another example of someone devoted, in a completely different way from Hirschman, to the ethos and practice of poetry, and certainly among the most accomplished poets in this region (though he only spends part of the year here).  I think of Joe as a “pure poet,” committed exclusively to poetry in a way that I couldn’t be, which is why I’ve diversified my practice for all this time.  But if my writing has “sprezzatura,” I think it’s because I’ve been practicing so long—again, like a veteran jazz musician—that it comes fairly easily to me at this stage of my journey, and I’m not trying to please or impress anyone else, so I’m free to trust my own voice (as another teacher of mine, Robert Duncan, counseled) and let it rip, intuitively trusting my technical skills to make the right words land in the right places.  It’s not as if I don’t revise and refine, but I like to improvise very spontaneously and then go back and fix whatever needs improvement.  Some poems make it and some don’t, but I’m not after perfection and can accept failure when they don’t work.

I also think of myself in the lyrical vernacular tradition ranging from Wordsworth through Whitman to Williams, O’Hara, and Bukowski, writing the way I speak, or would like to speak if I could speak that precisely and musically all the time.

Except for Where Was I?, my book of prose poems about place, or places, I don’t really think of my books of poems as projects.  I write poems as they come to me, one at a time, in various moods, modes, styles and forms—I consider myself a heteroformalist—and at some point, after a few years, usually corresponding to some turning point in my life, I realize I have the makings of a book and then try to put it together in a way that the poems seem to organize themselves.  Sometimes by theme, sometimes as a journey, sometimes in roughly chronological order, sometimes in what feels like a natural progression from one poem to another.  Last Call was written between 2017, when my marriage broke up, and 2021, just after the Covid lockdowns.  It’s organized by theme or mood in seven sections and it covers a lot of ground in terms of style, tone, form, and feeling.  It’s a bigger book than most of my previous collections just because I was writing more, or more poems worth saving, and my publisher, Joe Phillips of Black Widow Press, is “not afraid of big books,” as he told me about my Cernuda volume Forbidden Pleasures, so I included everything I thought could stand up with time.  And so far, when I look at those poems, I think I made the right call in its composition; I think they hold up pretty well.

DG: Los Angeles was the city that, as you’ve said, made you a poet. How has the city changed since you were growing up, and is there perhaps anything you miss about it that’s still there?

SK: The city seems vaster than ever, with more freeways and more traffic, and the spread of suburbs, and the usual development and redevelopment.  And Covid shut down a few of my favorite things, like the big Landmark multiplex art house cinema at Pico and Westwood.  But no, I don’t miss LA at all, especially the traffic and the freeways, and when I visit there from time to time—mostly to see friends and family, or more recently to attend funerals—I’m always happy to return home to little Mediterranean Santa Cruz, though it has changed a lot, too.  My essay “The Architecture of Memory,” published in LARB, is mostly about places that no longer exist, or not in the form I knew them in the 1950s and ‘60s.  The great LA poet Wanda Coleman, who died about 10 years ago, was a good friend and an inspiration, and I miss her a lot.  There are still parts of LA I enjoy visiting, certain neighborhoods or parks or restaurants or movie theaters, but I’m really glad I got out of there when I did.

DG: Let’s return to translation, but from a different perspective. Is there a language you would love to have your work translated into?

SK: I would be honored to be translated into any language a competent translator felt I deserved to be published in.  Naturally because of my connection with Spanish, Spain and Latin America would be among my top preferences.  But my books in the States sell no more than a few hundred copies, mostly in California, so I don’t anticipate the market for what I do would be any larger elsewhere.  My translations are much more successful, in terms of sales, in part because I’ve chosen or been chosen to work with major poets who’ve proved their staying power, and partly because my translations happen to represent them very well, and have won numerous awards, which has also helped raise their profile.

DG: What are you reading and/or working on at the moment?

SK: Lately I spend more hours reading The New York Times than anything else, in part because I want to know what’s going on in the world—which of course relates to my job as a newspaper columnist—and partly because it’s such a great newspaper and I admire so many of the writers, the editing, the page design (I read it on paper), the headlines, the features, the reporting, the photographs and illustrations, the analysis, the editorials, the letters.  It’s like a daily anthology of great stories and excellent writing.  Back around 1969 the critic Seymour Krim published an essay in Evergreen Review, “The Newspaper as Literature,” a kind of manifesto that argued for literary writers to engage with the historical moment—which New Journalists like Norman Mailer and Joan Didion and others were doing—by infiltrating the nonliterary press.  Jimmy Breslin in New York (with the Daily News) was a model for Krim of a traditional reporter writing things of both immediate and lasting value.  And that has turned out to be central to my own practice, publishing my essays in newspapers as well as more strictly literary venues.  So I am, for better or worse, addicted to the Times.

Usually before bed, as an antidote to all the bad news, I pick up a book from the pile next to my chair and read a few pages.  Lately I’ve been reading Didion (nonfiction), Ben Lerner (fiction), Fernando Pessoa, Mahmoud Darwish, Hafiz (in a new translation by my old friend Gary Gach), Michel Houellebecq, Louise Glück, and somewhat randomly sampled other poets in my library.  I try to keep up with books by friends who send them to me, but I don’t follow much contemporary poetry or fiction.  I very much enjoyed Sarah Bakewell’s life of Montaigne, How to Live, one of the few books of more than 300 pages I’ve read in a while.

Unless something extraordinary comes to my attention and my inspiration, I feel I’ve pretty much retired as a translator, having fulfilled my destiny with the three Cernuda books: Written in Water, Desolation of the Chimera, and Forbidden Pleasures.  He’s one of the greatest poets in Spanish, and I think I’ve done him justice and performed a valuable service, even if the number of readers in English is limited, for now.

As for what I’m working on, the essays for the column, constantly, which range all over whatever I’m thinking about, and I have some 40 new poems since Last Call that may eventually amount to part of a book, but I don’t expect that for at least another two or three years.  At some point I’ll probably try to put together a Selected Poems, but I figure I’ll know when to do that, if I live long enough.



Author Bio:

Stephen Kessler is the author of a dozen books of original poetry, sixteen books of literary translation, three collections of essays, and a novel, The Mental Traveler (Greenhouse Review Press). He is the editor and principal translator of The Sonnets by Jorge Luis Borges (Penguin Classics) and was for sixteen years (1999-2014) the editor of The Redwood Coast Review. The poems here are from his most recent book, Last Call (Black Widow Press, 2021). A longtime resident of Santa Cruz, he writes a weekly op-ed column in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. www.stephenkessler.com

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series: Doreen Stock, Poet, Translator, interviewed by David Garyan

Doreen Stock

November 4th, 2023

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:

Doreen Stock, Poet, Translator

interviewed by David Garyan

 

Doreen Stocks’s poems appear in Interlitq’s California Poets Feature



DG: Let’s start with your work as a translator. You’ve brought pieces into English from Russian and Spanish—two great literary traditions. How did these endeavors start and what have been some of your favorite projects and pieces to work on?

DS: I was living in L.A. and nursing my third child. A local bookstore (Chatterton’s on Vermont. Ave., now defunct) advertised a poetry writing workshop. I walked in and there, at the back of the store, sat Paul Vangelisti at a small table with three other poets. He said he couldn’t really teach us to write poetry, but the single most important thing we could do would be to take a poet we admired in a language other than English and begin translating his/her poems. I had recently graduated from UCLA with a minor in Slavic Languages, so I began to work with a poem by Anna Akhmatova. While I was raising my three children translating from the Russian of Akhmatova & Marina Tsvetaeva, and the Spanish of Gabriela Mistral taught me how to render a poem into my language in its own voice. This work was invaluable, always returning me to my own writing with deeper awareness and possibilities.

DG: The late Jack Hirschman wrote an introduction to your 2015 collection, In Place of Me. His influence on your work is clearly present apart from this collection. When did you first discover his work?

DS: Jack Hirschman taught the novel primarily by reading aloud, mesmerizing our huge lecture class at UCLA. One day he walked into Royce Hall and announced that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. But it wasn’t until I moved to Northern California years later and met him again at a North Beach poetry reading that I began to read him. And I realized that the voice I had associated with James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Djuna Barnes—with all the urgency and drama of the moment when he announced that assassination—was actually his own poetic voice!

DG: In addition to poetry, you also write fiction. Three Tales from the Archives of Love blends three distinct time periods and narratives which touch upon the specific plight of women in relation to the periods they lived. How did you discover these stories? Had you known about them for a long time, or did the writing process begin shortly after the discovery?

DS: In each case, the writing process began shortly after the discovery. But completion of this triptych, which involved quite some research, took much longer. I first saw the beggars’ letters at the Israel Museum. I read a NY Times article about the discovery of a stone with its epigraph in a field in Naples, and viewed the Elephantine Papyri, on loan from the Brooklyn Museum, at the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles.

DG: Your memoir, My Name is Y, explores similar themes as Three Tales From the Archives of Love. The works were published two or three years apart from each other. Would it be right to say that the memoir was, in some ways, an extension of the fiction, despite it being stylistically and thematically different?

No, not really. The memoir was written much earlier and kept in the dark! Then after I completed Three Tales from the Archives of Love I took a second look at it, revised it slightly, and sent it forth. I think you are hearing my use of the first person in some of the archival stories and perhaps that leads to your impression?

DG: In 2017, you published Talking with Marcelo, a chapbook-length interview of six questions with Argentine journalist Marcelo Holot about his arrest during Argentina’s Dirty War. It’s a unique endeavor, given the literary format for a journalistic project. Can you speak about how you met Marcelo Holot, how the interview developed, and perhaps the thought-process behind choosing/leaving out questions?

DS: I met Marcelo Holot in an elegant tango palace, the Confiteria Ideal in Buenos Aires in February, 2008. I had never been there, and he rarely came there, so the hand of fate was definitely involved. After many emails and phone conversations I invited him to the U.S. He arrived full of huge plans involving me writing his biography! “I’m not a biographer, I’m a poet,” I maintained. But he would not let go of this idea, so finally I jotted five questions down on a pad of paper. The first one: “What Happened to Your Teeth?” And I told him to think about them and when he was ready to discuss them with me, to let me know. We sat at the Café Trieste in Sausalito for hours as I transcribed his answers long-hand. At some point I added the sixth question. Marcelo is  an interesting subject. After a lot of meeting in airports, he finally emigrated, and we were married in 2021.

DG: You’ve done a great deal of traveling throughout your life. What are some trips or places that have affected your writing in a particularly strong way?

DS: The amount of travel is directly related to the number of offspring (8) my daughter and her husband produced in Paris. Each time a baby was born, I was there, then wandered off somewhere, then returned to see that baby one more time! So, Paris, but not as a subject, particularly, but as an undercurrent. In those years French Feminism was so vital, and I loved the writings of the French philosopher Hélène Cixous. Jerusalem, because I had the good fortune to meet the bookstore café owner, David Ehrlich, who introduced me to all of the wonderful writers who read at his café, and because I found their writing strong and fascinating. And Buenos Aires because—have you ever tango-ed to a live tango orchestra? It does something to your writing … as does love.

DG: Let’s return to translation, but in a different way. If you could have your own work translated by the writers you’ve translated yourself, who would that be, and why?

DS: Anna Akhmatova. Most definitely. Motherhood, Divorce. Lyrical grace. Political poetry at its most profound. I translated “Requiem” and it is the single poem I am most proud of translating. I visited her house when I was in Moscow and it seemed to be the only place where truth resided. It would be a great honor, and I would be in very high company, since she herself translated Victor Hugo, Tagore, Leopardi, Armenian, and Korean poets.

DG: The Bay Area has been a constant source of inspiration for you. Can you speak about some specific places, events, and/or people who’ve had a strong impact on your writing?

DS: North Beach in San Francisco where I re-met Jack and the many poets he loved and worked with including Stephen Kessler at that time, who has become a life-long friend; also Polk Street in San Francisco where the poet George Oppen and his wife, Mary lived. I loved to visit them there and I’m a great admirer of his work. Marin County, where I have lived for many years, because of the natural beauty that surrounds me and the many memories with my family and friends, and also the many fine poets, (including Jane Hirschfield, Cole Swenson, and Kay Ryan) I’ve met through The Marin Poetry Center—of which I was a founding member!

DG: What are you reading or working on at the moment?

DS: At the moment I am sitting here at my desk, staring at my garden and thinking, “What can I do to counter the profoundly deadly course our world is headed on? Could I read a book, write a poem, shout in the streets? I write a poem. I am trying to get a chapbook of my translations of the poetry of Gabriela Mistral published: La Cuenta Mundo, The World-Counting, poems to a newborn baby describing the things of our world. Mistral was Chile’s delegate to the UN … I think she would be advocating tirelessly for the children of the world had she been alive today. I just finished reading The Years by Annie Erneaux, and I am going to read more of her work. And in the light of the current political moment, I’ve returned to the poetry of Paul Celan.



Author Bio:

Fairfax, California poet and memoir practitioner, Doreen Stock, recently launched A Noise in the Garden, Kelsay Books, 2022 and Bye Bye Blackbird, The Poetry Box, April, 2021. Tango Man, a chapbook of love poems, was released by Finishing Line Press in August, 2020.  Other recent works include: My Name is Y, an anti-nuclear memoir, February 2019, Three Tales from the Archives of Love, 2018, and Talking with Marcelo, 2017, all from Norfolk Press, San Francisco.  In Place of Me, Poems edited and introduced by Jack Hirschman, was published in 2015 by Mine Gallery Editions. For more information please visit (doreenstock@doreenstock.com)