Tag Archives: Pedro Serrano

I kill out of rage

14 May

 

Shoes hanging

An exhibit by the artist Alfredo Lopez Casanova, using the shoes of missing people with messages on their soles, in an exhibition currently running at the ‘Casa de la Memoria Indomita’ in Mexico City, titled ‘Huellas de la Memoria‘ (Memory Traces).

 

Since posting María Rivera’s ‘The Dead’ on Wednesday, over 500 people have checked in, and María herself emailed to thank me for posting her poem. ‘The Dead’ evoked some powerful responses from readers. Echoing the views of others, John Freeman commented (on FB) that María achieves something he thought was ‘impossible to do – for a poet to create such emotional immediacy with such a sweep of large political anger’.

Shortly after encountering María’s poem, my friend Carlos López Beltrán directed me towards another fine poem  – again by a woman – that addresses the terrible swathe of violence in which Mexico has been immersed for the past decade. It appears in the anthology of Mexican Poetry edited by Pedro Serrano and Carlos himself, and titled 359 Delicados (con filtro), (Santiago de Chile: Lom, 2012).

The poem, ‘I kill out of rage’, by Claudia Hernández de Valle-Arizpe, adopts the voice of an assassin, reciting a list of random, barbaric ‘reasons’ for random, barbaric murder. In the poem the act of killing builds up its own terrible momentum, so that in the second stanza, the possibilities – or potential – for murder extend even to those hypothetical victims who are not killed on this occasion, but who might just as easily have been, according to the appalling logic that propels the actions of the poem’s speaker.

This poem, along with 156 others by 97 Latin American poets, selected and translated by Richard Gwyn, will be published in October 2016 in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America, from Seren Books.

‘Mato por rabia’ first appeared in the collection Perros muy azules, México DF: Era (2012).

 

 

I Kill out of Rage

by Claudia Hernández de Valle-Arizpe (México)

 

I kill out of rage, out of hatred, out of spite; I kill from jealousy,

for revenge; I kill to bring justice (for me or for you),

so that you understand for once and for all, to get a rest

from you; I kill out of fear, to rob, to flee, to defend myself;

I kill out of habit, for fun; I kill as a reaction;

so that you don’t kill me, so that you don’t rape me. I kill because

I can’t bear it anymore, because I want to die but don’t dare,

because even children kill, because I’m sick because

I’m crazy, because I’m sad, because nobody loves me anymore.

I kill in the name of my religion, in the name of my people,

of freedom, of democracy. I kill in the name of God.

And also I kill because here I feel like it, in the shack,

in the neighbourhood, in the nightclub, on the road, in your house, in mine.

I kill for drugs, because it excites me, because it’s exercise, because

one day it’s me they’re going to kill. I kill dogs, cats, pigs, people.

I kill who’s going past in the street, or sleeping, or having fun.

I kill with weapons so that there’s blood, so that the blood runs

like my rage, my weariness, my injustice, my ugliness, my sex,

my obesity, my diabetes, my cirrhosis, my cancer, my mental retardation,

my stupidity, my nightmares, my hopeless life.

 

I kill you but could kill your sister, your father, your wife,

your children, your lover, your grandmother, your dog. I kill you today but

don’t trust me, because I can kill you tomorrow, any day,

with bullets that will pierce your lung and your stomach

and will lodge, very hot, in your neck, in your groin,

in your head. And what is yours will be no one’s, you see: what you proclaimed,

what you did, what you knew, what you liked so much: your mornings,

your nights in company, your memories, your plans, all of this will bite

the dust. Bullets, brother, bullets; what a tragedy, what sorrow,

those who knew you will cry, and you now in ashes, man,

woman, child, ugly, pretty, ignorant, brilliant, poor, rich, whatever.

Have you ever killed? Have you tried to?

Shoot, says the killer to the boy,

or don’t you dare?

There has never been a weapon in my house, there never was,

I have never fired a shot.

 

 

Mato por rabia

Mato por rabia, por odio, por despecho; mato por celos,

por venganza; mato para hacer(me), hacer(te) justicia.

Para que entiendas de una vez y para siempre, para descansar

de ti; mato por miedo, para robar, para huir, para defenderme;

mato por hábito, para divertirme; mato por reacción,

para que no me mates, para que no me violes. Mato porque

ya no aguanto, porque quiero morirme pero no me atrevo,

porque hasta los niños matan, porque estoy enfermo, porque

estoy loco, porque estoy triste, porque ya nadie me quiere.

Mato en nombre de mi religión, en nombre de mi pueblo,

de la libertad, de la democracia. Mato en nombre de Dios.

Y también mato porque se me da la gana aquí, en la chabola,

en el barrio, en el antro, en la carretera, en tu casa, en la mía.

Mato por droga, porque me excita, porque me ejercito, porque

un día a mí me van a matar. Mato perros, gatos, puercos, gente.

Mato al que va en la calle, al que duerme, al que se divierte.

Mato con armas para que haya sangre, para que corra la sangre

como mi rabia, mi hartazgo, mi injusticia, mi fealdad, mi sexo,

mi gordura, mi diabetes, mi cirrosis, mi cáncer, mi retraso mental,

mi estupidez, mis pesadillas, mi vida sin remedio.

 

Te mato a ti pero puedo matar a tu hermana, a tu padre, a tu mujer,

a tus hijos, a tu amante, a tu abuela, a tu perro. Te mato hoy pero

no confíes porque puedo matarte mañana, cualquier día,

con las balas que van a perforar tu pulmón y tu estomago

y que se alojarán, muy calientes, en tu cuello, en tus ingles,

en tu cabeza. Y lo tuyo no será de nadie, ya ves, lo que pregonaste,

lo que hiciste, lo que sabías, lo que tanto te gustaba: tus mañanas,

tus noches acompañado, tus recuerdos, tus planes, todo se lo comerá

el acero. Bullets, hermano, bullets; qué tragedia, que dolor,

van a gritar los que te conocieron, y tú ya en cenizas, hombre,

mujer, niño, feo, bonito, bruto, genial, pobre, rico, qué importa.

¿Mataste alguna vez? ¿Lo has intentado?

Dispara, le dice el asesino al muchacho,

¿o es que no te atreves?

Nunca ha habido un arma en mi casa, nunca la hubo,

nunca he disparado.

 

 

 

Dark Ages

31 Oct

A new poem by Pedro Serrano, translated from the Spanish by Richard Gwyn.

Bill, Pedro, Me @ Pen & Wig

Pedro Serrano (in mirror), with Blanco (left) and Bill Herbert.

DARK AGES

The tiger leaps

from a cloud of smoke into transience.

Falls on the devastating corral with an idleness

corresponding to the haste of his victims,

not to his elasticity.

He brushes past the bars of his cage

swinging his tail, rattling, tac, tac, tac, tac.

Crackling, he licks the circus sands

and raises ripples of dust,

traces of an approaching wake.

The motive for his observation

journeys in the smooth rhythm of his stomach,

velvety, gluttonous, elastic.

He turns circles before the spectators,

ears cocked, instincts fixed

on the excitement in the air.

He walks by the tables, propitious,

exudes substance and style.

The head sinks between the shoulders,

swells in the rail that encircles him.

The claws are extended

in the animal body that awaits him.

In the mirror of midday

the night’s end was taking shape,

beatific, inscrutable.

DARK AGES

El tigre salta

de la humareda a la fugacidad.

Cae en el aplastante corral con una pereza

que alude a la prisa de sus victimas,

no a su elasticidad.

Pasa rozando las rejas de su jaula

meneando la cola, golpeteando, taq’, taq’, taq’, taq’.

Restallante lame las arenas del circo

y levanta espejuelas de polvo,

huellas de una estela aproximándose.

La razón de su observación

viaja en el suave ritmo de su vientre,

afelpado, glotón, elástico.

Da vueltas a los espectadores,

las orejas prestas, su olfato

en la agitación que se respira.

Pasa propicio por las mesas,

se enjundia, se estiliza.

Sume la cabeza entre los hombros,

crece en el riel que lo circunda.

Deja las uñas puestas

en el cuerpo animal que lo acecha.

Desde el espejo del mediodía

se apuntaba el final de la noche,

beatífica, hierática.

Fiction Fiesta, reality, and Alastair Reid

26 Sep

borges in library

The first Borges story I ever read was ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’, in the translation by Alastair Reid, while living in a derelict shepherd’s hut on a Cretan hillside. A couple of years later, like so many others readers, I underwent a kind of epiphany while reading One Hundred Years of Solitude.

I was twenty years old, and from that point on, Borges’ fictions, alongside García Márquez’s recreation of the semi-fictional world of Macondo, forced me to re-evaluate almost everything that I had been reared to believe about literary fiction.

Thinking back, I had never had much truck with either realism or naturalism – the antagonists, in their way, of so-called ‘magic realism’ – and since my exposure to Borges and García Márquez, I never quite trusted them again. These two writers, followed by other discoveries, such as Juan Rulfo, Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa and Augusto Monterroso, opened the doors to different perceptions of reality, in which the frail membrane separating one world, one mode of understanding, from another, was always permeable, subject to movement and interpenetration. Everything was a fiction. This was a model, I believed, that could be applied to almost anything: culture, language, philosophy . . . it was almost, but not quite, a religion.

Alastair Reid, who died in 2014

Alastair Reid, last year.

Last July I was reminded of this lifelong struggle with the false dichotomy between fiction and reality, when I travelled to Dumfries and Galloway to meet Alastair Reid himself. The Scottish poet – friend as well as translator of Borges, Neruda and García Márquez – spent a large part of the day talking with me about Latin America and its literatures, especially Borges. I recorded the conversations, and consider myself incredibly fortunate to do this as, just over a month following my visit, Alastair passed away, at the age of eighty-eight.

One of the things he told me – which also crops up in one of his essays – was the reluctance of Latin Americans in general (not just authors) to discriminate between what ‘actually’ happened, and what might have happened under other circumstances. Thus life (and storytelling) is a continuous weave of memory, confabulation and invention. In one of his essays, Reid cites the American diplomat George F. Kennan, who, after an investigatory trip through several Latin American countries in 1950, wrote, in a tone of exasperation:

Latin American society lives, by and large, by a species of make-believe . . . a highly personalised, anarchical make-believe, in which each individual spins around him, like a cocoon, his own little world of pretense, and demands its recognition by others as the condition of his participation in the social process.

While the sentiments expressed here might be familiar to many as a symptom of European or North American ethnocentrism, the diplomat had a point. Reid himself lived for many years among villagers in the Dominican Republic, and describes a ‘fictive’ cast of mind, in which the vague boundary between history and invention is blurred beyond recognition. This is not simply a case of the ‘objective’ European mind critiquing the supremely subjectivist world-view of those in ‘the third world’: it is a truth (if such a word has any meaning) borne out by Reid’s experience, and one described most succinctly by Borges himself. For Borges, everything put into language is a fiction, whatever ‘literary’ or non-literary’ form that might take. Thus a poem, a newspaper article, or a letter from the bank manager all fit the category of ‘fiction’ as each uses language as their mode of expression. As Reid says:

A fiction is any construct of language – a story, an explanation, a plan, a theory, a dogma – that gives a certain shape to reality.

And it is with this in mind that we must think of Fiction Fiesta; not in the limited sense of a festival that celebrates the genre of literary fiction. FF is a platform for building fictions that give shape to reality. On one level, FF complements work that I am doing, alongside others – with the invaluable support of Wales Literature Exchange and Wales Arts International – in taking Welsh writing out into the wider world; at the same time we are helping Welsh readers discover more about contemporary Latin American writing.

Fiction Fiesta started out in early 2012 as a conversation in a pub between myself and Nick Davidson, landlord of the now defunct Promised Land in Windsor Place, Cardiff. My idea for Fiction Fiesta was simple: to team up writers in both the languages of Wales with writers from Latin America, and initiate a discourse between us and them, with the aim – among other things – of dismantling such notions as ‘us’ and ‘them’

Nick got some money from the San Miguel brewery and I managed to secure some from Cardiff University and the thing was on. We followed up in 2013, with an Arts Council of Wales small festivals grant, inviting Eduardo Halfon from Guatemala, Inés Garland and Andrés Neuman from Argentina, alongside writers from Wales and elsewhere in the UK, and The Independent covered the event, with a feature on one of our guests, Angharad Price, which attracted more attention.

Through Fiction Fiesta, we set out to pay particular attention to literature in translation and, by extension, to explore the larger idea of translation as a concept that, to some degree, governs all our lives. In literature, even without being translated into other languages, we are translating emotions and thoughts into words. ‘Reading poetry is itself a kind of translation,’ commented Andrés Neuman during a discussion at Fiction Fiesta in 2013. And Octavio Paz goes further: ‘in writing a poem we are translating the world, transmuting it. Everything we do is translation, and all translations are in a way creations.’

It was never our intention to put on a big festival. We always wanted Fiction Fiesta to retain a sense of intimacy that came from holding the first edition of the fiesta in the upstairs room of a local pub. And we wanted to keep a sense of celebration, of literature as something to be savoured and enjoyed by readers, like food and drink, which the large-scale corporate festivals cannot provide. In addition, we wanted Fiction Fiesta to help develop contacts and friendships between Welsh writers and writers from Latin America, which, as I explained at the start of this piece, is where a lot of my own literary interests are centred.

This year’s Mexico-themed Fiction Fiesta teamed up with Wales PEN Cymru and the British Council to hold an event at the Wales Millennium Centre on Friday 17th April. Owen Sheers hosted the Mexican writer Juan Villoro, along with Francesca Rhydderch, while I was in conversation with Pedro Serrano and the Scottish poet W.N. Herbert. FF is hoping to maintain the partnership with Wales PEN Cymru, and bring many more writers from Latin America to Wales over the years to come.

 

Juan Villoro, Owen Sheers and Francesca Rhydderch at this year's Fiction Fiesta, held at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Juan Villoro, Owen Sheers and Francesca Rhydderch at this year’s Fiction Fiesta, held at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

 

Blanco (centre) with Pedro Serrano (left) and Bill Herbert at Fiction Fiesta

Blanco (centre) with Pedro Serrano (left) and Bill Herbert at Fiction Fiesta

 

This piece first appeared in the New Welsh Review, 1st July 2015

Fiction Fiesta 2015

15 Apr
Preview | Fiction Fiesta 2015

PREVIEW | FICTION FIESTA 2015

Fiction Fiesta started out three years ago as a conversation in a pub between myself and Nick Davidson, landlord of the now defunct Promised Land in Windsor Place, Cardiff. I was expecting a visit from two Argentinian writers, Andrés Neuman and Jorge Fondebrider, and Nick and I decided to hold a small celebration to welcome them to Wales. However, we got a little excited and ended up inviting all kinds of people, including the publishers Christopher MacLehose and Charles Boyle, and the literary editor of The Independent, Boyd Tonkin, and then a load of people from closer to home got involved. Nick got some money from the San Miguel brewery and I managed to secure some from Cardiff University and the thing was on. We followed up in 2013, with an Arts Council of Wales small festivals grant, inviting Eduardo Halfon from Guatemala and Inés Garland from Argentina to join several writers from Wales and elsewhere, and The Independent again covered the event, which attracted some attention.
My idea for Fiction Fiesta was simple: to team up writers in both the languages of Wales with writers from Latin America, and initiate a discourse between us and them, with the aim – among other things – of dismantling such notions as ‘us’ and ‘them’. The way we set out to approach this was to pay particular attention to literature in translation, and explore the whole idea of translation as a concept that to some degree governs our lives. After all, we are translating from the moment we are born: early childhood is the acute phase of translation, and of being translated. Those moments in which every gaze, every enraged instinct on the part of the infant meets with either incomprehension or else with a tentative, and then a more assured translation. As parents we are constantly engaged in acts of translation, as are friends and lovers and enemies and strangers of all variety. In literature, even without being translated into other languages, we are translating emotions and thoughts into words. ‘Reading poetry is itself a kind of translation,’ commented Andrés Neuman during a discussion at Fiction Fiesta in 2013. We are all translators, just as we are all, to some degree, writers. ff-e-flyer 2015
The novelist and essayist Ali Smith, in her preface to English PEN’s report on literary translation, Taking Flight, wrote:  ‘If we value literature at all, we know the worth of literary translation. If we want language to be as subtle and supple and layered and resonant as language can be, we know the worth and the work and the subtlety of literary translation. If we care at all about looking beyond our back yard and our own dominant narratives, we know the worth, the work, the open border, open mind, open eyes and ears of literary translation. If we belong to a culture which rates the word literary, we know the value, the scope, the touchstone, the creativity, the generosity that exist in this fusion of literary and translation.’
Engaging with the literature of another country, another culture, enables us to understand not only the world as it is now, but also the shared history that brought us here, which will be our legacy.
As Edith Grossman, the modern translator of Cervantes’ Don Quixote puts it: ‘[Translation] permits us to savor the transformation of the foreign into the familiar and for a brief time to live outside our own skins, our own preconceptions and misconceptions. It expands and deepens our world, our consciousness, in countless, indescribable ways.’
It was never our intention to put on a big festival. We always wanted Fiction Fiesta to retain a sense of intimacy that came from holding the first edition of the fiesta in the upstairs room of a local pub. And we wanted to keep a sense of celebration, of literature as something to be savoured and enjoyed, like food and drink, which the large-scale corporate festivals cannot provide. Above all, we wanted Fiction Fiesta to help develop contacts and friendships between Welsh writers and writers from Latin America, which is where a lot of my own literary interests happen to have sprung from.
I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Mexico last year on an Arts Council of Wales project, and part of my task was to familiarise myself with the wide expanse of literary culture there as well as trying – within a month – to gauge as much as I could of the wider cultural climate within that country. I came away with my head filled to bursting, but enthusiastic about the task of developing closer relationships with individual Mexican writers, of translating the poems of some, and of reading the work of many others.
This year Mexico and the UK are teaming up for two big events: the London Book Fair, running this week from Tuesday to Thursday, where Mexico is the guest nation, and at the Guadalajara Book Fair, in November, where the UK is the invited country. We thought that Cardiff should see a slice of the action, so together with the newly formed Wales PEN Cymru, and with the support of the British Council, we decided to hold a small event here with two of the Mexican writers whose work I discovered last year, and who are visiting for the Book Fair. As is the usual pattern with FF, we teamed them up with local writers – or in this instance a Welsh writer and a Scottish Poet – to see what happens.
file-page1
The event takes place on a Friday night, at the Wales Millennium Centre. In the first session, which begins at 5 pm, Owen Sheers will be in conversation with Juan Villoro, a contemporary and friend of Roberto Bolaño, and an extraordinary writer of short stories in the broad lineage of Borges, alongside Francesca Rhydderch, who achieved widespread recognition last November with her shortlisting for the BBC Short Story Award. In the second half, following a wine reception, I will be talking with Pedro Serrano along with the Scottish poet WN Herbert, and they will be reading from their work. The event takes place in the Preseli Room at WMC and entry is free of charge, with donations to Wales PEN Cymru welcome.
This year Fiction Fiesta is supported by the British Council and Cardiff University School of English, Communication and Philosophy.

This post also appears on the website of WALES ARTS REVIEW today. The new re-vamped Wales Arts Review serves as a media platform where a new generation of critics and arts lovers can meet to engage in a robust and inclusive discussion about books, theatre, film, music, the visual arts, politics, and the media.

Popocatépetl

7 May

Popcatapetl

Yesterday I came back into Mexico City from Puebla, the massive form of Popocatépetl (5,426 metres) to my left – caught fuzzily on my phone camera – passing the misty woodlands and broad meadows that gather around its base. It impressed on me the extraordinary diversity of the Mexican landscape, that within a few hours one can pass through prairie, forest and the high sierra. The only constant is the truly terrible music being played full volume wherever you go, including on this bus.

On Monday night in Puebla, as I was walking back to my hotel, an indigenous woman, utterly bedraggled, with long grey hair and in filthy clothes came running past me, apparently chasing after a big 4×4, crying out, at volume and with some distress ‘Don Roberto, Don Roberto . . .’ She carried on at pace up the street (Don Robé . . . Don Robé . . . ) for an entire block, and I could see the vehicle turning at the next set of lights. When I got to the junction, she had stopped, and was resting, hands on knees, her crevassed face fallen into a kind of resigned torment. She seemed elderly, although poverty and struggle probably accounted for an additional twenty years. I can hardly imagine what her story was – or the cruel, uncaring Don Roberto’s – but it was timeless, and seemed to sum up, more than any social analysis, the discrepancy between want and privilege, the honorific ‘Don’, gasped out as her spindly legs carried her in desperate pursuit at once implying his status and her subjugation. The image has stayed with me.

I returned to the city yesterday evening to attend a tertulia, a cross between a poetry discussion group and a workshop organised by the poet and short story writer Fabio Morábito and friends, where I was invited to read. Afterwards I visited the barrio of Mixcoac with Pedro Serrano and Carlos López Beltrán, passing by Octavio Paz’s family home, before returning to the more familiar confines of Condesa and supper at Luigi’s.

But today, back on the bus, the perennial Mexican bus. The clock at the front says 7.05. It is 12.50, but who cares? We pass through the sprawling shanty outskirts of southern Mexico City and back into the mist. Daily travel awakens in the traveller a kind of constant dislocation, which is not surprising considering the word means just that – a state of being displaced, an absence of locus. I never believed, as some of my generation seemed to, that travelling of itself was a kind of means of discovering oneself. I have absolutely no interest in discovering myself, nor anybody else for that matter. But I am drawn to Cuernavaca, not only for its alleged beauty, for the fact that it lies Under the Volcano and is the setting for Malcolm Lowry’s magnificent novel of that name, but in part at least because my late friend, Petros Prasinaki, aka Igbar Zoff, aka Peter Green came here sometime in the mid to late 197os in order to spend his inheritance, search for Lowry’s ghost and drink mescal, an example I will not be following. But I have a copy of Under the Volcano with me, just in case.

 

 

Feet

28 Apr

beautiful female legs isolated on white

 

A taster from Mexican poet Pedro Serrano’s collection, Peatlands, translated by Anna Crowe and fresh off the press from Arc, who are to be congratulated, yet again, for bringing another fine writer to the attention of the English language reader.

There is also an introduction by W.N. Herbert, where we find these lines, which seem so apposite with regard to the poem I have chosen: “The intention [is] to transform us through language, compelling us to rethink, re-imagine and re-envision the world and our place in it; and to break down our unconsidered assumptions about opposed categories like thought and feeling, human and animal, by continually returning us to the matrix of the body . . .”

 

FEET

Feet clench, make themselves small, run away,

creasing their wretchedness and fear in lines

identical to those on our palms and different.

Feet are extensions of God

(which is why they are low down),

hence their distress, their rounded bulk, their lack of balance.

Feet are like startled crayfish.

Such vulnerable things, feet.

When they make love they clench and huddle together

as though they were their own subjects.

So feet are not made, then,

to cling, like wasps

to every pine-needle pin,

to every branch of the soul that makes them there.

They are more wings than feet,

tiny and fragile and human.

However much we overlook them.

 

 

 

LOS PIES

Los pies se doblan, empequeñecen, huyen,

curvan su miseria y su miedo en unas líneas

que son las de la mano y no lo son.

Los pies son extensiones de Dios

(por eso están abajo),

de allí su angustia, su volumen redondo, su desajuste.

Los pies son como crustáceos asustados.

Tan sensibles los pies.

Se doblan y apeñuscan al hacer el amor

como si ellos fueran sus sujetos.

Los pies, así, no están hechos ahora

para prenderse como avispas

a cada aguja,

a cada rama del alma que allí los haga.

Son más alas que pies,

chiquititos y frágiles y humanos.

Tan desconsiderados que los tenemos.