An Interview and Poems by Mario Bojórquez translated by Hari Alluri, Binh Nguyen and Jonathan Rodley

Brooklyn Bridge

From the other side of what I say
there lies a bridge to arrive at my word
Every time I utter my name
my name returns to me disfigured
Whenever I say water, the water returns as wind
the wind fire, fire my true name
but much more full, and much more strange.

I hurl words, names, verses at the other shore
again
and again with new ferocity it voices
what I don’t know.

I would have thrown onto this bridge
the thing that I don’t say, my silence
if only it would give back a poem.

 

At the banks of the Delaware River Waterfront facing Camden and watching the lights of the Walt Whitman Bridge

One day you grew a beard
like a frostbitten river
and you turned to ice
ancient poet head of clouds

For all your screams that Mexico deserved to disappear
that the fate of your nation was large
so large it should exterminate the entire world

Some of your compatriots
believe in your words and tend your dream

—and today 150 years of your anger
the lightning of my tongue sings to you en libertad.

Old, old, old, viejo, viejo Walt
Whitman

(1847-1997)
 

Poet’s Comments
The Walt Whitman poem was born from reading an article by him in the years 1846-1847 when he proposed that Mexico should disappear—we would then be stripped of more than half of our territory from an invasion by the American army. Many years later, in about 1855, the poet regretted speaking this way, since during the American Civil war only Mexico offered support to the US government and respected its decisions, while France, Holland and England were waiting to invade a country that was bleeding in a war between brothers. The poem is also a dialog with the famous Ezra Pound poem “A pact”:

I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman –
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
Who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough now to make friends.
It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root –
Let there be commerce between us.
 
Guggenheim Museum

The unceasing spiral where the world goes
below
The spiral unceasing where I go with me
to rise in myself
and return

For where I unceasing
spiral in my bones
Dextrous from what is mine
– around I
twisting in myself

Unceasing where I
only spiral
breathless I
return

Where unceasing I spiral
—toward me in me

 
Godzilla, ¡déjalo!

8:15 Central Park West / they detain the dove
of 82nd St. / from here I see / close up – the golden
button – how it is – no longer perched on its black coat /
all the doves of the city are reunited on the feet of their
ancestor / the old dinosaur crosses central park
via 85th / while the doves wet their feathers
a woman dries her sweat with a purple towel /
It is 8:22 and the giant reptile wonders
what could that woman with the purple
be listening to, running at such a nice rhythm
between the trees adjusting at times the Walkman
so the Walkman fits her waist / the dinosaur is slow
it’s 8:36 and just arriving at Lexington
 

Interview

Jonathan, Binh and Hari’s (JBH) interview with Mario Bojórquez occurred via email correspondence during the spring of 2015. They asked Mario Bojórquez questions in English, to which he responded in Spanish, and they translated his answers and sent them back along with revisions of their translations of his work, based on his comments.

JBH: In your experience, what is the most important thing that translation can teach a practicing poet? In relation, what is the thing that poetry teaches you / demands of you most these days?

MB: Now, in my poetry classes we talk a lot about something that I have called “el espacio del sentido” — the space of sense. Words in general have a meaning formative of dictionaries that the academies regulate and fix, however, everyday and colloquial speech and certainly in the field of poetic language, non-formative meanings of words acquire new valuations, a word always conveys more than or less than what we regularly understand, hence this first poem Brooklyn Bridge reflects on other possible significations of a word beyond the fixation of its sense in the dictionary. The poet’s work is to offer new significations, new senses, to renew the words in the exercise of writing, with translation this procedure becomes fundamental to understand the dialogue of the reader with the author.

JBH: One of the poems we translated is addressed to Walt Whitman. Who are some other poets that you find your work to be in conversation with? What poets and thinkers who inspire and challenge you? Or, more simply, who are 5 poets that we should go read?

MB: I have as two fundamental guidelines of my poetic work Fernando Pessoa and Ezra Pound. In another moment of my education were Arthur Rimbaud and Federico García Lorca. I am also interested in the translation of poetry in romance languages, French, Italian, catalan, Galician and Portuguese, which offers me possibilities: the practice of reading that impacts my work as an author of poetry. I don’t read German very well yet, but it has helped me to read Paul Celan in the Michael Hamburger, Martine Broda and José Luis Reyna Palazón versions.

JBH: Your recent work deploys and juxtaposes image alongside abstraction, repetition alongside transformation of language: would you please speak about how these techniques have evolved as your work has grown?

MB: I think that contemporary reality is reflected in the poetry in the same way as a line of production: the events exceed us and confirm us—like a piece of the digital framework of a motorcar, we know a part of its configuration, but not the entire device, hence the fact that we appear to the eyes as fragmentary and total, that we can discern a possible path of our acts but never foresee its consequences or its ultimate aim, the simultaneity of events and even more, the synchronicity that their relations offers us, at least, the clear conscience that we are not present completely in what we do nor in what we live, or better, that we are informed entirely by many conduits of dialogue that overlap and interconnect; all that is reflected in the poetry of today.

JBH: You employ a variation of forms in your work. Please help us understand the relationship between form and content in your work. How, in your writing process, do they inform each other?

MB: I think poetry should reflect the times we live in and give testimony of our passage on earth. To write a poem like Guggenheim Museum forms at bottom a reaching for solidarity in sense—the spiral of human life reflected and confirmed in the spiral of this special building. I am less interested in a photograph of the place than a sort of psychic postcard—my feelings and my emotions described through the dialogue with this form of architecture. I think I managed a more or less accurate portrayal of my puzzled face and of the material structure with which my spirit was exchanging identities. The speed of today runs in the lines of a nervous verse in its structure and of a strident and syncopated rhythm.

JBH: We are interested in both individual poems and bodies of work. We have also been exposed to different viewpoints on the idea of poetic obsessions. In your work specifically, do you find yourself addressing particular obsessions over time? Has this changed for you? Do you find yourself moved by a variety of subjects and poetic dilemmas at the same time?

MB: I have published a book of poems titled with a date: Y2K (Year Two Thousand), a reflection concerned with the idea of the future as an instance that could not be counted by computers programmed to measure only up to the last second of 1999. Historical vanguards of the early twentieth century argued that the man of the future would live in democratic societies and would have rights, freedoms and benefits unprecedented at the time; we are the men of the future of those vanguards and we are not happy as they had prophesied. [I reflected on the idea that] it is not even possible to tell the future, that the first second of the year 2000 would destroy any possibility of future, then I understood that we would live through a new time that should be counted by other measurements. In this book of poems I raise the notion that our time will be simultaneous and synchronous, that is to say, that the future will happen in many ways at the same instant and which also will involve a secret relationship between the most diverse acts, a correspondence among the multiple paths of their absurd appearance. All the time I think about time.

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