Dolores Dorantes & Rodrigo Flores Sánchez - in a climate of state-sponsored violence, what kinds of speech, writing, relation are possible? We are being intervened. How do we collaborate? How do we resist?
Dolores Dorantes & Rodrigo Flores Sánchez, Intervenir/Intervene, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2015.
Intervenir/Intervene is a searing, tender, unflinching collaboration between two Mexican poets—Dolores Dorantes, who lived in Ciudad Juárez for 25 years and now has political asylum in Los Angeles, and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez, who lives in Mexico City. Intervenir/Intervene asks questions no one should have to ask: in a climate of state-sponsored violence, what kinds of speech, writing, relation are possible? We are being intervened. How do we collaborate? How do we resist?
“… imagine an intervention between the body and that which destroys it ” — Daniel Borzutsky
I forget poetry
just like I forgot your burst body:
WITH ITS FACE
Write “my love’s face in the dirt”
Write “what did they do to you, love?”
Write “I found my love’s body missing a finger:”
I forget poetry
just like I forgot your burst body:
WITH ITS FACE
Write “my love’s face in the dirt”
Write “what did they do to you, love?”
Write “I found my love’s body missing a finger:”
Intervene: Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez [by Guillermo Parra]
In the fall of 2014, the Mexican poets Dolores Dorantes (Córdoba, Veracruz, 1973) and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez (Mexico City, 1977) will be publishing a collaborative book of poems entitled, Intervene/Intervenir (Brooklyn: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014, forthcoming). The English translation of the collection (which hasn't been published in Spanish yet) is by the North American poet and translator Jen Hofer (San Francisco, 1971). Jen Hofer is, by far, the most important North American translator working with Mexican poetry today. Her many publications include the groundbreaking Sin puertas visibles: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by Mexican Women Writers (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), and most recently she co-translated Heriberto Yépez's critical study of Charles Olson's travels and research in Mexico, The Empire of Neomemory (Oakland/Philadelphia: Chain Links, 2013).
I was introduced to the work of Dolores in 2003 via the network of Mexican poetry blogs, which emerged at the same time as many experimental North American poets took to the blogosphere. Dolores still maintains a blog today (Dolores Dorantes) and for over a decade her online writing and her books of poetry have been essential to me. North American readers can find her work in the volume sexoPUROsexoVELOZ and Septiembre: A Bilingual Edition of Books Two and Three from Dolores Dorantes, translated by Jen Hofer (Denver: Counterpath Press and Kenning Editions, 2007). Dolores lived for many years in Ciudad Juárez and today resides in Los Angeles, CA.
Through correspondence with Dolores I arrived at Rodrigo's poetry, via his second collection Estimado cliente (Toluca: Bonobos Editores, 2007). Rodrigo himself is a translator who has brought Jack Spicer and Muriel Rukeyser into Spanish. He lives in Mexico City and Intervene/Intervenir will be his first book to appear in English. I spoke with Dolores and Rodrigo via e-mail regarding their upcoming book with Ugly Duckling Presse. I have translated their responses into English. If anyone would like to read our conversation in Spanish, I've posted it at my blog Venepoetics.
I get the impression that Intervene emerges, partly, from the friendship between you two. How did you decide to collaborate on this book?
Dolores Dorantes: Intervene came about from an invitation to collaborate with the magazine Kaurab Online. The poet Aryanil Mukherjee wrote to me when he was editing an issue for the magazine with texts created in collaboration. Aryanil wanted three pages from each pair of collaborators and I invited Rodrigo to do something together. For me, the experience of collaborating was so new and getting to know Rodrigo's creative process made such an impact on me (this was my first time collaborating with someone): it was like discovering the mechanism that makes a flower open up, or something like that, so I didn't want to stop. I had already decided to abandon writing poetry in a formal manner, to give up writing verses, but working with Rodrigo made me see the formula for writing poetry in a different manner, I began to break many of my own rules, with great trepidation, I took up verses once again (something I haven't done since then). And likewise, with great trepidation I opened up my creative process to another writer in order to collaborate. That was fantastic.
Rodrigo Flores Sánchez: Lola and I have been friends for a while now. She proposed to me that we collaborate on something for a magazine; so we wrote two or three poems together, without any specific topic. Those poems came out in one or two days. In other words, Lola would send me a couple verses, I'd send her back a couple more, that's how the first texts were created. Then the strategy changed: each one of us wrote complete poems and we responded to each other with new texts. That small group of poems soon became a multitude.
Could you describe the process of composition for the book? Did you collaborate in person or via e-mail?DD: For me it was a euphoric process of exchanging Word documents that we'd send back and forth via e-mail. A complete immersion. Afterwards, I can't remember specific dates, but Rodrigo might, I travelled to Mexico City and we met in the neighborhood of Coyoacán to decide what poems we'd keep for the book, and of those what other poems might survive the revision process. I think that's how it happened, but in these cases the process can always be seen differently by each person, it's like the same story told by different grandparents, there'll always be details that I carry with emotion and preference and that Rodrigo might see in a much more precise manner, he always looks at things in a more precise and organized manner than I do.
RFS: For me the process was very stimulating and disconcerting at the same time. In the case of Intervene, I hadn't ever participated in a collaborative writing project without the elements I mentioned above. You have to keep in mind that Lola was in Ciudad Juárez and I was in Chilango [Mexico City]. Lola and I have actually only met in person a few times, but I feel a great deal of affection, admiration and empathy for her. I think that without those elements I wouldn't be able to participate in a project like Intervene. I read everything Lola publishes and we've been writing to each other for years. In fact, after Intervene we began to write letters to each other for another project. For me the development of a gradual immersion in the other was quite dense. This process was a radical questioning of what identity means and of the "style" of a piece of writing. The process is the inverse of Ariadne's thread. The intention wasn't to leave the labyrinth but rather to go further in, to get lost in the questions, recurrences and stylistic marks of the other. In the end I think the writing, at least this writing, is a line, a glance toward signs that have been obstructed ahead of time, that belong to Nobody, that is, to a Cyclops, a blind man, a blindfolded man. What I mean is that you don't have any clues for deciphering a trajectory or definite a path. The only thing you can do is to thread the territory with questions.
At a reading you gave together in Mexico City in 2009 that can be seen on YouTube, the voice of the poet Jorge Solís Arenazas is heard reading a few fragments offstage from the audience. Is it safe to say that Intervene is a book that seeks out interventions from its readers?
DD: The reading that's up on YouTube was recorded during the presentation of a chapbook that we gave away for free where we printed a fragment from Intervene. The entire event was a total party. Without thinking about it or openly deciding to do it in that way, yes there were several interventions: the intervention of the poets Karen Plata and Inti García Santamaría, who made the chapbook. The intervention of the poet Laura Solórzano who read right before the two of us intervened that space: the house of the poet Jorge Solís Arenazas, who helped us out by presenting his voice for the performance, and the intervention of Producciones Autismo, who recorded the reading. Everything happened at the “Casa Vacía” [Empty House] (that's what Jorge would call his home each time he organized a reading) on Avenue Álvaro Obregón in the Colonia Roma neighborhood, and many of the things and situations that happened there were accidents. Decisions we made only minutes before reading.
RFS: The meaning of the title and the book for me has to do with two things. First, historically Mexico is a country that's been and is now intervened by different forces, armies, countries, police, etc. Before 1519, the constitution of Mesoamerica has to do with the intervention of different cultures and clans. The territory that's known as Mexico today and includes parts of the United States was intervened by the Spanish empire for three centuries. Afterwards, Mexico was intervened twice by France and twice by the United States. The Mexican territory was diminished due to North American annexations and the independence of Central American countries. In this sense, it really catches my attention that while the history and politics of Mexico can be read and tracked by following the history of its interventions, it's official policy has been the Estrada Doctrine: that is, non-intervention. In Freudian terms, it's a social projection that has been cured by a cliché and by an impossibility that isn't merely historical but also epistemic: to not intervene. In my case, I was interested in making that traumatic word visible, a word that today remains quite relevant. On the other hand, in the book, the intervention is represented by over-writing. Let's just say I believe that the social simile is subjectified in the map that is this book: a territory full of addendums, suppressions, typographical hierarchies, voices, questions, none of which belong to an authorship but instead merely make the authorial banishment evident. I really enjoyed the experience of that first public reading of the book (which so far has been the only one we've done together). Because we were able to do it in a “choral” manner, Jorge, Lola and I would read different typographical marks. It was a big inspiration to me, for instance, when I came across audio recordings of readings by Hannah Weiner, whose work, by the way, I got to know thanks to Lola. They're incredible.
DD: Well, I think Jen's processes are always very careful and creative. It's a process that hasn't finished yet and that I'd like to know more about, from Jen Hofer herself. Collaborations with Jen Hofer never take place merely on the plane of an interpretation and reinterpretation of a text. Jen always looks beyond, and she asks her questions. But, like I say, it's a process that isn't over yet because the bilingual edition of the book will be published at the end of 2014.
RFS: I enjoyed the translation process a great deal, Jen is an excellent conductor of texts. Besides being interested in the literality of the translation, she pays close attention to understanding the text in its context and to moving beyond that first level, I mean the literal one. In that sense, on her part there was always an open dialogue with Lola and myself, in which she contributed questions, uncertainties and observations. It was a very enriching experience for me.
It seems to me that the English translation of the book offers new possibilities for presenting the book in public, for creating a dialogue between the two languages. Do you plan on presenting the book in the United States when it's published here?
DD: Of course, we have to present the book in the United States. That's the way publishing houses promote their books and ensure the text will have a bigger impact on the reading public, especially when it's a case of poets who write in another language. How could the publishing house justify its reasons for publishing Mexican poetry if not through the authors themselves? Publishing poetry in itself is already a risk, and publishing poetry in another language, with authors from the closest country to the United States isn't precisely high on the list of priorities of white North American intellectuals, so we have to make ourselves visible, and have fun while we do it. Years ago, I read part of Intervene at a museum in Detroit, along with the poets Patrick Durgin, Laura Solórzano and Jen Hofer, who with their voices sustained a discourse that was different from the ones that appear in the upcoming Intervene (Intervene is a book in which more than three discourses are interwoven). That gave it an interesting theatrical dimension. I don't know how we'll have fun this time, and when exactly, but I'm sure it'll be something pretty crazy, because of Rodrigo's presence, (whew!) he's from another planet.
RFS: I'd love for Intervene to be presented in the United States.
(January 2014) blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2014/01/intervene-dolores-dorantes-and-rodrigo-flores-s%C3%A1nchez-by-guillermo-parra.html
another excerpt here:
check out Dolores’s blog here:
Mexican writer granted political asylum leaving stamp on LA literary scene
In March 2011, without packing or telling anyone, writer Dolores Dorantes fled her home in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and crossed the border into El Paso.
Ciudad Juarez was the city where she grew up, began work as a reporter, and developed a following as a poet — and it was reeling from drug-related violence. The government responded with deadly military action and the deaths of hundreds of young women went unsolved.
In a column for a Mexico City newspaper, Dorantes criticized government policies that failed to put an end to the violence.
She received death threats, she said. Then a writer friend was violently killed and someone set fire to the house where an activist she knew lived. And so she fled.
“I am seeking asylum because I am afraid of being strongly accused, imprisoned, threatened, kidnapped, beaten, tortured, raped, or killed if I return to Mexico,” she wrote in a 299-page petition for political asylum. Her appeal was granted in 2013.
In El Paso, away from the violence, she wrote “estilo,” a book of prose poems that transforms the acts and language of violence into unexpected images:
“7.-Close us. Destroy our mouths. Enter. Torture us in other realities. Take us with your mind and your word. Bring us to our knees. May your gust of birds pass over us. Convert us in a sky cut across by branches. Capture us by the throat as with animals. As with animals, fervor.”The following year, she published “Querida fábrica,” (Dear Factory) in which she examines how love is like a factory:
An accident crackling across the imagination with which I remember you:Dorantes’ translator Jen Hofer and several other Los Angeles writers urged her to relocate to Los Angeles and join their literary circle.
I saw the blood
(something I don’t know is occurring here)
here a dark hand occurs that grasps your neck, sugar
that brings you to your knees, life
“So you remember my dead
So you bind yourself with your back to my dead seas and you listen
to their breathing without seeing and you await another
gallop of the sea and another
wallop of the sea and another (that something might occur, love)”
(hot just like your whip-crack)
In 2012, not long after she arrived in L.A. poet Anthony McCann asked Dorantes to read at the Machine Project gallery in Echo Park. She was still homesick for the city she left, but she agreed to read from “estilo,” only if she could stage it as a performance.
“She came up with the idea, and the idea was she would read with Jen if the audience was handcuffed and blindfolded,” McCann said, like the women and men from Ciudad Juarez who’d endured the same before being killed.
Fighting for asylum
Drug-related violence along Mexico’s northern border displaced thousands of people. They traveled into other parts of Mexico and north into the United States. A small number received political asylum in the United States, Dorantes among them.
Dorantes’ petition included vigorous letters of support from leading poets and literary figures from around the United States.
“Dolores Dorantes is an active and engaged member of society dedicated to contributing to positive change for marginalized populations,” wrote poet Anne Waldman, co-founder of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University.
“If granted asylum in the United States, I have no doubt that she will continue to contribute through her writing, community leadership, and social engagement,” Waldman said.
Dorantes was one of 204 Mexican citizens granted political asylum by the United States in 2013. That number grew to 448 the following year, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics.
Even though the U.S. turns down many asylum claims from Mexico, Dorantes made a strong case that without asylum her life was in danger because of her writing and activism, said Kristen Jackson, a lawyer with the legal advocacy group Public Counsel who helped Dorantes request asylum.
“L.A. is very lucky to have her and the United States is lucky to have her, wherever she may be. We really recognized the value and intensity of Dolores’ work and, in fact, some of her poetry and articles formed part of her asylum claim,” Jackson said.
While in Los Angeles, Dorantes has given autobiographical writing workshops like those she gave for working class and incarcerated women in Ciudad Juarez. She's also given readings outside of L.A.
"The contrasts between the city noises, smells, traffic, police, surveillance, the helicopters flying overhead, make this city a very peculiar and terrible setting, and that makes me love the city," she said of L.A.
She now splits her time between Southern California and El Paso, where she relishes the silence of the desert that lets her write.
As a writer and intellectual with a growing following in the U.S., Dorantes could be seen as a spokeswoman for Mexico’s troubles and her native city's decline. But it is not what she wants.
“It’s tough to see Ciudad Juarez go through so much turmoil, and that’s been used for political means, and for personal gain. I could never use the city’s pain to boost myself personally.” she said.
She was in L.A. last week at Machine Project, and talked about her newest performance, inspired by experiences during her four-year stay in the United States.
“Latin Americans are treated, generally, like servants in order for us to make a living. The other idea is how white artist communities in this country continue seeing us non-white artists as servants, and use [us] as token cultural trinkets,” she said.
LA. writer Roman Lujan and her long-time collaborator Juan Manuel Portillo joined Dorantes for a performance last Sunday.
Portillo recited lines as the conscience and the cynical muse while Lujan – dressed in a suit and tie – played the part of the cultural gatekeeper. Dorantes, wearing an apron that read “No Sirvo,” which translates into “I do not serve,” or “I’m broken,” filled the role as the artist. At various times she kneels to kiss Lujan's and Portillo’s shoes and some of those in the audience in a show of servitude.
“I think it’s a mistake to look at Dolores’ work solely in a political context,” said L.A. writer Ben Ehrenreich. He said Dorantes’ writing is inspired by local, personal experiences but is also infused with larger ideas from world literature and spiritual questions from her practice of Buddhism.
“I think for Dolores these are spiritual battles and they’re profound ones and they’re ones on which she is and has been willing to stake everything,” he said.
It’s an approach to writing that Dorantes tried to spread in Ciudad Juarez and that is summed up in the last line of her performance.
“No hay nada mas cobarde, que un escritor cobarde” — which translated means there’s nothing more cowardly than a cowardly writer. - Adolfo Guzman-Lopez