Monday, December 10, 2018

Luis Felipe Lomelí Interviews Yours Truly about "Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion" & etc.

This year the second Monday is dedicated to a post for my writing workshop students, except when not. This post is a "not"-- or rather, not exactly; I would hope that my workshop students, and indeed any and all English-language readers, may find it of interest. 

This interview was an honor, and a most welcome opportunity to say some things that have been looming ever larger in my mind.



P.S. Visit Luis Felipe Lomelí's website here.

In the interview I also mention Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. I wrote about Sor Juana here and in my Kindle longform essay, "Dispatch from the Sister Republic or, Papelito Habla." John Campion was Sor Juana's first English translator. You can read his translation of her magnum opus on his website, worldatuningfork.com, here.


TRANSCRIPT (WITH ENGLISH TRANSLATION):

MEXICAN WRITER LUIS FELIPE LOMELÍ
ASKS QUESTIONS IN ENGLISH;

LA ESCRITORA ESTADOUNIDENSE C.M. MAYO
CONTESTA EN ESPAÑOL

DECEMBER 2018

LUIS FELIPE LOMELÍ: Where you were born and where have you lived?

C.M. MAYO: Nací en El Paso, Texas, en la frontera, pero crecí en el norte de California, la parte ahora conocida como “Silicon Valley.” He vivido en Chicago, Washington DC, y otros lugares pero puedo decir que he pasado el mayor número de años de mi vida en la Ciudad de México.
(I was born in El Paso, Texas, on the US- Mexican border, but I grew up in northern California, in what is now “Silicon Valley.” I’ve lived in Chicago, Washington DC, and other places, but at this point I have lived more years of my life in Mexico City than anywhere else.)

LFL: Your profession?
CMM: Soy novelista, ensayista, poeta y traductora literaria.
(I am a novelist, essayist, poet, and literary translator.)

LFL: What drove you to Mexico, to live in Mexico (where and for how long) and to write about Mexico, to embrace Spanish as part of your culture?
CMM: ¡El amor! Me casé con un mexicano, un compañero de la Universidad de Chicago, y recién casados vinimos a vivir a la Ciudad de México. Han sido 32 años, la mayoría de ellos en la Ciudad de México.
(Love! I married a Mexican, a classmate at the University of Chicago, and directly after we got married we came to live in Mexico City. We’ve been married 32 years now, and most of these years we have been in Mexico City.)

LFL: What do you think about U.S. immigrants that live in Mexico, what do they do there, why are they there? Do they chose particular places to live?
CMM: Conozco mucha gente como yo, que venimos a residir en México por motivos personales. Otras también han venido por motivos profesionales, por ejemplo en la academia, en los artes y en las actividades empresariales, en todo tipo de empresas. Por supuesto allí están las comunidades de jubilados y artistas, en lugares tales como San Miguel de Allende, Ajijic, Los Cabos, y demás. A mí me parece que les ha convenido venir a México porque el clima invernal es más suave, el costo de vivir es menor que en Estados Unidos, y también por la aventura. ¡Algunas personas tienen mayores aventuras que otras!
(I know many people such as myself, who came to Mexico for personal reasons. Many also come for professional reasons, especially in academia, the arts. And others for business, all sorts of businesses. Then there are of course the retirees and artists living in San Miguel de Allende, Ajijic, Los Cabos, and so on, and it seems to me that most of them have come south because the winter weather is better, it’s cheaper to live there than the U.S., and for the adventure. Some have more adventures than others!)
Los norteamericanos han estado viniendo a vivir en México desde hace mucho más de un siglo. En los 1840s empiezan a llegar algunos comerciantes a través del Santa Fe Trail, el camino que conecta la ciudad de St Louis, Missouri con el Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, esto es, el camino real desde Santa Fe hacia a Ciudad Chihuahua, Durango, Querétaro, y la Ciudad de México. Y después, en la segunda mitad del siglo 19, por ejemplo, muchos ingenieros estadounidenses vinieron a México, ingenieros de minas, de ferrocarriles, de petróleo. Periodistas, rancheros, hacendados, novelistas, hoteleros, misioneros. Y aún mercenarios. Por ejemplo, muchos estadounidenses lucharon en varias facciones de diversos conflictos en México, incluyendo en la Revolución. Y en algún momento inmigró un grupo de mormones. Otro de menonitas.
(Americans have been coming to live in Mexico for well over a century. We start to see a few traders coming to live in Mexico in the 1840s, coming down on the Santa Fe Trail, connecting St Louis, Missouri with the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, that is to say, the old royal road down to Ciudad Chihuahua, Durango, Querétaro, Mexico City. And later, in the  second half of the 19th century, many U.S. engineers came to Mexico—mining engineers, railroad engineers, petroleum engineers. Journalists, ranchers, planation owners, novelists, hotel owners, missionaries. And even mercenaries. For example, many Americans fought in conflicts in Mexico, including in the Mexican Revolution. At one point Mormons migrated into Mexico. And Menonites.)
Uno de los personajes de mi novela está basado en Alice Green, la hija de una familia prominente de Washington DC. Su abuelo fue un ayudante del General Washington en la Guerra de Independencia. En Washington ella se casó con un diplomático mexicano, Angel de Iturbide, quién era de casualidad el segundo hijo del emperador de México, Agustín de Iturbide. Ella y su esposo vinieron a residir a la Ciudad de México en los 1850s.
(One of the characters in my novel is based on Alice Green, who was the daughter of a prominent family in Washington DC. Her grandfather was an aide-de-camp to General Washington in the American Revolution. In Washington she married a Mexican diplomat, Angel de Iturbide, who happened to be the second son of Mexico’s Emperor, Agustín de Ituride. She and her husband came to live in Mexico City in the 1850s.)
Otra historia del siglo 19, muy diferente, sobre la cual estoy escribiendo actualmente, es la de los negros seminoles, quienes eran los esclavos de los indígenas Seminoles, originalmente de Florida. Pues si, es poco conocido pero algunos indígenas tenían, compraban y vendían esclavos de descendencia africana. Poco después de que el gobierno de Estados Unidos obligó a los Seminoles a mudarse a Territorio indio, los negros seminoles se escaparon, caminando a través del desierto de Texas hacia México. El gobierno mexicano les otorgó terreno en cambio de que los hombres ayudaran al ejercito mexicano en la persecución de  los apaches y otros indigenas nómadas en el norte de México. Con la conclusión de la Guerra Civil en Estados Unidos y la Emancipación de los esclavos, muchos de los seminoles negros migraron de regreso a Texas para hacer lo mismo, ayudar al Ejercito de los Estados Unidos en cazar a los apaches, comanches y otros indigenas nómadas en las Guerras Indias. Todavía existe una comunidad de los descendientes de los negros seminoles en Brackettville, Texas y otra en el norte de México.
(Another very different story, one I’m writing about now, is that of the Seminole Negros, who were the slaves of the Seminole Indians, originally in Florida. It’s little known but it’s a fact, some Indians kept and bought and sold slaves of African descent. Soon after the U.S. government forced the Seminoles and their slaves to Indian Territory, the Seminole Negros fled, trekking from Oklahoma over the Texas desert, into Mexico. In exchange for land, their men worked as scouts for the Mexican Army, which was hunting down Apaches and other nomadic indigenous peoples in northern Mexico; and after the U.S. Civil War, with Emancipation, many Seminole Negroes migrated back into Texas, to do the same work for the U.S. Army, in the Indian Wars. There is a community of the descendents of the Seminole Negroes in Brackettville, Texas, and another in northern Mexico.)
La inmigración de estadounidenses hacia México es una historia extraordinariamente rica y compleja, pues cada persona, cada familia tiene su propia historia. Es más, en México hay inmigrantes de varias partes del mundo.
(U.S. immigration to Mexico is an extraordinarily rich and complex history, or rather, many histories, for each person, each family has their own. Moreover, Mexico has immigrants from many parts of the world.)


LFL: What is your impression and/or conception about this cultural exchange?

CMM: En cuanto la comunicación intercultural entre Estados Unidos y México, yo diría que hay muchos enlaces, muchos acercamientos, mucho que tenemos en común, mucho que podemos celebrar, pero no es lo que podría ser. Creo que algunas razones de eso—algunas—tienen sus raíces por allá en el siglo 16, en la rivalidad entre la España católica y la Inglaterra protestante.

(As for US-Mexico intercultural understanding today, I would say there are many connections, many bridges, much that we all have in common, and can celebrate, but it’s not what it could be. I acually believe that some reasons for this—some— have their roots all the way back in 16th century, to the rivalry between Catholic Spain and Protestant England.)

Pero enfocamos en cuestiones literarias. Hoy, un elemento, el cual es tanto una causa como un síntoma de la falta de comunicación intercultural, es que relativamente pocos libros se traducen del español al inglés o del inglés al español. Como porcentaje de libros publicados es minúsulo. Como resultado, muy, muy pocos escritores mexicanos se conocen en Estados Unidos. Octavio Paz, quién ganó el premio Nobel. Carlos Fuentes… quizá Juan Rulfo… algunos pocos lectores en inglés han oído de Carlos Monsiváis, Elena Poniatowska, Angeles Mastretta, Ignacio Solares, para nombrar unos de los distinguidos escritores contemporáneos mexicanos cuyos libros han sido traducidos al inglés. La lista de nombres conocidos disminuye en un parpadeo.

(But to focus on literary questions. Today, one factor, which is both a cause and a symptom of problems with intercultural communication, is that relatively few books are translated from Spanish into English, or from English into Spanish. As a percentage of what original work is published it’s minuscule. As a result, very, very few Mexican writers are known in the US. Octavio Paz, who won the Nobel Prize. Carlos Fuentes…maybe Juan Rulfo…  a very few will have heard of Carlos Monsiváis, Elena Poniatowska, Angeles Mastretta, Ignacio Solares, to name a few of Mexico’s distinguished contemporary writers who have had books translated into English… The list of recognizable names dwindles in a blink.)

Y por cierto un escritor mexicano destacado quién debe de ser más conocido en inglés es Luis Felipe Lomelí.

(And by the way, an outstanding Mexican writer named Luis Felipe Lomelí should be much better known in English.)

En México cuando voy a una librería mexicana, en cuanto a libros de literatura traducidos del inglés, por lo general encuentro best-sellers, Harry Potter, y así, y quizá algunos clásicos. Shakespeare, por ejemplo. Ay, acabo de mencionar dos obras británicas. Edgar Allen Poe. Ernest Hemingway. Ahora que lo pienso, conozco un par de poetas mexicanos quienes les encantan los Beats, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac. El último grito en los 1950s. Hay muchos ejemplos per, a grandes rasgos, así es la situación.

(In Mexico when I go into a Mexican bookstore, as far as books of serious literature translated from the English, I generally find best-sellers, Harry Potter, and the like, and a few classics. Shakespeare, for example. Ha, I just mentioned two British works. Edgar Allen Poe. Ernest Hemingway. Now that I think about it, I know a few Mexican poets who love the Beats, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac. Hot stuff in the 1950s. There are many more examples but, in general terms, this is the situation.)

Podemos señalar el prejucio, la ignorancia, el conservativismo de los editores, pero podemos avanzar más por el camino de la comprehensión en reconocer, primeramente, que lectores—en todo el mundo—prefieren leer libros originalmente escritos en su propio idioma. Segundo, reconocer el gran sapo gordo del hecho de que la traducción literaria es cara. Y así debe ser, puesto que traducir todo un libro es una labor que requiere muchos conocimientos y mucho tiempo. Aún así, los traductores literarios ganen muy poco. Cuando traduzco poemas y cuentos cortos para revistas literarias, como la mayoría de los traductores literarios, no cobro, o más bien no recibo nada más que dos ejemplares de la revista. Lo hago como labor de amor, por lo general. Existen becas y otros apoyos, pero son escasos.

(We could point a finger at prejudice, at ignorance, at publishers’ conservativism, but we can go further down the road towards understanding by acknowledging firstly, that readers—all over the world— prefer to read books originally written in their own language. Secondly, there is the big fat toad of a fact that literary translation is expensive. And rightly so, because it takes a of skill to translate a book, and it takes a lot of time. Even still, translators are poorly paid. When I translate poems and short stories for literary magazines, like most literary translators, I usually do it for free, or I should say, I don’t receive anything other than a couple of copies of the magazine. I do it as a labor of love, usually. There are grants for literary translators, for publishing literary translations. But these are few.)

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Para mí, ésta historia nos dice todo: Tengo entendido que “Primero Sueño,” el magnum opus de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, la gran poeta mexicana del barroco, una monja quien fue una figura literaria monumental en las Americas del siglo 17, se traduce al inglés por primera vez hasta 1983.  Afortunadamente fue hecha por John Campion, un traductor y poeta excelente. El libro está agotado no bastante puedes Googlearlo y leerlo en su página web, worldatuningfork.com. John Campion, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

(Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. For me, this sums it up: “Primero Sueño,” the magnum opus of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Mexico’s great poet of the Baroque, a nun who was a monumental literary figure in the Americas, was first translated into English only in 1983. Fortunately it was by John Campion, a fine translator and a poet himself. The book is out of print but you can Google that up and read it on his webpage, www.worldatuningfork.com. John Campion, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.)

Mi mensaje para las escuchas de esta entrevista es que una manera en que tú, como lector, puedes mejorar la comunicación intercultural, es buscar libros más allá de los best-sellers, más allá de los libros que todo el mundo lee, y en especial, buscar traducciones. Por lo general las traducciones se publican por editoriales pequeñas quienes no cuentan con muchos recursos para hacer mercadotécnia. Si no tienes el dinero para comprar un libro, es probable que la biblioteca de tu escuela o universidad o tu biblioteca pública pueda conseguirte un ejemplar. Si no lo ves en su catálogo, no seas tímido, pregúntale al bibliotecario si lo puede conseguir mediante préstamo interbibliotecario o comprarlo para la biblioteca. No pierdes nada en preguntar. Podrías ser felizmente sorprendido.

(My message for those of you listening to this interview is that one way that you, as a reader, can help improve intercultural communication is to look beyond the books on the best-seller table, read beyond the books everybody else is reading, and in particular, hunt for translations. Translations are often brought out by small presses that don’t have much marketing muscle. If you don’t have the money to buy a book, your school, university, or public library can probably get you copy—if you don’t see it in their catalogue, don’t be shy about asking the librarian to get you a copy on interlibrary loan, or even to buy it for the library. It doesn’t hurt to ask. You might be happily surprised.)

Y si tienes ganas de hacer una traducción, que sea al inglés o al español ¡házla! Por supuesto, si la obra original se encuentra en copyright y quieres publicar tu traducción, es necesario conseguir el permiso.
(And if you feel moved to translate a text, whether into English or into Spanish, give it a try! Of course, if the original work is still in copyright and you want to publish it you will need to get permission.)

Como lector, tus esfuerzos son importantes. No todo el mundo lee libros, así que para mucha gente la lectura no les parece una actividad importante. Pero los lectores tiendan a ser gentes pensantes y de acción. Un libro, aún leído por poca gente, aún por una sola persona, tiene el potencial—el potencial— de un poder enorme. Un poder para cambiar el mundo. No exagero.

(As as reader, your efforts matter. Not everyone reads books, so it might not seem all that important an activity. But those who read books, they tend to be thinkers and doers, so a book, even if read by a few people, even by one person, holds the potential—the potential— for enormous power. Power to change the world. I do not exaggerate.)

En esencia, un libro es un pensamiento grande y complejo empaquetado en un recipiente hiper-eficiente capaz de llevarlo a través del tiempo y del espacio.

(A book is, essentially, a large, complex thought packed into a hyper-efficient vessel that can carry it across time and space.)

Déjenme regresar al ejemplo de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Si no has oído de esta monja del siglo 17, en este instante a través de tu laptop o smartphone, o aún mejor, yendo a la biblioteca, lee tantito sobre su vida, algunas líneas de su poesía. Con este pequeño esfuerzo, yo creo que cambia tu concepto de México, de mujeres y del mundo. Vas a llegar a tus propias conclusiones, por supuesto, pero tu mundo será ya diferente.

(Let me go back to the example of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. If you have not heard of this 17th century nun, and you take a moment on your laptop or smartphone, or better yet, to go the library and read up a bit, and you read some lines of her poetry—just that little—I think your whole view of Mexico, of women, and of the world will change. You will draw your own conclusions, of course, but your world will be changed.)


Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion
edited by C,M. Mayo
visit the book's website
here.
LFL: And what was your intention or the goal you pursued in editing the Mexico: A Traveler’s Literary Companion?

CMM: Es un retrato de México a través de la ficción y prosa de 24 escritores mexicanos, muchos en traducción por primera vez. No es un Who’s Who, un Quién es quién de los escritores mexicanos, aunque de hecho incluye varios escritores muy distinguidos. Más bien ofrece a los lectores en inglés una introducción a la deliciosísima variedad de la literatura mexicana y en México mismo: desde los puntos de vista cultural, social, regional. La meta fue ir más allá de los estereotipos.

(This is a portrait of Mexico in the fiction and prose of 24 Mexican writers, many in translation for the first time. It’s not meant to be a Who’s Who of Mexican writers, although it does include some distinguished writers, but rather, to provide for English-language readers an introduction to the delicious variety in Mexican writing and Mexico itself: cultural, social, regional. To blast beyond clichés!)

Armar el tomo fue para mí un reto nada fácil puesto que la mayor parte de la literatura mexicana contemporánea, por cierto la más visible, proviene de la Ciudad de México. No obstante, encontré varias obras espléndidas, por ejemplo, “La Dama de los Mares” por Agustín Cadena, un relato ubicado en la costa de Baja California, “Día y noche” por Mónica Lavín en Cuernavaca, y el relato de Araceli Ardón “No es nada mío” de Querétaro. Les invito a leer más en mi página web, www.cmmayo.com

(This was quite a job for me as editor because much of contemporary Mexican literary writing, and certainly the most visible, comes out of Mexico City. But I did find many splendid pieces, for example, Agustín Cadena’s “Lady of the Seas,” set in Baja California, Mónica Lavín’s “Day and Night” in Cuernavaca, and Araceli Ardón’s “It Is Nothing of Mine,” set in Querétaro.  I invite you to read more on my website, www.cmmayo.com.)

Gracias.


(Thank you.)


#######


P.S. I talk about looking for translations, whether from English to Spanish or Spanish to English. Here's another book you could order, or ask your library to order: Ojos del Crow / Eyes of the Cuervo by Joseph Hutchison translated by Patricia Herminia.


> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.






Monday, December 03, 2018

Meteor, Influences, Ambiance

My book Meteor, which won the Gival Press Poetry Award for publication in 2018, should be out any day now. I'm working on a brief Q & A about it, and this got me to noodling. One of the standard questions for any poet, any writer, is about their influences. I wrote many of these poems an eon ago; indeed, some are more than 20 years old. The most recent poem in the collection is from 2010. (Why did it take so long to publish? That would be another blog post. Suffice to say, I didn't make much effort; I was more focused on writing an epic novel and nonfiction.)

Back when, I would have said that my main influences as a poet were, in alphabetical order, Raymond Carver, Harry Smith, Stevie SmithWallace Stevens, and W. B. Yeats. But I think that now, from this distant perspective of 2018, that in writing these poems I was perhaps equally influenced by James Howard Kunstler's razor-sharp nonfiction, in particular, his The Geography of Nowhere, and by certain musicians prominent in the '70 and '80s-- not only by their lyrics, but the physical ambiance they create, the trickster, shapeshifting way they pull down the astral by sound, rhythm, the masks of archetypes. In English, we lack vocabulary for this.

Two examples:

Laurie Anderson, "O Superman"



The Talking Heads, "Once in a Lifetime"




> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here. 

P.S. If you'd like to sign up for my once-in-a-ridiculously-long-while newsletter, you'll get the news when Meteor is available.






Monday, November 26, 2018

Q & A with Amy Hale Auker, Author of Ordinary Skin: Essays from Willow Springs

By C.M. Mayo www.cmmayo.com

This year, with some exceptions, the post for the fourth Monday of the month is dedicated to a Q & A with a fellow writer.  This is the last Q & A for 2018; look for the series to resume on the fourth Monday in February 2019. 

Amy Hale Auker
I had the pleasure of meeting Amy Hale Auker and of hearing her read from her work back in 2016 at the Women Writing the West conference in Santa Fe. She's the author of several works of poetry, fiction and essay, including Rightful Place, the 2012 WILLA winner for creative nonfiction and Foreword Reviews Book of the Year for essays. Her latest collection, Ordinary Skin: Essays from Willow Springs, is a treat for anyone who relishes fine creative nonfiction-- and it's a vivid and moving look at a life lived close to the land, on a working ranch in Arizona.

As those of you who follow my blog well know, my work to date has focused on Mexico, but for a while now I've been at work on a book about Far West Texas, and this had led me to read widely and closely about the West. It has a grand if sometimes underappreciated literary tradition, so if you're not familiar with it, take special note of Amy Hale Auker, and of her reading recommendations here. You will be richly rewarded.

From the catalog copy for Ordinary Skin:

Touching on faith and body image and belonging, these essays explore our role in deciding what is favorable or unfavorable, as well as where we someday want to dwell, and who came before us. In that touching, they feel their way with observations about current affairs, drought, mystery, and the hard decisions that face us all as we continue to move toward more questions with fewer answers. This exploration is informed and softened by hummingbirds, Gila monsters, bats, foxes, bears, wildflowers, and hidden seep springs where life goes on whether we are there to see it or not. It is about work in a wild and wilderness environment. In the end, even as life changes drastically around us, we are better off for knowing that the ugly mud bug turns into a jewel-toned dragonfly.

Visit Amy Hale Auker's website www.amyhaleauker.com 


ORDINARY SKIN:
ESSAYS FROM WILLOW SPRINGS
by Amy Hale Auker
Texas Tech University Press, 2018
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C.M. MAYO: How might you describe the ideal reader for the essays in Ordinary Skin?

AMY HALE AUKER: Ordinary Skin is a book for anyone who loves language and story and first person narrative, who craves an intimate look at the natural world and the land, who recognizes the value of hard work and sweat with a pause, or many pauses, for falling in love with life, over and over again. While I think that women will find the deeper messages of the instinctual feminine, it is also a refresher course for men on why they love our Mother Earth.

C.M. MAYO: If a reader were to read only one essay in your collection, which would you recommend and why?

AMY HALE AUKER:"Using Tools Backward." That essay reflects our sense of place and those who came before, paving the way, and who we are as we stand in these places.

C. M. MAYO: You have been a longtime participant in cowboy poetry festivals, including the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Alpine, Texas. My impression is that while cowboy poetry, fiction and song are beloved to many in the western US and Canada and elesewhere, they are also considered exotic, and alas, something to even disdain, by many in the literary communities in urban areas of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Your writing seems to me to fall squarely in both camps-- cowboy and what I would call (for lack of a better term) literary. Can you offer your thoughts about this? And perhaps comment on what people who read literary prose but who are unfamiliar with cowboy poetry (and cowboy culture generally) might look for and reconsider?

AMY HALE  AUKER: I have to admit to having run with this question directly to my editor and dear friend, Andy Wilkinson, who is often a clearer thinker and better communicator about labels and definitions than I am. I tend to simply write what I write and bang my head against category later. Wilkinson responded to my query in this way:

"The only way out is to question ... artificial categorization. Stevens didn’t write 'insurance executive' poetry, Williams didn’t write 'pediatrics' poetry, Frost didn’t write 'farmer' poetry, etc. Poets write poetry, and though their poems may be about a kind of life, the poets are neither the subjects nor the classifications."

I agree with Editor Dearest, but would also add that it is not my job to ask any reader to look more closely at any culture. It is my responsibility to simply do my job and step back (my clumsy paraphrase of Lao Tzu). This question looks too closely, in my opinion, at genre, marries me, as a writer/poet, too closely to a day job, a skill set, a means to earn a paycheck. Of course, my work in the natural world, with animals, growing food, informs my writing, my creative process, as did Frost's... as does Wendell Berry's. And yes, there are stereotypes out there, always, surrounding any profession or region that has been grossly, and often erroneously, romanticized to the point of becoming myth rather than reality. But an astute reader and listener will be quick to see where the stereotype breaks down and were reality shines through.

I would like to add that the elitist view of literature and life is what furthers the divide in this nation. That the only writing worthy of consideration can't come from the pen of someone who grows food, who works as a peasant, who has shit on their boots, who works with their hands. This us vs them view of art, literature, and philosophy is dangerous and furthers our separateness.

C.M. MAYO: Speaking of shit, my own favorite writer on that topic is Gene Logsdon, who called himself "The Contrary Farmer," and who wrote a book I highly recommend-- it's informative, beautifully written, and hilarious-- with the title, Holy Shit.

For someone who appreciates good writing but is unfamiliar with writing about rural life / farming / ranching, apart from your works, what might be a few reading suggestions?

AMY HALE AUKER: I just added Logsdon to my list of things to read! Thank you.

amazon
bookdepository
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I hope you will consider all of Wendell Berry's work... poetry, prose, essay.... all of it. I highly recommend The Unsettling of Americaessays surrounding the "green revolution" and the industrialization of agriculture.

Some other authors include James Galvin (Fencing the Sky), Verlyn Klinkenborg (The Rural Life), and Merrill Gilfillan (Magpie Rising).

McMurtry addresses this question you and I are tossing around in his excellent foreword to Still Wild: Short Fiction of the American West.

Teresa Jordan wrote a gorgeous memoir, "Ride the White Horse Home."

These are just a few, but if you really want to the peak of the pile, read The Unsettling of America. Berry is brilliant. 

C.M. MAYO: Can you talk about which writers have been the most important influences for your writing-- and which ones you are reading now?

AMY HALE AUKER: My influences are eclectic and many... but I tribute the poetry and songwriting of Andy Wilkinson as an influence to write any and everything that burns brightly in me. I tribute Merrill Gilfillan, Jeanette Winterson, E. B. White, Verylyn Klinkenborg, Barbara Kingsolver, and Edward Abbey with influencing my first person narrative. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Natalie Goldbberg, Ann Lamott, and Julia Cameron are on my "forever shelf." Recently I started reading Pema Chodron. I read a lot of fiction when I am writing nonfiction. So, right now I am reading novels. By my elbow is News of the World by Paulette Jiles. I love how she writes literary fiction in a western setting, breaking out of genre.

C.M. MAYO: You have been a consistently productive writer for many years. How has the digital revolution affected your writing? Specifically, has it become more challenging to stay focused with the siren calls of email, texting, blogs, online newspapers and magazines, social media, and such? If so, do you have some tips and tricks you might be able to share?

AMY HALE AUKER:  I view my time as a pie chart. It is important to give of my creative energy consciously. However, my journey has also led me to consider all of the roles in my life as part of who I am as a creative being... author, cowboy, grandmother, gardner, cook, poet, performer, speaker. So, it has been fun to see how very creative I can be on my social media platforms, in particular Instagram. People point their cameras at things they love, so it is a glimpse at their hearts. That said, the most important thing I can do is to go to cow camp where I am unplugged and write in longhand on the unlined page. Or put a 38 pound pack on my back and walk off in the wilderness, solo except for the dog. And I do. When I am home, it takes discipline to turn it all off. But that is what we all should do, for more of the day rather than less.

C.M. MAYO: Another question apropos of the digital revolution. At what point, if any, were you working on paper? Was working on paper necessary for you, or problematic? 

AMY HALE AUKER:  I write three pages of longhand every single morning a la Julia Cameron. It is my discipline and my practice and it serves me well. Even if I don't get to write the rest of the day, I know I showed up at the page Even if it reads like a "to do" list, I know I was present to my creative fire. I wrote most of "The Story Is the Thing" in longhand on yellow legal pad because a character in the book wrote in the same manner. What startled me was the dramatic and interesting process of transfering my handwriting to the screen. There was a magic there that I have not forgotten and crave to duplicate. So I am grateful that there are so many tools available to us... from uniball pens on blank journal pages to speaking into our phones while we drive to Schrivener (which baffles me) to Word where I can hurry up and get it all down. There is a freedom in having multiple ways to approach art in any medium.

Women Writing the West

C. M. MAYO: Can you talk about how and why you joined Women Writing the West?

AMY HALE AUKER: I joined Women Writing the West because my publisher, Texas Tech University Press, told me to. It has been an honor to be part of that group of highly talented people.

[C.M.M. post-interview note: Women Writing the West is open to writers (both women and men) living in and/or writing about the West, in any genre. I've been a member for several years now, and highly recommend it.]

C. M. MAYO: What's next for you as a writer? 

AMY HALE AUKER: So many things.... I am working on both a very weird collection of short short pieces that are a mixed bag of fiction and nonfiction and meditations as well as what may very well end up being a new collection of essays. However, I don't believe artists should discuss what they are working on at the time in much detail. It is too easy to talk about our process rather than dig deep and stay in it.... all the way to completion... if there is such a thing.

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> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.



COMMENTS:
Ms. Mayo: Fascinating interview with Amy Hale Auker. I have two of her essay collections: Ordinary Skin and Rightful Place. Her word choices are poetic; her thoughts on ranch life are inspiring. Thank you for asking inciteful questions—they are challenging but she is up to the task. Judith Grout www.judithgrout.com

Thanks for your interview of Amy Hale Auker. I have read both her essays and her fiction and admire both, and heard her poetry at one of the WWW conferences (perhaps Tucson?). Your questions and her answers were thoughtful and interesting. I appreciated your delving into her thought processes and comments on poetry and essays. I loved both of your recommendations for books! 
Julie Weston









Sunday, November 18, 2018

Q & A with Mary Mackey on THE JAGUARS THAT PROWL OUR DREAMS, Bearing Witness, and Women Writers' Archives

By C.M. Mayo www.cmmayo.com

This year, 2018, I have been aiming to post a Q & A with a fellow writer, poet and/or translator on the fourth Monday of the month. This usually happens! This month however I am posting two Q & As-- this third Monday, and another for the fourth. 


Mary Mackey's
The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams
Marsh Hawk Press, 2018
amazon
indiebound
Small Press Distribution
The Internet invites us be everywhere allwhen, so it seems, but in ye olde 3D meatspace, I have a habit of attempting to be in three places at the same time. (I leave all other impossible things for before breakfast!) One of those places is California, because that's where my mother was living, and in recent years I flew out there from Mexico City to see her more times than I can count. Initially, when I realized I needed to go more often, I imagined that I could attend literary gatherings while in California, so I joined the San Francisco chapter of the Women's National Book Association, an organization I warmly supported in the years I was living in Washington DC.  Alas --(those with elderly parents will smile sadly with understanding)-- I never could make it to a meeting. But I did read the SF WNBA newsletters and announcements, including news of Mary Mackey's books. Her latest, The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams, a collection of her poetry from 1974 - 2018, promises to be an especially rich read.

Mary Mackey is the author of a multitude of award-winning poetry collections, novels and more. Read about her distinguished career, and the unusual and highly original nature of her works, here. Though we have yet to meet in California, here we are, at least, on the same page in cyberspace: via email, Mary Mackey graciously answered several of my questions about her work. May you, dear extra curious and adventurous writerly reader, find her answers as fascinating and inspiring as I did.

Here's the catalogue copy for her latest, The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams:


Mary Mackey writes of life, death, love, and passion with intensity and grace. Her poems are hugely imaginative and multi-layered. Part One contains forty-eight new poems including twenty-one set in Western Kentucky from 1742 to 1975; and twenty-six unified by an exploration of the tropical jungle outside and within us, plus a surreal and sometimes hallucinatory appreciation of the visionary power of fever. Part Two offers the reader seventy-eight poems drawn from Mackey's seven previous collections including Sugar Zone, winner of the 2012 Oakland PEN Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence. 
"Mary Mackey's poems are powerful, beautiful, and have extraordinary range. This is the poetry of a woman who has lived richly, and felt deeply. May her concern for the planet help save it."—Maxine Hong Kingston 
"Always Mackey's eye is drawn to the marginalized, the poor, the outcast, the trivialized. [In] THE JAGUARS THAT PROWL OUR DREAMS, she has created an oeuvre, wilder, more open to change with each passing year. Hers is a monumental achievement."—D. Nurkse

Read a selection of her poems, including "The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams," on her website.


C.M. MAYO: How might you describe the ideal reader for The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams?

MARY MACKEY: As Maxine Hong Kingston observed, my poetry has “extraordinary range.” I write for readers who love the mystical, visionary poetry of  Mirabai, Blake, Pablo Neruda, and Saint John of the the Cross; for readers who want to step into the heart of our disappearing tropical jungles; for women struggling against sexual harassment. My ideal reader hates to be preached to and doesn’t like poems that are obscure—academic poems that read like puzzles. Instead, my ideal reader loves beautiful, well-crafted, complex, profound poetry that can be understood on many levels. My ideal reader also likes to laugh because some of my poems are very funny.

C.M.MAYO: What was the most important challenge for you in selecting poems from your now very substantial ouevre?

MARY MACKEY: When I started selecting, I came up with 280 poems which, when combined with the 48 new poems in Jaguars, would have resulted in a book the size of a cinder block. No poet writes 280 great poems, so I started culling. I ended up with 78 of my very best poems. Not one has a line I don’t like; not one is a second choice. Another challenge was to make sure the poems I picked had stood the test of time, since some were written as early as 1974. Some didn’t, but to my amazement several I wrote in the early seventies as part of the Second Wave women’s movement read as if they had been written today.

C.M. MAYO: In the process of selecting the poems, did you see your development as a poet in a new light? Are your poems very different now, and if so, how?

MARY MACKEY: I didn’t see my poetry in a new light as I went over my previous collections, and although my poems are different in content, they are not different in essence. My poetry has always had an inward and an outward stroke. That is to say, it has always been both highly personal and highly engaged with what is happening in the world. I don’t preach. I don’t tell people what to do. I think it’s the duty of a poet to bear witness to her times, and that’s what I have done for over 40 years: bear witness. Right now I am not writing for those of us who are alive in 2018. I am writing for future generations who will never see a live elephant, a tropical jungle, or a healthy coral reef. I am writing poems to tell them how beautiful our Earth was and what parts of it we are losing due to climate change.

That said, I did discover some changes in my poetry over the years. My lines grew longer, as if I were not as rushed. I married happily and so wrote fewer sad love poems. I fell in love with Portuguese and incorporated some Portuguese words in my last four collections. In 2011, I began to speak openly about the fact that I have run a number of life-threatening fevers (often near 107 degrees) and began to write poems about the visions and fever-induced hallucinations I had during these near-death experiences.

C.M. MAYO: You have been a consistently productive poet and writer for many years. How has the digital revolution affected your writing? Specifically, has it become more challenging to stay focused with the siren calls of email, texting, blogs, online newspapers and magazines, social media, and such? If so, do you have some tips and tricks you might be able to share? 

MARY MACKEY: I’ve been using computers since the early 80’s, so the Digital Revolution did not come as a surprise. It hasn’t affected my writing, but, like all writers these days, I have to spend time on social media that I would have otherwise spent writing, so I ration my online time carefully. To write poetry, to create anything, you need long periods of silence and intense concentration. You need to be able to hear your inner voice. You can’t do this if you are always checking your phone. My solution is rigorous compartmentalization. I set aside times to write and times to do social media.

When I am writing, my phone is off, my browser is closed, and I am completely and absolutely focused on my writing or on the essential daydreaming that precedes writing. When I am doing social media, I am absolutely focused on social media. The two don’t bleed over into one another. I also add a third element: time in the real world with physically present people. I write or do social media for about 5 hours a day beginning in the morning. Then I stop, turn off my computer, and see friends and family, take long walks, talk to strangers, look at the stars or watch an ant or a sparrow. In the evenings, I usually read instead of watching Netflix or something on cable, because I’ve had enough screen time for the day.

C.M. MAYO: Another question apropos of the Digital Revolution. At what point, if any, were you working on paper? Was working on paper necessary for you, or problematic? 

MARY MACKEY: When I started writing, paper was the only option. I still write out the first drafts of my poems in cursive in a special journal because I don’t like to have any technical interface between me and my imagination, nor any temptation to look something up in the initial moments of inspiration. I write freely without thinking about quality or organization. I let my hand and my mind wander. Then I transfer the result to my laptop and begin a rigorous process of cutting, improving, altering, editing, and crafting the final poem. I have taken a 4 page poem, written out in almost unreadable script, and transformed it into a polished, poem of three lines.

I should mention here that I am also the author of fourteen novels. Paper figures big in this part of my writing life. I wrote my first novel out in cursive in a notebook in the Scandinavian statistics section of the University of Chicago Library (a place where you could be sure no one would appear to interrupt you). I wrote the second on a manual typewriter; the third on an IBM Correcting Selectric typewriter, and the fourth on a computer so primitive it didn’t have a hard drive. I’ve used computers ever since for my subsequent ten novels, but at the end of each day, I print out all additions and changes, because I like to have hard copies of my work. I find it easier to edit hard copy, because you can see an entire page and move back and forth more easily. Also you can actually see what you’ve crossed out in case you want to change your mind. You can’t do this with deleted text. Then too, if the Internet goes down, my backups get stolen, my hard drive goes up in smoke, my passwords are compromised, the cloud is hacked, or my computer gets invaded with ransom ware, I have hard copy.

C.M. MAYO: Your papers are archived in the Sophia Smith Special Collections Library, Smith College, Northampton, MA and your website offers a "Guide to Women Writers Archives."  https://marymackey.com/educators/guide-to-women-writers-archives/ . As a writer with an archive myself and as one who has made grateful use of many archives over the years  --and one also keenly aware of how many valuable collections of papers, alas, end up lost I am especially interested to know: How did this come about?

MARY MACKEY: It took me fifteen years to get up the courage to try to place my literary papers, because like so many women, I thought no one would want them. Imagine my surprise when I finally sent out emails and got almost immediate replies from nine universities who not only wanted my work, but offered to pay me substantial sums for my archives. I ended turning down monetary offers and donating my archives to Smith College, because they are dedicated to preserving the archives of women writers and the history of women. I’m not an alumna of Smith. I went to Harvard, but I didn’t donate my papers to Harvard because the university wouldn’t let me use Lamont, the Harvard undergraduate library, when I was a student there. In fact, until 1967, no women could enter Lamont. The guards at the door even turned away Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


After my experience with archiving, I decided to help women writers and artists archive their work. I have also helped men, but my focus has been on women, because if you tell a women about archiving, she will invariably say: “No one will want my papers. There’s no use trying.” In contrast, a man will say: “No one will want my papers, but I might as well give it a try.” I tell women that I want our history to be written on stone, not on water. I don’t archive their work for them, but I give them a packet of instructions on how to do it, encourage them to give it a try, tell them my own story of being timid and uncertain, and remind them that they can only control what goes into their archives while they are still alive. When they have successfully placed their papers, I list them on my website in my Guide To Women Writers’ Archives, congratulate them on my Facebook Page, and congratulate them again in my quarterly newsletter.

C.M. MAYO: What's next for you as a poet and as a writer?

MARY MACKEY: Right now I’m working on a plot outline for the final book in a series of novels about the Goddess-worshiping peoples of Neolithic Europe and their struggle to fight off Sky-worshiping, patriarchal invaders from the steppes. These novels are based on the research of archaeologist and UCLA Professor Marija Gimbutas who helped me with the first two novels in the series.

I’m also working on a series of visionary poems with the working title “Cassandra.” I think Cassandra is the perfect spokeswoman for our era. She saw the future, but when she tried to warn people that disaster was coming, no one believed her.



>> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.