Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Mexico City Lit: Agustin Cadena, Patricia Dubrava & Yours Truly, Plus a Note on the Past & Future of the Literary Magazine

What a thrill it is to see the latest from MexicoCity Lit, five stories by Agustín Cadena, all translated by my dear amiga Patricia Dubrava except the last one, "The Vampire," which is translated by Yours Truly (the latter originally published in the Canadian litmag Exile).

> Read the whole enchilada here.

As Mexico City Lit says of Cadena, "since the early 90s, his eerie, brilliant stories have been a major reference point in Mexican literature; Juan Domingo Arguelles has called him one of the best writers of his generation." I most enthusiastically concur.

This latest publication in Mexico City Lit had its genesis in my meeting one of its editors, María Cristina Fernández Hall, at the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) meeting last October in Tucson, Arizona.

(See my posts apropos of that conference: "Translating Across the Border" and "Translating Contemporary Latin America Poets and Writers: Embracing, Resisting, Escaping the Magnetic Pull of the Capital". For that conference's Cafe Latino series I also read Cadena's poem "Café San Martín" together with my translation that appears in the anthology edited by Sarah Cortez, Goodbye Mexico. >> Listen in here. )

More Cadena links to surf:

>Visit Cadena's blog El vino y al hiel

> You can find one of Cadena's stories, the haunting "Lady of the Seas" in my collection of 24 Mexican writers, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. 
Listen to my interview about translating Mexican literature for NPR here. 
> Read Cadena's "Lady of the Seas."

> More Translating Beyond Borders: Cadena's "Blind Woman" in BorderSenses

Finally, here's a photo of me and Patricia Dubrava from ALTA-- Pat is pointing to 
Carne verde, piel negra / An Avocado from Michoacán, the Tameme chapbook of Cadena's story together with my translation. Viva!



I always feel an extra pulse of gratitude for literary magazine editors because, having founded and edited a litmag myself, I know how much work goes into not only selecting work, but editing, designing, formatting, distribution, tax reports, schlepping to book fairs, and ye olde PR. 

Notice that I didn't mention fulfillment because-- bring out the Kleenex-- almost no one buys these things. It may appear that people do: there's the splendiferous assortment of litmags at your local Barnes & Noble and also at many independent bookstores, and for US poets, short story writers and creative nonfictioneers, the ever more mega annual AWP Book Fair with its dozens upon dozens of tables of litmags-- many sponsored by MFA programs in creative writing. But alas, with the singular exception of Cenizo Journal, as far as I've been able to ascertain in my two decades of hithering & thithering in this particular village, as far as commercial viability goes, its name is Potemkin. But beyond the merely cosmetic, a Potemkin Village does have its purposes, rarified, noodathipious, and impractical as they may be. (What is noodathipious? Oh, I made that up.) 

But here's the thing: Market for it or not, there is no getting around the immense delight in writing, in reading, and in doing the good work of bringing authors and readers together by curating, packaging, and presenting the wickedly wondrous little package known as a literary magazine. 

(As the Whopper is to the amuse gueule, so is the commercial paperback thriller to the litmag. Is it a scrumptious amuse gueule? You decide. Hmm, I'll take the one with the lobster clawlet on the dab of pesto. Some people will eat mousse des intestins d'anguille. OK, enough with the food analogies.)

My magazine, Tameme, was one of the last in traditional format to come out before the digital tsunami. It was back in the early 1990s, when I first started publishing my own poetry and short fiction and translations of Mexican works in various litmags from the Quarterly to the Paris Review, that I came up with the notion of bringing Canadian, US and Mexican writers and poets and their translators all together in a bilingual journal. (See this note about various antecedents including Botteghe Oscure, El corno emplumado, and Mandorla, and subsequently, the outstanding contribution that is Rose Mary Salum's Literal.)

The first issue of Tameme, made possible by, among many other things and many other people, my dad and his experience in the printing industry, came off the presses-- these were traditional presses-- in 1999. Boxes upon boxes ended up in the garage. We did metaphorical mud wrestling with New Jersey-based distributors. We mailed out piles and piles and piles of review copies. We mailed out press releases. We attended book fairs. We did all sorts of things that me exhaust me now just to think of them. Oh, and one of them was, we maintained one of the very first websites, As of about a decade ago, the software to make that site is no longer even available.

Alas, apart from its memorial website, Tameme is no more. I didn't want to continue publishing it without my dad. As his health failed, the project retreated into a chapbook series-- we did bring out two excellent chapbooks, one by Agustín Cadena and the other a collection of poems by Jorge Fernández Granados translated by John Oliver Simon-- and then finally folded. 

All of which is to say, these days I sometimes feel like a Comanche gazing up at an airplane. 

If I were to start a litmag today, it would look something like Mexico City Lit-- electronic, edgy, and rich with visual art. I love-love-LOVE that Cadena's stories are accompanied by the selection of photographs by Livia Radwanski. A cyber shower of jpeg lotus petals upon y'all! It is an honor to have had my translation of "The Vampire" included-- and, dear reader, do check out the short stories by Cadena, they are both rare and delectable. And free! Such is the future of the labor of love in the white-hot cauldron of culture that is a literary magazine. 

Your comments are ever and always welcome.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Cyberflanerie: Carnyx Edition

As those of you who follow this blog cannot but know, I am working on a book about Far West Texas. That means, of course, piles of reading about Jumanos, Mescalero Apaches and Comanches. To try to see past some of the cliches, I've been reading into outer Europe's deep history, and as it happens when one reads deeply, things start looking mighty strange.

Behold the Celtic war horn known as the carnynx. Think of it as cross between a submarine's persicope and a didjeridoo. Supposedly it drove the Romans bonkers.

Herewith a few fun, if howlingly loud, links:

John Kenney "The Voice of the Carnyx"

"The first piece ever composed for the carnyx" by trombonist and composer
Link goes to a 6 1/2 minute recording on YouTube.

The Carnyx: An Ancient Instrument

The Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society's page. A quote:
"The Carnyx was once common throughout much of Europe, although only five fragments are known to us, of which Deskford is the finest. It flourished between 300BC and 200AD, and found widespread use in Britain, France, parts of Germany, eastwards to Romania, and beyond. Bands of Celtic mercenaries took it on their travels; Carnyces were present at the attack on the Greek sanctuary at Delphi in 279BC; Carnyces defied Julius Caesar in Gaul; Carnyces faced Claudius when he invaded Britain. They are often represented on a sculpture in India, proof of the far-flung connections of the Iron Age world."

Carynx & Co.

John Kenney and Ian Ritchie's charitable company "which provides a unique interface between musical archaeology and the world of contemporary performance and recording".
Includes the page "Titingnac Carnyx" about the reconstruction of a 1st century BC carnyx unearthed in the south of France.

Carynx & Double Bass at Yewshamanism

A live recording of Taxus Baccata by Michael Denning. Denning plays bass and John Kenney the carnyx.

P.S. The most bodacious place on earth to toot your carynx.

UPDATE: Ancient Irish Musical History Found in Modern India

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

GIFs of Far West Texas: Santa Elena Canyon, Pecos High Bridge, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Guadalupe Mountains

More fun with GIFs... This one is made from my video taken just inside Santa Elena Canyon in the Big Bend National Park (with a glimpse of Charles Angell, owner of Angell Expeditions-- highly recommended). 

This GIF (below) is of the Pecos River high bridge just past Comstock at the US-Mexico border. When you're driving on highway 90 you don't see the gorge until you're just about about over it-- one of the wiggier driving experiences to be had in all of Texas.

A GIF of the Big Bend Ranch State Park entrance:

Finally, a simple GIF, two shots of the Texas' other national park, Guadalupe Mountains, from who knows how many thousands of feet:

Hmm for some reason this GIF isn't working. Here's a good jpeg:

I'm working on my book about Far West Texas, and apropos of that, the Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project with 20 of a projected 24 podcasts posted to date. Listen in anytime here.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Introduction to the Panel with Elizabeth Hay, Lisa See, Luis Alberto Urrea, and Juan Villoro at the San Miguel Writers Conference


I wasn't planning to post this since it's not a complete essay, only an introduction to a panel, but it has come up in so many conversations since the panel was held this past February, I thought I'd offer it here-- and with links in case you'd like to learn more about these extraordinary writers.


Good morning, Buenos días! Bienvenido! Welcome! What an joy of a conference this is. If my memory serves me, I participated in what was the very first of these conferences. I know it was more than 10 years ago. And that was an outstanding conference, but wow, it has gotten not only bigger but better and better. What we have here in this conference is unique: A gathering in the heart of Mexico, of writers from Mexico, writers who may or may not be Mexican living in Mexico, writers visiting Mexico, writers from so many different cultures.  
The day before yesterday, here, over there by one of those big white tents, I ran into one of my favorite Mexican writers, who happens to be a native of San Miguel de Allende, and baptized in the Parroquía, that otherwordly gothic church that is impossible to miss. Araceli Ardón. She was on the faculty last year, and some other years. So I mentioned to Araceli that I was going to moderate this panel today on Global Migration: People and their Stories.
Well, why do we write?
And Araceli told me that in his writing workshop, years ago, Carlos Fuentes—who was, without a doubt, one of Mexico’s greatest writers— Carlos Fuentes said something that, like a beacon in the night, had guided her as as writer. In Spanish, Fuentes said: “La literatura tiene que dar voz a los silencios de la historia." 
Literature must give voice to history’s silences. 
As we go on with this panel, I would like to invite you to keep those words of Carlos Fuentes present in your mind.
Global Migration: it’s in the news. We see it, we hear it, we read about it every day. Those of us who are from the US and Canada are keenly aware , on many levels, of our histories with migration, and this includes, in most cases, our own family histories.
For those who are new to Mexico-- and I know that quite a few if you are--an extra special welcome to you.
I’d like to underline something that could be... shall we say... fruitful to keep in mind as we proceed, and that is that Mexico, too, has had and continues to accept important numbers of immigrants. For example, Mexico’s literary figures include many who were immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Spain, of course, but also from Germany and that includes Carlos Fuentesfrom France, Italy, Ireland, Japan, China, Africa, Central America, Cuba, Argentina, Poland (Elena Poniatowska!) and Russia— it’s a long list.
And it also includes immigrants from the Middle East-- that flow of immigrants, from the Middle East, by the way, goes back many, many decades. 
Rose Mary Salum, a Mexican writer of Lebanese descent, recently published a visionary anthology entitled, in Spanish, Delta de las arenas, cuentos árabes, cuentos judíos, a title I would translate as Delta of Sands: Arab and Jewish Short Fiction from Latin America. It is a large and splendid and very interesting book, by the way.
There are also notable flows of migration within Mexico itself. Just to give one example, many people have come from small towns and farms to live in large cities, and in so doing making them larger: Mexico City, Querétaro, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Tijuana... Farm workers, migrant workers, who might go north to Oregon or Florida, also go to the Mexican states of Baja California or Sinaloa.
Another example: Many Mexican artists, professionals and retirees have come from Mexico City have come to live here in San Miguel de Allende—there is quite a bit less traffic, among other attractions. 
And Mexico has indigenous groups from Mayas to Nahuas to Zapotecs, and members of these communities have moved all over the map of the Mexican Republic, and beyond. Of course, thousands of years ago, the ancestors of these peoples immigrated to what is now Mexico by way of the bridge under what is now the Bering Straight. And they too have important and rich storytelling, poetic, and literary traditions.
I myself am an immigrant to Mexico. I came from the US to live in Mexico City 30 years ago. So that’s why all my books are about Mexico. And I also translate Mexican writers, which brings me to a Mexican writer I am very proud to say I have translated: Juan Villoro. It was his short story about Mexican punk rockers that appears in my collection, Mexico: A Traveler’s Literary Companion. 
Juan Villoro is one of Mexico’s most outstanding writers, and it is truly a privilege, a stellar privilege, to have him here with us. 
So now I am going to formally introduce him, as our first speaker. And then, in turn, I will introduce each one of our panel. And then, after each has had the opportunity to speak, for about 10 to 12 minutes, we will take your questions and comments.
The questions at hand are: Why are stories of migration, or stories in some way inspired by migration, so vital? And what is it that elevates them to the level of “literary”? What are the challenges for writers who may be far removed from the culture in respecting their subjects, respecting their own creative process, and, ultimately, respecting their readers? And how is literature itself changing with such infusions?

+ + + 

If you would like to buy an MP3 recording of the entire panel, that is available from the San Miguel Writers Conference here.

P.S. It was at this conference, shortly after this panel, in fact, that I met Texas historian and novelist Carolina Castillo Crimm and she so kindly gave me an inscribed copy of De León: A Tejano Family History. Because I'm writing a book about Texas, I devoured it faster than a plate of Pody's BBQ. I highly recommend it as essential reading for anyone interested in the history of Texas, Northern Mexico, the borderlands, and indeed the United States itself. Check out my Q & A with Carolina Castillo Crimm about De León here.

(Centennial Lecture 2015 for the University of Texas of El Paso)

I invite you to visit my "For Mexicophiles" page here.

Your comments are ever and always welcome.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Literary Travel Writing

This Saturday I'll be teaching a one day workshop on Literary Travel Writing at the Writer's Center in Bethesda MD. I know that many of you, dear readers, are nowhere near this venue, but perhaps you will share my enthusiasm for some of the memoirs we'll be discussing, apropos of their use of various techniques from fiction and poetry.

For specificity:

Joan Didion's "Some Dreamers of he Golden Dream" Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Jon Swain's River of Time: A Memoir of Vietnam and Cambodia

For imagery:

Naomi Shihab Nye, "Camel Like Only Camel" Never in a Hurry: Essays on People and Places

Rupert Isaacson, The Healing Land: The Bushmen and the Kalahari Desert

For dialogue:

Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana

Ian Frazier's Great Plains

For conjecture:

Nancy Marie Brown's The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman

For detail and listing:

M.F.K. Fisher's Long Ago in France

For use of detail, repetition, and listing-- and structure:

V.S. Naipaul's A Turn in the South

A longer list of recommended travel memoirs is here.
My own books and other publications are here.

About this workshop:

April 16, 2016 Bethesda MD
(Saturday, one day only)

The Writer's Center
10 am - 1 pm
Literary Travel Writing 

Take your travel writing to another level: the literary, which is to say, giving the reader the novelistic experience of actually traveling there with you. For both beginning and advanced writers, this workshop covers the techniques from fiction and poetry that you can apply to this specialized form of creative nonfiction for deliciously vivid effects.

>Register for this workshop on-line here.

>More detailed description of the workshop here. (Link goes to my article about literary travel writing for the Writer's Carousel)

>Questions about this workshop? Email me here.

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Monday, April 11, 2016

With a Ker-thunking Clash of Gamelan Puggy Hooha: On 10 (TEN!) Years of Blogging

[Newspaper clipping courtesy of]
The 10 year anniversary of this blog, long looming on the horizon, has arrived with a ker-thunking clash of gamelan hooha. At least in my own mind! And whether you've been with me this long or surfed in a split-second ago, my thanks to you, dear reader.

A shout-out to a few of my blogging friends who've been at this along with me lo these many (or almost these many) years-- you're on my blog roll and in my heart. (I'm waving at you especially, E. Ethelbert Miller and Leslie Pietrzyk.) 

Alas, most of the blogs that started back when have gone silent. What has kept me motivated for 10 years? To get a sense of what it's all about, draw some conclusions, and look to the future, in recent weeks I've been posting year-by-year lists of top original-to-this-blog content. (2015; 2014; 2013; 2012; 2011; 2010; 2009; 2008; 2007; and 2006.) And now, at last, I've arrived at five conclusions and aims going forward.

Five Conclusions and Aims for 2016 & Beyond

1. I started "Madam Mayo" blog in 2006 primarily to serve as a platform to announce and link to my work available in-print or elsewhere on the web. Such frankness may not sound too tewwibly chahming, I know. It's sort of like waving a wand over the top hat, then snatching away the silk handkerchief to reveal... a bean burrito. Not that my writing isn't yummy, if I do say so myself! But c
learly, it would behoove me to jazz up ye olde blog up with, say, more pugs. Oh! Here's a GIF of Uliberto Quetzalpugtl (b. 2014). I asked him if he wanted a bean burrito.

This still seems like a fine idea, I mean, both using my blog to point to my books and other writing available elsewhere, and to bring on the pugs. 

Katherine Dunn says she is "not sure pugs are real dogs, they are mystical little beasts." Here, here. And here's a video of my mystical little beasts Uliberto Quetzalpugtl and his little sister Washingtoniana Quetzalpugalotl:

And here are some of my books, all of which have to do with Mexico, two of which have a lot brown in their covers, and all which do happen to mention Mexican cuisine (but not bean burritos):

(P.S. If you're new to this blog and wondering why my books are all about Mexico, click here for the "secrets and surprises".)

Seriously, though, over the years I have come to see this blog as more than a mere platform. As I wrote on the eighth anniversary of this blog, I think of "Madam Mayo" not so much as a "platform" but as "a net that catches certain special fish-- the readers who care about the things I care to write about." 

2. Over the past decade the "top list-worthy" posts for this blog were the ones I wrote as exercises in clarifying my own thinking. Sometimes I was working out ideas that would appear in my books (as with this book review and this book review and this mash-up on Francisco Madero and Dr. Krumm-Heller); other times such posts were for my workshop students or just for myself

My personal favorite is this post. I reread it now and again, and try to take my own advice. 

So: I aim to continue blogging to clarify my own thinking... and to take my own advice. Hence, herewith another pug GIF! This one is of my writing assistant / aka mystical little beast Picadou (2000-2014) and her doting godfather, Mexican actor and James Dean-channeler Fernando Catorri

3. Several of the posts that made it into my top annual lists were written in a spirit of helpfulness and also, I confess, to save time with email. For example, after three writer friends asked me how I made my Kindles, I posted this; and after three asked me about editing their manuscript, I posted this and this; after three asked me about how to format a book I posted this. Yep, three's the charm. 

The thing is, when three people ask me the same question, I can probably expect more of the same, and when my best answer is a more than a little bit lengthy, opinionated, and technical, the easiest thing for all concerned is for me to send my correspondent the link to my blog post. And of course I am delighted if any one else finds said posts of use and/or interest. Like I said, they were written in a spirit of helpfulness.

Since I've already tackled just about every question I can about writing and publishing, I aim to write more travel articles because the one question I keep getting is, what is there to see and do in Mexico City? (I do wish more people would ask me about Far West Texas.) 

(Why don't I publish more often in magazines and newspapers such as LA Times and WSJ as in days of yore? That's another post.)

4. Over the past decade I started up then phased out guest-blogs that followed what I called my super-simple "5 link format." A chubasco of lotus jpegs upon y'all, dear fabulously talented guest-bloggers! (See the archive of "Madam Mayo" guest-blogs here). But alas, it was too much trouble to seek them out, then edit and format them, so, sorry, dear reader, you will just have to settle for guest-appearances by my mystical little beasts. Here is Uliberto Quetzalpugtl demonstrating the Orphic Journey:

But seriously, albeit not via guest-blog posts, I aim to continue seeking out and featuring other writers whose work I admire. Over the past couple of years, and especially since 2014, I started running infrequent Q & As such as this one with historian Carolina Castillo Crimm and this one with historian Paul Cool and this one with writer and editor Michele Orwin. These are far more work to prepare, yet far more satisfying for me, for the other writer, and for my readers (so I am told). It's hard to say how often I'll feel comfortable doing these Q & As, but my guess is, probably every other month or so. 

(Yes, I am still running my Conversations with Other Writers podcast, but it's an unholy amount of work to edit audio, so for now I plan to post those on a more or less one-podcast-a-year basis.) 

5. Another type of post I started up and then phased out was what I call "cyberflanerie." In 2016 I'll let other blogs, such as Swiss MissBrain Pickings, and Marginal Revolution natter around with that sort of browsing and curating, fascinating fun as that is. My aim for 2016 is to fry the monster.

Five Things You Can Expect to Stay the Same at "Madam Mayo" in 2016

1. Look for posts every Monday, except when not, and oftentimes more often. 

2. Your emailed comments are ever and always welcome. But no, I won't be publishing comments on the blog itself. 
3. Look for occasional Q & As, book reviews and, at year-end, my top 10+ books read list.
4. Look for more posts about Texas, Far West Texas, and literary travel writing-- may this be the year I finish the draft of the book.
5.  My philosophy of blogging, that it is not so much a platform (although, yeah, it is) but "a kind of net, to catch the readers who care about what I care to write about" remains essentially unchanged from a couple of years ago. See Writers' Blogs (and My Blog Blog): Eight Conclusions After 8 years of Blogging, my talk for a panel on writers blogs at the 2014 Associated Writers Conference. 

And finally, know that you have my appreciation, dear reader. 

Your comments are always welcome.

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