Monday, December 31, 2018

Top Posts of 2018

By C.M. Mayo

Throughout 2018, except on rare occasion when not, I posted to this blog on Mondays, offering a post for the writing workshop on the second Monday and a Q & A with another writer on the fourth.  As ever my posts tend to focus on my works, works-in-progress, and related reading. If you're new to this blog, dear writerly reader, subjects include literary essay, fiction, and poetry; Mexican history and literature; Texas, and in particular Far West Texas; and heavy doses of the history of the book and of technology in general. 

Herewith, the top posts of the year:

December 24, 2018
José N. Iturriaga's "Mexico in US Eyes" (México en las miradas de Estados Unidos)

December 17, 2018
Top 10 + Books Read 2018
#1 was a tie between Peter Brannen's The Ends of the World and Jeremy Naydler's In the Shadow of the Machine. An especially crunchy list.

December 10, 2018
Luis Felipe Lomeli Interviews Yours Truly about Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion & etc.

December 3, 2018
Meteor, Influences, Ambiance

July 1, 2018
Marshall McLuhan: Some Notes by Way of a List of Books, Videos, and More

June 25, 2018
Notes on Tom Lea and His Epic Masterpiece of a Western, The Wonderful Country

June 18, 2018
A Review of Claudio Saunt's West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776

April 30, 2018
Notes on Wolfgang Schivelbusch's The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century

March 5, 2018

February 4, 2018


November 12, 2018
Poetic Alliteration

October 8, 2018
Poetic Listing

September 24, 2018
Working with a Working Library: Kuddelmuddel

September 10, 2018
Poetic Repetition

August 13, 2018
Diction Drops and Spikes

June 11, 2018
Virginia Tufte's Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style

May 14, 2018
Blast Past Easy: A Permutation Exercise with Clichés

April 9, 2018
Grokking Plot: The Elegant Example of Bread and Jam for Frances

(with a special focus on grappling with digital distractions)

November 26, 2018
Amy Hale Auker, Author of Ordinary Skin: Essays From Willow Springs

November 18, 2018
Mary Mackey on The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams, Bearing Witness, and Women Writers' Archives

October 29, 2018
Roger Greenwald on Translating Tarjei Vesaas's Through Naked Branches-- and On Writing and Publishing in the Digital Age

July 23, 2018
Lynn Downey: Research Must Serve the Writer, Not the Other Way Around

May 28, 2018
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub on Prodigal Children in the House of G-d: Stories

April 23, 2018
Sara Mansfield Taber on Chance Particulars: A Writer's Field Notebook

March 26, 2018

February 25, 2018
Leslie Pietrzyk on the Siren Song of the Internet and on Writing Silver Girl

Warmest wishes to you for a happy, healthy, prosperous, and swirlingly wondrous 2019! 

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

Monday, December 24, 2018

José N. Iturriaga's "Mexico in US Eyes" (México en las miradas de Estados Unidos)

By C.M. Mayo

With México en las miradas de Estados Unidos (Editorial Las Animas, 2017), Mexican writer and historian José N. Iturriaga has edited an anthology that is at once a vital scholarly contribution towards the history of Mexican and of US-Mexico relations, and an "armchair read," as I like to think of those box-of-chocolate tomes one can dip into here and there, on some quiet afternoon (perhaps with a bit of a birdsong and by a burbling fountain...) In short, this is a book I will keep on an eye-level shelf of my working library, but also return to time and again just for the fun of it. (For this reason furnishings for a proper working library include an upholstered armchair and ottoman!)


For those who can read Spanish and have even an iota of interest in Mexico, México en las miradas de Estados Unidos is a must-have. Over 130 American voices are represented here, and of an astonishing variety, from the early 19th century to recent years, and of all sensibilities. To quote [my translation] from Iturriaga's introduction, they are:

"traders and engineers, adventurers and sailors, explorers and historians, photographers and archaeologists, diplomats and journalists, novelists and miners, geographers and artists, poets and filmmakers, priests and planters, scientists, various soldiers, a comic and a president."

That comic would be Groucho Marx, and the president, James K. Polk.

Many of these authors will be familiar to those who who have already read widely on Mexico in English:  Fanny Chambers Gooch, John Kenneth Turner, John Reed, Katherine Anne Porter, Alma Reed, William Spratling, John Steinbeck, William Burroughs, John Womak.

And I was delighted to see so many of my personal favorites, among them, pioneer trader and explorer Josiah Gregg, Princess Salm Salm (suffice to say, had Andy Warhol been alive in 1866 they would have been amiguísimos), Charles Macomb Flandrau, and my own dear amigo, the accomplished biographer and historian Michael K. Schuessler.

I am immensely honored to find my own work in such company, with an excerpt from my novel based on the true story of Mexico's half-American prince, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire.

Although I have been reading on Mexican history for decades now, and in fact collect memoirs of Mexico in English, many of Iturriaga's selections were new to me, for example, General John E. Wool, soldier Thomas Yates Lundie, traveler Maude Mason Austin, and more.

Read about José N. Iturriaga's many works, including the recent Saberes y delirios, his fine novel about the incomparable 19th century naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, here.

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

Monday, December 17, 2018

Top 10+ Books Read in 2018

By C.M. Mayo

Another year of unusually intensive reading, mainly for my book in-progress on Far West Texas, hence this list is extra crunchy with geology, dinosaurs, Westerns, guns, and technology (yet somehow, like a pair of strawberry puddings amongst the platters of BBQ, Emma and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie slipped in there...)

1. Tie:

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions
by Peter Brannen
Waaaaay before mushrooms... but psilocybin-esque. Science journalism at its tiptop best.

In the Shadow of the Machine: The Prehistory of the Computer and the Evolution of Consciousness
by Jeremy Naydler
The maintream mediasphere seems to be overlooking this book, and not surprisingly, for it has been published by a small press that specializes in esoteric subjects. If "esoteric" gives you the readerly "cooties," well, chill, if you possibly can because Naydler's In the Shadow of the Machine stands as major contribution to the history of both technology and consciousness. If you're wading through any of the current best-sellers on the perils of too much screentime and AI and all that, fine and important as some of those works may be (more about Carr below), I would suggest that instead, for a more panoramic and penetrating view of the challenge, start with Naydler.


2. Tie:

Death Comes for the Archbishop
by Willa Cather
Historical fiction closely based on New Mexico and Church history but in all a soaringly lyrical work of empathic imagination. Deservedly one of the grand classics of 20th century American literature.

The Wonderful Country
by Tom Lea
> See my post "Notes on Tom Lea's Epic Masterpiece of a Western." The movie vs the novel? An uncooked cold hotdog as to a pile of Texas hot-from-the-BBQ brisket, and with a candied pumpkin for desert.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
by Muriel Spark
Sad, funny, sublime.

by Jane Austen
Ye olde read-it-by-the-fireside-with-a-cup-of-tea romance. But it's a more serious work of literary art than it might appear; as a writer of fiction myself I found much to admire in Austen's Emma. On that note, dear writerly readers, you might find of interest this piece in the Guardian.

3. Tie-- and ideally read in tandem:

West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776
by Claudio Saunt
This will rearrange and reupholster all the furniture in the room in your mind you might call "the United States of America and the whole Roman-Empire-analogy thing."
> See my review for Literal.

Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of North America
by David J. Silverman
It's about "agency," but it's not about agency. It's complicatedly complicated. A major contribution to the history of technology, economic history, and the history of North America.

4. Four Arguments For the Elimination of Television
by Jerry Mander
Uniquely mind-bending.

5. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: The Untold Story of a Lost World
by Steve Brusatte
Dino-out! Finally, the whole millions-upon-millions-upon-millions of years of dinosaurs falls into parade-like Ordnung! More fascinating stuff about T-Rex & Co. than I ever thought I would find fascinating! Super nerdy in the friendliest, most readable, and authoritative way. If you read one book on dinos, let it be this one.

6. Tie:

The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery that Fed the World But Fueled the Rise of Hitler
by Thomas Hager
Magnificent and disturbing.

The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century
by Wolfgang Schivelbusch
Marvelous and mind-bending. My notes here.

7. Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
by Jaron Lanier
If you know who Jaron Lanier is, you can understand why he, and probably only he can get away with such a title for a commercially published book, one that most people today, and that would include writers with books to promote, would consider hoot-out-loud humbug. But perhaps they would not if  [continue reading]

8. Tie:

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
by Neil Postman

Technolopy: The Surrender of Culture to Technology
by Neil Postman

9. Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews
by Marshall McLuhan
> See my post, "Notes by Way of a List of Books, Videos, and more."

10. Tie:

The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst
by Steven L. Talbott
From my "notes" post March 5, 2018:
Dense yet elegantly lucid, Stephen L. Talbott's The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst was published by O'Reilly Associates in 1995, on the eve of the explosion of email, well before that of social media. Astonishingly, it delineates the nature of our now King Kong-sized challenges with technology, when those challenges were, so it now seems, but embryonic. And Talbott writes with unusual authority, grounded in both philosophy and his many years of writing and editing for O'Reilly Media, a prime mover in the economic / cultural juggernaut of a complex, increasingly dispersed from its origin in California's Santa Clara Valley, that has become known as "Silicon Valley." CONTINUE READING
Devices of the Soul: Battling for Ourselves in the Age of Machines
by Stephen L. Talbott

11. The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us
by Nicholas Carr

12. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
by Nicholas Carr

I'm not where I want to be with my writing here at the end of 2018 and Carr's works detail many of the reasons why. But I'm moving forward by having deactivated my FB, reduced Twitter to once-a-month-ish courtesy tweet for my Q & A with another writer; generally ignoring LinkedIn, and still-- still! thumb cemented in the dike!-- refusing to use Whatsapp. Further advances this year with email protocols are detailed here and here.

But please know, dear writerly reader, that even as I wend my way, I would not pretend to know what would be best for you. And this the Matterhorn of the challenge of our time: digital technologies that might be zest for one person can prove hazardous for another. One needs both the fortitude and courage to evaluate one's own path-- taking into account one's own circumstances, talents, weaknesses, predilections, obligations, and goals-- then strategize, and restrategize as needed.

My sense is that, primed by Carr's and others' works in this vein, our cultural paradigm will definitively shift this winter with the publication of Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism. Never mind what Newport actually has to say (though as a big fan of his Deep Work, I expect it will be juicy); in simply coining the term "digital minimalism" Newport helps us move towards richer and more effective ways of thinking about how, given our personal and professional goals and well-being, we can optimize our use (or nonuse) of digital technologies.

As I write now in December 2018 the reigning paradigm is the same one we've had since forever: if it's digital and new it must be better; those who resist are old fogeys. It's a crude paradigm, a cultural fiction. And it has lasted so long time in part because those who resisted either were old fogeys and/or for the most part could not articulate their objections beyond a vaguely whiney, "I don't like it."

As an early adopter of digital technologies for decades now (wordprocessing in 1987, email in 1996, website in 1998, blog in 2006, podcast and Youtube channel 2009, bought a first generation iPad and first generation Kindle, self-pubbed Kindles in 2010, etc.), I have more than earned the cred to say, no, my little grasshoppers, no, if it is digital and it is new it might, actually, maybe, in many instances, be very bad for you.

In other words, adopting a given digital technology does not necessarily equate with "progress"; neither does not adopting a given digital technology necessarily equate with backwardness. I so often hear that "there is no choice." There is in fact is a splendiferous array of choices, and each with a cascade of consequences. But we have to have our eyes, ears, and minds open enough to perceive them, and the courage to act accordingly.

I wish my wiser self could have time traveled to tell my younger self, Be more alert to the ways you invest your time and attention. Be aware that the digital can be, in some ways and sometimes, more ephemeral than paper (and not necessarily ecologically so friendly, either). Social media mavens are not reading the kinds of books you want to write anyway, for they lack the time and the attention span. Social media "friends" may be but are not necessarily your friends; and until you try to communicate with and encounter them outside these networked public spaces, e.g., in the real world, and via one-on-one private communication such as snail mail, telephone, and email, you're in a hall of mirrors. With almost every app, every platform, some corporation is harvesting your attention and data for shareholder value-- and all the while conjuring up new ways to grab even more. Life goes by, zip.

# # # # # # # # #

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

Monday, December 10, 2018

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

By C.M. Mayo

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,, here.






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, 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, 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
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,

(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,


(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

By C.M. Mayo

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 a book about a book and the Mexican Revolution.)

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.