Gabriela, above, reads from her poetry collection Controlled Decay in Los Angeles.
Here is Part 2 of our conversation.
Tell me about the sur+ publishing collective and the Taquimecanografas, a group of female writers and visual artists living in Mexico City, NY and LA, both of which you belong to?
sur+ is a collective that envisions “the South as a new political imaginary,” to borrow Corinne Kumar’s words. Our name is both a word and sign play that implies the re-evaluation of the social south in a world dominated by the north, and on the other seeks to counter-pose itself to one of the meanings of the original french word surplus:the surfeit, what is left-over, what is no longer useful to the system. We are interesting in strengthening the dialogue amongst the social south and in an aesthetics that is as revolutionary as the politics behind it. The project started in the middle of last year when a group of friends got together and we decided that we wanted, no that we needed to publish a bunch of great writers who were not available in Spanish. So we have poetry, essay and fiction, for now we have published El Tiempo Se Volvió Cuero, the first Spanish translation bi-lingual anthology of British author Tom Raworth’s poems, our second book was Los vampiros de Whittier Boulevard, Juan Felipe Herrera’s first anthology to appear in Mexico, our third is Netamorfosis, an anthology of short stories from the ongoing Tepito workshop El Sotano de los Olvidados. And our forthcoming books are the first Spanish translation of Chris Abani’s Song for Night and of John Berger’s A Seventh Man. You can check it all out at www.surplusediciones.org and http://surplusediciones.blogspot.com/.
The Taquimecanógrafas is a collective that was formed by the late Aura Estrada, a dear friend and wonderful young writer who died tragically (but happily her legacy lives on with her first book Mis Días en Shanghai, and through the Aura Estrada Prize, and through her work in the collective). The other members are poet Mónica de la Torre (who lives in NY and edits BOMB magazine) and Laureana Toledo, a multi-talented visual artist who lives in London and Mexico City, and myself. We started working on loose constraints and re-writing each other’s texts (hence the play on the now-extinct female species of the taquimecanógrafa, or typist!) and we have finished a long verbo-visual experiment that will hopefully soon be published by Tumbona in Mexico City.
What is the significance to you of spoken word performances and of telling your story aloud to audiences? For many writers, the thought of presenting their work aloud is nerve-wracking.
I find that I am always very nervous before a reading, and I choose some texts beforehand but not all because I like to feel the place, the audience and then decide on most of what I read based on that. But once I am up there, and reading, a sense of calm washes over me: it’s like the work itself is speaking not me, my voice gets clear and I just let the words do their thing. It almost feels like being possessed, in a way.
But I wouldn’t call my reading style “spoken word” because that’s a specific genre within poetry that I don’t think my work is a part of. There’s elements of what is known as spoken word echoed in my work, and there’s a definite sense of reading out loud that is different from reading silently, there’s rhythm, and sound, and a sort of “performative” element, but my work is definitely not spoken word. I mean a lot of spoken word, for example, is done from memory, recited and not read, for example, and I never do that. I have a pretty awful memory for my own work, sadly. I admire people who can just recite like that (the theatrics, the exercise of that in itself) because I certainly cannot. Also I don’t feel like I am telling my story aloud, because poetry is not exactly like a story, it’s not narrative like that. And my poetry and fiction is and it isn’t personal at the same time–it comes from the I but is also not necessarily about the I– a lot of the “stories” contained in my work are not mine per se; they are not about me, necessarily, in that sense, you know?
I do think, nevertheless, that it is important and beautiful and (even!) fun to read out loud. For me, poetry is visual, but it is also and above all music, and music is meant to be heard. And the sharing of a communal space and a communal experience of hearing, of reading out loud can be a powerful political and aesthetic act– a ritual.