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An Interview with Poet, Translator, and Editor Mónica de la Torre

By Harriet Staff

Photo by Arnie Adler of Poets House

We were happy to discover this interview with Mónica de la Torre over at Zoland Poetry. Mónica talks with ZP “about her approaches to translation, her work as an editor, and her own poetry.” Excitingly, they also discuss the beautiful Four:

ZP: In your newest collection, Four, asides of location, whether physical, temporal or emotional, wind like tree rings through the larger landscape of the book; while on a more immediate level, fragments of other texts, quotes, and cultural references (sometimes marked, sometimes not) are folded into the body of each poem independently. Could you talk a little bit about the structuring of Four, and the poetic dialogue that is created when a work is internally quartered, fragmented, then shattered into such a multitude of layers?

dlT: I like that you call it a collection of poems and not a book. Calling it a book might be a stretch given that it’s four chapbooks (two long poems and two serial poems) saddle-stitched individually and bundled together in a slipcase. With the collection’s format, my aim was to have readers assemble its contents—the booklets can be read in the order of the reader’s choice. Had the poems been bound in a single book, I would have had to order the four different series sequentially, and in doing so, I would have imposed a narrative logic to, and perhaps even a hierarchy on, the collection. I was interested in removing all of that, but I was also in having their structure be consistent with the nature of the poems. All of them are occasional in some way or another—they’re all responding to particular circumstances—so I wanted to respect their autonomy and have their physical manifestation relate to ephemera. Mariposa Negra is an elegy for my friend Aura Estrada, whose life was cut tragically short at age 30. Shift is a site-specific piece written for a performance that was part of a festival of collaborations at the Zinc Bar in New York in 2011. Photos While U Wait is meant to resemble a scrapbook, each poem-cum-snapshot memorializing a particular occasion. Lastly, Poets House commissioned four poets to write something in response to an exhibition of works by Gego, the late German-born artist who relocated to Venezuela, at The Drawing Center in New York—Lines to Undo Linearity, an anti-ekphrastic poem, resulted from that. (I realize that even in describing the chapbooks I can’t help but to assign them an order.)

So to try to fit these disparate works into the overarching narrative that a book inevitably puts forth seemed contrived to me. The nondescript title of the collection is part of the same effort to avoid dictating the reader’s response. (And also a nod to Roberto Bolaño’s Tres.) For at least three months I kept thinking of what to call the collection, and consequently also delaying its production… My editors at Switchback and I kept combing through all of the poems in search of a line or a phrase that might capture the spirit of the whole collection. We thought of calling it “Your Presence Is Requested,” “Photos While U Wait,” “Shift,” “Mariposa Negra,” “The Past Perfect”… the list goes on. We’d all agree on a title, and then a few days or weeks later it wouldn’t feel right anymore. I was getting increasingly frustrated by my inability to commit to one. A couple of weeks before going to press I realized what the problem was: no title would do precisely because it would add another layer of meaning to the collection and subordinate each part to a larger whole. The only thing that would work would be a descriptive title. Despite its neutrality, Four as a title seemed irresistibly polysemic: it’s a homonym of “for,” which relates to the poems’ occasional nature; there are four sides to a page; printing signatures are always multiples of four. (I’ll stop before I incur in the “referential mania” of the unhinged character in Nabokov’s short story “Signs and Symbols”? Suffice it to say that I like that all of these possible meanings insist on the physicality of the page, on book as medium.)

Read the interview in full here. Photo by Arnie Adler of Poets House.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, August 7th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.