Poetry News

Roberto Tejada Talks Poetry and Mexican Politics at BOMB

By Harriet Staff

Roberto Tejada discusses the lively literary and artistic community in Mexico City, and Mandorla, a bilingual magazine he founded in the early 90s, over at BOMB. Here, Tejada tells the story about an argument he had with Octavio Paz in 1994:

RT Paz claimed that the Zapatistas were the equivalent in Mexico of the Maoist cultural revolution. I kept looking at him with skepticism and asking questions. It was a bit too early to know exactly what their position was; if anything, they were playing with positionality. One thing was clear: the very fact that they were speaking about indigeneity with masks on was a very powerful way of sending a message about the question of the indígena, which was largely made invisible in Mexico. To me this was not trivial. Paz, for many reasons, found that there was something threatening about the kind of debate that was taking place. Within his framework, Mao was the only thing that made sense. Meanwhile, for the most part, there had been no violence. So to make a long story short, both of us were getting increasingly irritated and I kept challenging him. This became irksome to Octavio, and at one point he slammed his fist on the table, saying, “You are just like all the other foreigners. If you don’t like it here, why don’t you just leave?“

EA That’s right! I had forgotten that.

RT At which point I’m fuming. The way Bei Dao describes it is that I turned red. I’ll take his word for it.

EA You probably did turn red!

RT So I clam up. I basically realize, alright, I’m just going to let this go. So of course we move on to the topic of poetry. For some reason, Octavio brings up W.H. Auden. I must have rolled my eyes like a snooty twentysomething. I don’t think Bei Dao was particularly eager to talk about Auden either. You know, Paz was infamous for making lists: “So who do you think are the ten most important poets right now?”

EA Oh, that move.

RT Which was fun. Of course he would immediately reject the first two or three that came out of my mouth. He would come back with his top five and a kind of sparring with the lists would ensue. The Auden reference in relation to the Zapatistas must have been from an obvious source, possibly “Musée des Beaux Arts,” with Icarus falling from the sky, and “everything [turning] away / Quite leisurely from the disaster…” Arguing about poets—Auden or whomever—was standard practice between Octavio and me.

Tejada goes on to talk about his poetry collection, Exposition Park, and his philosophy on translation. Read the full interview here.

Originally Published: September 6th, 2012