Poetry News

At Lana Turner Andrés Ajens in Conversation with Kent Johnson

By Harriet Staff

Andres Ajens

A few weeks ago we directed our dear readers over to the new issue of Lana Turner which featured a great essay by Claudia Rankine. Remember that? Expanding on their online offerings, the good editors at Lana Turner have posted this wonderfully long and in-depth conversation between Kent Johnson and Chilean/Latin American/Andean? poet Andrés Ajens, translated and with notes by Kristin Dykstra and Juliet Lynd. For those interested in thinking through the meeting points between translation/genre/national poetries/and... well, nearly everything one may find interesting and vital in contemporary poetry, this is a must read! To give you a brief introduction to the conversation, here's Johnson asking Ajens about the question of genre as it pertains to the linguistic complexities of his work:

KJ: Speaking of impossible things that are somehow made possible, you mentioned Michelle Gil-Montero’s tour de force translation of Poetry After the Invention of America. Your essays in the book (and elsewhere) are often markedly idiosyncratic in their language and modes of proceeding—conceptually challenging, linguistically cross-dressed, sometimes labyrinthine in their topical unfolding, as if you’re out to dismantle and rearrange standard structures of the form from within. I wanted to ask: What about genre? What place does genre have in your larger poetics? Do you see your “essays” as one kind of writing and your “poetry” as another? Or do you reject such distinctions? In either case (if there would be an “either”), please explain.

AA: Generosity of the genres, on the one hand; there are genres, of course there are, more than one, of all kinds (and in Spanish, remember, “genre” and “gender” are named with the same name: “género”), with their shifting laws, clauses and borders;; and furthermore some are more resisted or oppressed than others. On the other hand, isn’t there, in writings not completely amputated from the play of destinies and destinations, always an implicit attempt to declare the unique thing performatively, a thing that is irreducibly singular (that never simply gives itself up, but always strikes or engages as a constellation or a knot)? And is there not an attempt to say it in turn in a singular way, within or beyond whatever genre, type or kind of speech, through that very “plural singular” as it is happening? If there is a plural singular, doesn’t that also involve monster-writings every time? But. Of course. Absolute monstrosity (or language) does not exist, it “can’t” exist, or at any rate it would be absolutely unspeakable, illegible, inaudible, untranslatable, etcetera. Well, with less or more violence, there’s always the effect of the mark, of domestication and/or classification of genres, on a case-by-case basis... In sum: what is more interesting (to me) is a general and generic suspension, exceptional strength in writing, attention to the plural singular engaging us, rather than the stage of its arrival in the conceptual home or the house of Being or that of genre. Yes, Erín and Forrest in the preface to that book, and you in your own way, emphasize it when underlining the “idiosyncratic” element in play: It is—before all else—an exploration and an opening.

Take time out of your Friday to read the rest, and please be sure to scroll down to read Dykstra and Lynd's notes.