Poetry News

Tom Trudgeon Converses With Lucas de Lima at The Conversant

By Harriet Staff

Lucas de Lima

Tom Trudgeon talked with Lucas de Lima for The Conversant, giving us all a bit more insight into de Lima's new book, Wet Land (Action Books 2014), the title of which, as Trudgeon notes, becomes “land that is wet,” "which divests or diverts a more conventional way of thinking of those areas of land." These two also talk self-reflexive poetics, translation and supplanting, Bhanu Kapil, No Future, Bataille, what makes for an Anglo or Western book, and constellations that have, for de Lima, "created a spiritualized ecology." Says de Lima:

...I think mythology has access to a primordial, cosmological language. As symbolic as myth may be, the fact that it’s foundational to a people and culture puts linguistic abstraction into relief. Myth enacts narrative integration in our lives, forbidding the separation of stories and images from whatever else we would cordon off as “reality.” And the book’s subject matter—the death of someone I love by alligator attack—was already unfathomable and beyond everyday language. The event violated all kinds of boundaries to begin with. Although I was never a big reader of mythology, it made sense when the mythification took over. It became a way of making sense.

Another excerpt from this awesome conversation:

TT: One of the most interesting parts of the book, was that it was so experiential, and sensorial, rather than just being located in thinking through an intellectualized stasis. It’s great what you say about translation not just being about these binaristic relationships, but even more so about how one word to another in a language offers a different kind of knowledge (or sensation of knowledge) however accessible it may be. But what you say about this intractable ability to recognize grief through convention and mechanized signification isn’t here in the book. Its alluded to critically, but grief here is more so felt, and comes through as an experience rather than an overly intellectualized and therefore reduced idea.

LD: Lack or absence are words we hear all the time to describe the incommensurable of poetry.

But who Ana Maria was and the way she died called for presence, supersaturation, the “bloodstained ecology” mentioned in the preface. Placing myself in the scene meant being open to grief as force rather than loss. The more the swamp pulled me into its gunk, the more my wings slickened.

As much as I love ideas, I’m not so interested in books that address politics from the standpoint of the project or the critique. Often this feels very Anglo to me—cold, hyperrationalist, and still obsessed with being the authority in its assumptions. I’m lucky to have comrades in poetry that do something different. Action Books, for example, defies the equation of politics and innovation with restraint. One of the things that unsettles people about the writers that Joyelle and Johannes publish is their multifaceted tone, tragic and then funny and then spectacularly violent in one breath. This multi-tonality is all over the Baroque and other traditions where syncretism and racial mixture are seen as the norm rather the exception. When you have so many influences at play, there is no linear path. A white avant-garde becomes less viable. Tonal voracity destroys both mainstream and experimental elegance, which in the end is one and the same privileged chokehold: a white impoverishment of affect.

Is the need for separating traditions and streamlining poetry eroding? I wonder. There are fewer signs of a two-camp model. Still, hierarchies always mask themselves, and the binary of high vs. low has stayed intact even as poets embrace kitsch. For a while now quoting Drake or resampling the canon has done the opposite of what people claim—it’s become a sign of mastery, of cultural literacy and savvy know-how, even though the engagement with estrangement is meek in the end. What happens when you write prayers to ancient gods and actually take the otherness of a nonwhite (and popular in a different sense) tradition seriously? What happens when the Other possesses you as a spirit or god? Are gring@ poets willing to go that ‘low’ and become someone else’s trinket?

Read it all at The Conversant! Really!

Originally Published: January 19th, 2015