Affinities, affections and elections, part one

Poetry is no fence

Border Crossing Culvert
Border Crossing Culvert

I can’t imagine I need to explain my absence from the Jacket2 site, other than to myself, but just in case... I didn’t drop off the face of the earth (as those of you expecting a twice-weekly post might have thought—though I suspect “those of you” are really only me, and long ago I ceased actually expecting to meet my own expectations, much as I might yearn—however uslessly—to do so or feel irked—however unendingly—by not doing so), but I did cross the border between San Ysidro and Tijuana through a runoff tunnel (i.e. sewage culvert) underneath a binational (trinational if you also count the strip of no-man’s land between the two massive fences as a “nation”) border patrol access road. This past weekend, with my compañero in the world of language justice organizing, John Pluecker, I worked as an interpreter with Political Equator 3, the cross-border urban ecologies conference organized by Estudio Teddy Cruz. There’s already been some press about PE3 in various places, so far most thoroughly at Jill Holslin’s superb blog At the edges; additionally, JP and I are planning to write a longer post at some point about the experience as it relates to community-based projects and language justice.

Border Fence
Border fences, San Ysidro-Tijuana, from the Tijuana side

There’s nothing quite like being on a contested border to bring home the combined futility and hostility of fencing, patrolling, surveilling and excluding. And it is differently yet equally compelling to contemplate the border in its entirety, as if it could be contemplated as a whole thing, rather than a series of related and unrelated moments in space.

Border Fence Drawing
Etched drawing on the border fence, Tijuana side

Reading across cultures and across languages feels like a very different and simultaneously not so very different sort of border crossing (or crossings). It’s not especially easy, and not especially smooth, and not especially automatic, which is, in my view, what makes it so especially useful. I could go on about this from a political, ethical, or social point of view—or from the perspective of creating new and more activated literary ecologies—but instead I want to attempt (repeatedly, hence the titling of this post “part one”) to answer a question that I’ve been asked many times before. Once in a while, a person who is interested in reading more outside the U.S. context or in beginning a practice of translating contemporary Latin American literature will ask me how to find work by emerging, not-the-usual-suspects, not-always-already-conventionally-legitimated writers.

Locating writers whose work engages and excites us—from anywhere, local or not—is a rhizomatic, sometimes haphazard, often intuitive process. One thing (or text) leads to another, which leads to another, which leads elsewhere altogether. The same way I recommend that my students read literary journals before they begin submitting to them, so they can identify places they’d be excited to share their work, projects to support and by which to be supported, and spaces where their work might find an apt home in kindred company, I’d suggest that folks interested in translating start to read online or print journals that might introduce them to writers whose work isn’t yet familiar to them, and then to follow the non-linear and often circuitous threads proposed by those writers/writings, to see where further explorations might lead. So, rhizomatically, we might gain a sense of poetries that interest us by reading poetries that interest us. (If that seems like a tautology, that’s fine, though I don’t intend it as such and actually believe that’s the way learning works.)

The work of hundreds (or perhaps, by now, thousands) of contemporary writers from all over the Americas (and the backwards extension of Latin America, Spain—an honorary “American,” we might say, sort of, if colonialism can be considered any kind of “honorary”?...) is available through the linked series of autonomous self-curated collections of poetry known as afinidades electivas/elecciones afectivas (elective affinities/affective elections—though it might be more denotatively accurate (yet less sonically apt) to translate that title as “chosen affinities/affective choices).

The first afinidades electivas/elecciones afectivas was created in Argentina some years ago (in 2006 the site registered its first hundred poets, so my guess is that it was created in 2005 or thereabouts; surely I could get more concrete information by contacting Alejandro Méndez, who curates/facilitates the site, and perhaps at some other point I’ll do that—or perhaps you will, dear reader, and you’ll send me your correspondence with him, which I’d be glad to translate and post here).

If you click on “links” in the left-hand bar of the Argentinean site, you’ll get to the links of other similar sites in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Italy (defying my claims that it’s an “American” project—oh well!), México, Panamá, Perú, Spain, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela, as well as links to magazines, small presses, and a variety of other projects. There are different links on each of the affinities pages, which together provide an amazingly full and inspiring (also overwhelming) view of contemporary writing in Latin America (or Latin America-plus, to be accurate).

So get to it! (That’s an exhortation to myself, as much as to anyone else, of course...)