Jose Antonio Villarán’s Open Pit asks how to write a catastrophe whose immanence is dissipated across space and time. Tracking the poet’s research on transnational extractivism in the Peruvian mining town of Morococha, Open Pit essays a poetics of Rob Nixon’s “slow violence,” catastrophes (being products of human choices) which play out across scales that defy a pinpointed “there.” Writing in Davis, CA, to a young son in Philadelphia about research in Morococha, Peru, Villarán sets a network of places as actants, grafted onto variable patterns of placement on the page, carving tracks of space for the words of people interviewed in Morococha, descriptive language on the products of research, and autobiographical first- and second-person verse.
Open Pit was published by Counterpath Press in 2022. The Spanish Tajo Abierto will be published in June 2023 by Álbum del Universo Bakterial in Lima, Peru.
As a bilingual and bicultural individual, I have learned that the vectors that constitute my identity pull me sometimes in different directions depending on which side of the border I’m standing. I embody the challenging experience of engaging in conversation and producing works of literature in my second language. This perspective is always present in my writing; the effects of the binational polarization coming from the imminence of the border are unescapable. When it comes to literature that is written precisely at or in tension with the US/Mexico border, how far do the ripples go?
As a bilingual and bicultural individual, I have learned that the vectors that constitute my identity pull me sometimes in different directions depending on which side of the border I’m standing. I embody the challenging experience of engaging in conversation and producing works of literature in my second language. This perspective is always present in my writing; the effects of the binational polarization coming from the imminence of the border are unescapable.
Displacement. Chosen and unchosen migrations. Free and unfree trades. How displacement is also a kind of placement, an unfamiliar vantage point from which to renegotiate terms, terrains, parameters, possibilities. Translation is willing and willful displacement. In moving a word, phrase, line, sentence, stanza, paragraph, idea, framework from the space of one language to the space of another, something utterly transformed is created, and something that is still very deeply (though not essentially) the same as what it was to begin with (which was not immobile in the first place). Alchemy
In a conversation, Sesshu Foster recently referred to the space of translation as “no-man’s land.” I’d agree and also add the idea of “every person’s land,” in the sense that no one and everyone might belong there, or perhaps that the very concept of “belonging” no longer pertains—the question is one of moving through space, rather than claiming it. Of using the terms imposed upon us (as Adrián Esparza uses the typical Mexican blanket sold to tourists, for example) to subvert the intentions of their imposition. To unknit the weave that would bind us.
“Involuntary collages of the past,” to borrow a phrase Hugo García Manríquez (here reading at an Achiote Press event to celebrate 40 years of Ethnic Studies at U.C. Berkeley) wrote me in a note. This P.S. is an update of the photos from my post titled “Excavations of Subsoil and Surface” with the actual photos Hugo intended to reference, which had somehow fused in his memory, into a single image of the pastor preaching while holding his baby.