Languages of communion: in conversation with Cardboard House Press' Giancarlo Huapaya

New titles by Cardboard House Press.
New titles by Cardboard House Press.

One winter I found myself living in a strange land, in the middle of my own country, somewhere I had never been. No peaks or valleys, miles of flat covered with snow. For a brief time, I earned an income answering calls from all states, tending to a vexed populace, untangling corporate glitches through a headset device.

Inside that monolith of cubicles, patterns of speech shared a certain uniformity, an elongated o, a quickened pace. Where I was from, at least 185 languages are reported spoken, each with an attendant inflection, pitch, timbre. Homesick in my own nation, it wasn't English I missed but the multiplicity of language, even within a single one.  

Giancarlo Huapaya speaks of languages — and the poetics — that result from a communion, and I think of those hours connected by chance with a stranger's voice, workday sacrament of fellowship, quickly formed and dissolved amid a network of sound. Like a fingerprint, each voice offered a singular way of apprehending the world.

True, most calls were prompted by complaint, but I wasn't the one being complained about. Neither was I able to remedy every caller's difficulty, but in those shared moments on the company line, we also shared a common experience: engaging with a ginormous conglomerate is a task charged with all manner of strangeness.

Peoples who do not know each other should get to know each other in a hurry, like those who are about to struggle side by side, writes José Marti.

An offering on the tongue is one form of communion, but in the house of struggle, hospitality and hostility sit at the same table. Seeming opposites, the two words share a Latin root, hospit-em, which hosts the stranger and foreigner, potential enemy alongside welcomed guest. Sometimes, an entire house: in medieval Latin, the word hostis, conveyed an army, a warlike expedition; in Biblical times, a multitude of angels that attend upon God, the sun, moon, and stars.

What strange provisions language makes, even when talking to oneself! As Paul Ricoeur notes, even within the same linguistic community, Not only can we say the same thing in another way, but we can say something other than what is the case. Such trades in meaning might confound conversation along a telephone wire, but this protean strangeness is also language's beauty, and its power. For Ricoeur, lingual re-routings raise a bridge between internal and external translation — that mysterious point where, met with an impasse of communication, the possibility of communion shakes hands.

Sensitivity to the strangeness of our own language is key to what Ricoeur names linguistic hospitality, the generosity that allows translation to be accomplished despite ever hoping to bridge the gap between equivalence and perfect adhesion. Linguistic hospitality, then, where the pleasure of dwelling in the other's language is balanced by the pleasure of receiving the foreign word at home, in one's own welcoming house.

Whether the task takes place within resident borders or across international lines, Translation, too, makes language strange, as Jen Hofer points out:

Through the lens of language made strange, translation invites us to consider an approach, experience or proposition that is beyond what we might formerly have perceived as a boundary — beyond the normative right-side-up left-to-right ways we might have understood and assimilated the world.

At a basic level, to host means to house another, but maybe the real task means to dismantle the house and make a shelter.

Maybe such lodgings call not so much upon communion as collaboration. After all, collaborators might not necessarily join forces to benefit the occupying empire. They might, however, join forces for the good.

From the collaborative for language justice and language experimentation founded in 2010 by Hofer and John Pluecker called Antena, A Manifesto for Discomfortable Writing:

Audre Lorde: "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." Yvonne Rainer: "You can dismantle the master's house using the master's tools, if you expose the tools." Antena: "The master's house began to collapse on its own long ago. Use any and all tools you can get your hands on and speed the process. Demolish the master's house carefully enough to recycle the building materials and make tiny houses for everybody. With any leftover materials, we'll make small books."

As you might imagine, my employment inside a structure built upon fiscal transactions didn't last long. A friend landed me a more transparent position as an aide in an early-childhood program for underserved kids. State-funded, it was housed in the only available space that came with free heat — the basement of a church. Filled with blocks, puzzles, books, child-sized tables and chairs, the fluorescent-lit room transformed each school day into another kind of sanctuary.


Mornings were occupied in an avalanche of coats, hats, boots, mittens. Afternoons were engaged with making — tempura paintings, beaded creations, block houses. Each child had a turn at hosting the district-provided snack, passing out napkins, small cups, offering a tray of cheese, crackers, apples. One of my tasks was to slice fruit in preparation. Another was to help along conversation.


One day, we spoke of what we might see on an early spring walk into the neighborhood. One child guessed a bunny. To spy a bunny back in Los Angeles would require calling in a miracle, but who could say what might happen here? We bundled up and ventured out to hunt for daffodils, mud puddles, velvet tree buds. Not long into our trek, a light brown puff of fur hopped by.

The real task, if that's what you'd take on,

is not to understand life but to imagine it.

The real isn't captured: it is followed,

and that's what dreams and words are for

Beware its shortcuts

Beware its distances

Beware its crags

Beware its herds

                        — Martín Adán, "Written Blindly"

That afternoon, the children drew pictures and dictated stories. We gathered them together into a book, one of many we made over months. One little boy often looked at these collaborations of penciled letters and Magic Marker. He had an irregularity of vision, and whenever he opened one of those stapled-together collections, he held it close to his face, a ravenous tenderness, as if to commune with the pages, as if to keep every word honest.

A conversation with Giancarlo Huapaya

What projects are close to your heart these days?

Cardboard House Press and PirúBirúPerú. The first is a publishing house dedicated to the publication of literary projects that were originally written in Spanish and that have been translated into English. For now we are only publishing books of poetry, but the editorial project is also considering narratives and art. In the two years since we began CHP we have been concerned with designing a coherent catalog of what we consider to be the most innovative poetics from Spanish and Hispano-American panoramas.

PirúBirúPerú is a curation of Peruvian visual poetry that I have been working on for years. The exposition gathers collective projects — created in Peru during the last 15 years, post-dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori — of video poetry, sound poetry, and multi-media poetry originally presented in public spaces as well as visual poetry on paper. Part of the project is the exhibition of publications in formats other than the conventional book — the book object as a piece of art. The exposition will be presented next year at the University of Arizona Poetry Center in Tucson.

Where are some places you've wandered/traveled/voyaged, either in the real or in your imagination? How does location inform your process?

At this time I am also in the middle of writing Musarañas, my fourth project of poetry. Musarañas is a type of cartography that explores various territories — wild and domestic — and draws on diverse visual resources and texts to express transit and economies. Musarañas is a poetic that transits through voids in time, where the “comes from” and “is going to” are present but not in an explicit way or with interest in belonging, but as points that sustain a loose cord from which different personalities emerge. The spaces are cities altered by the recreation of memory. The territories in Musarañas are mutations that are constructed by oscillations of language.

Is there a language you're drawn to, would like to know?

I am interested in languages — and the poetics — that result from a communion. I am interested in their political flow and their development as resistance to the hegemonic, their capacity for permanent reinvention through the inclusion of the remembered / the spontaneous/ the altered / the risky. I think of the poetics of Wilson Bueno in Mar Paraguayo, a book published in the nineties in Brazil, where the author visualizes and flows through the linguistic symbiosis of portunhol selvagem, a language created from Spanish, Portuguese, and Guaraní. Wilson articulates a powerful rhythm that derives political frontiers from language. That is impressive to me. As the Peruvian poet, Mario Montalbetti would say, “people, our verses are much too heavy much too weighty with Spanish.”

Who/what are you reading/watching/compelled by right now? Who/what's on your wish list to read/see/listen to/experience?

Right now on my desk I have Juniper Fuse by Clayton Eshleman, translated into Spanish by Hugo García Manríquez, Splendor by Enrique Verástegui — its more than 1,000 pages are like a bible that I have carried around since last year —, Alcools by Mirko Lauer, and Dark City by Charles Bernstein.

A few months ago I was in Mexico, and I had the luck of visiting an exposition dedicated to the Russian avant-garde that was housed in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. Seeing more than 500 pieces of the exposition in one day was an extraordinary experience. The opera, Victory over the Sun, composed by Mijaíl Matiushin, and the documentary, Man with a Movie Camera, from Dziga Vértov are two of the best pieces of art of all times. Two poems of Musarañas have elements of scenography from these works. An interesting characteristic of this avant-garde is the use of art as political and social propaganda in the middle of prolific experimentation.

Lastly, La Pocha Nostra and Guillermo Gómez Peña presented a performance recently in Phoenix which was post-porno, cross-racial, cross-national, poly-gendered, post-ultra-retro-experimental.  Many images and ideas were displaced around you; they wrapped you intensely, like a whirlpool that churned you with fertility and wisdom.   

Would you like to share something here — a poem, translation, photograph, voice, image, map, snippet? Something you find crucial?

I am attaching a poem [from Sub Verse Workshop, translated from the Spanish by Ilana Luna.The original version appears here.]


Flex the luminous fan and wet the foot that simulates arrhythmia. Vibrate it and splash, the indelible ink will calm the inflammation of the blood clots. Come back from the more festive side of your torsos and come together at random. If your weight allows, you can jump like this or turn around when they shake the silver substances on you. Now sing and become a funnel, turn your eyelids inside out when you feel the knowledge in your body hair. Your answers will be self-portraits, don’t ignore what’s sliding down your thighs and what’s dripping from the light. Every construction will be sustained by the betrayal of its means. While you mutate, exercise your navel (like a retina), you better not lose it because the dimensions and the dynamic start by looking at it. Now look at me and ask yourself what possibilities am I?

If you can define it, withdraw your inhalations and expel the vibrations from the sadistic disguise. If not, you should keep me as a crude and inert extension and ask each animal its reason for hanging on to one of its gods. You will enjoy the spasms. You and you will be moved when comparing the poem to a pornographic flick, the rest of you will dress them up in the last performance that you rejected in private. Enunciate the singularity of flexibility, that’s what this festival is about. You can call it whatever you dream up, even if it is onomatopoetic.

Once again, like a liturgical choir, compose with a computer according to your metempsychosis and transfer your heritable characteristics to me. I’ll stay lit up with cabaret LEDs and you all will cut up pickles over your faces. Lie down next to an organic puddle, sink your tongue in and write with it: I’m a transplant, I’m a transfer, I’m a translation and an X. Alter the ozone and inflame the tube, that mask will get you lips and bug-eyes. Alter your hygiene, touch the poem before it dries and neutralize yourselves with each blink, this reversal will contribute to stylization therapy. Dilate and you think about where the best penetration would be. The sexualized objects collect our activism and they rub up against the learning. From this distance, you already know which underwear smell of multiplication.

Giancarlo Huapaya is author of the books: Estado y Contemplación/ Canción de Canción se Gana, Polisexual and Taller Sub Verso. He has participated in international poetry festivals in Peru, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and the United States, and his poems appear in diverse anthologies and magazines in the Americas and Europe. As a curator of visual poetry, he has produced exhibitions in Mexico City and in San Francisco. As a video-artist, he has produced several works of video-poetry: Es inútil negar las lesiones, At North Farm, Desintegración, and José María. He was an advisor for the editorial and music industry policies of Cultural Industries of Lima, and was the director of the Lima Poetry Festival during its first three years. He also edited the art and literature magazines Hiedra, Lapsus and Sol Negro.


Cardboard House Press is named for the 1928 novel, La Casa de carton, by Peruvian writer Martín Adán, "a small masterpiece that goes beyond literary genres and renews the narrative aesthetic in the avant-garde era. Our publishing project takes the name of this book as homage to one of the most important literary figures of the 20th Century, and we employ the title's meaning of breaking the mold and giving literature a new dimension." 

Martin Adán, "Written Blindly," The Cardboard House, trans. Katherine Silver (New York: New Directions: 2012), 121.

"The Mobile Speaker: Translator's Notes," Negro Marfil/Ivory Black, by Myriam Moscona, trans. Jen Hofer (Los Angeles: Les Figues Press, 2011), 143-145.

Founded in 2010 by Jen Hofer and John Pluecker, "Antena is a language justice and language experimentation collaborative, focusing on writing, art-and book-making, translating, interpreting, and language justice. Antena explores how critical views on language can help us to reimagine and rearticulate the worlds we inhabit." Antena's 2014 collaborative project, A Manifesto for Discomfortable Writing is offered here.

Paul Ricoeur, On Translation, trans. Eileen Brennan, intro. Richard Kearney (London: Routledge, 2006), 28, 25, 10.

Richard Kearney and Kascha Semonovitch, Phenomenologies of the Stranger: Between Hostility and Hospitality (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011), 20.

The range of meaning housed in the word collaboration can be explored at the open-access dictionary