Jotacé López: To what memories would you give the most relevance if you were to try in perspective to appreciate and remember your beginnings in poetic writing?
Mara Pastor: Well, with me the start of poetry was in the epistolary. I remember that I would write to the members of my family for various reasons. Mainly, to try to communicate what I felt I could not express through the orality of conversation. I felt the need to communicate an emotional load, but in the same way I intuited that the oral word was not sufficient. They were extremely long. And here and there poetry would seep through. Of course, the recognition, the consciousness of the poetic came later. What I would call that first literary education was a bit wild, intuitive. In my house, there was a library, but I would only browse around in it. I still did not have a discipline for reading. I read many magazines and newspapers. I would make craft magazines in notebooks for my girlfriends.
Another path in those beginnings with poetry was music. My grandmother played the harmonica and my mother sang and played the piano. I liked to take the melodies of the songs and change the lyrics. For me, it was something like a game. I understood that music was something that could be filled with other things. In that sense, I began to discover the more mathematical part of language. I found pleasure in using words as if they were something material, tangible, that they occupied a place in space. The idea of language as something that could be measured like mathematics, that it occupied space, seemed to me very attractive. It greatly captivated me to think of language as an equation. So, between letters and songs, I think I began to approach poetry.
J.L.: In a world like the current one, what should be, could be, the poet’s role? What does it mean to be a poet?
M.P.: I think it is way of perceiving and existing. In my case, it means sharing my poems where they are needed. I mean at literary events, but also protests, demonstrations, family gatherings. It means finding the time to think about poetry and transmit it, believing in it and that experiencing it changes us. A poem is the gauge of perception. One has to search for poetry and propagate it.
J.L.: When you are working with a poem, what is the most important thing to you?
M.P.: When I write a poem, the most important thing is to be faithful to the impulse. When I feel that I have found something in the language that attracts and traps me, I look for a way to find it through language. Because many times what happens to me is that there is something of what I want to write and it marinates in my mind; I continually reformulate the way I want to say it until it is as if there were bingo markers or like one of those slot machines that suddenly stops, and the language equation appears along with the exact order in which to say it. That is vital because that is where I find a sensation of honesty that for me is fundamental for the poem to have. Of course, this does not mean that it is about pure intuition, but rather the moment is reached in which the adequate conditions are created and that impulse and that understanding unite with that more reflexive part. Intuition suggests a form, and reason fills it with content. The poem is the moment this is manifested.
J.L.: Who have been the authors who in one way or another have helped shape your notion of poetry?
M.P.: When I was starting out, I loved San Juan de la Cruz. I also loved Góngora. And now I ask myself, “What was wrong with me?” But at that time, I would read them and they seemed so fascinating to me because of the way they worked the language. I was attracted by the way they worked the syntax, the plasticity of their words. I also read the poets of the Generation of 27 a lot. Of course, this was because my guide, in some way, was the reading curriculum of the courses I took at the university. In these first readings, I was fascinated by the images that I could invent from language. I now think that this was due to the fact that my parents were artists. My mother was an art teacher and my father a painter. My relationship with language was from the start linked to the plasticity of illustrations and paintings. In my adolescence, I made many collages. Of course, later I began to have friends who also read poetry and who would recommend poets and readings, and in this way, I became acquainted with other women and men authors. My notion of poetry has been changing over the years. Well, more than talking about a notion, I prefer to talk about what I consider to be poetic. Because as I already said, I began by being a very traditional reader and now my notion of poetry, or the poetic, is much broader. Each day, I feel that that notion expands and I am understanding better the diversity of places where it could manifest itself. In the past few years, there have been several authors who have influenced me. Among them is the poet Sharon Olds. I discovered her in 2008 more or less. And even today, I continue to read her because of that testimonial voice that I find in her poems and which, without doubt, has influenced my most recent books. Her way of speaking from diverse spaces of memory seems very eloquent to me. It is a very intimate and uncomfortable voice. She has a decisive honesty. On the other hand, in Latin American and Caribbean, I like many of the exiled or immigrant poets who have lived in Mexico City such as Lilian Serpas and Eunice Odio. Of the Latin American poets, the Peruvians such as Carlos Oquendo or Eielson; the Argentinian, Tamara Kamenszain. I also love the novels by Cesar Aira. I have read him a lot all these years. I remember, almost photographically, the images and scenes with which he constructs his novels. Of course, I never neglect Puerto Rican poetry. Palés, Lima, Angelamaría, Esteban Valdés, Marigloria Palma, Olga Nolla, Ramos Otero. At this moment, I have been re-reading a lot of Marigloria Palma. I have also been reading a lot of recent fiction for my work on the anthology. In short, everything that I read one way or another is reflected in my poetry.
J.L.: The Mexican publishing company Elefanta Editorial has commissioned you to put together an anthology of recent Puerto Rican fiction. What has your experience as anthologist been like?
M.P.: I lived that experience as a reader. It was very good because I have always liked fiction in general and the Puerto Rican in particular; it has been very close to me. I read it very regularly and I know that in Puerto Rico we have very good women and men narrators. Having said that, once I had to assemble the anthology I was able to configure a textual corpus that reflects what I had experienced as a reader, and by that, I mean the plurality of the choices that exist in this moment. I enjoyed the process very much, above all because with the passage of time my poetry has become more fictional. And I am attracted by the possibility of writing fiction. Carrying out this work inspired me a great deal and I am grateful to the publisher for the confidence placed in me since it was it a great opportunity. I titled it A toda costa: narrativa puertorriqueña reciente [At all costs: recent Puerto Rican narrative] and it will be presented in Mexico City’s XVIII International Book Fair.
J.L.: Throughout your books of poems we can identify poetic voices that circulate around daily spaces and objects, that delve into social experiences and explore literature itself as if it were a landscape. Can you talk about those poetic voices that populate your poems?
M.P.: I believe that Carina del Valle Schorske, who has prepared the prologue of my next collection of poems, Falsa heladería [Fake ice cream shop], that I will publish with Ediciones Aguadulce, has helped me understand this. She, speaking of my poems, explains that there appears a poet who has to talk about poetry in the classroom of a Mexican university, a poet who travels to Chacahua, one that faces the Pacific, and the one that returns to her country. That is to say that these are the scenes in which I was a voice. In some ways, I am all of those voices. There have also been performative periods from where have emerged characters from which I have sketched out myself. For example, in my book of poems titled Arcadian Boutique (Punto de Partida Edtions, UNAM 2014) the Far West part has that voice of a man who returns to the forest, and just like this one, I have others in which there appear places and voices I have passed through. In each book, there are poems that lend themselves better to being listened to while being read out loud, others perhaps, more hermetic or supported by metaphors prefer being read while alone. Also, in every book, I always like to include that poem that alters the path, or is out of tune as Vanessa Vilches, an author and friend, told me not long ago. That poem should also have its place. Since you use the verb “populate,” I like to imagine that the collections of poems are towns. And that the voice that disturbs also has its beauty.
J.L.: Continuing with your experiences outside the Caribbean, over the years of your career as a poet, you have lived in Ann Arbor (Michigan, E.U), in Mexico City, and now in Ponce (Puerto Rico). How to you think that the experience of having been a resident for several years in these places has influenced your writing?
M.P.: It influenced me a lot because the language of these places changed mine. The poetry that I wrote in Ann Arbor is very different from what I wrote in Mexico, in terms of how my sensibility distributes itself. In my book Falsa heladería those differences are very evident. The first part is the one, about Los bustos de Martí [The busts of Martí], has all Mexican poems and is very different from the second part, Paraíso perecedero [Perishable paradise], contains the poems written during that first year after my return to Puerto Rico. The difference in the texture of the poems is very noticeable, the semantic load, the vocabulary, and the voice changes a lot. In that section of Los bustos de Martí there are many references to Latin American poets; I cite Martí himself and David Huerta. In short, both parts are different vital experiences, but in some way coexist in one single voice that cradles them in the poems without nullifying them. Poems are forms that we pass through just like places. A place is a form through which one passes and each place leaves its imprint.
J.L.: In Candada por error [Padlocked by mistake] (Atarraya Cartonera, 2009), one of your first collection of poems, some verses say, “Literature/ has rotted the life I dreamt of as a girl/ and has built it a house without windows/ literature holds me hostage looking/ toward the house/ feeling sorry for myself.” Today, thinking about all that you have read and written, what has literature been in your life?
M.P.: Well, at that moment I was not having a good time with literature. That specific poem talks about a relationship with literature and the place where I was. I was talking about the institutionalization of literature. Of the process of finding myself in a place where I had to negotiate my relationship with the artistic aspect of poetry and the academic. But of course, after stepping back from that poem and from that book, I realized I was being harsh on literature. There are some verses by Mary Oliver that say something like “someone whom I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to realize that this too was a gift.” It’s more or less the same idea.
J.L.: What role does poetry and art in general perform in the moments of crisis Puerto Rico is experiencing?
M.P.: An important role, full of urgencies. Because if we want reality to change, it has to change through language. Poetry and art are spaces where language changes and new languages are created. These moments of crisis coincide with instances of great creative and literary effervescence.
J.L.: Can you tell us something about current poetry from the Caribbean and Puerto Rico?
M.P.: It is very likely the moment when there is the most communication between the poetry of the different islands and this is due to diverse reasons. Because somehow unlike Egardo Rodríguez Julia’s prediction that the options were that the Caribe was going to Puerto Ricanize or that Puerto Rico was going to Caribbeanize, in the end, I think what has happened is the we have Cubanized. We have become some sort of special period like the crisis of the 90s in Cuba. In addition, it is a moment in which there are different independent publishers on each island that have created communication links. These have allowed the current poets to learn of the poetic production from each island much more easily than some ten, or fifteen years ago. Furthermore, more anthologies have been written. For example, Isla escrita [Written island] (Amargord Ediciones, 2018) anthologized by Néstor Rodríguez, which has helped to create bridges between the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. At the Latin American level País imaginario. Escrituras y transtextos. Poesía Latinoamericana 1980-1992 [Imaginary country: writings and transtexts: Latin American poetry 1980-1992] (Ay del seis, 2018) edited in Spain by Maurizio Medo. Talking about Puerto Rico, the critic and poet Aurea María Sotomayor with Casa de las Américas in Cuba published the book Red de voces: poesía puertorriqueña [Web of voices: Puerto Rican poetry], which opened a path for contemporary Puerto Rican poetry in Cuba. Chiqui Vicioso has written a lot about Julia de Burgos. It seems to me that this is a moment in which there is a good dialog between the islands to the pleasure of the spirits of Hostos and Betances.
J.L.: We know that a short time ago, you became a mother: what has the experience of motherhood been like from the perspective of poetry?
M.P.: It has been very beautiful. Maternity, the process of the pregnancy, gifted me with a great number of new words, as well as new concerns about language. It made me stop at certain verbs such as “to give birth” for example. It made me think about the relationship between the body and poetry. How the body changes in that process in the same way as poems change through different readings. In the same way, pregnancy made me return to places of my childhood. Therefore, it made me write, from other spaces, my familial relationships.
J.L.: Let us talk a little about your next collection of poems, Falsa heladería (2018).
M.P.: It is a book that I began to write around 2014 while crossing the Caribbean Sea from Mexico to Puerto Rico. I was interested in returning to Puerto Rico for many reasons, but one in particular was to recover the vernacular language. It is something curious. My malleability, my enjoyment of language, lead me to assimilate words, expressions, and rhythms from the different places in which I have lived in Latin America and it made me change the way I speak without intending to do so. So, I felt the desire to recover my language and that is seen in the book. The poems from the Puerto Rican phase are, in their majority, much briefer. While those from the Mexican phase are more extensive. The themes are different.
It was a great choice to have my husband, Diego Romero, collaborate by designing the cover. In fact, Diego was able to imagine a symbol that would complement what I want to communicate through the title. In the beginning, I titled it Deuda natal [Native debt] since as I was returning to Puerto Rico, I was re-reading Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (1947) by Aimé Césaire, in which he talks about his journey from Paris to Haiti. My book, precisely, is that consciousness of that move to a country that is in debt and in crisis. But I changed the title to escape that language of crisis and so as not to put “debt” on the cover. A friend once commented about the strangeness of my titles; and Falsa heladeria is one that is very conceptual. It refers to that object that is not what it appears to be and which can be sweet; it can melt, but at the same time it can enclose a mystery. In turn, I associate it with the body and the maternal because it is the book that addresses those subjects. I felt that the book had to be very intimate and visceral.
Translated by Rosario Drucker Davis