Geneviève Robichaud in Conversation with Chus Pato (Translated by Erín Moure)
On the occasion of the recently released Secession by Chus Pato with Insecession by Erín Moure (BookThug, 2014), I had the lucky opportunity of discussing this work with both authors. Seeing how in Secession/Insecession the two texts face each other, are in correspondence with each other, this interview befittingly begins with questions for Chus Pato (the original version of the interview is here.) while the second part, with Erín Moure, will be published on Monday, July 7th, 2014, here.
Geneviève Robichaud (GR): It’s exciting to have your work in English in Canada, Chus. Erín Moure points out that your poetic lineage stems in part from the works of Mallarmé, Baudelaire, Lautréamont, and from thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, Jacques Rancière and Gilles Deleuze. How did you come to writing and what influence has your poetic and philosophical heritage had on your conception of place, genre and the politics of form?
Chus Pato (CP): I don’t conceive of space as a container for bodies, rather, I consider that it is bodies, both tangible (a stone, a tree, the bodies of insects) and intangible (words, images, consciousness, pain), that generate place; from this perspective, the written poem would be a body/image that produces space(s). The poem is that place in which language, anulling the usual functions ascribed to it (configuring an I, a world, or a conceptual system), comes to feel, think and dream its very self.
I understand gender as a performative, that is, as a political construction and, in consequence, as something subject to change; the sexual division is, as I see it, central to the architecture of patriarchy, and with Butler I consider it to precede the incest taboo. Gender is an identity, and as such is subject to the continual repetition that gives it the illusion of continuity, of temporal consistency. Gender presents itself to us as something that emerges from inside the person, like a narrative that is not chosen. In naturalizing it like this, we get the impression that it can’t be changed, but everything that repeats and functions through repetition has gaps, blindspots, crevices that indicate its non aprioristic being, from where it can be altered. The poem, as such and as I write it, incorporates this kind of feeling and thinking. All through my years of writing, the poem has addressed different aspects of this question and, in short, what I write bears the signs, the marks of this perspective.
To answer your last question, I believe that poetry is expansive and can’t be reduced to the written poem; I can’t imagine the species to which I belong without poetry but, yes, without the written poem. Within this category of the written poem, I would say that the possibilities are endless and all of them valid; as I’ve already indicated, I imagine the poem as a text or place where our linguistic capacity can touch itself, through voice (an intangible) and through writing (an image that the voice can read aloud or silently).
I started to write as almost everyone does, when I was young, an adolescent, really; what’s strange to me is that I keep on doing it, strange because most young people who write poems end up abandoning the practice and become more interested in the normal use of language, once they’ve mastered it, and, thus, I guess, they experience poetry not as the possibility of a writing, but in the many other ways that poetry can be experienced.
GR: What would you say can constitute relevant writing today? To echo “Nevermore,” is it a kind of “transgenetic” or “mutant” writing? How does one fold language so that, to borrow another phrase from you, from “Deserts,” it is “perforated by a linguistic image that impedes its continuation”?
CP: “Continuation” here refers to continuing with the instrumental uses of language. Impeding these uses is, in itself and as I see it, fundamental to writing a poem or a poetic text. It’s related to my conception of the poem as I explained above. Cancelling or thwarting these instrumental uses, which are those of identitarian narrative(s), allows emergence of that other type of linguistic image that celebrates our capacity for articulated language. Here, words abandon their usual functions to communicate with themselves; the fabric of this text is different and responds to needs and capacities outside those of interchange and communication, outside the marketplace of words; here words are an excess, an expenditure, a gratuitousness and a grace, in the sense of a gift; a gift is something that a person has but can’t ever possess; we can’t destroy or simply get rid of a gift; it is not merchandise. It’s a paradox, a possession without possession, a thing bestowed, totally gratuitous; this is what a poem is, this beauty for no reason, for no one, and consequently for everyone.
The term “mutation” appeals to me much more than does “transgenic,” because mutation supposes a leap, a leap into the unknown. Yes, the poem is a mutant, has mutated throughout the epochs of human history and yet is still the same; progress doesn’t exist in the poem; it always changes in response to the same coordinates, which are fidelity to itself and to the times that construct it. And yes, I think the poem is transgeneric because in anulling the world and its instrumental uses of language, it can attain, border, be osmotic with any form or code, with philosophy, with prose, with story, with science, dance…
It is porous, yes, as borders are porous, but without ever merging with what it touches; if that were to happen it would stop being a poem and be a thought, or number, or symbol or theology, etc.
GR: In “Letter from Tangiers: Homage to Christa Wolf” I cite “[At the Centre pédagogique régional] I speak of the impossible coincidence of languages and world, of fracture in which the I of a poet is constituted, of how the poem is an emotive-cognitive writing that touches the world, of how a poem is a passion of language.” To me, this passage beautifully illustrates recurring preoccupations in your work. Would you care to expand?
CP: When I wrote “emotive-cognitive” I wanted to indicate that the poem is not just the writing down of emotions or feelings but that it is a form of knowledge, among many others, related to our capacity to speak/write.
I view language as a being, as something that, from the depthless depths beyond memory, presents itself to us, visible and living; it takes form in our bodies, our linguistic animal bodies, enters and exists from our mouths. It is image via the use of alphabetic writing, and like anything that breathes, it endures passions; among those passions, I will mention here its desire to transform itself into music and, at the opposite extreme, its impetus toward abstraction, toward philosophic concept. The poem is that place which reveals that a harmony between music and concept is impossible, an impossible synthesis. You often hear others defend the opposite idea, maintaining that the poem harmonizes music, feeling, emotion and thought, but in my opinion, on the contrary, it’s in the poem where we witness the impossible concordance of those passions of language. Naturally, my list of passions in no way exhausts all the passions of a language.
GR: In “Finisterra,” you ask “what politics?” and, later, in the section “While I am Writing”, you say this: “But my nothingness stays there, at the finisterra where breath fractures.” How do you balance poetry’s social and political ends/questions (about place, nation, origin, identity) with its formal and aesthetic aspects?
CP: Each of your questions contains many questions, Geneviève! Ha! I’ll try to answer them all:
I situate myself or try to situate myself on the side of a politics whose subjects are people who have had to exist and experience that place “where breath fractures,” people who were or are subject to infinite injury; what concerns me is all the forms of resistance that these persons can produce, and this not just in terms of a, or of their, demand for justice but also because I realize that their very name or designation is an invention of politics, of the politics known as conventional politics, party politics or democratic capitalist politics which, as we all know, is a politics of exclusion.
I consider that the forms of capitalist democracy have, as their model, the concentration camp (lager).* This model may be nuanced or mitigated or pushed to an extreme, in different parts of the world, but the model remains one of enslavement and at times directly involves extermination of enormous demographic contingents.
I think of the nation not as a unity but as a multiplicity of groups of persons who have no reason to coincide either in their demands, or in their form of feeling or thinking the nation. I conceive it as a field of tensions where there are elites who constantly try to eliminate or exclude groups that don’t think like them. From this diversity or battlefield, to my understanding, it is possible to create a politics of dialogue and/or confrontation that reaches an increasing state of balance, in which the different parts can be integrated. Of course, I realize this is a long-term process, but History can always surprise us.
Of origin, I know nothing; I don’t believe we can access anything like origin; origin is always a story, a fiction. The scene is only too familiar: someone rules a group and tells them their origin (an identity) and from this, forms are configured that exclude all who don’t listen to or submit to the story. At the same time, something else goes on; another word commences, when this other word is proffered and written down, it makes the State tremble. This scene is also well known: this word makes clear that the governor is incestuous, and in consequence he’s expelled from the city, his wife hangs herself, his sons foment civil war, etc. Of course there may be other outcomes. To my mind, that word is the word of the poem.
GR: Who/what are you reading at the moment?
CP: Right now with the term just ending and summer about to begin, I’m sorting and cleaning up my bookshelves and have little free time yet. I’m reading:
Memorial e Danza by Francisco Cortegoso (Galicia)
Materia Blanda by Lila Zemborain (Argentina)
Cuaderno de Edimburgo by Valerie Meyer (Mexico)
Devastación de sílabas by Nuno Júdice (Portugal)
That’s what I’m reading, poetry.
GR: What are you writing now, what new projects are you engaged in?
CP: A bit over a year ago I published Carne de Leviatán* and since then I’ve written various poems but it’s still too early to say anything about them. Right now I’m writing a poem in which I try to demonstrate that we, linguistic mammals, are the house of words, but words cannot house us. Something like that.
At the end of June, as part of a group of three Galician and three Catalan poets, I’ll head out on a ten-day reading tour through Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands. When I get home, I’m taking driving lessons.
GR: Chus, I am so grateful for your time, your generosity (especially since my questions, as you have pointed out, had many linking questions folded into them), et surtout pour le partake! Grazas!!
I would also like to generously thank Erín Moure for translating my questions and then translating Chus Pato’s answers. Erín, your guidance and suggestions proved more than helpful – they have been forever enlightening. A thousand times thank you!
*Here Pato is one with the ideas of Giorgio Agamben and others on the state of exception that is now the rule.
**Translator’s note: to appear in 2016 from Omnidawn as Flesh of Leviathan in a Moure translation.
Galician poet Chus Pato’s sixth book, m-Talá, broke the poetic mould in Galicia in 2000. Hordes of Writing, the third text in her pentalogy Decrúa (Tilth or Arable), received the 2008 Spanish Critics’ Prize, and the Losada Diéguez Prize in 2009. Pato was lauded as 2013 Author of the Year by the Galician Booksellers’ Association, continues to refashion the way we think of the poetic text, of words, bodies, political and literary space. Secession is her fourth book to be translated into English and her first published in Canada. You can follow her on Facebook at here.
Erín Moure has published 16 books of poetry in English and Galician/English plus a book of essays, and has translated 13 volumes of poetry into English from French, Spanish, Galician and Portuguese, by poets such as Nicole Brossard, Andrés Ajens, Louise Dupré, Rosalía de Castro, Chus Pato and Fernando Pessoa. Her work has received the GG, Pat Lowther Memorial Award, A.M. Klein Prize, and has been a three-time finalist for the Griffin Prize. Her latest work is Insecession, published with Chus Pato’s biopoetics Secession in a dual volume by BookThug (2014).
Geneviève Robichaud composes between deux langues: English and Chiac. She holds an MA in English and Creative Writing from Concordia University and is a PhD candidate at l’Université de Montréal. She is an editor for Lemon Hound.