It is not every day that one reads a poetry collection destined to become a collector’s item. However, the emerging Ecuadorian poet, Agustín Guambo’s, Andean Nuclear Spring, translated by Carlos Moreno (aka Carlos No), subject of the present interview, is such a text. This handsomely-crafted chapbook is issued by Ugly Duckling Presse, a small, non-profit publisher located in Brooklyn, NY, committed to offering avant-garde poetry and other genres produced by a volunteer editorial collective. Andean Nuclear Spring is part of the UDP Señal initiative, “a chapbook series for contemporary Latin American poetry in bilingual editions.” “Señal” means “sign” or “signal” in Spanish, and, in Moreno’s [No’s] translation, seems to suggest words communicated intentionally for verbal, including, semantic, sensory, and aesthetic impact.
In his own words, Carlos Moreno (Carlos No), a native Spanish speaker and resident of Quito, Ecuador, “is a visual artist, researcher in the field of cultural politics, and independent cultural agent. His work focuses on the relationship between the public and the arts. He curates and produces diverse exhibitions and collective projects to address the problematics of cultural sustainability in Quito, as well as, to address the debate on the influence of Western culture peripheral to Western culture. Carlos is part of the collectives Komuna Kitu and Cultura Viva Comunitaria. He has edited TrueQue’s Residency compilation (Ayampe, Ecuador) and written articles about cultural politics in Latin America, the arts, and education. He is working on a master’s thesis about public funds in culture at Simón Bolívar Andean University (UASB) and is pursuing a master’s degree in Sociology at the Latin American Social Sciences Institute (FLACSO).”
CBJ: UDP describes you as a curator and producer of “diverse exhibitions and collective projects” and a member of two collectives in Ecuador. Please tell us more about your activities, including, how you arrived at your present place in life. In other words, who is Carlos Moreno?
CM: It’s complicated to describe oneself in short bios. But I could say I’m a small curator because there are many art processes and projects from artist friends in different fields that I follow and work with. I feel these projects are important but don’t receive much attention from mainstream circuits in Quito and in other places in Ecuador. So I try to help in their development process in any way I can. Also, most of these working friendships have been consolidated short-term and long-term, so I try to reinforce these projects with knowledge, experiences and gestión cultural (a phrase that can be translated as “cultural management,” having different meanings in Spanish and English, but here it’s the way we can articulate collective work to make stuff happen). And about the collectives I’m in—these are political spaces where we articulate different activities and processes to discuss issues and difficulties of community cultural work, but these are also spaces that exist because of the participation of many individuals trying to make changes in the nation’s cultural politics, as well as, particular spaces. And that’s why I believe collaboration is a very important task for cultural networks despite the disagreements we may encounter.
As for me, when I was 9 years old, I had the opportunity to live and study in New York with my family so that’s a reason why the English language is familiar to me. Then I studied fine arts, earned a master’s degree in Cultural Studies and, currently, am working on a master’s degree in Sociology. My academic study is also part of the experience that helps me to develop projects and also to analyze what we are doing as artists, or what’s happening in the particular circumstances we encounter. But to think back and wonder why I’m here right now has a lot to do with the difficulties involved with having a career in the arts, considering that it’s really hard to do so here in Ecuador where there are few opportunities to earn money from those professions. And probably that’s why I’ve decided to carry on in the academic field and try to work in research studying local struggles and trying to make a change in the structural and institutional aspects of culture.
CBJ: Your translations are sensitive and beautiful. What attracted you to Guambo’s poetry? Why did you want to translate his work, and how did you prevent the poet’s feelings from dominating the text? This is very difficult to “pull off.”
CM: Agustin is a close friend of mine. We met while we were doing volunteer work after Canoa’s earthquake in Ecuador in 2016. That year, I found out about his work for the first time, even though we had worked in the same cultural spaces for years, a common occurrence in Ecuador because of the lack of communication and diffusion of cultural work. Since 2016, I have been able to explore Guambo’s work, while getting to know him better, and I got to understand and relate to the way he explores identity issues, as well as, how he expresses the aesthetics of his poetry, among other aspects of his work. So when we found UDP’s call for translation projects, we decided to dip in and make the best of it. But a particular reason for me could be that, as an exercise of my imagination, I´ve tried to experiment with working with the images that he creates. And also, that I believe that the opportunity to spread Agustín’s work to broader audiences can be important for giving perspectives on current Latin-American poets and their writing.
Concerning how I relate to his feelings? Well, I believe that the source of Agustin’s creative potential comes from mixed feelings about many of the ideas he discusses in his work. And, because I know him well, I can say that the works he shares with the world express the present condition relative to the future. It’s like he would prefer to put his soul and body in the poems in the present separate from his daily life, but always returning to poetry for inspiration and expression. I could say it’s like that experience we have when we grow up and decide to live on our own and then return home to visit our parents where we encounter many truths about our selves—images, symbols, a landscape, elements that constitute us, though we leave again to return to the common life we share with others and the life we’ve built away from our family. A way in which we kind of come back to a place we know and let it be suspended when we return to common places. But, literary production is a shared space, so I think Agustin knows that what he shares can be appreciated in poetry as a space, which is a place where he has encountered many perspectives that now form and give meaning to his work.
because at night I get up to see if you’ve reincarnated from the
dust in my hands
pampachamuni apullay uyahuanquichu, manachu?
because in exiled nights I rise to see if your blood lies once again
in silence over the constellation of trees and the desert in its
death throes agonizes in my skin
pampachamuni apullay uyahuanquichu, manachu?
we will return to the wind and its psalm in the throes of agony [Andean Nuclear Spring, 3]
CBJ: Please tell us what Indigenous group is represented by the language in this quote from the poem, “[.iii.].” Is Guambo an Indigenous poet? Should “Indigenous poetry” exist as a separate genre defined by identity or should “Indigenous poetry” be assimilated into the mainstream of Latin American literature? Is the latter what you would call a “hegemonic” Western condition?
CM: The language is Kichwa, common to most of the nationalities and Indigenous people from Ecuador and other countries from the northern Andean region. And we have to consider that the number of diverse populations having Indigenous origins and practices are many. Because of this, it’s difficult to call Agustin an Indigenous poet simply because he uses elements of Indigenous language, or because of ethnic ancestry. It’s more reasonable to recognize the continuous mixture of our Indigenous background with the western elements of culture; in this sense, we are mestizos (crossbreeds), and we identify in that manner. When anyone asks Agustin about this he says “Part of me is Indigenous, but I’m an urban Andean mestizo.” And, this “urban mestizo” condition is something that we probably share broadly with people from many regions of the world because we are all slowly coming together in a global culture. Many authors are part of world studies recognizing the hegemonic aspects of western culture, such us Bolivar Echeverria, Antonio Gramsci or Anibal Quijano. Nevertheless, the actual capacity of living in interconnected societies through networks of cultures gives us the chance to expand and share knowledge, as well as, emotions, through poetry.
But your question made me remember recent news from last year in Peru, about Roxana Quispe an anthropologist, writer, and researcher who made a Ph.D. in literature with a dissertation completely done in Quechua about Andres Alencastre Gutierrez, who is considered the most important poet of the Quechua language, spoken more commonly in Peru and Bolivia than in Ecuador. In this case, their work is completely written in their Indigenous language, which is remarkable in the present, given the current tendency for Indigenous languages to disappear. But the difference for cases like Agustin Guambo and many other poets that integrate Indigenous language with other languages—phrases or ideas—is that symbolic references are common for us, the mestizos, the audience in which they are embedded. So, despite the hegemonic western condition, the present conditions in mixed cultures are a timely opportunity to produce agency, to make stuff in a different manner—to change things.
This idea is what I intended to share in my translator’s note in Andean Nuclear Spring. Mainstream Latin American poetry circuits, or from any other region in the world, should open their perspective to focus and spread the work of various and different contemporary writers, acknowledging that current conditions and concerns around the globe are making shifts about the course of what hegemony and progress have done to different peoples, making us minorities, “Others,” and marginalized and, by doing so, erasing the substantial elements of our cultures.
CBJ: In addition to your thoughtful and informative translator’s note, Andean Nuclear Spring includes five innovative poems, beautiful in their formal features—especially, image, music, and lyricism—exhibiting song-like, sonorous, and poignant elements. Though, in my opinion, Guambo’s “voice” is not nihilistic, the language is “indeterminate,” as if he is saying to us, “I do not have the answers.” Can you say a few words about the relationship between the form and content of these compositions, as well as, what motivates Guambo to write these poems about loss, emotions, and love? Whatever Guambo had in mind, the poems make one want to return to them over and over in order to relive their hauntingly intimate effects.
CM: The presence of Agustin’s words is very powerful. One thing is to read him and a different thing is to hear him expound. Agustin’s lectures are very impressive because of the energy he gives when reading his verses. For me its like hearing laments and yells from a different era. So it’s likely that, although he may “not have the answers,” and we may not know of a perfect pitch or rhythm for interpreting his poems, we may still feel the necessity to read them, again and again, to find different sensibilities each time. [Interviewer’s note: The American poetry critic, Helen Vendler, calls this lasting effect, “interpretive power.”] Or probably this is something that happened to me while I related to his work. Also, I would like to say that Agustín’s approach to emotions, love, and memory comes from the way he tries to express his many thoughts and experiences through poetry and through his manner of pondering about the past, and by this I mean, via his personal and collective experiences.
But something that can summarize many of the elements in his work can be the indeterminate nature of time in his writing. In the poems from Andean Nuclear Spring, and many other works besides this book, it’s pretty likely to position us in a timeless dimension where you can’t know for sure if what you just read comes from events that just happened or if its from a distant memory. So it is not just about the cultural and ethnic features present in these poems that make us relate to his work, it is also about the familiarity of feelings that we commonly share if we stop underestimating the little tragedies we experience. But having the courage to recognize the quality and features of circumstances that overwhelm us, like our inevitable history and belonging to something. We might not have the same ancestry, but we share the ongoing process of understanding losses or the beauty of simple hopes for the sake of love.
CBJ: Can poetry bring about political change?
CM: This is a difficult question because it depends on what we conceive as poetry. By this I mean that to bring change in politics only by written poetry we must first be sure that everyone is on the same page, understanding the importance of words and their meaning for how we conceive of life; for example, how literary production has a chance to shape our personal and collective relationships. Or that there should be a strong interest in exploring verses printed on pages to create a sense of the ways we organize and stand politically against many forces, even the ones struggling in each of us. So it may be difficult to expect poetry to bring about change in that way. But, I believe there are many aesthetic and poetic forms of representation that we create, see, experience, perceive and share that let us thrive and grow, and that by doing so we can expand consciousness. So in order to think about the possibilities of political change revitalized by poetic expressions, we must try to invite each other to the same page, one that can let us hear and understand each others’ ideas and representations, as valid ways to construct political relationships and community. But this is a practice that we can exercise when we read poetry from different contexts and try to connect to those who expressed them. Actually, this is an idea that Agustin shared with me: you can know how someone felt in almost any moment and place in history by researching and reading poetry, because history, itself, only documents and preserves information, facts, and data, but not individuals’ feelings and perceptions, as poetry does.
CBJ: What are you reading now, and what would you recommend to us?
CM: I’m currently doing a master in Sociology, as I mentioned before, so many of my readings come from social sciences and theory. But I think the works from many critical thinkers and researchers have a profound potential for us to understand the reality of problematic issues that affect our lives and that, if we have imagination, we can see these works as abstract formulations. So, in that sense, I’ve developed a great admiration for works from David Harvey, Pierre Bourdieu, and Michel Foucault. But also someone’s work I could recommend is Silvia Federici´s, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation, which is a profound historical reading about women’s historical struggles for power using an interesting narrative literary approach.
Also, I recently came across, The Poet X, by Isabel Acevedo, that was an interesting way of reading something relating to the process of translation and narration using poetry as a medium. This book made me remember my experiences living in the USA as a child with a Latino family. This text left me thinking about the creative possibilities of producing a narrative, and how every story has strong reflections and associations—even in different times and places. But at the same time, I’ve been exploring Mandibula and Caninos from Monica Ojeda, an Ecuadorian writer who has an important work similar to Acevedo’s but in a completely different manner or style. From the perspective of childhood and youth, she explores the experiences of living in a male-dominated society in Guayaquil, experiences common to women in Latin American societies.
CBJ: Is there anything else you would like to say to readers?
CM: More or less, literature will always be about making connections with people in different times and places. This could be pretty pleasing when you feel that you’re reading the expression of a writer with a very different life, but, also, similar in many ways. From this experience, we can learn the beauty of expression, even, art, itself. But we must have respect and be careful not to defamiliarize or fetishize others by exaggerating or idealizing our own thinking. The problem of creating value in differences is that the connections we are able to make may transform into the logic of power, legitimacy and vague aesthetic appreciation. So, in order to perceive the message behind a poem, a painting, music, or any other form of artistic expression, it’s important to create value from what we can relate to, and avoid preconceptions that can distance us from others. I believe that’s a possible way to perceive the world for any of us in unique ways—without making others, “Others.”
Another thing I would like to say, following what’s been talked about here, is that it is very important to make connections with whomever we admire, if possible. Because, besides their oeuvre, there are people who can give us many more insights that can be shared. This can be a delicate process with a lot of potential. For example, Andean Nuclear Spring wouldn’t have been what it is now without the work of Jen Hofer and Sarah Lawson, who so carefully and warmly worked with me during the editorial process. Furthermore, Agustin shared and trusted me with his work. To all of them—and to Clara B. Jones—I thank so much, for making stuff happen.
CBJ: And, thanks to you, Carlos, for taking time to share your ideas and experiences.