NOTES ON A RETURN TO AN EVER-DYING LAND: Arturo Desimone’s series on Latin American poetry
The Journeys of HANAN HARAWI: Interview with Peruvian poet and publisher John Martínez Gonzalez
On independent publishing in Peru, on poetry, and the current situation of Peruvian politics in relation to culture and literature.
Hanan Harawi is an independent publishing house specializing in international poetry based in Lima, Peru. According to its founding editor, the poet John Martinez Gonzalez, Hanan Harawi seeks to connect audiences to the diverse array of contemporary Latin American poets and writers ‘’without blogs, posts, or web-anthologies — while these methods are good for reaching audiences, they tend to instill conformism. We ought to read books, not PDFs. We propose to publish crafty and unpretentious editions. May we return to the Book.”
Gonzalez adds that Hanan Harawi “was born from the necessity in Peru to publish contemporary poets from the world over.
“The false intimacy provided by the Internet often misleads audiences into believing they know the poetic works of an author (it is read on blogs, websites and other electronic resources) But in order to have truly read a poet, it does not suffice to read two or three online poems: books are needed.
“In Peru, however, it is unfortunately conventional that when foreign poets have been locally published, the books are costly and too few are printed. We founded Hanan Harawi publishing house in response to these circumstances. Our first collection The Stone with a Pulse gathered poets of diverse countries (link here to some of the titles published by Hanan Harawi) in hand-made editions.
“Our way of producing them lowered costs, making more distribution possible. We aim to release hand-made books at affordable prices in Peru. What most interests us, is that our books get read, rather than kept as a prized object. In our publishing platform we print books that in their layout, design and bookbinding are an original product, with nothing like them having previous appeared on the market. Much of our effort is concentrated on these manual activities, reducing the need for an industrial mode as much as possible.“
In this interview for Arturo Desimone’s Drunken Boat blog ‘’Notes on a Return to an Ever-Dying Lands on the actual situation of Latin American literature, John Martinez Gonzalez talks about what its means to be a small, radical Publisher of poetry and fiction in a changing Peru, and on how indigenous literature is making a vivacious, perhaps cyclical return.
AD: Recently the first translation into Quechua of Cervantes’ Don Quijote was published in Peru, a translation by the priest Demetrio Tupac, what seems a milestone in the history of Latin American translation. Tupac’s translation of a classic of Castilian Spain occurs centuries after the chronicles by Guaman Poma de Ayala, the Peruvian indigenous writer who depicted in his writing in Spanish (and in his drawings) an adventurous report of the horrors of Spanish colonial atrocities in Peru.
In the light of this, and your being a publisher of literature in multiple languages, what do you think of bilingualism in publishing, and of the cultural relevance of multilingualism?
Is there an inherent poetics or semiotics in the Quipu alphabet (a writing system spelled by knots made in strings) of the Incas? Is it possible for a poetics of pagan or pre-Christian Inca culture to influence a literature in Spanish? Will new hymns to the sun be written in Quichua by Peruvian or Andean poets?
JMG: There is poetry written in Quechua and in other dialects. In the city of Cuzco, there is much happening in that area (Quechua poetry scene, multilingualism). Our publishing house recently released Flor de Udumbara, Flower of Udumbara, by the Brazilian poet Sandra Santos, a trilingual poetry collection (in Portuguese, Spanish and Quechua).
We have a long way to go, but I think Quechua is already revitalizing herself, and will stay in use in poetry.
On the other hand, I would like to emphasize something. There is a lie that the ancient Peru never had a written language: what it lacked were graphs upon paper, but investigations have shown there were semiotics and languages and script in textiles, on ceramic surfaces, and of course, the well-known “Quipu’’ (writing system in coded knots in strings).
The high level of scientific knowledge of ancient Peru has often been ignored. Ridiculed, even.
The most important surviving text is the drama of Ollantay, a sort of theatrical play. Oral narratives have also managed to survive and it was possible to conserve and transmit other recollections of myths, such as Gods and Men of Huarochiri — these were finally put into print after a very long, unprecedented labor of research.
I don’t think these ancient works exert a direct influence on contemporaries — as I pointed out earlier, it is more this entire ‘’atmosphere’’, a world that is influencing them. As it influenced the works of writers before us who ‘’saw’’ that path, like Jose Maria Arguedas or Gamaliel Churata, whose book “The Golden Fish’’ is essential for those who wish to understand that beautiful intermarriage between Andean mythology and poetry.
AD: What is our debt to the authors who are our recent forerunners (such as José María Arguedas and Gamaliel Churata)? How can a small publisher, or circles of young poets in Peru (whether of native origins or of European descent, hopefully of various or all social classes) honor what they have transmitted?
JMG: The best homage that anyone can make to a writer is by reading him. By “reading,” I mean to read him well. Not to just purchase a book so it can accumulate dust on a shelf. I believe Arguedas is a fundamental pillar, but I doubt that trying to earn him the posthumous ‘’recognition’’ that he deserved and should have gotten in life is at all an urgent project. Many efforts have been made towards ascertaining more recognition for the book “Andean Man and his past.’’ Certainly more resonance would be a good thing. In Lima there is a cultural centre named after Arguedas, a school of national folklore also bears his name. They have reprinted his books. However, more could be done.
“If you ever stop writing, conclude you were never a poet. That is why I am convinced that Rimbaud, even while he trafficked weapons, never stopped writing.” -John Martínez Gonzalez
AD: What can be added in the current moment by the role of literary Indigenismo? (Indigenismo: a literary movement in Latin America which had particularly strong manifestations in Peru, Mexico, Ecuador and Guatemala during the 1950s, featuring writing that emphasized, explored, articulated the position, culture, world of the indigenous American. Examples of what are considered ‘’indigenous-ist’’ literature are Jose María Arguedas, author of the novels “Yawar Fiesta” and “The Deep Rivers” (link to some wikipedia info on Arguedas here)
Are there possibilities for a continuation of the literary movement referred to as indigenismo in this century, in art and literature, more than 40 years after the death of José-María Arguedas? In the current cultural predicament of consumerism, neoliberal democracy and other ills, is there still a fecund literary and social-cultural terrain for movements in Latin American literature to have any resonance or continuation in our literary traditions, and in politics?
JMG: The various “Isms” have always seemed like a method used by theorists to put easy definitions and markers on all things. I cannot tell if there is a literary indigenismo-movement as such right now. But what I am surer of is that we are returning to our roots. Not because of any question of ‘’social commitment’’ or some-such duties being exacted — rather, this resurgence owes itself to way in which cycles in time repeat. We turn to our common past, but not in a vain attempt to relive it. We seek to apply the knowledge to our present time. Many of us understand (the interest in our American roots) in this way. This is especially the case when it comes to cosmology and spiritualism.
The old traditions are certainly being once more explored along those lines. The spiritualism of the peoples of old Peru is returning to influence many artistic creators. That consciousness does not simply about admiring some glorious past, more interestingly, it is about using the old ways in order to fathom a conception of reality itself.
I believe Arguedas understood this, and that is why he did not merely describe “reality.”
His influence is fundamental. I believe there is a resonance in the best of the political and literary traditions in the country. We won’t see a ‘’new indigenism’’ — the word ‘’indigenous’’ indigena is pejorative — but on the other hand, we will see a tradition that has fewer European characteristics.
AD: In 2016, we saw the ascent of Keiko Fujimori (daughter of Peruvian former military dictator and war-criminal Alberto Fujimori, currently on trial and imprisoned) making her presidential campaign.
Very recently, the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa spoke at the Buenos Aires Book-Fair, speaking of the threat of “fujimorism’’, and on his new novel The Place of Five Corners, and of his political support for candidate (now Peruvian president as June 2016) Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Llosa himself seems to combine an enthusiasm for multiculturalist politics and toleration of diverse identities, with enthusiasm for neoliberalism. He has also denounced manifestations of the neoliberal media establishment in his country of origin — the ‘’Yellow’’ press (“prensa amarilla”) as he calls it. In his speech in Buenos Aires, Llosa received roaring applause as he repudiated the apologists of Fujimori and other right-wing advocates who lobby for the impunity of Peruvian dictators, corrupt politicians and war criminals and who attempt to disrupt the court proceedings that might bring the likes of Fujimori to justice in Peru — even though, quite contradictorily, he lauded the new Macri government in Argentina, which seeks to grind to a halt any trials against Argentine ex-dictators. What is your esteem of Llosa? Is it possible to distance, or for that matter, to combine a critique of Llosa’s postures as an economist and politician with his achievements and contributions to literature? What does Pablo Kuczynski represent for the cultural world and for the literary endeavors in Peru?
JMG: What manifestations surrounding Keiko’s campaign has represented, is the attempt at the continuation of a dynasty, whose leader (Alberto Fujimori) still wishes to govern from his jail-cell, and he also wants to be freed, so that he can reenter public politics and return as the ‘’advisor’’ of his daughter. Fujimori-ism destroyed the country, robbed more than 6 billion dollars, and erased all attempts at generating a cultural plan or cultural ministry for the country. Rather than encouraging culture and the arts, he generated a pamphleteering press, a media that was more philistine and brutal in its methods, whether in print or in TV. What Vargas-Llosa has pointed out concerning the Fujimori dynasty is true. But his voice seems to now carry more weight abroad than in Peru. Frankly I find his opinion-columns (in the Spanish El Pais and in Peruvian newspapers) unreadable: the man’s love for neoliberalism is total. Yet one cannot ignore the weight that the laureate’s opinion carries. I think he has fallen out of touch with the current reality of Peru. The kind of observations he makes, are those that are perfectly observable from afar, observations which any very perceptive foreigner could make after some reading-up. His influence on Peruvian literature is massive indeed. I have read his novels and enjoyed the experience profoundly. But quite some time has passed since we separated the author Llosa from the political opinion-ologist.
Kuczynski is the typical upper-class and cultivated Peruvian, foreign-educated, foreign-bred type who frequents of the opera. In addition to that, he plays the traditional flutes sweetly, and he has done it on his campaign trails. Does that mean he intends to support culture in Peru? I don’t know, but at least he has given some slight incentive to believe that civil rights, human rights and art will have a different stature with him instead of Fujimori in the presidency. Keiko’s main co-speaker in her campaign had publicly given speeches in which he said he “forgot’’ about the cultural plans, “but there are more important things.” Those were alarming symptoms.
*In May 2016 the results came in: Pedro Pablo Kuczynscki won the presidency, but with a majority of politicians from the Fujimori camp in the senate and congress. John Martinez Gonzalez insisted there was nothing to add as to the estimation of Kuczynski and his opposition: “Neoliberals, all of them, none have much public appeal. Kuczynski only won thanks to the fear of Fujimori’s legacy of dictatorship threatening return.”
AD: Quite often it seems that the first world and Western/Northern societies wish to export its ideas and identities which are fashionable there, pumping them into the third world, like another product for retail and consumption in the “subsidiaries’’ (as Mexican philosopher Enrique Dussel, perhaps derogatorily, refers to Latin-American consumption of European and Northern world-views.) What is the danger, if there is any, posed by ‘imported’ cultural and sexual identity politics and other mostly academic discourses, that may function to obscure or fluffy up the perception of class-warfare, in a country haunted by a history and present of classism and of racism as is Peru? Or is such a danger an illusion of stuffy old fogey Marxists?
JMG: As a publisher,poet and reader I am above all interested in the good narrators and story-tellers, the good poets, those who ‘’commove’’ me and you. When the author is True, the stories and histories, however they may be, succeed in plummeting themselves into the hearts of the readers. All these empathies and hatreds might be used as creative materials, but they can never be the fundament of the creation.
AD: Is it possible to be a romantic and at once to remain in touch with the Latin American reality?
JMG: Yes. Romanticism is not synonymous with comfort. Without love, no revolution would have ever taken place. Remember how Lord Byron went to fight on the side of the Greeks, and he died fighting at sea. We are romanticists, not purveyors of kitsch. The ideological commitment has to be of the human being. Not of the poet. A poet who is compromised by one or the other ideology is useless. A poet has to have poetry as the absolute commitment. But before discovering ourselves as poets, we are humans, and that brings us towards wanting equality and peace among humanity.
AD: Can there be such a thing as warrior-poets? Or does one need to choose between being a warrior, a soldier and being a poet?
JMG: A poet is a poet. A warrior, if by that you mean in the style of the military, no. A poet has to choose between fighting or writing. A poet writes and his hands are for nothing else. If you ever stop writing, conclude you were never a poet. That is why I am convinced that Rimbaud, even while he trafficked weapons, never stopped writing.
AD: The (philosophical) thought and poetics of indigenous peoples seem to possess a very different attitude towards death, a predisposition that seems much less determined by fear, terror or negation of death than the Christian imagination. Do these traditions and religions nurture towards a more creative or poetic attitude towards life and death, the physical body, the desires, than the Christian culture allows? Is it possible for poets anywhere in the world to exist without their ‘’huacas’’? (huaca: Quichua word for the sacred sites, places charged with a religious significance, in certain designated places in the Andes.) Can a poet who fears death still be any good?
JMG: I believe the poet has always been engaging with that eternal question of “What is death?” Death, and the truth of dying is a state that is forbidden terrain for the living, or else denied, and yet it has mobilized all humankind. I believe that the Andes casts deep roots into her children. Of course, globalization has not merely given us a false modernity, it has perhaps above all eliminated the time we once had to get to know nature, time to learn about our pasts. I believe in more than a place (or a huaca) a poet cannot live without that nostalgia and sense of a great remembering of what has gone lost. That is innate to the intuition that poetry gives you, it tells us that this world is another thing entirely.
AD: You say poetry is that intuition that the world is “another thing’’, something else. Do you mean that this world is alienation, a prison, and not the true reality that was lost or destroyed? Poetry gives us the knowledge to see our chains?
JMG: I do not believe this world to be a prison. Some of its realities, however, are that. The world contains all possibilities, but at times we follow a road lived millions of times with the same discourse that has been repeated for eons, there is the problem. Paul Éluard said “There is another world, and it is in this one” (il y a une autre monde, mais il est dans celui-ci).
Poetry, for me — for us — does not shatter the fabric of reality, so much as immerse us in it, deepening it, so that we see its interstices, so we discover new folds, turns. Poetry is neither an oneiric refuge nor an unreality. What poetry tells us is that the chains are the freedom, and in that lucidity there lies the contradiction, which generates that which some poets call “the poetic moment.’’
AD: Like Satori?
Yes, in the way the Beats conceived it, or perhaps in a more oneiric/dream-like way, the surrealists.
AD: How did you receive the news about the recent death of Peruvian novelist Oswaldo Reynoso? In his time, Reynoso was both renown and criticized, and almost censored for offending public morality, and for showing a sexuality that broke with the taboos of Peruvian society. One of his novels drew acclaim and scandal and criticism for showing a captain of industry who was gay and in the closet, sleeping with his lover to celebrate their having helped in the successful military coup…What is his legacy today, during the more scandalous reappearance of pro-Fujimori groups in the political scenery?
JMG: Reynoso was always a very insular author. Successful, precisely because he was not ‘’visible’’…or at least living in a certain obscurity designed for him by the ‘’sacred cows’’ of the small Peruvian literature and its coterie. Today pick up the newspaper El Comercio and you can read 3 pages dedicated to Reynoso: this is a newspaper that had only devoted some scarce mention of his during his last years. That minor recognition was good, but also disheartening. People need to die for their work to get any real recognition. His legacy goes much further than mere political circumstance. Oswaldo was an author who was greatly intimate with the younger generations. I believe him to be already immortal and that he will become one of the most widely read in years to come.
Left: logo of Hanan Harawi on their Anthology La Piedra Que Late (The Stone with a Pulse)
Below: the original book-bindings of Peruvian “indie” publisher of poetry, Hanan Harawi.
“We aim to release hand-made books at affordable prices in Peru. What most interests us, is that our books get read, rather than kept as a prized object. In our publishing platform we print books that in their layout, design and bookbinding are an original product, with nothing like them having previous appeared on the market. Much of our effort is concentrated on these manual activities, reducing the need for an industrial mode as much as possible.“
Arturo Desimone, Arubian-Argentinian writer and visual artist, was born in 1984 on the island Aruba which he inhabited until the age of 22, when he emigrated to the Netherlands. He is currently based in Argentina (a country two of his ancestors left during the 1970s) while working on a long fiction project about childhoods, diasporas, islands and religion. Desimone’s articles, poetry and short fiction pieces have previously appeared in CounterPunch, Círculo de Poesía (Spanish) Acentos Review, New Orleans Review, DemocraciaAbierta, BIM Magazine, Knot-Lit. A play he wrote won a prize for young immigrant authors in Amsterdam in 2011, and published in the world-lit journal of University of Istanbul. His translations of poetry have appeared in the Blue Lyra Review and Adirondack Review.