A Defiant Intertextuality

A conversation with translator Joshua Pollock

OS Collaborator Joshua Pollock talks about his new translation of José Vicente Anaya’s Híkuri (Peyote), available now from The Operating System. And be sure to check out our interview with Anaya here.

[Image: The cover of José Vicente Anaya’s Híkuri (Peyote), translated by Joshua Pollock, available now from The Operating System, featuring a painting of a human figure with the head of a mythic, animal-esque creature. Patterns of black and gray squares seem to fall from the figure’s arms, while a similar pattern of yellow, brown, black and gray squares create the illuminated image of a sun above the figure. Cover art by Jimena Schlaepfer. Cover design by Elæ.]

Greetings! Thank you for talking to us about your process today! Can you introduce yourself, in a way that you would choose?

My name is Joshua Pollock.

Why do you work in translation?

My interest in translation comes from a few different places. On a personal level, I love the feeling of getting close the language of a text — particularly a text that does something interesting to me, although there’s something to be said for getting inside texts that turn you off, also. Translation is the closest reading of a text that I know how to engage in, and I’ve always found that the type of close reading that results in translation puts me in an almost-obsessive flow-state that I find pleasurable. I’m also driven by a desire to share the text with others — I worked in bookstores for years, and the urge to show other people the things that affect me sort of stuck around. In many ways, I think of translation as more explicitly political, too. In a time of increasing nationalism and emboldened white supremacy, I sense the importance of amplifying voices from outside of the Anglophone culture apparatus. Híkuri is a text that appears from outside of any national context — it was written in Mexican territory, but it consciously speaks from an unsettled, nomadic place. In my more utopian moods, I’d like to believe that translation can do damage to insular thinking and the idea of national literatures.

In addition or instead of “translator,” what other titles or affiliations do you prefer/feel are more accurate? What other work are you doing in the world these days?

Translator is fine. I’m also a poet (or maybe just “writer”) and media artist. I write poems and hybrid works. I recently made a short essay-film called “Spectopia” that consists of footage appropriated from unsecured surveillance and security cameras — it has screened at a few festivals. I also raise two children with my partner, which feels like important work.

What do you see as your cultural and social role (in the literary / artistic / creative community and beyond)? How does this interface with what you do as a translator and/or in your pedagogy?

I just do my best to juggle everything I have going while I try to maintain old relationships and forge new ones. I think it’s important for me to write work that actively engages with the sociopolitical environment I live in. In my own writing this allows me to turn my political rage and frustration into a sort of fuel. My translation work is about forging connections and chipping away at borders (even if this latter is illusory or grandiose).

Talk about the process or instinct to move this project into book form. How and why did this happen? Have you had this intention for a while? What encouraged and/or confounded this (or a book, in general) coming together?

I just really love the poem Híkuri, and I want people to read it. I, of course, have to thank The Operating System for making it a real possibility, Asymptote for publishing an excerpt, and José Vicente Anaya for writing it.

What practices or structures (if any) do you use in the creation of your work, beyond this project? Have certain teachers or instructive environments, or readings/writings/work of other creative people informed the way you work/write?

Oh yeah, all of my work is the product of extensive reading and influence. Most of my work is intertextual, and I’m interested in procedures that put that up front, whether through quoting, conversing with, collaging, or whatever. Many of my poems don’t use these procedures, but I’m under no illusion that the linguistic medium I work in is my private, original creation. Language is a sort of commons that we all share. I think Rosmarie Waldrop has been instructive to me here, as have Sean Bonney and Harryette Mullen. My translation work obviously happens in close collaboration with the original writer. My influences are too numerous to begin listing.

What does this particular work represent to you both as indicative of your method/creative practice? as indicative of your history? as indicative of your mission/intentions/hopes/plans?

As I said, I just really love this work, its defiant spirit, its stance against industrial civilization and the erasure of indigenous ways of living and relating, its marriage of critique and music and non-dogmatic spirituality, its belief in the power of poetry as a way of living. I just wanted to share Anaya’s work with others.

What does this book DO (as much as what it says or contains)?

It tears a hole in the idea that the current structure of the world is a historical inevitability, that there is no before or after capitalism, that poetry is an academic pursuit. It rends binary thinking.

What would be the best possible outcome for this book? What might it do in the world, and how might its presence as an object facilitate your creative role in your community and beyond? What are your hopes for this book, and for your practice?

I hope that people read it and share it with each other, get together with each other in general. I also hope that it draws attention to the fact that there are indigenous peoples and ways of life struggling against the assimilating forces of nation-states like Mexico, Canada, and USA. Maybe that it inspires people to write. As for my practice, the ideal outcome would be for it to somehow facilitate meeting other writers and translators or foster new and generative conversations and friendships.

Let’s talk a little bit about the role of translation, creative practice and community in social and political activism, so present in our daily lives as we face the often sobering, sometimes dangerous realities of the Capitalocene. How does your process, practice, or work otherwise interface with these conditions?

Well, like everything else, the work is irretrievably enmeshed with the conditions we live in, so on some subterranean layer it is either a critique of, a strike against, or a tacit acceptance of those conditions. I don’t mean to be overly deterministic about other people’s work, but I do think of my own this way. I like to think translation inherently goes against nationalism and ethno-linguistic chauvinism, but unfortunately it lacks the material power to do much to counter the unfolding disasters of the Capitalocene.

I’d be curious to hear some of your thoughts on the challenges we face in speaking and publishing across lines of race, age, ability, class, privilege, social/cultural background, gender, sexuality (and other identifiers) within the community as well as creating and maintaining safe spaces, vs. the dangers of remaining and producing in isolated “silos” and/or disciplinary and/or institutional bounds?

This feels like a huge question. I definitely acknowledge that there are multiple challenges in writing/speaking/publishing across these lines, but I also think it is super important to try to communicate/create across these lines and build solidarity rather than fragment into increasingly specific and atomized communities of the same. I don’t have any easy answers, and I don’t really think that institutions (academic, electoral, or otherwise) are where this can or will happen. I do think that it’s important to amplify voices that have commonly been silenced, to work towards reparations for black and indigenous people, to combat racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia ableism &c. and to expropriate the wealth of e.g. Jeff Bezos.

[Image: Photo of JOSÉ VICENTE ANAYA.]

JOSÉ VICENTE ANAYA (Villa Coronado, Chihuahua, 1947) is a Mexican poet, essayist, translator, editor, and journalist. He was founder and co-director of the poetry journal Alforja from 1997 to 2008. In 1980 he won the Plural prize in poetry. In 1981 he was awarded the INBA-FONAPAS poetry grant. In 1989 he received the Tomás Valles Literature Prize. In 2000 he was named Writer Emeritus by the Chihuahuan Institute of Culture and CONACULTA. He has published more than 25 books. His poetry has been translated into English, French, Italian, and Portuguese.

JOSHUA POLLOCK is a translator and poet. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Vestiges, Jubilat, Chicago Review, and others. He lives in a constant struggle against the mechanisms of attrition and destruction.


My work includes various media like drawing, sculpture, ceramics, embroidery, video and photography, but the topic is always the same: nature as a source of visual possibilities and metaphor.

Nature becomes a fantastic scenery inhabited by animals and plants that have a secret life. I think that fantasy and fiction are tools that can help us to analyze and understand reality, a way of confrontation and criticism, but also as forms of evasion and idealization.

Over the past years I have been building (physically and mentally), a micro imaginary world inhabited by enchanted beings who are mostly animals. This micro world has been formed through the creation of installations I have done in different places, using only paper, cardboard and ceramics. Also the characters that appear in these installations, continuously appear in drawings, as a need to continue telling stories of this world through drawing, the medium where all my ideas are born, before becoming sculptures or three-dimensional scenes.

In all cases, my work is a result of very long, slow and traditional processes; I like the idea of the craftsman who specializes in a technique, and to create his piece requires a certain domain, time and agility with hands. I think in this era, where everything is going so fast, we have to take our time to think, to do things, to act and to live.


The artist JIMENA SCHLAEPFER (b. Mexico, 1982) creates metaphoric work, exhibited widely. Solo shows include “Ossis Lux” which was presented in 2016 in the Museum of the Oaxacan Painters MUPO. In that same year, she also presented the exhibition “Cosmogonía Trilobite” at the Cultural Center of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca. Furthermore the artist participated in a collective exhibition organized by the Museo Universitario el Chopo “Horror en el trópico” in Mexico City. “Historia Adulterada” at the museum La Celda Contemporánea also in Mexico City.

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The Operating System is a peer-facilitated experiment in the redistribution of creative resources and possibility. We are committed to gathering resources for citizen action, to transparency, to a unique publishing model, and to continuous evolution. We are based in Brooklyn, NY.

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The Operating System & Liminal Lab

The Operating System is a peer-facilitated experiment in the redistribution of creative resources and possibility. We are committed to gathering resources for citizen action, to transparency, to a unique publishing model, and to continuous evolution. We are based in Brooklyn, NY.