Excess of bad poetry: an interview with Luna Miguel
Luna and I have been preparing this interview for five months–or, I should say, I’ve been lazy and bad enough to (with the swerving and errant dedication that is now emerging as my style) let this one sit, short as it is, raveled and incomplete since October, asking a question every few weeks, no doubt irritating Luna in bookish, unpromising bursts. Which is all so stupid, so feckless of me because of how much of a force–a clearly, as you’ll find out, erudite and redoubtable force–Luna is in contemporary literature. Eg, here she is in Elmundo yesterday. As one might expect, Luna writes with the irreverent edge of a Rimbaud, but goes beyond mere edge, beyond what one might call the chintz of aspiration, to the “elsewhere,” not of youth, but of style, which is the earmark of youth; she might be called one of those writers who is not ahead of her time, who in fact has no toehold in anyone else’s time, but rather is planted squarely in her own time, but precisely because she has founded it–not alone, but en bloc with her comrades, who are amply referred to below (in fact, what we have there is a catalogue for the future). Hers is the time of a new world poetry. Welcome her.
So Luna, I think perhaps there’s something inherently–or whichever inward-looking adverb you like–scandalous about our being young and publishing, or trying to publish, what we write. At the same time it’s a wrong that shows up the, in my eyes, probable reality of the situation: that more or less anyone can do this thing, namely write, if they’re invested in it, willing to risk it all the way to this juncture. I mean, as far as artists go, young-ish musicians are pretty commonplace, and filmmakers, etc. But literature, given its fraught and bloody history (and given everyone’s favorite platitude, “everything’s been written,” which is the avant-garde’s sad and cynical capitulation to Harold Bloom, et al.) takes time, patience, especially to actively gather enough from it–that is, one’s life in books–that one would be able to produce a cohesive, indeed saleable work and publish it, unleash it with pride and into receptive arms. Logically it should probably take more time than these 20-21 years. And yet we’re doing it, even as perhaps we ought not to–this time might be better spent “on the bench” as it were, in private study and preparation, in deference.
Do you ever feel that way? Do you have that internal voice contradicting you? Like this: “I haven’t read enough, I haven’t had enough time to develop a voice, a style. Am I still writing juvenilia?”
I believe it’s impossible not taking into account books like Less than zero, by Ellis, V., by Pynchon, the always quoted Rimbaud and Claudio Rodríguez, or, here in Spain, the bright verses from Elena Medel or Carmen Jodra (while the first one published at seventeen, the second started with 19, and both works are amazing, and very sold and read in my country). These are only a few examples, but I think that the history of literature is full of authors that publish their first texts between 17 and 25. So being young is (necessarily) bad? It is necessary that the authors have lived and lived and lived many experiences to write something acceptable? It is not brilliant the way that Fante catches the youth, for example, in The Road to Los Angeles? We do need authors in their twenties, thirties, forties, fities… Every age is different, every age has his own topics and symbols. What we do need are good authors: if the text is brilliant, so why should the author’s age be important?
Drugs, excess, a sort of nihilism–all of these seem to be timeless equipment for a young writer (with a few exceptions), from Rimbaud to Bret Easton Ellis to Tao Lin–to, in a quite different way, the young David Foster Wallace. Why do you think that’s so?
William Blake said: the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. That’s the first quote of my first book. I don’t write (all the time) about drugs (I mean, it’s clear they appear in a certain way, but I try not to make it explicit ), but I like when literature talks about excess. Youth is excess. Excess of beauty. Excess of experiences. Excess of bad poetry. And here we come back to the first question you make me. Perhaps, as we “have lived less”, we tend to exaggerate our experiencies, texts, verses… I’m conscious of the contradiction, but I would say that an adequate dose of excess is always good.
Well, how do you think your style has changed since the first book? Because young as we are, the more we write our styles have to–by some hidden law of nature or something–shift, explode, deliquesce, harden, forget their past only to recover it accidentally, etc. I know you’ve been asked this question, but I want to know how your objectives in terms of style and production have changed since your first book of poetry. What are the new themes and experiments? New modes of expression, ideas? Are there new motors to your work, new foundations?
My voice has changed pretty much from my first collection of poems. Between 2005 and 2007 I wrote Estar enfermo; in that time I read other kind of things and I had other obsessions, other musical tastes, other lovers… A different life, briefly. My first book was very related with the body. My second book speaks about literature, urban feelings, and further on, but, however, there are some echoes that refer to those old obsessions with the corporeal; then I speak too about pornography, which is a very important topic in Poetry is not dead. In my second collection, indeed, poems are longer, as if I had lost the fear towards long verses. Moreover, I would like to underline that if some time before I was more visceral, right now I want to be more conscious and make deeper corrections on my work, and, I believe, you can note that easily.
Luna, what’s the status of contemporary literature in Spain? I assume it’s more or less similar to America’s national literature as it stands (I don’t think I’m mistaken in suggesting that the very possibility of an objective national literature is on its way out), and I understand that I’m asking an abstract question here because it’s such a complex phenomenon to gauge especially when you’re directly in the midst of it as you are–but maybe I can specify a little with a few mini-questions. What stake does contemporary Spanish literature (fiction, poetry, or the Spanish intellectual in general) have in the national identity? Where do you think you fit? Do you think that Spanish literature is grappling with distinct problems? (I ask because American literature certainly is.) I recognize that there’s never a national “literature” as such, but maybe you could describe the climate for us.
The biggest difference between USA and Spain is that here in Spain we’re obsessed with everything that is done in USA. To young authors like us is very difficult to find contemporary writers in Europe, but it seems that in USA there’s an equal or greater movement of “in progress” literature. I mean, here we have a lot of people writing and publishing since they were very young, unlike other european countries (with some exceptions, or some foreign authors like Annie Katchinska (1990), a poet I admire).
Because of this, the current status of spanish literature is hard to explain. We are very (too much) influenced by foreign literature, and at the same time seems like we have no willing to share our own. Because of this, a lot of young authors have decided to communicate with our equals from your country: to share, not only to admire; that’s essential. But that’s a common problem. We tend to think that what’s done abroad is better, that’s whay authors seem to attach themselvs to trends and styles with a heavy delay.
I think we have very good authors, and even if they are translated, they don’t become more known. I can’t understand that. That makes me think that other countries’ lack of interest may be the problem too. Because these writers are indeed very good. And, where are they?
I don’t think there’s a “national literature”, either. In fact I believe I share so many things with Ellen Kennedy, David Fishkind or Jake Fournier as with Laura Rosal, David Leo García or Ernesto Castro (also spanish poets younger than 22).
And in the work of your contemporaries, your allies, those to whom you feel your work is close–what have you noticed about tendencies in, not the styles themselves, but the way that those styles develop?
Yes, for the third answer I said that my work has been changing since I started to write at the age of 13/15. I felt the deepest change at the age of 18, I started to try longer texts, I started to play on words and such. Maybe this attitude came from my job in Público, a Spanish newspaper: the fact that I had to write in prose, in a journalistic way, showed me more ways to work the poetic writing. Between my 19 and 20 I’ve been trying to mix these two tendencies. Along with time I made my own voice, and now it’s all about strengthening it. I guess my poetry will be different in the future, I’m now interested in poetic prose right now, a genre I should learn to develop.
As for our contemporary Spanish poets, I’ve been able to notice some changes in the work of many of them. Elena Medel (Córdoba, 1985) is one of our most interesting and important young poets. The three books she has published, Mi primer bikini (2001), Vacaciones (2004) and Tara (2007) are very different to each other, and they show a clear and brilliant progression. Now is time to wait for her new poetry book, and the many more she’s going to write. I can think about other poets that have changed like this: Begoña Callejón (1976), Javier Rodríguez Marcos (1970), Ana Gorría (1979), Juan Andrés García Román (1979), Carlos Pardo (1975), Maite Dono (1969) are some of the most important authors of their generation and they’ve changed their style from one book to another, and they’ve done it for the better. If we talk about Spanish narrators, it’s the same: Javier Calvo (1973), Antonio Orejudo (1962), Mercedes Cebrián (1971) or Alberto Olmos (1975). I like reading their books and their blogs and I can see their hard progressions. And… If we talk about the US (poetic) scene, Dorothea Lasky comes to my mind, I can see in her as well a clear change from Awe to Black Life. But that’s just the personal tendencies of each author.
I’ll focus on the youngest authors in order to speak about “general” tendencies. I see a lot of differences betwen the Spanish and the US scenes. From the States I’ve read carefully authors like Britanny Wallace (1987), Steve Roggenbuck (1987), Ana C. (1985), Kat Dixon (1990)… I love them so much. I percieve in them a strong leaning to the “ego” as an engine, to the anecdote. They have a narrative-like style. Even with them having their deep differences, they look strongly linked between each other. You can easily see their common authors of reference, like Tao Lin, Dennis Cooper, Charles Bukowski, Miranda July, Joshua Beckman. Among Spanish young authors the difference is wider. Cristina Fernández Recasens (1984), Odile L’Autremonde (1992), Julio Fuertes Tarín (1989), Marina Ramón-Borja (1989), Ángel de la Torre (1991), Laura Casielles (1986), Jorge Brunete Gil (1991)… These Spanish writers are more lyrical, less anecdotic, more concerned about the form. Anyway, in the end there aren’t a lot of thematic differences between the US and Spanish poets that I’ve read. Can’t deny that. So, to sum up: I think general tendencies do exist, but what really binds us all is youth, that we share a learning stage and our willingness to have a lot of fun.
Luna Miguel, whose spanish biography can be found here, is a poet, journalist and the authoress of several poetry books: Estar enfermo (2010), Poetry is not dead (2010), Pensamientos estériles (2011) and Bluebird and Other Tattoos. A selection of her poems has been translated into English by Jeremy Spencer (Scrambler Books, forthcoming, 2012). She has also written the short novel Exhumación (2010), together with her boyfriend, the writer Antonio J. Rodríguez.
Thank you to Julio Fuertes for translating Luna’s answers.
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