An Interview with Karen Wild Díaz by Jesse Lee Kercheval

Karen Wild Díaz (Montevideo, 1984) studied philosophy at the University of Paris 8-Vincennes-Saint Denis, and is now an assistant professor at the University of the Republic. Her first book in English, Anti-Ferule (Toad Press, 2015) was originally published as Anti-Férula (2013). Her poems have appeared in Drunken Boat, the Blue Lyra Review, Copper Nickel, and América Invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets. Our Senior Translation Editor, Jesse Lee Kercheval, recently had the opportunity to ask Díaz a few questions about her creative practice.
JLK: Is there anything that you would like to tell readers about your poetry or about the poems in this book?

KWD: When I wrote humus, I needed to articulate a chaos of sensations and pain. It was a book born between funerals; I was feeling very sensitive but I swallowed my tears. Then, for nearly the first time in my life, I wrote a series of very brief and concise poems. They felt like blows, weighty sentences and indications that operated by subtraction, steps that marked an axis, deep breaths between two paths. That is to say, the writing process and assemblage of the book was a purge and a path of healing through the search for equilibrium, an experiment in surviving with the minimum, although it was a very cerebral part of my life. My body suffered, was screaming for change... That’s why the concept of humus was key; the place where the dead is living to nourish what will come. Today I’m writing very different things. I continue to confuse and mix everything, and I live it as a process of growth arising from sensation, but my experience is different. I write from experimentation and play, between thought and provocation, content to lose myself in the dance.

JLK: Is there anything that you would like to say about Uruguayan poetry, and in particular, about Uruguayan poetry written by women?

KWD: There are a lot of great poets in Uruguay, but I’m only going to mention a few, the most well-known and celebrated. At the start and during the first half of the 20th century, the poets were Delmira Agustini, María Eugenia Vaz Ferreria and Juana de Ibarbourou; later, from what is referred to as the Generation of ‘45 and onward –some of them, fortunately, alive and writing today, we have Marosa di Giorgio, Idea Vilariño, Ida Vitale, Selva Casal, Circe Maia, Cristina Peri Rossi. And, of course, there are great poets, more recently, from the ‘80s until now, but I’m going to concentrate on two of the above-mentioned, because I’m interested in the relation that can be traced between them and with their medium, and because they are the ones I’ve read the most.

I’ll start with Idea Vilariño, who I understand is the most well-read, the most beloved of our country. The other, especially well-known in Latin America, is Marosa di Giorgio. These are two very distinct but both unique experiences of poetry, both very strong. Vilariño’s poetry strikes me like a bolt of lightning that directs all the weight of the precise and direct poetic word and rivets it to the earth, but not to explore or inhabit it, but rather to allow it to reach humanity. It is an austere, selective, and towards the end of her life, almost nominal writing. But I’ve never been very fond of the spirit of Vilariño, as much as I respect her as a poet. For me, she transmits an experience rooted in rancor, in a resentment that doesn’t want to be transmuted, that looks to strengthen itself, and expresses itself in the profound anguish of nausea. Idea belongs to and reacts against the universe of the “human, all too human”, but continues speaking her own language. It reminds me of the frustrated old ideals of humanism, in the mourning of the project of romantic and monogamous love. It’s a poetic of Judgement, that is thrown in your face. An affective testimony like the discharge of a gun, in the middle of late modernism, in full decadence of the disciplines, of identity, of Reason.

Marosa is from another world, her experience is one of an epoch yet to come, that came before but was covered up; it’s a poetic of excess, of overflow. Marosa expresses the multiplicity of a mysterious and ubiquitous alterity in a series of images, more than words. Her home could be called the Metaphysics of Earth, of becoming, where nature is human, not human, and is moved by desire. This emerges, reveals itself always in hiding, and desire wins. Here, there and everywhere, the combat and alliance of Eros and Thanatos, two forces that traverse existence without concession or mercy, and children without faces proliferate, like intensities. And terrible things happen... But in Marosa, Judgement is deconstructed and one gains access to the experience of the mystic pagan. Situated in an immanent plane, the poetic voice is a terminal of forces and not an external gaze. Magic world of childhood, revisited without sorrow in the gaze of the of the girl “I”, the animal “I”, the plant “I”, like a vital present that invades everything. Perhaps that’s why she is less read or comprehended in our country, and only recently she is being afforded another place. The gray and capital-city Uruguay, of lay morality, has suffered from an addiction to nostalgia, to Man, and to the aseptic linguistic sign, far from the orgiastic, delirious, dark universes, that are, nevertheless, happy and affirmative.

JLK: Are there Uruguayan poets that have influenced you or that you particularly admire?

KWD: I admire Marosa, who dares to submerge herself in intensities and, like Van Gogh, shows a trembling nature that shakes off all of the forms that human beings have given themselves in the form of a non-animal soul, by placing themselves outside and on top of nature, as if they were made of another substance. That is to say, in her poetic there’s no strong differentiation, typical of modernity, between culture (human) and nature (non-human). And this Marosa accomplishes by becoming nature, prairie of Salto, garden-house, magician-child, bird or rabbit, mystic rose, allowing herself to speak, which implies a task of transforming the “I”, of the poetic voice, of the channeling of experience, in which it is key to accept vulnerability, stop lamenting it, dress oneself of a naked force in all of its masks.

Later, and this may sound a bit contradictory with what I am going to say next, there’s a poem by Circe Maia that marked me from adolescence onward. It’s called “Es así”, and it’s possible that it has influenced me, not only the brief text, but knowing that it thinks and creates from philosophy and poetry, in a key moment in which I, writing poetry since childhood, was taking my first classes as a student of Philosophy in the College of Humanities. Somehow, this poem affirmed a place, a possible direction for me to think and to tell.

Closer in time, I enjoy and feel affinity to the poetic of becoming witch-like in Olga Leiva, and to the work of Magalí Jorajuría, from the queer body, the border body ripping apart grammar, sorcerer of the phrase. And in general, I’m interested in what’s happening now, especially in Latin America: poetry as process, that is read and written as performance, which is to say, that is being made, written, heard, said and sounded in all directions. I celebrate that we are passing from a period of aerial poetry to a period of Earth (in the Nietzschean sense). Our experience of culture no longer fits in a collection of poems; today it’s implausible.
Jesse Lee Kercheval is a 2016 NEA in Translation Fellow and is the author of fourteen books including the poetry collection Cinema Muto, winner of a Crab Orchard Open Selection Award; The Alice Stories, winner of the Prairie Schooner Fiction Book Prize; the memoir Space, winner of the Alex Award from the American Library Association. She is also a translator, specializing in Uruguayan poetry. Her translations include The Invisible Bridge: Selected Poems of Circe Maia and Fable of an Inconsolable Man by Javier Etchevarren. She is also the editor of the anthology América invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets. She is currently the Zona Gale Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she directs the Program in Creative Writing.