Writing poetry makes you a better writer of novels, memoirs, and pretty much everything else. Poetry forces you to look at word choice in a way other genres (with the possible exception of scriptwriting) simply don't. Monica de la Torre, an intelligent, precise, and at times unexpectedly funny poet, juxtaposes words in a manner that both confounds and delights. Read this month's Q&A for further insight into a poet's particular relationship with language.
Monica de la Torre is the author of the poetry books Talk Shows (Switchback, 2007); Acufenos, published in 2006 in Mexico City by Taller Ditoria; and Public Domain (Roof Books, 2008). She is co-author of the artist book Appendices, Illustrations & Notes, available on Ubu.com and co-edited the multilingual anthology Reversible Monuments: Contemporary Mexican Poetry (Copper Canyon Press). She is translator of a volume of selected poems by the acclaimed Mexican poet Gerardo Deniz (Lost Roads, 2000), and co-translator of Mauve Sea-Orchids by the Argentine poet Lila Zemborain (Belladonna Books, 2007). She is senior editor at BOMB Magazine.
Q: Which author or book inspires you, and why?
A: Every book that takes poetry or writing in a direction I hadn't imagined until I came across it inspires me. I'm interested in books that push the envelope, books that expand conventional definitions of what's possible in writing. I'm one of those people who need to read before they can write: my writing is always a palimpsest, a dialogue with other texts. Lately I've been obsessed with La nueva novela (1977) by the late Chilean poet Juan Luis Martinez: a patchwork of found visual and verbal texts as well as literary allusions that is so unconventional one can hardly call it a book of poems. Lately I've also been very inspired by plays by experimental playwrights: Mac Wellman
and Richard Maxwell, for instance. The mechanics of plays are very appealing to me: they put language in action, language in them is really doing something. In poetry, this isn't always the case, but it's certainly my aim. A writer whose work never ceases to inspire me is the Brazilian Clarice Lispector: her writing seems so effortless, but then you realize every one of her decisions in writing multiplies the way a text can be read, there's a frightening intelligence to them. You can never be done reading her; her writing just keeps unfolding.
Q: You're the poetry editor at The Brooklyn Rail. How does your background as an editor influence your writing?
A: I'm actually senior editor at BOMB Magazine now. I've been here since October 2007. What being an editor has done for me is incalculable! I'm slightly less terrified of imperfection and mediocrity now. When it comes to writing there's nothing that can't be fixed. I'm longer cringe
at the sight of the blank page.
At the Rail, I was only doing poetry: my mind doesn't do single-channel. I thrive on overstimulation. Working at BOMB has given me the opportunity to establish incredibly satisfying dialogues with a multitude of artists from a variety of different disciplines. I'm so fortunate.
Q: You've translated the work of Gerardo Deniz, among other Spanish-language poets. Does your work translating other writers shape your own writing?
A: Absolutely. I try not to do hack work. Have you noticed how bad writing is contagious? Sadly, this is not the case with good writing. Translation is so intimate . . . if I translated poetry that I didn't aspire to being able to write myself, I'd feel like I'd be willingly infected by a noxious bug that
would chip away at my ability to discern good from bad writing. I once got offered a lot of money to translate some trashy fiction into Spanish. I would have paid off my loans had I accepted.
Q: What is your writing ritual?
A: I wish I had a ritual! I don't. All I can say is that I write best when I'm waiting, when I'm forced to wait. It's about the only time I'm not rushing onto the next thing.
Q: Other than honing their craft, what advice would you give to Latino poets looking to be published?
A: Write the book that you're least expected to write.
Latinidad?« ?® 2003 by Marcela Landres
Marcela Landres is the author of the e-book How Editors Think. She is an Editorial Consultant who specializes in helping Latinos get published and was formerly an editor at Simon & Schuster. Author's website Email the author