Poet Alberto Blanco
Acclaimed Latin Poet To Read At D.G. Wills' Bookstore
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Still ahead, renowned Mexican poet Alberto Blanco. That is as KPBS Midday Edition continues. Alberto Blanco is one of Mexico's most acclaimed poets. He's published more than two dozen books of poetry. His latest is called Afterglow and Mr. Blanco, it's a pleasure to welcome you to the show. ALBERTO BLANCO: Thank you so much for the invitation. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: After the was the first full book of your work in English translation. What are the challenges of translating poetry? ALBERTO BLANCO: Well translating poetry is an impossible task. And at the same time it is something that needs to be done. I've done my homework translating poetry from other languages into Spanish and I know by my own experience that is so demanding that it becomes basically a devotional work. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are you happy with the translation by Jennifer Rathmann? ALBERTO BLANCO: Yes very much and it was almost a collaboration. It was that close. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now you will be reading us a poem. You've been gracious enough to read us the poem the square root of two. I'm going to ask you to read that poem and then let's talk a little bit about it. This is Alberto Blanco reading his poem the square root of two. ALBERTO BLANCO: Okay this is a very short poem with a scientific title and at the same time and at the same time a very different type of science literacy. The square root of two. When lightning arrives enchantment ends. And time commences. When the time arrives concentration concludes and the couple begins. When the couple arrives duration ends and harvest commences. When autumn arrives harvest concludes and knowledge begins. That's all. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is the square root of two, a poem by Alberto Banco. And I think that we can hear a that that kind of precision and order that reviewers have talked about in your work and some of them say it's a result of your scientific training as a chemist. Would you agree with that? ALBERTO BLANCO: Everything is Greek to me as you say in English. I've studied science yes and I studied philosophy too. I've been into Chinese culture for a Masters degree. But at the same time I had a rock band at some other point I was working with animals, with cows. I had a warehouse at some other point. I have traveled everywhere. I'm a father, a son, brother, friend, Mexican, this and that. I mean everything is part of it. Poetry has something to do with all of that and at the same time it is a different thing. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You are also a visual artist of some note. You create collages of images. And I'm wondering what the difference is between finding pictures that say what you want them to do and then finding words that say what you want them to say. ALBERTO BLANCO: Well on the first and if we are talking about poetry you are not looking for words to say what you want to say. That may apply for all of the rest of literary forms, but not for poetry. We are talking about poetry, you are in a different situation. You are just listening to a language or words or the abstract, or the Muse or whatever you may call it want to say. Or wants to say. It is more like becoming a channel for our something that needs to be expressed. Not so much in control of the words, but at the service affords. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is a fascinating way to look at it. I know that you are of course you are a poet of international renown. You've read at poetry festivals around the world. I wonder are there certain countries that are more receptive and more welcoming of poetry as part of their culture than other cultures? ALBERTO BLANCO: I'm not sure about the question. What exactly would you like to know? MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I would like to know are there places where poetry seems to be more popular than others? ALBERTO BLANCO: I don't know about that. It seems like everywhere it is something happening in the underground at the same time it is something that we've been doing not for hundreds of years, but for thousands of years. We've been doing poetry way before writing, way before literacy. We've been doing this forever. Here there and everywhere. Excuse me for my Beatles. And it doesn't seem like it's going to end that soon. Just to give you an example I just mentioned the Beatles. How much poetry has found some sort of refuge or some sort of shelter in rock music. In popular music. A lot. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes ALBERTO BLANCO: We have Bob Dylan. How much poetry can you find there? MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So this is an ongoing as you say from thousands of years to now it just finds the different forms. ALBERTO BLANCO: Yes. In a certain sense we can think of poetry as the yoga of language. Like the cutting edge of language. I like to use an image, an impossible image, a poetry image, and say that poetry is the cutting edge of a sphere. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This certainly does make you think. Mr. Blanco, you're going to be gracious enough to read us another problem, I believe, from a collection in the book called cages of creation. What is the poem you'll be reading? ALBERTO BLANCO: I'm going to read a poem, given the fact that we have rain in San Diego right now I'm going to read a rain poem. Is that okay? MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's wonderful, thank you. ALBERTO BLANCO: It's a very short one. If the first part of a poem with the title of the Sentinelas, Sentinels, in Spanish. And just to give you a feeling of the way it sounds in Spanish I'm going to read it three or four versus in Spanish okay? MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes. ALBERTO BLANCO: (Reading in Spanish) That is Spanish, okay? MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes. ALBERTO BLANCO: Here we go in English. We love the golden beetle and the perfection of the seed. The bird (inaudible) of only one feather and recently rained upon cards. You can hear their tears. You can hear their tears in this miniscule jungle. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It is beautiful in both ways. Thank you for that. Now I know that you will be reading from your book Afterglow at the DG well's bookstore this weekend. What is it that you enjoy about these kinds of intimate readings? ALBERTO BLANCO: About what? MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: By reading poetry at bookstores. Is this something that you enjoy? ALBERTO BLANCO: Yes, yes. Sharing poetry? Of course. Once upon happens it is not yours anymore. It is out there living its own life and part of a poem's life is listening to it, listening to the poem coming alive in the poet's voice. So that is a unique dimension of a poem. And it is always nice to feel the immediate reaction of the people, particularly in a small venue and someplace where you can really feel the audience and that is my feeling that something like that is going to happen this Saturday at seven with Dennis Wells. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What are you working on now? ALBERTO BLANCO: What am I doing right now? MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well what are you working on now, now that this big volume of your collected works is finished, what are you working on, what's next? ALBERTO BLANCO: Well I work on a lot of different things. To tell you the truth. I've written a lot and published a lot. My first publication is from 1970 so we're talking more than 40 years now. And I don't know almost 30 poetry books and then books of essays. A lot of art writing. The translations. Even children's books. Very recently just a couple weeks ago I participated at the international book fair in Guadalajara my first ever book of poetics a reflection about the experience of writing poetry. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mr. Blanco, I think we have to leave it there because we are completely out of time but I want to let everyone know that Alberto Blanco will be reading from his recent book Afterglow. It will take place in DG Wells bookstore in La Jolla. That is this Saturday, December 17 and thank you so much for speaking with us, sir. ALBERTO BLANCO: Thank you so much for the invitation. Hopefully some of the audience can make it. If they can't that's fine, too. Now we have the Internet and everything is circulating there. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much. Remember to watch our new nightly TV news show on KPBS evening edition tonight at 6:30 on KPBS television and we will be back on KPBS Midday Edition at noon tomorrow on on KPBS FM. I am Maureen Cavanaugh and thank you for listening.
Alberto Blanco is one of Latin America's most acclaimed poets and his interests range from chemistry to art to jazz. Poet all show up in his body of work. Poet Jose Emilio Pocheco has written of Blanco that "in his poems, nothing is lost...everything streams into his words."
Blanco has published more than two dozen books of poetry as well as essays on art and books for children (some illustrated by his wife Patricia Revah). He has won numerous awards including the "Alfonso X el Sabio" from San Diego State University in 2002 for excellence in literary translation. In 2008 he was awarded a Guggenheim Grant for his poetry. His interests and work have taken him around the globe. He has pursued Asian studies with a specialization in Chinese culture, and he accepted a residency in Italy that was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Reviewer Grace Cavalieri wrote of "Afterglow" and Blanco: "The trick for a translator is to keep the melody and not miss the harmony. Perhaps because Blanco was a chemist by profession, he has a passion for precision and order. Craft is the cage that holds his huge existential themes. We’d be lost without Blanco’s careful cadence and supreme control of the line. His poetry is an unending silver ribbon of thought, sometimes appearing without premeditated unity or symmetry, but once assembled, the poems are perfect performances on the page. These poems tackle meditations on the biggest issues of love, life, death and make it all new. I’m grateful when ordinary words, world weary, are dazzled into a new order."
Here is one of the poems he he will read from on Midday:
SQUARE ROOT OF TWO
When lightning arrives enchantment ends
and time commences.
When time arrives
and the couple begins.
When the couple arrives
and harvest commences.
When autumn arrives
and knowledge begins.