LG: First, I just have to tell you how delighted I am to have you as a feature for Boo’s Hollow. I got to know your work through translating it for the anthology, The Alteration of Silence: Recent Chilean Poetry (Lavender Ink Press, 2013) and was struck with its rich imagery and minimalism. It’s been lovely to be in touch with you since and I look forward to reading this newest manuscript in its totality—and the work to come.
What I want to start off asking you about is what you talk about in your essay, this idea of “writing from nowhere.” Many North American readers, including me, would assume that being a Chilean writer you feel you are writing in and from the land of Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. Maybe you could talk more about this idea of “nowhere. ” It seems that writing for you is as much writing out of your library and spring boarding from other writers—no matter their nationality—rather than writing from and about Chile.
SC: As I said in the essay, that’s an idea I heard from Nicanor Parra, but I assumed the idea as an interesting perspective to adopt for my own work. The assumption that every Chilean poet is writing in and from the land of Neruda and Mistral is right, but what does that mean? Nothing in particular besides that we share nationality and trade. I think that each writer must create his forefathers: we are not born from a tradition we do not choose, not even language. It is true that being born in Chile is different from being born in the UK, Germany or the US, especially regarding social security, but I think that you can choose your own tradition, your forefathers, and I have chosen mine: Shakespeare (as Parra did) over Cervantes, Eliot and Pound over Neruda and Mistral, and Enrique Lihn, Nicanor Parra, Antonio Cisneros, Ian Hamilton and César Vallejo, over –let’s say – Billy Collins, Rubén Darío, Lord Byron or Antonio Machado. So you’re right I’m writing from my library, that’s my literary address, a landscape where I can watch tomatoes growing, where the sounds of Miles Davis merge with Nick Cave’s and godspeed you! black emperor’s and you can find books by Ribeyro, Ian Hamilton, Cicero’s and Virgil thrown over an issue of the London Review of Books or Dossier from UDP. I am jumping from that springboard – great image, by the way – to territories I do not know, but I imagine friendly to my odd nationality.
LG: Talk a bit about your relationship with the English language. You often use titles in English even as the poem is in Spanish. Why? I mean, I love the dissonance created in using the two languages as title and body, but also, often the title words are similar in both languages. I’m thinking of “Soy un Hotel” (“I am a Hotel”) and “Los Poetas” (The Poets). Simply talk about your choices moving between these languages and what both give you as a poet.
SC: As I put it in the Liner Notes – a particular epilogue to my first book, Lyrics – I stepped into English Language first, and then literature, via rock n’ roll music. Trying to understand the lyrics of Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and The Pogues. The former band’s 1987 LP, If I should fall from grace with good, included James Joyce’s head mixed with the members of the band’s heads in the cover art. I was delighted with Shane Macgowan’s lyrics so I bought two books by Joyce: Dubliners and Pomes Penyeach, and that’s the way the whole shebang started. For better or worse, I don’t know, It’s up to you to decide.
I also think that English is a more suitable language for the poetry I chose to practice: one that’s more focused on the imagery and meaning of the poem over the language tricks (which I often mock, even though I use alliteration and portmanteau words, for instance). Logopoea and phanopoea over melopoea.
LG: One of the things I love about your essay is the way it complicates geographical place. Where do we as poets write from? How much does geography have to do with that? Talk about your perspective on this. What geography do you find yourself in—Berryman’s? Domestic life? Historical Chile—or anywhere? Your dream life?
SC: As I said, my geography stands in the crossroad marked by the books I read and my personal experience, which is the prism from which I understand these readings.
LG: What’s a memory of Chile that you have that keeps coming up in your work? What’s a memory of elsewhere (place, literature, etc.) that keeps coming up in your work?
SC: The country I live in, the one I perceive with my senses is certainly modified by the books I read. Santiago is an invisible city that some archaeologist may track in my poetry. But it’s hidden, not explicit. I see Santiago as a gray, cold and dry city, constantly longing and expecting rain, but when the rain arrives, it’s a flooded city. And everyone’s longing for spring. It’s a city of longing for something that’s always escaping from us, even when we think we can grab it.
Right now I am writing a pseudo autobiography, which uses verse and prose (essays, stories, e-mails, notes), as some sort of chaotic bildungsroman (that’s the working title, by the way). There you will find memories of some places: Hospital Calvo Mackenna, Saint George’s College, Providencia and Chiloé, among others, but they might be as well any other similar place, in Chile or anywhere.
Photo by Neal Wilson