Argentine writer Gladys Cepeda in conversation with Mainak Adak
Gladys Cepeda is a contemporary Argentine poet. She is the editor of numerous literary magazines of which two most prominent are ‘LAK-BERNA’ and ‘El Septyimo Cielo En Los Ojos’. Her poetry has been part of numerous anthologies like ‘Poetas de Avellaneda’, ‘La vuelta al mundo en un poema’ etc. Mainak Adak translates the interview from Spanish.
Mainak: When did you start writing? Have you started with poetry or short story ?
Gladys : At first, I want to thank you for this opportunity to express my words.
It is difficult to answer because I always linked with the literature, so much across the books since in my house there was a big library and they (my family members) read me up until I started reading on my own pretty soon; e.g. my mother told me stories where she always added new elements and I noticed that a situation could create multiple situations and then I started creating my own stories which I used to read first of all to my mother, my grandparents and then to my father who passed away unfortunately when I was very young. However, he left for me some of his poems as a great heritage.
At home there were many books of all disciplines of art, philosophy, history in general and especially literature. Both my grandparents and my father wrote and published in newspapers and literary magazines. Moreover, I am a part of the family of the Spanish poet Panero (very famous there) through my father’s side. I started writing short stories, prose and sketched some lost poems, then I came much closer to poetry through various searched readings, lyrics of songs. Afterwards, through various literary workshops which I attended, I began to explore the breadth of the language with all possible genres—prose poetry, drama, lyrics of songs, essays, comics, scripts and novel among new ones I like to discover.
What motivated you the most to write? Is there any writer whose writing inspires you?
As I have told you, I’m an ‘omnivorous’ reader, I’m interested in and I like to read everything, the list of authors is endless and there are thousands of authors I love to discover continuously and I have approached each of them through their style, forms etc. to enrich my quest in my literature too but not copying them or trying to seem, experiencing various forms, dabbling in all styles and possible genres as challenges also to explore the inner and outer world and confrontation, integration, as the surrealistic told, reaching childbearing situations in antithetical ways to disintegrate or to generate new things, mostly from the chaos of inspiration as an act of rebellion against many things.
Please tell us about the elements in your poems.
The elements are thousands—I think when we write, thousands of things and problems are revealed in our creative process, sometimes we solve them when we write or try to go clarifying or darkening and then it is intensified when corrected and that is when the text concludes, but can appear before each rereading, and other opportunities are readers who appreciate, find or perceive, at each time of my writing I was incorporating many elements which nourished and enriched texts, in other opportunities purely literary or non-literature, but as I said, the poet Marechal plotted a very subtle thread that was joining them, antithetical elements that generated interesting results.
Please tell us about the thematic and linguistic evolution in Argentine literature during past 3 decades. Which is the turning point for this development? Some social revolution, war, globalization?
I will try to summarize it as the history is complex and vast. Argentine literature always was transformed by numerous processes and changes which have given a special shape, by region, by fashion, by interests, where sometimes social or political changes have affected but not forms of writers.
On one side we find, since the beginnings of our literature the subject-matters of the author is located in the urban and the rural through European formation that generally was in the capital. The people of Buenos Aires are called ‘porteño’ as the city is related to a port, that struggles for independence, clashes with Spain expressed in its literature since they take the idea of the French Revolution—many authors take these issues and express it in their texts, not only in just poetry but also in the theatre, Chronicles and a strong enough genre of letters.
There, people also started the first literary and arts’ cafés where many of these things have been conceived e.g. planning the separation of the Hispanic tradition, turning towards the English cultures, French or German encyclopedic—usually by upper-class people, which also followed some authors of the other provinces of our country. It happened during the 18th century. While in the working classes, the rural or poorer class is the gaucho (descendant of the mixture between Indian native peoples and the Spanish or black brought by the conquistadors. They bring the folklore culture with the legends and the inborn wisdom of their tradition. Many of the upper classes pose this new reality of a country where leaders or warlords who claim their own or national culture of our traditions but accuse many writers and intellectuals as traitors, expelling them from here. This starts an internal struggle that lasts for long time. Writers adhere to the European culture and romanticism but they also adapted our style and the exiled writers wrote in addition to stories or novels, lots of history and daily chronicles about these events and also on travel.
This continued till the late 19th and early 20th century, where these divisions emerged lot of literature which talked about these confrontations, love, war and problems in the economy, education in the form of stories, novels, chronicles. The women also began slightly to dabble in literature discussing these issues. And in the 20th century many writers began to take other issues, through the influence of modernism they adhere to it and also the symbolism. Literary groups were formed who discussed the effort to break free from the old literary traditions. The Uruguayans are called Rioplatenses and they can be considered very close to the Argentines, and emerging from these topics they encompassed more fantasy, terror, within an exotic landscape.
Some other writers took elements of the emergence of the arrival of immigrants arriving from Europe. To lytic, the urban customs, the future changes which established the city, the continuing clashes from humor to drama in the working classes, and the marginalized a language of their own called Creole, in contrast to the upper class who took more influence in European literature especially the French, and English with a strong influence of romanticism. In the rest of the country, the problem was purely rural about injustices, heartbreaks, rootlessness and it gave rise to many forms of writing (thinking that in those days most of the people were not only illiterate but also conveyed their knowledge of songs (from Payada up to the Milonga) where the knowledge based on tradition and orality was transmitted, even in packages of ‘yerba mate’ (the most consumed national drink here) and where people also witnessed clashes between the two regions. That is also reflected in our literature from the 20th century. This emerged the strongest characteristics and we began to see a difference which gave birth to a new type called the compadrito who imposes a language called ‘lunfardo’ taken from the influences of the immigrants mixed with the regional culture and music.
During the Spanish Civil War, many Spanish intellectuals and artists came here and founded many publishing houses, magazines and the achievement came into forefront. In the decades of 40s and 50s, many new groups were influenced by the existentialists, the Lost Generation and the Beats’ writers of USA. The absurd and psychoanalysis as the movement of concrete invention also took the cursed French poets, the vanguards of all time, the avant-garde of all times. The magazine ‘Vuelo’ brought writers from all provinces, many of whom were related to folklore group ‘La Carpa’ and others were generating a form which mixed modernity and lyricism with the landscaper.
Many writers were being interested in Oriental literature and spirituality and others in pop art, with influences of Hipism bringing literature to unsuspected limits of experimentation, where all forms of arts and poets and writers performed arts and theater or created laboratories, one of the main epicenters was the Institute Di Tela. Also there was a strong relationship with Latin America and growing interest in conducting almost a literature with common themes and expressions which reflect idiosyncrasies of geographies and cultures of the forgotten authors of black or indigenous origin with a form of symbol-laden baroque writing. Also with extremist movements like Dadaism and provocative collection in those times impulse the essay as a genre. A situation that marked was the bars as peace or the cave where the Bohemian lifestyle was achieving that the authors were joining and debating or creating literature in those days, we can speak of many groups and magazines but Re as The Gold Bug.
At that time, a movement began which also had to do with these revolutionary changes in culture and expressed girders young authors, we began to sing the rock here in Argentina in Spanish rather than in Spain. For example, there were many of these composers as well as great readers who brought a lot of poetry in their music and the film also began to generate a change in cultural habits and lead many storytellers and poets to make film as writers or sometimes inspiring scripts and also adapting authors.
After that, one of the most violent dictatorships of all time came and we witnessed disappearances and deaths of many writers and exile, burning books, censorship and other atrocities, which might begin to write an underground literature or many populated metaphors of symbolism counting on this. With the return of democracy, many authors came back and tried to retake the void that was left and much of the literature shows that feeling between pain and hope while others tried to interact more with everything new they learned from the outside. Many groups were created to read poetry everywhere to be known as literary cafes, where collective experiences of poetry were made with other arts and through self-generated projects they were also trying to generate their own magazines. The trendsetter was Neo-baroque O baroque Neo and it was mixed also with bands—Punk or dark in the style artist Andy Warhol in basements or small places or as the old Brown concert of the 60s, one very famous site was Parakultural.
In the 90s, many of these activities increased and many institutions started publishing literature, opposing the S.A.D.E , Argentina Society of Writers and many writers criticized this crisis for being restrictive and elitist. It strongly committed social literature with the problems caused by post-modernism sometimes mixing it with an extremist literature or burst. Some write a type of more personal and intimate literature, with subtle images and the other groups called Paralengua work with language mixing audiovisual rescuing the anti-poetry and Vanguards of different epochs.
In the new century, many groups were institutionalized and another company of writers ‘LA SEA’ tried to find alternatives such as subsidy for the writers and also began to organize big poetry festivals. There was also a fight between elitist and closed attitude of the international book fair, creating groups, literary fairs or cooperatives as a way of rebelling against the elites of literature, they have long boom—literary workshops which already came from the 80s and began to operate in many places, along with the experience of the multiple cultural centers which accommodate all these concerns then other institutions try to do activities in non-traditional areas such as hospitals, prisons, marginalized schools, soup kitchens and everywhere possible experiences that had been made before interrupted by several factors; they reappeared under radios transmitting art and alternative culture where the same poets or artists are those that produce them.
A kind of more eclectic literature came to the forefront where many writers began to look for alternative ways with both the computer and cell phone to write increasingly limited texts. And others take more personal and descriptive positions or carry great stories to form poetic speeches where they mix journalistic formats with new styles and go beyond the traditional idea and writing becomes more immediate. The rise of science fiction, psychological and historical novel, academic essay and cartoon took a hike. In poetry, the relationship with the audiovisual media is increasing including the relation with Rap music.
In India, except the poems of Borges and other Argentine writers like Julio Cortázar, and Mario Benedetti, very small part of Argentine literature has been translated till today. Tell us how and from where we can study and translate the literature of Argentina? Who are the most important writers (except Borges, Cortázar and Benedetti) we must study and translate?
Regarding Argentine writers, I want to say that Mario Benedetti is the Uruguayan Argentine writer. Here we are called River Plates since we have many things in common and many artists from Uruguay have lived in Argentina and the Argentines also have a healthy relationship with Uruguay.
Regarding the list of authors, I think, all of them have something to give us.
It is extensive but I’ll give you some names: Alejandra Pizarnik, Olga Orozco, Griselda Gambaro, Nora Langhe, Silvina Ocampo, Estela Dos Santos, Alfonsina Storni, Oliverio Girondo, Néstor Perlongher, Abelardo Castillo, Bernardo Kordon, Leopoldo Marechal, Aldo Pellegrini, Manuel Mugica Lainez, Juan Jacobo Bajarlia, Juan L.Ortiz, Luis Alberto Spinetta, Roberto Arlt, Luis Franco, Joaquín Giannuzzi, Alfredo Veirave, Alberto Gerchunoff, Jacobo Fijman, Emeterio Cerro, Aida Bortnik, Maria Elena Walsh, Susana Thénon, Antonio Porchia. Copi, Osterheld, Horacio Quiroga are at the end of the list. Unfortunately, I have not even enough space to spread all the names, what you can do is look inside these authors—their stories, readings influences, etc. because through it you can find more information on many more authors (sometimes in Google there is a lot dissemination of authors but not sufficient). Also ask people in Argentina who can lend a hand and see how to contact with writers and also read new authors who tend to spread their work much through Internet. It would be very nice to be able to reach many readers in the world or to exchange with other writers.
What are the unique features or elements showing the uniqueness of Argentine literature in the history of Latin American literature? The difference between Argentina and its neighboring countries such as Brazil, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay in terms of literature and art.
I think there is no such uniqueness as the Argentine style—but if I have to first set in contrast to other countries of Latin America and even Spain—it’s the language. We have different dialects which make a very strong difference in expression. Cosmopolitan Buenos Aires is quite influenced by Europe, US, since we have a large community of European white immigrants who gave us a very special form of customs and it shows in the expression of art, urban issues, with original words.
Many themes are related to avant-garde movements of the world from the social, romance, political, philosophical, police and policing the psychological humor, the fantastic, science fiction etc. We created some movements such as the art of Madi and particular invention that have autonomy with respect to other avant-garde in the world. In the suburbs people develop local issues, and in the rest of the provinces, the rural develops with its languages such as Quechua and Guarani.
A lot of the crossbreeds of indigenous, black and white races people migrate for social problems to Buenos Aires and brought their customs and culture others migrated to the capital carrying their utopias to Patagonia. They created HIPPIES congregations and developed a rather important Bohemian art. With Uruguay we have many things in common and we feel very close in culture.
How do you see there the importance of literary translation? Is it a transcreation or the original should be translated such as environmental sense and linguistic style of the original?
The importance of translation is crucial. It helps us to know people from the art and culture. I think, in the translation we must respect as much as possible, the idea, language, concept and know times and idioms, since many authors speak of issues which are changed in different times or out of time or context. It is also necessary that the translator should relate to the topic if he’s an artist, poet or writer—he should surely take into account that much more unfamiliar technical parts for translation although he has to perfectly handle the language, since it is not the same like translating treaty of law or medicine than a story, poem or song lyrics.
What kind of promotion and dissemination does the art get in your country (the commercial circuit)?
There are many spaces as government agencies, publishers, foundations, associations etc. but not always for everyone. There were municipal awards which were rather important in life even for the family members. The publishing houses had a great deal of importance in the decade of the 60s and early 70s, but due to the military dictatorship, the independent publishers were destroyed, and then the writers began to make independent publishing houses which can sometimes gain support or subsidy to finance books and distribution, but it is quite complicated.
Libraries used to have a criterion of excellence in the pursuit of authors and dissemination and they knew a lot about it, and they managed to make really major publishers who publish still unknown authors. They managed to spread the material outside of the country. The publishers now have publishing chains and the foreign press to set aside the independent publishers and often they do not give much room in the windows of their business; for this reason, the authors end up selling their books. I know some cases where they have managed to sell their paintings or books abroad only through Internet or they proposed them interesting projects from the Internet. A space that should contribute to spread the authors would be the school or university. There are teachers who organize activities and include authors in the readings of the literature class.
The newspapers here have conflict with education and the government at this time and they often disseminate their topics and authors they are interested in, but sometimes for various reasons they change their idea and often broadcast the authors who are not the prevailing system of elites. Also the literary magazines usually publish papers of many unknown authors and they can do so because they win competitions of literature or by receiving a subsidy from the university. Sometimes the newspapers or radio channels give space for ideas, cronyism. It happened to me even, they have made very important notes on my work in newspapers or tv here because these proposals are very interesting for them.
How the radio and television channels play their role in Argentina to meet new writers and artists and their works?
There are cultural channels and magazines on art and culture but they do not always accommodate all artists and writers. Sometimes (but few) by coincidences or pressures of the public or the artists themselves generate movements or phenomena managing to make much noise, this in the good sense and they ensure that the media are also interested in the originality or the striking of the proposal. Often the blogs published by big publishing houses have achieved reader’s attention but that is quite atypical. Many authors are disseminated outside the country and perhaps after death they get recognition here. As I told you before, it is possible to know them clearly through Internet. Sometimes proposals also come from official bodies such as cultural industries but it’s not easy to get them to achieve subsidies. Another major topic since subsidies are granted by some institutions with weight but now they are doing the process complicated.
What kind of readers is seen there now for genres of literature?
Readers are varied but unfortunately it seems that people do not read as before. They prefer visual topics which are gaining much ground. Although the book fair concur millions of people but they do not come always to search for literature, however they find books out of their own interest. Also the videos or movies (if readers are interested in any author) can give an important impulse to generate interest. The topic of musicians is a good possibility to have public concerned by the literature since many lyricist of bands are readers. Children can be good readers if they have an adult accompanying them, but could not speak of a set age.
What are the current problems of literature there?
Publishers are increasingly in crisis. Others are resorting to imprenteros crooks called jaja publishers who take money from the writers but in reality, do nothing. Other writers themselves with the help of a computer and a printer make their own book. Some try to get an institution to support them as some universities do but it also occurs very rarely. Others try to get by literary contests or subsidies but the topic is always the distribution and the criteria to get into all that here we have a problem. And many writers are using Facebook and blogs as a means of dissemination and some are already using E-Book but we don’t accept this medium yet.
How do you see the future of art and written language?
The big question is whether to continue creating the same elements of writing and thinking that many times we’re using symbols to sum up words (seen on Facebook by axis) as in ancient times they were used to determine ideas when written language was not known. Anyway it is a topic that we’ll learn over time, one thinks some predictions of science fiction, for example, Fahrenheit 451 degree where books were eliminated. It can happen which would be terrible, but it’s a possibility, we will finally see how things happening in the future.
Q. What is your view on Indian literature (what you have read through some translated works)? Are there some elements of India or writers of India who inspired you or your writing?
I do not know widely the literature of India, things I regret because I love literature and I love to find new authors. However, what I read is very satisfying, I liked, I liked flying, images, deep texts, personal form of expression which denotes an imaginative and high quality in their verses and feelings, very lyrical in poetic forms and stories. I also like to know if there are other genres of literature such as science fiction, horror or comedy, but it is not easy to find them out as the imported books are quite expensive, and we are reading what you find on the Internet, but well, these texts are also very good.