El poeta Gonzalo Millán entrevista al poeta Jorge Etcheverry con motivo de su primer libro
Contemporary Poetry IV.4 (1982): 48-72
Gonzalo Millán: Jorge, you say that you belong to
the School of Santiago, the least well known of the poetry groups which emerged
in Chile in the sixties. In what year was the School of Santiago born?
Jorge Etcheverry: Around 1966. It really began as a
group of friends who later started working in poetry and in theoretical studies
on poetry. By 1967/68 we decided that we had a series of things in common and
therefore baptized ourselves the School of Santiago.
GM: Where did the group have its origin and who
were its members?
Well, we met at the Pedagogical Institute of the University of Chile where some
of us were studying philosophy and some literature. The members were Naín
Nómez, Erik Martínez, Julio Piñones, and myself. Alexis Monsalves participated
GM: The book The Escape Artist closes with a poem
entitled "Epitaph for the School of Santiago." When did the School of
JE: This was meant, in part, to be ironical, and it
also was an opportunity to speak about the members of the group who live here
in exile, about the situation in which we find ourselves and the changes that
have taken place through the years. It also means that this is no longer a time
for manifestoes and positions of principle. That had already been done and is
still considered valid in a way. On the other hand, it is also a recognition of
a time when we were working together and had a common identity. There are
certain similarities in our work.
GM: Which were the main activities of the group?
JE: The group became known as such in an interview in
the daily La Nación in 1967. Afterwards we published an anthology in the
magazine Orfeo under the title "33 nombres claves de la actual poesía
chilena" (33 Key Names of Current Chilean Poetry) . As a group we published
in both Spanish and Geman in the Swiss magazine Humboldt. In 1968 we appeared
in a television program, and we held a series of poetry readings. The active
period of our group ended in 1970. Allende's victory that year marked the
beginning of an intensive political process in our country which temporarily
removed most of us from literary activities.
GM: What distinguised the School of Santiago from
other groups of young Chilean poets of that time, such as Trilce, Arúspice,
JE: I would say, first of all, that we wanted to
write poetry which would somehow not fit into the accepted framework of that
period, poetry with long verses, abundant imagery, allusive poetry, poetry
which attached great importance to rhythm, which wouid intercalate different
voices and which would be fragmentary in some way. The basis for this kind of
poetry may be found in the heterogeneous character, the mosaic form of our
South American capitals, and a certain impossibility of synthesis. Let us say
that the finished, round poem, the one-image poem tries to tell of a totality
which cannot be synthesized. The only possibility left then is that of
referring to this totality through simultaneous and diverse languages.
GM: Would yours then be a fundamentally urban
poetry, as opposed to the "neo-lyric" tendency in the poetry
practiced by some members of other groups outside the capital?
JE: Yes, but without rivalry or condemnation. There
are, In fact, several reasons why our kind of poetry was not the one preferred
by other authors, or the most widely read, or the one with the greatest
critical acclaim. I might add that this situation has been changing lately. In
the material that has been reaching us from Chile we found that some poets seem
to be doing something similar to what we had been trying to do then.
GM: Perhaps this is the case not only in Chile. An
example would be the infra-realist movement founded in México by two young
Chilean poets who now live in Spain, Bruno Montané and Roberto Bolaño. I think
that their poetry has certain affinities with the style of the School of
Santiago. What is the connection between this group of poets and contemporary
JE: Well, rather than thinking of figures in
historical terms we let ourselves be guided by ways of writing. And for almost
all of us the way of writing of Pablo de Rokha was important: long paragraphs,
strong, rhythmically charged, and a fragmentary conception of the poem. One
might say that de Rokha's poetry consists of one long poem to which he has
added and from which he has taken away. After that, our preferences even led us
to link up with a certain type of classical language, such as that of
Aeschylus. He uses a paragraph which belongs to neither prose, nor drama, nor
poetry, but has elements from all three and a very strong rhythm. In
contemporary terms, we were attracted by the North American "beat"
poets, especially Ginsberg. On the other hand, we were also interested in
Lautréamont because of his prose writing, which places him at the margin of the
traditional genres. Some of Beckett's short stories are imbued with a similar
aura. Ellot also had some influence on us. Pound was of interest to us because
of his work with intertextuality or a plurality of languages. I personally was
also quite interested in Rimbaud and Perse.
GM: The anthology in Orfeo which you mentioned
before was a kind of anthology-manifesto, a catalogue of preferences. Do you
remember which Chilean poets were included in it?
JE: Well, we wanted to show post-Neruda poetry, but
in particular a tendency which we felt was a precursor of our own work and
which we then regarded as the poetical path. The selection opened with figures
such as Humberto Díaz Casanueva, Rosamel del Valle, and Eduardo Anguita, and
continued with Mandrágora, a Chilean surrealist group. Those were the poets to
whom we attached the greatest importance. I also remember that at around that
time we were reading the first publications by Juan Emar which corresponded in
prose to what these poets were attempting to do in poetry. Others were Nicanor
Parra, Gonzalo Rojas, Carlos de Rokha, Enrique Lihn, Gonzalo Millán, Manuel
Silva Acevedo, and other young poets of whom I don't really know what has
become of them.
GM: For years you were a student of philosophy.
Did those studies influence your poetry in any way?
JE: Yes, so far as the tendency towards rational
judgments is concerned, a certain control of structures and the technical
language .of philosophy, and the implicit conception of the world which usually
determines the vision of some voices in the poems. But all this is not taken
altogether seriously; instead it was regarded as just another element in the
situation of a character in the poem who thinks about the universe, politics,
GM: Do you see any relationship between your
poetry and that of Humberto Díaz Casanueva, another poet with philosophical
JE: I see no formal relationship. I also think that
his is more a metaphysical poetry. When I read his poetry more than ten years
ago, I found it interesting, but then came the Allende government during which
time I practically ceased all literary work. And right afterwards carne the
years of exile during which I have been writing a decidedly committed poetry
which I have been reading at recitals, which appeared in journals such as
literatura chilena en el exilio and Revista de la Casa de las Américas, and
which is completely different from the poetry of The Escape Artist and is not
included in that book.
GM: Coming back to the formal characteristics of
your poetry, which could also be applied to the School of Santiago, do you
agree that one of them would be the lack of distinction between genres, between
poetry and prose?
JE: Sometimes, in the most extreme case, there is a
lack of distinction which is, in a way, programmed and fundamental. I remember
making a somewhat pretentious statement in the manifesto which appeared in
Orfeo: "Here exists neither poetry nor prose, here exists only the word,
potent, undifferentiated, naming the world as a whole, trying to make it over
as in the beginning."
GM: On the one hand we have this lack of
distinction between poetry and prose, and on the other the use of the long
verse—you call it a paragraph. To what extent is this long verse connected to
North American poetry? You already mentioned Ginsberg, but I am also thinking
of Whitman and Crane. The use of the versicle is common to all of them.
JE: It was
common to many of the poets preferred by us then. Rimbaud, for example, in
Season in Hell, which, to me, is the prose poem elevated to its highest
expression, Lautréamont, Perse, Xenophon among the Greeks, old de Rokha, etc.
Among the North Americans Ginsberg is the one who impressed me most because of
his ability to maintain a poetical level by using paragraphs in which the
metaphorical element is often completely absent and which deal strictly with
the problems of daily life. In order to achieve this, one has to have a great
rhythmical and syntactical strength, a long breath like the one that sustains
some of Kerouac's novels from beginning to end. Sometimes I have also utilized
a variety of automatic writing. Many of my poems are written in an immediate
and definitive manner and when preparing the final copy years later I try to
stick as closely as possible to the original text, even though the meaning of
some images may have been lost.
GM: I would like to remind you that there is a
Chilean poet of the generation directly preceding yours who is characterized by
the use of the versicle. I am referring to Enrique Lihn. Do you see any
relationship between Lihn and the School of Santiago?
JE: Well, I quite liked his book The Dark Room. There
was a long verse with great strength, but it is practically the only book by
Lihn I liked. Lihn also seems to focus on one theme. And in some of our
discussions at the time we said that thematic poetry as such was an exercise in
poetic composition, which is not to say that I am denying the fact that a great
deal of my poetry is thematic. Another poet I forgot to mention when we were
referring to the use of language other than poetic language (such as
philosophical language) is Gonzalo Rojas in Contra la muerte (Against Death) .
This book impressed me when it first appeared.
GM: Some critics might express certain misgivings
about this kind of poetry, for example calling it confused because of its
thematic excesses and incoherence. On the other hand, it also gives the
impression that the length of the versicle or paragraph is not determined by
the breath, and that the cut-off point is arbitrary.
JE: It is precisely because, had we pursued a tight
rhythm and thematic coherence, we would once more have fallen back into a
poetry which falsely presents to us a totality which we intentionally wish to
avoid. Our position in the Orfeo manifesto was the following: There is no
possible synthesis. This also conforms to the point of view that the Third
World countries have no history, no destiny, no physiognomy; that those who
have physiognomy, destiny, history, and therefore the possibility to create
perfect closed objects, are the Europeans.
GM: Your opinion is that fragmentation, thematic
dispersion, the lack of identity and purpose would properly express the
countries of the Third World?
JE: In some way they would at least correspond to the
attitudes of the elites. I do not deny that in spite of being committed to the
cause of revolution I have received a certain culture and education, and that I
therefore belong to a social class which I must describe as elitist. I cannot
reject this culture and social class because they have formed me. Otherwise I
would be falling into a false folklorism. Now, as far as complete and long-winded
sentences are concerned, I have a poem, for instance, in which the following
image appears: "The horse of the inconceivable Third World proletariat
breaks into a gallop, loosing the reins from the hands of the elite." It
seems to me that at certain moments the kind of reality which I try to present
calls for sentences where rhythm, image, and conceptual content must be present
simultaneously. To me, the ideal poetical phrase is one in which these three
elements are present and interlinked, but unfortunately I rarely achieve this.
GM: The sentence you quote has many reminiscences
of de Rokha, don't you think?
JE: Probably; this is
why I have mentioned de Rokha repeatedly.
GM: Perhaps we could now proceed to the book
itself. At first sight the vision it conveys is a chaotic one of revolutions,
war, social and political problems, an explicit opposition between hawks and
doves. Could you elaborate on that?
JE: I would have to refer to my political commitment
which begins In 1965 and has continued, with differences in form and degree, to
the present, and also to the fact that I have experienced relatively important
political events from within, as just another person. This explains why the
poetry I call political and which is also found in The Escape Artist offers
neither apology nor praise. It consists of a view from within a situation, the
thoughts, attitudes, and needs of men who experience the situation from within
but elevated to a kind of typical character, a petty bourgeois like myself. Somewhere
it says: "The city youth of the fair brain and facile mouth no longer lets
his locks wave in the wind, while from the adjacent streets he examines the
best way of taking the fortress by siege." In some way this is a
GM: What has been the significance of exile in
defining the political vision which appears in your poetry?
JE: Generally speaking, I would say that exile has
allowed me to obtain a better overall view. It has made me think about the
relationship between developed and developing countries, and it has made me
experience dependency a little, in that I have had access to the opposite pole.
I find that it has been a useful experience. Coming back to literature, exile
has led me to write essentially political poetry and it has also allowed me to
understand that the initial enthusiasm we felt for some foreign authors or
theories was naive. This does not mean, however, that I have abandoned my
previous poetry. I continue to write it, but in a somewhat changed form.
GM: Would this opposition between the thematic
poetry common in Chile and the School of Santiago which does not aspire to
synthesis, not be equivalent to Umberto Eco's opposition between the open and
the closed work
JE: Ultimately yes, but I would say that our poetry
is organic and thematic in some way. The theme does not focus on a particular
object or anecdote or situation, but presents "states of things,"
states of consciousness, situations which are somewhat generalized, or
sometimes even atmospheres.
GM: Would this mean that there is no submission to
time and place, as in the poetry you call thematic?
JE: I would say that our poetry does not cease to be
subject to time and place, especially longer poems such as "Central
Flower." But, as I said before, what is at stake here is the creation of
"states of things" where various themes are linked together. I
recall, for instance, a poem entitled "A Caucus of Quail." First
there is a conversation between friends, then a girl appears, this is followed
by an imprecation against poets who write poems with well defined themes, a
mention of the proletariat of the Third World, a dinner at my home, the
distinction between ethnic groups and allusions to the luxury of the developed
countries, a voice which praises poverty as an authentic way of life, an
allusion to the customs of immigrants, a mention of Chileans and what is
happening to them in their countries of exile, of the multitudes who attack
Parliament Buildings and that these things concern us, but we are walking in a
street, there are the observers who watch us walking in a street, and finally
an attempt to lay the foundations for this type of poetry together with an
allusion to the need of hiding the self of the speaker. I think that all this,
through I do not know what mechanisms, has something that makes it possible to
create a situation, a "state of things." A certain thread runs
GM: Don’t you believe that the term
"pluri-thematic poetry" might adequately describe this kind of
JE: Yes, I think so.
GM: We said that at the collective level the
vision of the book is a vision of war, a conflictive vision, be it class
conflict or conflict between nations. On the other hand, you pointed out that
in the poem "The Winged Dog," a kind of manifesto, one of your
concerns is "the rabble of the equals and the others." How do you see
JE: As problematic ones, prone to all kinds of
accidents. As an exchange of conceptions of the world. As fondness, hate, a
mixture of all these things.
GM: Within the context of human relations there is
one that appears over and over again, the erotic relationship. How do you see
the relationship between man and woman?
JE: As problematic as well, but at the same time as a
source of Paradise and Hell, as a possibility for encounters between human
beings. But in the relationship with women there are other aspects apart from
the erotic one. Woman may be a companion in daily life, a companion in
struggle, a companion in knowledge. There is a series of poems such as
"Dawn" where this appears. It is the wife, the beloved, who is
referred in "Gnosis.
"GM: It is curious that to the masculine
voice in the poems the woman plays an ambiguous role. I think that in the book
the masculine image par excellence is that of the warrior, a genitally and
martially potent man. In this sense the woman appears in a role where she is
either passive or threatening this virility, a siren.
JE: Yes, there are, in fact, several poems where this
is the case. Woman as Paradise and distraction at the same time, as a time of
calm and as a debilitating threat, woman as an enigma,. the interlocutor who
frustrates understanding, etc. It is curious, yes. I would say that through
these poems one can form the image of man as warrior, but with certain
weaknesses, a thin warrior who tires easily, generally fails, and smokes. He
talks quite a bit, he actually talks a lot, and he does not go beyond the
prevalent view of women in a male World.
GM: You also draw the distinction between
"true men" and "true women." Who are these "true
men" and "true women"?
JE: In the case of this poem which was written in the
sixties, the true man would be the one who carries out the tasks of a warrior
which, in this case, would be equivalent to the revolutionary political
struggle. And the true women would be those who offer men the possibility to
rest so that they can once more resume the struggle, which is a very
GM: Woman as the warrior's repose.
JE: Yes, but there is also something like a
confrontation, because the end of the exaltation of war corresponds to the
reign of women and calm. I know that this is very traditional.
GM: Yes, it is Ulysses' return to Penelope. You
are aware, then that this vision is totally at odds with the current feminist
struggle for the emancipation of women?
JE: Well, yes. In "Central Flower," a poem
that deals with sex, there is the statement, "no longer with us is the
detailed intervention of OBJECTS FOR EVERY-DAY USE, the enumeration of THE
BEAUTIFUI, THOUGHTS MAN WOULD LIKE TO BE." This book does not attempt to
be idealistic in any way, or to propose a system of ethics, but to record a
certain "state of things"; and unfortunately it must be said that in
the Latin American Left, and perhaps above all in the Chilean Left, the status
of women has not really undergone any major changes, some very specific circles
excepted. Both the traditional myths and the traditional behaviour of men
towards women in bourgeois or historical societies continue to find acceptance.
GM: Well, we know that change in the traditional
sex roles is one of the goals of revolution. You were speaking about sex just
now. I see in some poems that the sexual relationship becomes metaphysical at
certain times. Some poems, for instance, reminded me of Tantric or alchemic
sexuality. Especially when you are speaking of the sexual relationship as
equivalent at the cosmic level to the marriage between sun and moon.
JE: Sex is, of course, given great importance, but it
is no less true that there is also a recognition of the fact this dimension is
not always identical. In "Gnosis," for example, we simply have a
couple discussing the habitual problems of a couple in a somewhat remote
manner. "Fragments" says, "I would not fall into the error of
attributing to you metaphysical properties. Now that the angels are crestfallen
and it is time for many imprecisions." A potentially transcendental
situation of love or sex is treated ironically, in a way.
GM: Would you agree with the idealized vision of
women and love of the surrealists?JE: I
would say that in the final analysis no, in absolute terms no.GM: We noted
that there is an obvious political concern in your poetry, but in coexistence
with these references we find images belonging to the occult or having obvious
mythical echoes. How can these two realities be reconciled?
JE: I think they can be reconciled on the basis that
a certain education, certain influences and tastes, and a certain growth environment
must be assumed. I do not believe that a petty bourgeois, just because that is
what he is, should have to amputate a part of himself; one can be a petty
bourgeois and still be with the revolution—there is no need to repudiate one's
upbringing. As Sartre says in one of his dramas: "Some arrive at the party
and bring their ties, others bring their wives." People are forever
talking about Liberty, Equality, Fraternity of the French Revolution, or about
bourgeois democracy, but they really become universal only with the arrival of
socialism. Pursuing this thought, which, to me, is European, one might also say
that it ultimately lacks validity, but I like it and use it in this poetry
because it somehow means something to me.
GM: You would say then that the revolutionary, a
man of transition, need not repudiate the images of his past?
JE: No. I would say that in order to be a
revolutionary it is necessary to do things, to carry on some kind of
revolutionary activity. Paradoxically enough, I find myself among members of
Chiles political elite, which maintains a certain cultural level and yields
quite a bit more than, for example, a hum-drum, square militant who has totally
purged his consciousness of all elements supposedly extraneous to Marxism, but
whose objective action and subjective efficacy are minimal. Finally, revolution
is not a means to achieve purity, but a way of transforming reality.
GM: There would be no ideological conflict, then.
JE: I start from the basis that all men have ideological
conflicts in a greater or lesser degree. Even this book here is quite
contradictory. If one says, for example, "We will not enumerate again the
irksome needs they dictate to me from the newspapers, the text books and
history books," and later, "Something else, let's say it straight. We
celebrate the Revolution on every page," this may sound quite
contradictory, but the speakers who appear in the poem are really fictitious,
and on the other hand, we all have many facets. Different facets, different and
often contradictory versions have flown out of me, without my trying. I also
believe that Latin Americans are more contradictory than other people: on the
one hand they struggle for the Independence of their continent and for the
creation of a culture of their own, but at the same time they are faithful
followers of either the European Marxists, or the European poets and writers,
or the European theoreticians and linguists.
GM: Something that attracted my attention in this
context is the image of the political leader in the book. It seems that the
political leader is comparable to other elitist figures like the wizard, the
teacher, the wise man. Is that not a Messianic view of both spiritual and
JE: Yes, but one should also remember how leaders
like 0'Higglns and Manuel Rodríguez are shown even in Neruda's Canto General.
It Is very difficult for the petty bourgeois of the sixties to represent
leaders other than Ché Guevara, Turcios Lima, Douglas Bravo, Fidel Castro, Hugo
Blanco, Inti Peredo. We are somehow accustomed to this type of heroic figure.
But I would also say that the non-representation of the people as a
revolutionary whole is present as a problem area In this book, as in the
following passage: "In other places men resume with renewed vigour the
just struggles of the poor: disguised in fezzes, under wide-brimmed hats,
scanning the future through the yellow slits of their eyes," or, "In
Latin America the rancor of the people grows, pressed and shoved against the unassailable
waste of the cities. They are witness to the burning of forests, to the
clearing by fire of wheatfields: 'Nevermore shall we be able to attempt to
construct a universe based on leaves of grass." I admit that culturally
speaking and from my educational background I do not have the necessary
elements to represent a revolutionary collective, although I do have the
traditional elements which can be found in Homer and much earlier in Gilgamesh
to represent the personal hero who directs a people. This is much more within
our reach, whereas the other possibility has not yet been done, or is very
difficult to represent, for me at least.
GM: There is a very ancient archetype, that of the
twins, of whom one is the hero and the other the poet, the artist who records
the heroic deeds of his brother and thus offers him immortality. Do you think
that the wizard, the wise man, the seer of your book are masks of the poet?
JE: In the final analysis perhaps yes. But sometimes
the versions of the archetypes get a bit mixed up and I tend to say, for
example, "The wizard gropes for his cartridge belt, makes an inverted
gesture with the back of his hand." Here we have a wizard with a machine
GM: This seems interesting, this vision of the
wizard as leader, the shaman as guerilla, archaic and modern, magical and
JE: Yes, as you say, this is an archaic image based
on the figure of the shaman; I realized it after writing these poems. It is
curious that even without putting much faith in depth psychology, which assumes
a static consciousness (there is a certain baggage of fixed archetypes which
repeat themselves), the shaman functions as a symbol of transcendence; like the
bird he points more toward a transcendent way out than toward a project which
can clearly be reached. This corresponds to our situation In Latin America. We
know perfectly well from what we as peoples, even as a continent, want to
escape, but it is not clear to us where we want to arrive. This is why the
revolutions In Latin America are so unpredictable and diverse, the Cuban case,
the Nicaraguan case. What wlll become of El Salvador? What will be the future
of Chile? I would say, however, that utopia as a theme is absent from the book.
GM: Yes, I agree with you. There is no goal. There
is something else I would like you to confirm. In the figure of the prophet I
can feel echoes of Zarathustra. What significance did Nietzsche's work have for
JE: I remember reading quite a bit of Zarathustra
when I was 16 or 17. In "A Drowsiness of Birds III" there is an
allusion to Nietzsche: "Old tabbies lying on cushions reliving the words
of Weininger the poet, of Schopenhauer the prophet, of Nietzsche the
soldier." These are women who completely assume the role that has been
assigned to them by a male—dominated society. Nietzsche the soldier is the one
who carried this concept furthest. Zarathustra as a work of literature
influenced my adolescence. I am, of course, not enthusiastic about Nietzsche's
conception and have nothing to do with it at the present time.
GM: Going back a little, I don't know whether it
would be derogatory to speak of an elitist vision in the book. I wonder whether
you would accept that?
JE: No, I don't accept that because I think that
these are not complex poems, in spite of the fact that they might appear so. I
find that they are simple poems. They do not require a hermeneutic reading, as
it is called these days, an interpretive reading going from the text surface to
the bottom. A simple reading, close to literal, is enough. There is not much
hidden symbolism. In "Central Flower," for example, there is a guy
who in fact says, well, I would like to be free from this burdensome need of
sex, but if we are in this, we are in it. Although the basic attitudes of the
characters might be amplified, distanced, their attitudes are common, they are
emergency judgments, combat judgments on the possibility of one or the other
action, on the physical condition, the political situation, etc.
GM: Was Sartre's work important with regard to this
problematic vision of one's fellow man and the female to you?
JE: It was important at some time, around 1966 and
67. Later I no longer liked his concepts. He proposes, for example, the
separation between consciousness and body (in-itself vs. for-itself) which
looks to me like Christiantiy carried to the extreme. I don't accept that.
Raising, as Sartre does, the problem of commitment at the personal level, in
these times when entire nations assume it just like that overnight as in El
Salvador or Irán, disqualifies his thought as far as I am concerned.
GM: With regard to this problematic relationship
with the Other, I see in some way an application of the phenomenon of Darwin's
natural selection, which you mention, to human reality. I am referring to the
final part of "The Winged Dog," where human conflict is expressed in
animal terms, for instance the struggle between classes and species, the cow,
the pig, etc. Do you think that this is the case?
JE: This poem was written here in Canada, but the nicknames
as references or allusions allow the space to be defined as Latin American.
Here and in our own countries we have an animal struggle for survival, since
survival is always threatened by need and want. In other words, in spite of the
class struggle, it is experienced, abstractly speaking, as the contest between
one man and another for work, but in concrete terms it is experienced in the
enmity and competition with one's fellow man. This book does not provide
formulae, but shows an existing state of things.
GM: Do you think that this animal presence, a real
bestiary, is emblematic of different human lineages, as in medieval heraldry
where an animal is the incarnation of certain attributes which man adscribes to
JE: Yes, I think so. In this context, I learnt
through a friend about Chinese astrology. There the signs of the zodiac and the
years of birth are all represented by animals, each of which has its own
characteristics. I think that this is a natural or unconscious way of achieving
imaginary characterizations which are representative of certain kinds of
GM: There is really a proliferation of animals in
the book, and I don't think that they are there gratuitously, but that they
have an emblematic function. For example, the birds, crows, doves, bees,
JE: I think that if we compare some texts among
themselves their specific function will become apparent; the bees, for example,
represent the mental and physical state of struggle, aggressiveness., combat.
The birds have traditional positive meanings depending upon the height of their
flight, their wingspan. They also have a function relating them to the witness,
especially in the poems of "A Drowsiness of Birds" where they are
endowed with a perspective which permits they to cover large areas. As far as
the quail are concerned, this has to do with something my father-in-law used to
say, that he was the father of twelve quall. Hence the title of this poem,
"A Caucus of Quail."
GM: You also use the image of the pelican in the
traditional sense, offering its breast to the voracity of its children. What
does the cat represent in this heraldic bestiary?
JE: The cat is an animal I like. It adopts a
sometimes negative, sometimes positive function, and in the odd poem, but not
altogether seriously, it is assimilated to God.
GM: There is a poem entitled
"Cat-woman"; on the one hand you identify the cat with the woman; it
is the model of love, and on the other hand it inspires Orpheus.
JE: It is because of my preference for cats. There is
always something mysterious in cats, something sordid and dark, something cruel
and serene. And it has always been linked with women.
GM: In the opposition between cats, these wise
insomniacs, and the sleepers, I perceived the presence of a gnostic idea of
existence in some poems, this idea of life as a numbing dream from which one
must awaken through knowledge.
JE: Well, the gnostic texts did, in fact, interest me
and I believed that I was seeing some gnostic reminiscences in Spanish American
literature. But I think that two views of dream are present in the book:
gnosticism where dream is equivalent to the absence of consciousness, to
darkness, to degradation, and a conception we might call shamanic where dream
is the opposite, the possibility of transcendence. The presence of the former
is greater in the book.
GM: The shamanic vision of dream is related to
surrealism. You mentioned Lautréamont and I am thinking of Nerval, who was also
admired by that movement.
JE: Yes, I think so. Dream, for me, has been a source
GM: One of your literary interests is science
fiction. There is an apocalyptical climate in some poems of the book. Which
World is experiencing apocalypse there?
JE: I would say that it is the stressful World in
which the speaker, a combatant. lives. But it is not clear what will happen
after the apocalypse, it is not clear whether the speaker will survive or
GM: But you go past the uncertainty. I remember a
fragment where a character wanders among the radioactive ruins of a city.
JE: Yes, I think it is in "Gloss." Red
Flowers appear there. There is a certain hope there. The red flower is a rather
obvious symbol. In "A Drowsiness of Birds" there is also a reference:
"Soon the city will be entirely of crystal and every step will dress in
lead-grey—Then will be the hour of purity." All these references allude to
how the forces of the revolution will liquidate the old order and make purity