An Interview with Juana Adcock

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Pic by Wieńczysław Dębiński 2017-03-15.png

Hello Juana, when did you first realise you were a poet?
When, both in reading and writing, I realised I cared more about the language than I did about the plot, and that I couldn’t stand endings. I don’t know if I have yet fully come to terms with the idea that I’m a poet, though. I always thought of myself as a writer, ie, someone who occupies themselves with the task of writing; who needs to write in order to figure themselves out. There’s nothing mystical about it, it’s just what I spend most of my time doing because I enjoy it so much. And by dint of this I’ve ended up with no other skills. I still don’t fully understand the distinction between writers and poets. Why is the genre in which we write so important? ‘Writer’ seems, in my mind at least, to be more connected to the act of writing. ‘Poet’ seems to have, at least in the minds of lots of people, all these sacred or pretentious (or cheesy!) connotations: someone who has some sort of God-given gift, who composes beautiful verses to help us through big official moments in life surrounding love, grief and patriotism… I say in my biog that I’m a poet mostly because I don’t want to annoy people by saying that I’m a writer who’s written nothing but a slim volume of poetry.

Who were your earliest influences?
Gabriel García Márquez and Robert Louis Stevenson.


 

THIS BODY OF A WOMAN I INHABIT

 

This body of a woman I inhabit, desde where I’ve lifted a hand to touch the hair on the head of Moses, [suddenly moved

to inside out tears from an entire childhood

of lips stiffened to sustain the world protect

the softness of our angles our wisdom of curtains, desde where I’ve half lowered

eyelashes to seduce three, four hombres desde where I’ve traced the sinuous “S” of desire

which Cratylus called “serpent” and Adam called “perception of flux,” desde where I’ve grown tired of nursing

like Teresa or Diana

like the fear they did not feel when touching lepers

with their immaculate hands, the lips

with which they kissed

their blessed sores, desde where I’ve washed out workshop grease

soaked fibers in a universal river of saliva desde where I’ve bled drops

miscarried fertilised wheat ivy desde where I’ve been a plot all bounty where goats graze

From Manca (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2014)

 


Who inspires you today?
Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong, César Vallejo, Yuri Herrera, Silvia Federici, Zygmunt Bauman, Jhumpa Lahiri, Susan Sontag. My friends, among whom I count writers, translators, activists, musicians, artists and extraordinaires of all kinds. And the authors I translate: they are my biggest teachers, and I like being in constant conversation with them, even if most of it goes on in my head.

What motivates you to write?
My need to understand.

As a translator, what are the most difficult aspects of transcreating poetry into another language?
Translating humour and translating dialect. But the good thing about translation is that the more difficult it is, the more fun you have with it too.

Can you tell us about your first book, Manca?
I wrote Manca in Scotland, while most of my attention was directed to the violence that had quite suddenly taken hold of Mexico, my home country, during the chaos of the war on drugs, which was declared in 2006. I was reading the news obsessively and was being exposed to a lot of violent images. There only way I could deal with all that was by writing. It was a small attempt to understand that reality and transform it, if only on the page. But there is no way really to understand the horrors that the country was – and still is – experiencing. Why is Mexico currently the worst country in the world for sexual abuse, physical violence and homicide committed against children under the age of 14? What does the drug war have to do with that? And yet it is thoroughly connected: human life has no value and the rule of law does not exist. Poetry is a good tool for dealing with what doesn’t make sense and therefore cannot be spoken of in logical terms, or cannot be put into a narrative with a neat and tidy ending. But it’s not all doom and despair. Some of the poems Manca have a humorous streak. Humour is sometimes what we need when nothing makes sense. I think jokes and poems sometimes pluck at the same strings within us.


 

ONE-HANDED

Last Thursday I got up and decided to cut off my hand. I saw it all very clearly and when I see something very clearly I don’t dither even one second. The ultimate work of art or something like that, though I think I thought it would grow back, like hair. I started with the left ring finger. Cut just below the knuckle, flexing the finger to see better where to cut. Like cutting up a chicken. Blood didn’t spurt out. The knife was serrated and didn’t have much of an edge, but it didn’t really need one. Then the middle finger. Then the pinky. A bit of bone was left sticking out of the flesh. Half the job done I changed my mind: I remembered that fingers do not grow back, so I left on the thumb and index finger, in order to retain some of the hand’s functionality. A bandage to hide the wound. How long will it take to scar over? Interview with my father: now how are you going to work, to write? I almost always write in the notebook, or I can use voice recognition software. It occurs to me that if I learned to play the piano I’d be a lot better. With my feet. I could design some pedals…

Every day since then the knuckles left over drive me out of my wits. My bony hands. Meanwhile I work serving coffee in a café that has three storeys. I have to learn to organize myself properly according to my abilities, and remember things, and bring up the trays in the right order to avoid too much coming and going

From Manca (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2014)

 


What does Juana Adcock like to do when shes not being, well, poetic?
I listen to music, and sometimes play it too, though I have no talent. Dancing, conversations with friends, and walking are also hugely important to me.

juana_adcock2.jpg

In 2016 you were awarded a Scottish Artists Fellowship to complete a writing residency at Banff Centre, can you tell us about the experience?
One of the best experiences of my life. Artists are taken really good care of there, and I would encourage anyone with a writing or translation project to apply to the amazing literary programmes they hold there throughout the year. You have everything you need to create: time, space, a fantastic library, plenty of solitude and plenty of social activities, even an indoor climbing wall and gym facilities. I loved the dinner table conversations with other creatives who were doing all sorts of interesting things: I made friends with the musicians, the writers and the indigenous visual artists. Chatting to them when I was stuck always made things unstuck, and they kept organising all sorts of recitals and talks that inevitably fed into what I was doing. A perfect balance between silence and stimulation and exchange. It was the first time in my life I felt like an artist, because I saw that my processes were not that different than what people in other creative disciplines go through (plus we were given Artist IDs! And we could buy things with them, and get discounts!). It was also the first time in my life I felt Scottish, because I was there with a contingent of 3 other Scottish artists, with whom I felt a real sense of camaraderie. And they were reliably up for a wee drink! (Bizarrely, other people seem to view alcohol as unhealthy and decadent?) And above all I loved having all these amazing mountains right on my doorstep, where I could go for long walks after writing all day. I was disappointed I didn’t meet any bears, though.

What to you makes a good poem?
There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but in general I would say surprise can be highly affecting and effective. Being faced with the unexpected does good things to the brain. Truth and authenticity are important too. And of course the music of the words.

What is the poetical future of Juana Adcock?
Hopefully completing a second collection, and some musical collaborations


 

PENNIES, OR HOW I SINGLE-HANDEDLY GOT US OUT OF THE CRISIS

 

When I arrived to the so-called united

kingdom reigned by automatons and charlatans my money

soon ran out. I found in the pantry

of the humble hostal that housed me a big jarfull

of brown penny conserve, organic and handmade in a farm in the north of France.

From that vital jelly I started stealing, a bit at a time,

to buy a pint of milk, any bread.

I rummaged too

through bins for dispersed spaghetti strands,

for peppers almost rotting.

Often in my last moments of hope

I found in a puddle a heavy pound coin

then I invested it all at once

an offering from the god of money to the god of cacao.

I stole the apples fallen to the pavement

I stole plastic rings from pound shops

I rose at dawn to slave at the till,

the coins that fell as I cashed up

stapling through my temples with their high-pitched

smell of gunshots in lands of other men stolen by other men.

It’s not mine, it’s not mine, it’s not mine, it’s not mine, it’s not yours, it’s not theirs, it’s not ours.

How many times did I walk for hours for lacking

the last missing penny for my bus fare.

But one day I cracked it: I remembered the jar of conserve, always full, no matter how much I stole.

What we needed was to plant pennies on the pavement

to gift ourselves a feeling of abundance—a penny a day

keeps your bad luck away. The sole

speculation magical intention

that transforms self-referencing money

into self-referencing money. The god of money is circular:

may it not stagnate, may it—meagre as milk—never run out

just like cows when they pour themselves out

or that clear

whisky first currency of Scotland

usige beatha first water of life

pissed out of a cow

From Manca (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2014)

 

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