A few months ago I was tapped by the Montréal Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival to talk with Ingrid Bejerman about her extensive literary experience and this year’s AZUL programming (2020). We discussed the writers whose work I’d be hearing in May, trotting around tweeting emphatically, discovering new literature, and passing it along for others to be moved by it. You already know what this preamble is leading to. The programming Ingrid and I talked about when I interviewed her is no longer happening this May at HOTEL 10, as was originally planned. So this is a different type of post. Because right now, everything is a different type of thing while we live a different type of life.
In this new context of solitude, of collective grief, it’s so difficult to find something to hold onto. Some of us are aching for more to do, on pause, adrift in a lot of nothingness. Some of us actually have much less time than we had before, somehow, even though all of our usual routines have been entirely dismantled. Some of us are in extremely close proximity to our families, with all the loss of personal privacy and quiet that comes with that; many of us are far away from them and lonely.
I am very used to missing my culture, my family, my language. It is not new to me. It is not new to many people who are from a diasporic experience. I probably have one of the biggest families of all my friends (I have at least 50 cousins, though I have genuinely lost count at times), but you wouldn’t know it from the way I grew up here—my mom, my sisters, my dad sometimes. So I know a thing or two about connecting with culture when it is far away.
I was asked to compile some Spanish-language literary content I’ve been engaging with right now. I’m really not that good at finding Spanish content. That was part of the reason I was going to be attending AZUL! Deep, immediate immersion, Matrix-style. I’m great at finding work from Latinx creators in Canada and the US, but that’s not always in Spanish, for reasons those of us who have heard the word “assimilation” 5000 times understand all too well. I couldn’t not include those authors: Ivanna Baranova’s voice is transcendent and ethereal in Confirmation Bias, Ashley Obscura’s Ambient Technology somehow manages to feel both space-age and ancient all at once. Ariana Brown’s work lights a fire in me. Rachel McKibbens adds gasoline to it.
You know what? I must have Spanish content… let me check my other sleeve. In 2018 I performed at the Festival Internacional de Poesía de Rosario (FIPR) in Argentina and collected a small suitcase’s worth of books. I watched Cuqui perform her poetry with my jaw on the floor—her book lavados vaginales is explosive and raunchy, yet simultaneously sweet. Martina Sierra’s Soledad Programada is youthful, ambitious, unique. Hoy Recordé Algo Que Había Olvidado, by Diego de Aduriz, is a fever dream brimming with curiosity and a sense of play. Camila Urresti finds both peace and menace through the nature she highlights in La vida primitiva.
May I, your humble sommelier, also present some non-literary content? Is that allowed? In no particular order: Lido Pimienta’s new album, “Miss Colombia”, with its lush instrumentals and cumbia/bullerengue/porro fusion. Victor Jara’s incomparable “Manifiesto”, a folk proclamation that transcends time and remains relevant to this day. Violeta Parra’s showcase of powerful vocals and storytelling in “Las Últimas Composiciones de Violeta Parra”. Elia y Elizabeth, whose charming, rose-coloured “La Onda De Elia Y Elizabeth” from 1971 reminds me of Fernanda Laguna & Cecilia Pavón’s Belleza y Felicidad (a bonus book recommendation, is your sommelier not kind?)
Many of us never learned our languages to a comfort level required to read in them. It’s ok, that’s not our fault. Slow learning can be healing. I highly recommend trying out a book in a language you are learning or attempting to learn that includes an English translation alongside it. Maybe, by some chance or from a previous impulsive whim, you already have a book like that on your bookshelf. Or maybe you can contact one of your local independent bookstores.
I don’t know when I will next be surrounded by people speaking my language. I hope it’s soon. It’s my first and most beloved, but also the one on the shakiest ground, and I often worry I’ll forget its details and intricacies. But as cheesy as it sounds, the stories I need always find their way to me, in all their forms and formats. I hope I’ve helped a few go your way too.
Ivanna Baranova, Confirmation Bias (Metatron Press, 2018)
Ashley Obscura, Ambient Technology (Metatron Press, 2019)
Ariana Brown, Sana Sana (Game Over Books, 2020)
Rachel McKibbens, blud (Copper Canyon Press, 2017)
Cuqui, lavados vaginales (Vox, 2018)
Martina Sierra, Soledad Programada (self-published, 2018)
Diego de Aduriz, Hoy Recordé Algo Que Había Olvidado (Ivan Rosado, 2017)
Camila Urresti, La vida primitiva (Goles Rosas, 2018)
Fernanda Laguna & Cecilia Pavón’s Belleza y Felicidad (Sand Paper Press, 2015)
Lido Pimienta, “Miss Colombia (Anti-)
Victor Jara, “Manifiesto” (Warner Music Chile)
Violeta Parra, “Las Últimas Composiciones de Violeta Parra” (RCA Victor – CML-2456)
Elia y Elizabeth, “La Onda De Elia Y Elizabeth” (Vampi Soul)