¡Esos malditos escuincles!

25 Mexican poets 30 and under


Selection and translation by Pilar Rodríguez Aranda


"One never knows where poetry goes   not even in the land of dreams" Gerardo Grande


Why 30 and under?

I have always admired those who, younger than me, seem to know what they want, and do it. Some of my best teachers are among them, the youngest. They are my own reflection, in retrospective, I see them and I understand myself better. So when I finally decided on the title for this anthology, ¡Esos malditos escuincles! I was playing with a phrase commonly said by Mexicans. Its equivalent in English would be something like, "Those damn kids!" I was not thinking of Verlaine's Damned Poets, rather, it was an ironic way to express my respect for their work. However "escuincle," really means dog, so, children have been put at the same level as those faithful and obedient, yet ill treated animals. In a way that's what happens with young people, even though they are a majority, they are usually ignored, and many times blamed for being the "underdogs" of our unfair society. The 25 "kids" in this anthology represent a tiny section of two underrepresented communities (youth and poets).

And, what do they write about?

When I met Edwing "Canuto" Roldán he was doing one of his "Poetic Dialog" workshops during 100 Thousand Poets for Change, 2011. The exercises aimed to engage the whole body and turn the text into a sort of playground. In his writing, I see recurring themes like insomnia and time, but the most present is HIS body. Sometimes he gets lost in it, like in his poem April, where he cannot find his name and each part of his body starts re/calling him with a different one, until he finally finds it and relabels himself, part by part, as if counting sheep, until he loses himself again, but in the ever yearned sleep. Canuto is also very active in the Slam Poetry scene in Mexico City, where I have met and listened to many of these escuincles. One of the main forces behind these Spoken Word events has been Rojo Córdova, who has an amazing capability to talk and improvise in such a manner and speed, one has to hold our breath and just ride with it. He plays with all kinds of contemporary and traditional symbols and shows no respect (as seen in the fragment of his poem ObamMcain, included here); after all it is a game (of words). This doesn't mean he doesn't show empathy or emotion, as proof is the poem Niña, niña, where he begs Death to have some pity for all those young women who have suffered from malnutrition, illiteracy, kidnapping and oh, so many other forms of violence. A very different kind of talent is shown by Alain Whitaker "El Galo," whose deep modulated voice never fails to capture the audience immediately. His texts are also irreverent, except his referents (at least in the texts included here) are old black and white American movies, with dialogues (which become subtitles), showing his weakness (and strength) for dramatic yet humorous tones. The result are wild provocative images, reflecting on today's society, like in B-29 which reminisces Pink Floyd's "we don't need no education," if such education will only lead to more wars, more machines, and more cliches. El Galo sometimes makes a living performing in public transportation, just like Karloz Atl, both of them founding members of the collective Poesía y Trayecto ("Poetry and Route"). Like Galo, Karloz has won many Slam competitions and has developed a very particular style of delivering his texts, recreating them, stealing from others and even from himself, (re)playing it all with the rhetoric voice of the politician and/or the sanctimonious repetitious sermon of the priest.

In opposition to these uninhibited performers, I think of a poet like Zazil Alaíde Collins, who told me once she does not enjoy being on stage. Perhaps that (and her melomania) is why she has taken on radio. In any case, her precise and daring metaphors were a true challenge in the translating process. I particularly found End of the Rope a beautiful eerie, unsentimental requiem for the 65 miners who died trapped, in Pasta de Conchos, Coahuila, in 2006. By portraying the pain in an imagined scream of "widow #8" ("In the middle of the night, I wake up, startled by your nightmares. Dreams I beg. Shreds."), Zazil asks the reader not to forget. This is such a necessary task. Injustice and violence in Mexico have risen to such degrees, it seems a "normal thing," we don't feel shaken or affected by it anymore. Perhaps, one of the roles of the poet is to remind us this is not the way it should be. Jhonnatan Curiel does this when he talks to one of the many beheaded, but he also wonders, in "Theorem of the Parasite," how is it possible to write with hope "when the sickness of the world squirms" and he feels his hands "exhausted from digging in the stars in search of a sidereal river mouth." Poets dig in the stars, create a tunnel like a wormhole, a coded shortcut, the poem as a personal map to help us reach a constellation formed by words, out of "the dark circles of fear," the poet traversing towards nothingness, as Zita Noriega puts it: "...and I become smaller by myself, /syllable by syllable, /until I be- /come no /thing." Yes, a writer reaches, digs, sculpts and screams for a renewed reality, the discovery/creation of the "different worlds" Elier Eskalante Verdugo claims exist. Elier comes from and lives in a small city bordering with Guatemala, which in itself puts him apart from everyone else in this collection. That, and his profession, although he's not the only engineer. Both him and Carlos Titos Barraza landed onto engineering already infected with the virus of poetry. The vocabulary of science sips into their imagery with allusions to mechanisms and quantums, and yet, in some mysterious way, both might be the most romantic of them all. Yes, of course love and heartbreak is there. Eros' field of action seems to be Aura Sabina's as well, projecting her humanness onto insects, herself becoming a Mantis, who enjoys "...the coupling, /Ethereal intensity which transforms me," or wishing she could jump on the back of a firefly so she can "feel the color of vertigo. /between [her] thighs." Even in such a ritual of death as is a bullfight, Sabina transforms it into a titillating act, as she contemplates the man and the animal "mutually delivering, soul, body and tail." And yes, as a counterpart of Eros we also find Tanathos. As part of their bio, I asked the poets, among other things, to tell me why they wrote. I was surprised, because of their youth, at how many of them mentioned death as the motor behind their writing, but then again, it is the inevitable future, or the inevitable present, as José Manuel D. Domínguez seems to think when he reveals: "one is a cumulus of self suicides, that at the end we call life." He writes in/with/from silence, the "other lost language," which is waiting for "the breath of the death."

Love, death, life... and again, the role of the poet as the observer, as the one who points towards whatever it is we are missing, whatever it is we have lost. This is what Abril Albarrán does in her minimalist urban poetry, where she succeeds to portray the instant, the click of a switch, a shot of an ugly and violent reality, the world in one small bite. As Mariana Orantes says: "the brief also matters /like the first teenage dream /or the sudden love for a girl...," hers is the language of memory and longing, as is Lázaro Tello Pedró's, when he recalls the loneliness and fear of his childhood memories's, reflects on the seemingly impossible undertaking of reaching the poem, or describes the sea as a docile dog lowering its humble snout. The haunting, inevitable, unchangeable past, is also "present" in Zita Noriega's "Distresses Dancing in Childhood," in Yanitsa Buendía's prayer to Iztaccíhuatl or in her "Farewell" as she is leaving "to look for that which we have both forgotten," and in Carolina Alvarado's "Skylight," where she shares her resentment towards the father; perhaps that is why, for her, the word "...is the sword which protects us from captivity; /it is a compress alleviating the soul /when love has become corrupted; /it is a parachute which saves us from ourselves...," and, don't we all need saving, or healing, or understanding. I don't mean to say that poets are more sensitive or even more knowledgeable than the rest, yet they certainly are more daring than most: the parachute might not be that trustworthy. They have learned to dance with la nada, in a timeless emptiness, except for words. This is how it feels when one is looking deep inside, where silence and solitude reign permeating the poet's world, as in Raúl Aníbal Sánchez' "Already Known": "Alone in the ruin /at the door will knock an unnecessary crowd /guilt as a faceless smile /fear and his green hat /nothingness wearing a party dress." Through his/her writing, a poet reaches a permanent state of "wakeful watchfulness," poetry as meditation, if you will. This means the poet is in a continuous watch, of the world, and of herself, like América Zapata who in "Absence," describes what it is to feel detachment, thinking becomes "a deconstruction site," her eyes get lost in the kitchen while the "internal rhyme" never stops: "the slurp of silence." The poet, watches, and dissects the process through which she develops consciousness, fascinated by the mystical experience, as is the case of Careli López-Falfán, who is always at awe with the mystery of the spiritual realm, but with a glaze of realism, probably from her background as linguist and historian: "thief /take it all, keep it all /but give me back my unawareness. /Pain is stronger when she is not around.-" The mystery of the poet herself, like the also self-observant Athena Ramírez y Ramírez, who confesses that she is also looking for god who is also "...lost in time /most probable /living inside itself and I can only /see its viscera and can't listen to its heart."

Writers are always mulling over their own craft, so writing and poetry are also recurrent themes/pretexts/alibis in this anthology. Lorena Sosa in her poem "Are You Certain You Love Me," dissects the word Certain, and letters hurt and dance, exhaust and sacrifice the writer, while Athena explains to her beloved the danger of versing him: "you might become the moral of a story... the chorus of a pop song..." Gerardo Grande turned poetry into a character inside a dream, where it became a "yellow, monstrous dog," and imagined "clouds were letters used by God to write his book," only to confirm that, "surely he was crazy." Pablo Valdés asks himself what he wants, while "in carnage loneliness, a capitalized no has spattered...[his] shoe," and in his other text, he openly attacks those who have sold their soul and turned their words into a "sluttish poetry," where they "measure the words and the moments," denouncing these so called poets as scrooges whose "words don't get filled up they don't drown they don't join the shipwrecks we live, everyday." ch bukejov also stands openly against rules and "correctness," against those who, from their ivory towers so far from life in the streets, claim to be the heirs of "the" language deciding "the right way" to write. bukejov skips punctuation, writes "the wrong way," and chooses to call his texts escribidas rather than escritos. His ludic style goes beyond the page, in his public readings he might jump off the stage and start whispering to one person in the audience or start walking next to a passer by and leave everyone wondering what has happened. After reading his texts, you might feel the same way. miguel(así,sinapellidos), which would literally translate as "michael(justlikethat,withnolastname)" does a similar thing. Being a photographer and graphic designer, he plays and distorts his own look, making it more obvious, he has a obsession with the eye and what it sees and how it affects/invents the seen by seeing, the described by describing. A fervent bicycle rider, his poetry has the feel of the speed and the wheel and the naked body attempting to move free through a green world that seems to be fading as we speak.

In closing

Estos malditos escuincles, play, like kids do, freely and honestly, like poets should, and reach through their threading of words a universal language, from their very own particular world. I can only hope I have accomplished my role as bridge, delivering the closest possible faithful version in English (which is not my native tongue) of all and each of these 25 voices. Now, it is your turn, to be the other side, the recipient shore, the reader, completing the magical/inexplicable/unending circle of the poem.