Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Arturo Desimone

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Poems of the Mare Nostra

​Arturo Desimone,

Arubian-Argentinian writer and visual artist, born 1984 on the island Aruba which he inhabited until the age of 22, when he emigrated to the Netherlands. He later relocated to Argentina while working on projects related to his Argentinean family background. Desimone’s articles, poetry and fiction pieces previously appeared in CounterPunch, Círculo de Poesía (Spanish) Island, the Drunken Boat, The Missing Slate, EuropeNow, the Writers Resist anthology, Al Araby Al Jadeed (Arabic) and the New Orleans Review. This year he performed at the international poetry festival of Granada, Nicaragua. He blogs essays about Latin American poetry for Anomalous press under ”Notes on a Journey to the Ever-Dying Lands” and some of these pieces also appeared in the Latin American views-section of openDemocracy.

His website

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

The first attempts proved, of course, frustrating. As a young adolescent I had read novels and prose more often than poetry, and tried to write poems that seemed mostly fed by song and music lyrics. I wrote poems meant for girls at school. The worst were thwarted mystical attempts about drug experimentations (but at least in the bad poems I already saw my limitations in exploring space and time with language). At some point I got into debating in the schoolyard with other young people who were very religious Christians. They claimed no poetry could ever rival or approximate the meaning imbued in Biblical poetry, and that unique beauty in the Biblical verses sufficed to prove the Biblical poetry’s having divine inspiration. Things have changed a lot on the island Aruba where I grew up, but back then very few people I knew were avowed unbelievers. I took the claim very seriously, and started reading ancient and modern poetry, on the internet and in the library, hoping to find evidence to the contrary. I read translations of Sanskrit on the web, and read what I could find by William Blake, Robert Frost and Sylvia Plath. At the age of 16 I signed up for an online writing course. The sea also played a role!

1. 1. What role did the sea play?

I swam a great deal, swimming lengths alone in the sea replaced wandering, part of the process of coming up with poems or gathering them involves wandering, walking, to capitulate to a cliché which is nonetheless true, the collecting of information involves wandering. I cannot imagine a poet not having known the sea! The land is overrated, especially when it comes to the housing of history: the sea has more. The Caribbean sea is like no other I have known. One dimension that both poetry, and the sea, have in common, for a young or old person on a small island is that these, (the sea, the seaside groves, poetry) give a place that is beyond the village or beyond or outside the community. Even if the sea (and even if poetry) feeds the community. I believe the poet like a castle of salt and broken crustacean and coral builds and grows in poetry outside of the community, at its edges, and if not then he will be a counterfeit sand-dollar poet useless to the community. A cave might do as well, but the sea smells better.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

Depends what you mean by dominating! My awareness shifted. As a younger poet I read broadly. Mandelstam, or the memoir written by Osyp Mandelstam’s wife Nadezdha stood for some reason on our bookshelf in Aruba. (It was surprising, as I was sure neither my parents, nor my grandparents knew of Mandelstam! Yet from the wear of it, it looked like someone had read the book.) Early on, mostly I read translated poetry in English, except the Beats, those related to the Beats, so hardly contemporary though Ginsberg still lived in the 1990s as I read interviews of him on the internet. Denise Levertov, for some reason, though I forgot all of her and I seldom forget what I read. I memorised poems from “Poema del Cante Jondo” by Federico García Lorca. Classics, Whitman, Robert Frost, Lorca, Shakespeare and Latin American poets, José Martí here and there, Caribbean novels like Jean Rhys. Sylvia Plath is a great ride for teenagers, and I engorged on her, especially Ariel. Only recently did I become more aware of the dominating trends in contemporary Anglo-American poetry, being led mostly by major academic poets, and I think I’ve read as much criticism of their dominance.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Usually in the mornings I attend to other activities, practical matters, rambling, I read the world news, consumption of politics which might seem relevant though I doubt it really benefits writing! Writing poems happens in a less planned way than writing prose, I doubt anyone can actually sit down writing a planned anatomy of a poem. When I have a long prose project, I do make regular times and schedules, but these vary which each and every prose. As for articles, I just get those done with sufficient anger and because of that fuel I hardly notice the clock.
Maybe I forgot to add: poems, like my drawings and essays often begin in notebooks and journals of unlined paper. Later I type them, often sending these in emails to myself with a secret mailing list of recipients in the Blind Carbon Copy–the presence of many hidden eyes in the Blind Carbon Copy puts me under an additional pressure, to work the poem well, to attain clarity in the language, to make it function as a text before faxing it off to myself for archival keeping until I later send them to publications and editors and so on.

5. What motivates you to write?

A sense that what I have to communicate cannot inhabit more available means, and cannot inhabit the texts written or inherited by others (without that leading to much friction.) There is an urgency, and a sense of unfreedom only increases in strength, pulling up its shadow-horizon if I am not progressing while writing. I believe writing starts a strategy. I do not believe in writing or communication for the sake of the activity, but rather always as means. Love also weighs the aorta as a prime motivator-rotor-conductor.

6. What is your work ethic?

Not the protestant one in any case! I do it every day. It takes more discipline to not work on certain days at the moments I know that taking a break or distance are key. For years, decades, I’ve tried to find or build a ballast, I think relaxation from production and creating order and balance now seem as important to me now as the actual production. Work ethic as in how much do I produce? I don’t go by a daily-word-count. I write, I revise, I trash and burn some stuff.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I suppose I learn more from them, after getting to a point of no longer having literary heroes. They affect how I read anything new to me, there is always a comparison I will make almost automatically when I read novels in other languages or poets I had not previously encountered, I will compare these to the writers I encountered early on, somehow, it is like the sediment that builds up layers. Literature of relevance transmits a search for new values to the young, new values the old order wants to prohibit, and I got those from reading certain poets and writers while living in a very limiting place. The writers I liked then all resisted censorship and moral opprobrium one way or another, which was instructive.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I like Paul Muldoon and his knack for weaving humour and history into poetry, and his independent spirit and vision as an editor. I greatly admired Frantz Wright, who died very recently, for his visions of spirituality pain and darkness, but having recently died young I guess knocks him out of the ”today’s” category.I must confess my foreign influences–foreign to the language I write most of my work in, though I am quite foreign too! I know which of my contemporaries writing in other languages have impressed me of late, such as Puerto Rican poet Jonatán Reyes, an autodidact poet, and a Peruvian contemporary poet and editor John Martinez Gonzalez impresses me so far, both express courage. At the international poetry festival of Granada, Nicaragua last year I had the honour of befriending a poet from El Salvador, Jorge Galán; he was politically persecuted by the state there for a novelistic memoir he wrote about the killings of priests in the 1980s, and I admire his poetry, what he says about the sun over El Salvador, and his ability to combine poetry with fiction and memoir-writing.
I like a Surinamese-Dutch poet and visual, Michael Tedja, whose poem “Everybody’s a Neonazi’’ should be translated into English. I like Breyten Breytenbach from South Africa and Salman Rushdie but they’re the past generation and I like contemporary Arab poets like Najwan Darwish, for his smirking music and tempering irony with hope. I have a difficult time finding the contemporary heroes writing in English who I truly admire, but I blame the academics, my favourite scapegoats, for that. I suspect my contemporaries, the ones who I will admire, dwell under debris in relative obscurity imposed by academia, which like never before has the upper hand in the literary field today,(even when it comes to antipodal writers.) I really want to name more poets and writers I greatly admire, but come up against a wide sargasso sea of young academic writers and theorists who wield too much influence on what gets published in a visible platform and who have denied me my comrades.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Visual artists often tell me the reason why they like my work is because I draw like a writer, the drawings seem, to them, made using a different part of the brain than what they involve to make a painting. Poetry of symbols and stories I generate appear to play a big role in my drawings. The drawings have always borne some kind of relationship to poems and stories and language. Other professions I’ve contemplated involve writing about politics. I still hope one day to be political advisor to a future Aruban Minister of Culture, and to wield such a pernicious influence that the local newspapers start to attempt a character assassination against the first heroic Minister of Culture of our island nation, slandering him as the mere puppet of my Rasputin-like influence convincing him to support decadence and sedition. But if that day comes,
I fear this interview answer may be employed against us.
At some point I started writing art-criticism and publishing reviews of contemporary art-shows. Later on I stopped all that when it seemed these magazines would not start paying me though they published some reviews I wrote. Rather than disperse more energy on unpaid journalism in the hope of annoying the art establishment, I returned to primary creative endeavours. There will be an exhibition of my drawings in Argentina somewhere in June of this year, in the city of La Plata, (during winter of the Southern hemisphere.) But these activities happen in relation to each other–writing and drawing. Painting, maybe stands further removed from the activity of writing.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Read around 900 books by non-contemporaries, from all continents and eras, subject yourself to ruthless travel, keep diaries and if your diaries bore you you are not living, engage with people who hold different beliefs and come from different backgrounds, don’t be afraid, don’t fear failure, risk humiliation, write offline, learn the history of art, of music and of the religions, translate as an exercise and experiment. IF you workshop, don’t make a religion or a temple out of the workshop, do it a few times while it works. Avoid the university, the world needs less not more academic writers.
Mix with people of different social backgrounds and classes, and have more interest in how or why people think the way they do, rather than in how and where political opinions differ from your own. Evolve into good amateur psychologist, bearing in mind that art is justified because and when it goes to places unreachable for sociologists, psychologists, climate activists, criminologists and cosmonauts.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

There are multiple projects now. Currently I am at work on a long prose about Aruba. But I should mention that this month, my first collection of poems and drawings in colour ”Poems of the Mare Nostrum /Costa Nostra ” just got published, with Hesterglock a UK independent press. I want to celebrate this development. The book takes its title from the ancient name of the Mediterranean, but the poems have themes ancient and modern and often and about politics and about love. Next month or so, an African publisher will release the collection ”Ouafa and the Thawra” poems I wrote and drawings I made, during and just after experiencing part of the Tunisian revolution some years ago. The editor, a poet and visual artist, lives in Zimbabwe, but the African Books Collective has an international outreach.
Over the past years I wrote articles and essays introducing influential Latin American poets and poetry movements to the Anglophone and Anglo-American readers who have mostly heard of well-known greats like Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges–who were phenomenal, but hardly a fraction of all there is to the continent. The name of that series is ”Notes on a Journey to the Ever-Dying Lands.’‘ I published these in Anomaly, formerly the Drunken Boat International Poetry Review, and in other journals like the Sydney Review of Books, and even in non-literary sites like Open Democracy’s Latin American views section. I will continue the series Notes on a Journey to the Ever Dying Lands for a while, towards a book-length project, a book, and then stop for a while. The most urgent is to keep the diary-chronicle of my travels, and to unite these narratives into artworks.

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