Near an ancient wall in Aramu Muru, Peruvian poet John Martínez González is perched in awe of the legend of Auqui Amaru, who saved the holy sun-disc stone from the Spanish conquerors and kept it near a holy lake in Aramu Muru.
Hanan Harawi (which in Quechua means “poetry from above) is an independent publishing house specializing in international poetry based in Lima, Peru. According to its founding editor, the poet John Martínez González, Hanan Harawi seeks to connect audiences to a diverse array of contemporary Latin American poets and writers ‘’without blogs, posts, or web-anthologies. While these methods are good for reaching audiences, they tend to instill conformism. We ought to read books, not PDFs. We publish crafty and unpretentious editions. May we return to the book.”
Hanan Harawi, he adds, “was born from the necessity in Peru to publish contemporary poets from the world over. “The false intimacy provided by the Internet often misleads audiences into believing they know the poetic works of an author (which they read on blogs, websites and other electronic resources). But in order to have truly read a poet, it does not suffice to read two or three online poems: books are needed.”
“In Peru, however, it is unfortunately conventional that when foreign poets have been published locally, the books are costly and too few are printed. We founded our publishing house in response to these circumstances. Our first collection, The Stone with a Pulse, gathered poets of diverse countries in hand-made editions. Our way of producing them lowered costs, thus enabling a wider distribution. We aim to release hand-made books at affordable prices in Peru. What most interests us, is that our books get read, rather than kept as a prized object. We print books that in their layout, design and bookbinding are original products - nothing like them has appeared previously on the market. Much of our effort is focused on handmade production, reducing the need for industrial methods as much as possible“.
Arturo Desimone: Recently the first translation into Quechua of Cervantes’ Don Quijote was published in Peru, a translation by the priest Demetrio Tupac, a milestone in the history of Latin American translation. Tupac’s translation of this classic work of Castilian Spain appears centuries after the chronicles by Guaman Poma de Ayala, the Peruvian indigenous writer who described in his writing in Spanish (and in his drawings) the Spanish colonial atrocities in Peru. Being a publisher of literature in multiple languages, what do you think of bilingualism in publishing, and of the cultural relevance of multilingualism? Is there an inherent poetics or semiotics in the Inca’s Quipu alphabet (a writing system spelled by knots made in strings)? Is it possible for a poetics of pagan or pre-Christian Inca culture to influence a literature in Spanish? Will new hymns to the sun be written in Quechua by Peruvian or Andean poets?
John Martínez González: There is poetry written in Quechua and in other languages. In the city of Cuzco, there is much happening in that area (Quechua poetry scene, multilingualism). Our publishing house recently released Flor de Udumbara (Flower of Udumbara), by the Brazilian poet Sandra Santos, a trilingual poetry collection (in Portuguese, Spanish and Quechua). We have a long way to go, but I think Quechua is already revitalizing itself and will stay in use in poetry. On the other hand, I would like to emphasize something. It is not true that ancient Peru never had a written language: what it lacked were graphs upon paper, but investigations have shown there were semiotics and languages and script in textiles, on ceramic surfaces, and of course, the well-known “Quipu’’ (writing system in coded knots on strings). The high level of scientific knowledge of ancient Peru has often been ignored. Ridiculed, even. The most important surviving text is the Ollantay tragedy, a sort of theatrical play. Oral narratives have also managed to survive and it was possible to preserve and transmit other collections of myths, such as Gods and Men of Huarochiri - these were finally put into print after a very long, unprecedented research. I do not think these ancient works exert a direct influence on contemporaries - it is more this whole ‘’atmosphere’’ that is influencing them. It has definitely influenced the works of writers before us who ‘’saw’’ this path, like Jose Maria Arguedas or Gamaliel Churata, whose book The Golden Fish is essential for those who wish to understand that beautiful intermarriage between Andean mythology and poetry.
AD: What is our debt to authors like José María Arguedas and Gamaliel Churata? How can a small publisher, or circles of young poets in Peru (whether of native origin or of European descent, hopefully from different social classes) honour what they have transmitted to us?
JMG: The best homage that anyone can make to a writer is to read him. I mean, to read him well. Not to just purchase a book so it can gather dust on a shelf. I believe Arguedas is an essential pillar, but I doubt that trying to offer him the posthumous ‘’recognition’’ that he deserved and should have gotten in lifetime is an urgent matter. Many efforts have been made towards ascertaining more recognition for the book Andean Man and his Past. Certainly more resonance would be a good thing. In Lima there is a cultural centre named after Arguedas, a school of national folklore also bears his name. They have reprinted his books. However, more could be done.
AD: What can be added in the current moment by the role of literary Indigenismo (the Latin American literary movement which was particularly strong in Peru, Mexico, Ecuador and Guatemala in the 1950s, featuring writing that emphasized and explored the culture of the indigenous Americans. Examples of what is considered ‘’indigenous-ist’’ literature are José María Arguedas’s novels Yawar Fiesta and The Deep Rivers.) Do you think a continuation of indigenismo in this century is possible, in art and literature, more than 40 years after the death of José María Arguedas? In the current cultural predicament of consumerism, neoliberal democracy and other ills, is there still a fertile literary and social-cultural terrain for movements in Latin American literature to have any resonance or continuation in our literary traditions, and in politics?
JMG: The various “Isms” have always seemed to me like a method used by theorists to put easy definitions and markers on things. I cannot tell if there is a literary indigenismo-movement as such right now. But what I am sure of is that we are returning to our roots. Not because of any question of ‘’social commitment’’ or some such duty being exacted - rather, this resurgence owes to the way in which cycles repeat themselves in time. We turn to our common past, but not in a vain attempt to relive it. We seek to apply the knowledge to our present time. Many of us understand current interest in our American roots in this way. This is especially the case when it comes to cosmology and spirituality. The old traditions are certainly being explored again along those lines. The spirituality of the peoples of ancient Peru is returning and influencing many artistic creators. That consciousness does not simply have to do with admiration for some glorious past; more interestingly, it is about using the old ways in order to fathom a conception of reality itself. I believe Arguedas understood this, and that is why he did not merely describe “reality”. His influence is essential. I believe there is a resonance of this understanding in the best political and literary traditions in the country. We will not see a “new indigenism” - the word ‘’indigenous’’(indígena) is pejorative - but, on the other hand, we will see a tradition that has fewer European characteristics.
AD: In 2016, we saw the ascent of Keiko Fujimori (daughter of Peruvian former dictator and war-criminal Alberto Fujimori, currently on trial and imprisoned) in her presidential campaign. Very recently, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa spoke at the Buenos Aires Book Fair about the threat of “Fujimorism’’, about his new novel The Place of Five Corners, and of his political support for the candidate (now Peruvian President, as of June 2016) Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Vargas Llosa himself seems to combine an enthusiasm for multi-culturalist politics and tolerance of diverse identities, with an enthusiasm for neoliberalism. He has also denounced the neoliberal tabloid press and the media establishment in his country of origin - the ‘’Yellow Press” as he calls it. In his speech in Buenos Aires, Vargas Llosa received a roaring applause as he disavowed Fujimori’s apologists and other right-wing advocates who lobby for the impunity of dictators, corrupt politicians and war criminals, and who seek to disrupt the court proceedings that might bring the likes of Fujimori to justice - even though, quite contradictorily, he praised the new Macri government in Argentina, which is seeking to grind to a halt the trials against the Argentine former military dictators. How do you value Vargas Llosa? Is it possible to combine a critique of his position as a politician with his literary achievements? What does Pablo Kuczynski represent for the cultural world and for the literary endeavors in Peru?
JMG: What Keiko’s campaign meant was the attempt at the continuation of a dynasty, whose leader (Alberto Fujimori) still wishes to rule the country from his cell, and to be released from jail so that he can reenter public politics and make a comeback as an ‘’advisor’’ to his daughter. Fujimorism destroyed the country, robbed over 6 billion dollars, and stopped any attempt at generating a cultural plan for the country. Far from encouraging culture and the arts, he generated a pamphleteering press, a media that was philistine and brutal in its methods, whether in print or in TV. What Vargas Llosa has pointed out concerning the Fujimori dynasty is true. But his voice seems now to carry more weight abroad than in Peru. Frankly, I find his opinion columns (in the Spanish newspaper El País and in Peruvian newspapers) unreadable: the man’s love for neoliberalism is total. Yet, one cannot ignore altogether the weight that the laureate’s opinion carries. I think he has fallen out of touch with the current reality of Peru. The kind of observations he makes are perfectly observable from afar, the sort of observations that any very perceptive foreigner could make after some reading up. His influence on Peruvian literature is massive, though. I have read his novels and enjoyed the experience thoroughly. But quite some time has passed since we separated the author Vargas Llosa from the political columnist. Now, Kuczynski is the typical upper-class and cultivated Peruvian, foreign-educated, foreign-bred, who enjoys going to the opera. He also plays the flute, and he has played it on his campaign trail. Does this mean that he intends to support culture in Peru? I do not know, but at least he has offered some ground to believe that civil rights, human rights and art will have a different standing with him than with Fujimori. Keiko’s main co-speaker in her campaign publicly said in speeches that he did not “remember” the cultural plans of his party, and that “there are more important things” than culture anyway. Those were alarming symptoms.
AD: Is it possible to be a romantic and at the same time to remain in touch with the Latin American reality?
JMG: Yes. Romanticism is not synonymous with comfort. Without love, no revolution would have ever taken place. Lord Byron went to fight on the side of the Greeks, and he died fighting at sea, remember? But we are romanticists, not purveyors of kitsch. The ideological commitment has to do with the human being. Not the poet. A poet who is committed to an ideology is useless. A poet’s absolute commitment has to be to poetry. Before discovering ourselves as poets, however, we are humans, and that leads us to want equality and peace for mankind.
AD: Can there be such a thing as warrior-poets? Or does one need to choose between being a warrior or being a poet?
JMG: A poet is a poet. And not a warrior, if by that you mean a military-like fighter. A poet has to choose between fighting and writing. A poet writes and his hands serve no other purpose. If you ever stop writing, then you were never a poet. That is why I am convinced that Rimbaud, even while he was arms trafficking, never stopped writing.
AD: The (philosophical) thinking and the poetics of indigenous peoples show a very different attitude towards death, a predisposition that seems much less determined by fear, terror or negation than the Christian imaginery. Do these traditions and religions favour a more creative or poetic attitude towards life and death, the physical body, the desires, than the Christian culture does? Is it possible for poets anywhere in the world to exist without their huacas? (huaca: Quichua word for the sacred sites, charged with religious significance, in certain designated places in the Andes.) Can a poet who fears death still be any good?
JMG: I believe the poet is always engaged in that eternal question: “What is death?” Death, and the truth of dying, is a state that is forbidden terrain for the living, or else denied, and yet it has always mobilized humankind. I believe that the Andes cast deep roots in her children. Of course, globalization has not merely given us false modernity, it has perhaps, above all, done away with the time we once had to get to know nature, and learn about our past. I believe that a poet cannot live without that nostalgia and that sense of remembering what has gone lost. That is innate to the intuition which poetry gives you, it tells us that this world is another thing entirely.
AD: You say that poetry is the intuition that the world is “another thing’’, that it is something else. Do you mean that this world is alienation, a prison, and not the true reality that was lost or destroyed? Does poetry give us the knowledge to see our chains?
JMG: I do not believe this world is a prison. Some of its realities, however, are definitely so. The world contains all possibilities, but we tend to follow a path which has been tread and lived millions of times, with the same discourse that has been repeated for eons - that is the problem. Paul Éluard said: “There is another world, and it is in this one” (Il y a une autre monde, mais il est dans celui-ci). Poetry, for me - for us - does not shatter the fabric of reality so much as plunge us into it, deepening it, so that we can see its interstices, discover new folds and turns. Poetry is neither an oneiric refuge nor an unreality. What poetry tells us is that the chains are freedom, and in that lucidity resides the contradiction which generates that which some poets call “the poetic moment.’’
AD: Like Satori?
JMG: Yes, in the way the Beat generation conceived it, or perhaps, in a more dream-like way, the surrealists.
AD: What was your reaction to the news of the recent passing of Peruvian novelist Oswaldo Reynoso? In his time, Reynoso was both renowned and criticized, and almost censored for offending public morality, for showing a sexuality that broke the taboos of Peruvian society. One of his novels drew much acclaim and scandal and criticism for showing a gay captain of industry in bed with his lover celebrating their having helped in a successful military coup… What is his legacy today, where we are witnessing the scandalous reappearance of pro-Fujimori groups in the political scene?
JMG: Reynoso was always a very insular author. Successful, precisely because he was not ‘’visible’’… or, at least, living in the relative darkness which was designed for him by the ‘’sacred cows’’ of the small Peruvian literature scene and its coterie. If you pick up today the newspaper El Comercio, you can read three pages dedicated to Reynoso: this is the very same newspaper that had scarcely mentioned him during his last years. That minor recognition is good, but also disheartening. People need to die for their work to get any real recognition. His legacy goes much further than mere political circumstances. Oswaldo was an author who was connected to the younger generations. I believe he is already immortal and that he will become one of the most widely read Peruvian authors in the years to come.
This article was previously published by Dunken Boat.