Last night, Miami's Cremata Gallery hosted a lecture by local poet and art critic, Ricardo Pau-Llosa. He's published six collections of poetry, has been featured in The Writer's Chronicle and Saw Palm, and has been included in the Poetry Series on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (PBS). Pau-Llosa will also exhibit pieces from his personal collection of Latin American art at the University of Notre Dame in August.
At the reading, Pau-Llosa, recognizable by his photographer's vest and robust belly, paired original poems with works of art ranging from Eugène Delacroix 's Death of Sardanapalus to Ernst Prothete's Zanimo. He also read from his upcoming poetry collection, Man.
We spoke with him about hack poets, his writing process, and why he calls Miami "Thing City."
New Times: What inspired you to begin writing?
Ricardo Pau-Llosa: I first really grasped that urgency, that need, when
I was in ninth grade, I was in the class of a priest enthusiastic for
the written word, for poems, for Edgar Allen Poe, for just myriad
different poems. I was always modeling with clay and drawing and I
loved the visual arts. Suddenly, understanding the way words could be a
shelter where you find different possibilities, scenarios within words,
completely floored me. So it was really the discovery of the ambiguity
of words, and of how something could mean many different things, not at
the exclusion of the others, but all of them simultaneously, which
clinched it for me.
Who do you write for?
My audience is people whose grandmothers haven't been born yet. I think
every poet aspires to be read by somebody they don't know and can't
know. It's not just simply into the future, but people whose very
context of life is unimaginable. Imagine if someone from 150-200 years
ago were to enter our lives, with computers and phones and air
conditioning. They would be completely flabbergasted and yet we're
reading the literature of a few hundred years ago, five hundred years
ago, two-thousand five hundred years ago, so the writer hopes to touch
a cavern of language where, because of those ambiguities and the
freedoms inherent in them, can appeal to people whose living context is
unimaginable to us. So that's what I mean by people whose grandmothers
haven't been born yet. That's impossible to imagine, so you write to
satisfy your own sense of beauty and your own sense of play and your
own escape from yourself.
How do you go about writing a poem?
It percolates. Images come into your mind. You start seeing
connections, associations. You might store them in your memory. You
might forget them. They might bubble up later. Anyone who knows me,
knows that I'm always burdened with these photographers' jackets and I
have thirty-seven pockets, in which in thirty of which are pads, pens,
and refills for pens and other things. And so I'm jotting things down
and at some point all that sort of congeals. Each poem differently.
Some (snaps his fingers) just like that. Others, you've got to midwife
them into shape over numerous revisions. The older I get, though, the
more I rely on intuition.
How does Miami influence you?
Sometimes Miami doesn't come across that positively in my poems. I
think I refer to it in one of my books as "Thing City." It is a very
thing-oriented city. It's a very crass place, despite the hype we've
received in the last ten years as this purported art capital; which of
course it is not. It's an art showcase, but not an art capital. So, it
has things that are positive and negative, just like all places.
What's the difference between a hack poet and a master of the craft?
That ability of the work of art to sustain on its own, or largely on
its own, states of consciousness. The hack is interested in
self-expression, or getting a point across. A message. The artist draws
from his personality so that this thing can live. Great poets have
lousy poems. And even hacks could eventually, if they're persistent
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enough, produce a poem or a work of art. So I think what differentiates
the real artist from the hack is just the frequency with which he or
she produces these works of art.