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Mapping Life through Poetry: A Conversation with Bruno Montane Krebs.

The poetry of Bruno Montane Krebs (b. 1957, Valparaiso, Chile) is as tactile as it is visual. With materiality as its touchstone, Montane Krebs's work tackles the problems posed by relating life and language with finesse and daring. The most significant risk his poems take is to construct a visual and tactile image that conveys mental and emotional states without reifying or instrumentalizing them. When I had the opportunity to correspond with Montane Krebs via email, he explained the primary role that tension plays in his writing process. This tension appears in his poems as a tightrope extended between abstraction and objectification, a wire his writing walks with surprising ease.


Ryan Long: Is there anything in particular that tends to motivate or inspire you to write? Is it an idea, something you see or hear, a memory, something you read?

Bruno Montane Krebs: What drives me to write is the need to face the tension within writing itself, a tension one wants to dominate and through which one tries--and at times succeeds--to say something. It is a question of making sure that the poem speaks, that the voice the poem adopts speaks freely and fully. I begin with one word (which tends to be the title) and investigate from there; that is to say, I expand the field of mental action in order to see what it is I have to say about the theme. Nevertheless, the word or the sensation the theme produces for me is something that I feel as a kind of atmosphere more than anything else, an atmosphere the poem has to corroborate if it is to put in motion that which it has also proposed.

RL: When writing a poem, are you motivated more by formal aspects--sound, rhythm, structure--than by thematic aspects? Or do theme and form emerge together?

BMK: Yes, I am interested in sound and rhythm, in achieving the maximum expression of the tension that arises from the dynamic of what I am trying to say in the poem. I could say that I am looking for some kind of secret music, from within the apparently open conditions of free verse, even though I know that sounds a little pedantic. Let's say that, even if this might sound a little strange, it is a question of creating, and creating constantly, self-inducement; of driving forward the most suitable poetic discourse and allowing the poem to speak. In this regard, I understand that the theme and the form are, without a doubt, part of the same poem, or, following a paronym, the same problem.

RL: I have noticed that in the first part of El maletin de Stevenson (Stevenson's suitcase) you use the first person relatively infrequently. Before you write a poem, do you think a lot about whether you will use the first person or not? And when you write a poem in the first person, how much do you distinguish between yourself and the voice that narrates the poem?

BMK: I believe this is an important aspect of poetry, taking on an "I" that appears to incarnate the supposedly authentic "I" of the poet; or, on the other hand, adopting a voice that is a deferred "I," an "I" that is the "I" of the poet's voice and, at the same time, the "I" of the reader. I tend to use a voice that is a permanently deferred "I," apparently diffuse and strangely collective, the "I" of the consciousness of the poem as it tries to take on and give itself to the reader's consciousness. It sounds complicated, but I don't think it is. I know that the poem's voice is something I induce (obviously, since I am the one who is writing the poem), but it is the "I" of the poem that must end up imposing itself and saying what should or can be said.

RL: When you write a poem, how much does autobiography matter?

BMK: I am not concerned with being autobiographical. I know that I speak from my own experience--that is, we always start from our own emotions, experiences, and ideas; in other words, everything passes through oneself. It is not the other who writes, even though, and this is the paradox of the poetic voice, it is always Another who writes. Allow me to clarify: I think autobiography is overvalued, which is something I also say ironically. Autobiography is an external aspect of the text that we demand as somehow fundamental for understanding what the text says. With all due respect to criticism, I think there is a certain atavism regarding autobiography, which seems inevitable, given that everyone--whether they admit it or not--likes to know those strange details of writers' lives. There is a certain gestural memory that fascinates us, and we believe that, thanks to some autobiographical fact, we will be able to understand why one says one thing or another in the text. Without a doubt, you can say, for example, that he wrote such and such a poem in such and such circumstances and that his writing was motivated by such and such an experience, but that simply cannot account for everything that is, or is not, in the poem.

RL: Who are your most important influences?

BMK: My influences, in the sense that we are in fact convinced that what influences us is what we like the most and what interests us the most, are relatively varied. It's a little odd, but I've read more prose than poetry, and this comes in part from my job as a copyeditor. Among my first influences, which come from enthusiastic adolescent reading interests, are Rimbaud, badly read, but read with a great deal of passion in difficult times; and Cesar Vallejo, as a poet who reveals the force of language and poetic voice, an epicentral and foundational poet. Vallejo also fascinates those of us who believe we have complicated spirits, something I say not entirely without irony. Also very important was reading the Chilean poets Jorge Teillier and Enrique Lihn, to whom I have always returned, two poets so different that they are rarely grouped together. In fact, when I was in Mexico and then also in Barcelona, Roberto (Bolano) and I organized recitals and made anthologies of young Chilean poetry, and we always included poems by Lihn, Teiller, and others, such as Gonzalo Millan or Diego Maquieira. Also important was SaintJohn Perse, a poet in whom, as a young reader, I believed I heard poetry's voice.

But, to be sure, these Chilean poets, and then also the Peruvians of the Zero Hour Movement, poets with strong voices and full of vitality, like Jorge Pimentel, Juan Ramirez Ruiz, and Enrique Verastegui, whom I met in Mexico through their books, which Mario Santiago had, were very important for the ways I perceived what I could do with a poem. Mario Santiago, the best infrarealist poet, and also Orlando Guillen, both of them Mexican, have also had a vitally important influence, among other things for their way of facing writing and life, almost without recognizing any difference between the two. Roberto Bolano's influence has also been significant, more than anything as a friend; I saw how he evolved and his poetry transformed from the years in Mexico until the beginning of the 1990s, just before he began his journey toward his well-deserved notoriety. I remember when he read to me over the phone "Mi vida en los tubos de supervivencia" (My life in the tubes of survival), perhaps one of his best poems.

But I must insist that we believe that what influences us is what we like the most. Nevertheless, such influences are not clear when it comes to what others notice about our writing. I really chuckled when, at the first literary workshop I attended, the moderator was sure I wrote like Whitman, in spite of the fact that, naively, I believed I had written like Saint-John Perse ...

RL: Your very early poems, "Carta" and "En el pueblo" (In the town)--which you wrote with Bolano, right?--and "Homenaje a todas las fechas" (Homage to all the dates), are about the coup in 1973. Could you talk about how that event has marked your writing?

BMK: First of all, Ryan, that's an error from the compilers of the anthology, Los poetas chilenos luchan contra el fascismo (Chilean poets fight against fascism). The poems are all mine, and they're not very good, to be sure. They were for a book that we entered in the contest for the Casa de las Americas Prize (Cuba, 1975), and which remained unpublished. The compilers identified them as having been co-written, but no, they're not Roberto's fault.

The coup has marked me in the sense that afterward everything was different. The coup detat against Allende shattered the lives of millions of people and broke the country. "Homenaje" is a poem I wrote in Mexico that appeared in Pajaro de calor, the only infrarealist publication that Roberto and I worked on together directly. The later ones were published when Roberto was already in Barcelona, including the one called Correspondencia infrarrealista (Infrarealist correspondence) that also included the Infrarealist manifesto, "Dejenlo todo nuevamente" (Drop everything again). I believe my poetry is profoundly political, although that's not easy to see from the vantage point of what we usually consider political.

RL: Could you please explain a little more how you see your poetry as political?

BMK: In an earlier email you asked me about the political aspect of my poetry, something I don't often discuss. I believe I mentioned to you, in a very broad sense, the concept of the political, in the sense of that which concerns all of us. I am always interested in beginning from a discourse that is also a gaze, that is to say, that is also an installation in the world that power cannot assimilate ... a voice. I want to say that this voice should end up inassimilable, unappropriable for any position in which there exists the least degree of power. I understand politics as a discussion about the common. In other words, I am not talking about the aspects of politics conceived in an obvious way, like organizing in order to direct or change society. Instead, I am talking about how to comprehend the gaze we cast on things in order to illuminate or darken, and thus attempt to illuminate the complexity of human life. I believe that all poets, everybody who works with the ways of language, find themselves in that reality; in other words, in that problem.

July 2014

Translations from the Spanish By Ryan Long
Map 6
      Bruno Montane Krebs
With this map I encounter something I do not seek, with this map I will
find what is left, with it I will imagine wells of fire, I will feel
marks that this time stay on my skin. For an instant I allow myself to
believe that this is the final map, that this is the offering of the
most concealed signs, that this is the help that I still did not
I dream that this map shows me new paths and this dream settles inside
me with the same tension of a new life, with the same trembling of a
gaze that in me I did not know. 

Editorial note: Visit the WLT website to read Ryan Long's essay, "The Problem of the Poem: Reading Bruno Montane Kreb."

Ryan Long is an associate professor of Spanish at the University of Maryland. His research and publications address a range of topics, including the Mexican Student Movement of 1968, the conflict in Chiapas, Mexican cinema, and a number of writers, including Alvaro Mutis, Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, Laura Esquivel, and Roberto Bolano.
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Title Annotation:WLT INTERVIEW
Author:Long, Ryan
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:3CHIL
Date:Nov 1, 2014
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