A Conversation With José Vicente Anaya

Some months ago, Medium.com / the operating system interviewed José Vicente Anaya. Círculo de Poesía publish in Mexico that conversation.

OS Collaborator José Vicente Anaya talks about his poem Híkuri (Peyote), recently translated by Joshua Pollock. JOSÉ VICENTE ANAYA (Villa Coronado, Chihuahua, 1947-Mexico City, 2020) is a Mexican poet, essayist, translator, editor, and journalist. He was founder and co-director of the poetry journal Alforja from 1997 to 2008. In 1980 he won the Plural prize in poetry. In 1981 he was awarded the INBA-FONAPAS poetry grant. In 1989 he received the Tomás Valles Literature Prize. In 2000 he was named Writer Emeritus by the Chihuahuan Institute of Culture and CONACULTA. He has published more than 25 books. 





Greetings! Thank you for talking to us about your process today! Can you introduce yourself, in a way that you would choose?

My name is José Vicente Anaya Leal. I was born in a small, old town in Chihuahua, México, called Villa Coronado (earlier it was called Río Florido, the same as the river that runs across the town and which fertilizes that desert area, transforming the region into an agricultural paradise). I was born on January 22, 1947, the coldest day of that winter, when the snow turned into ice. I’m the youngest of my brothers and sisters. When I was three years old, we emigrated to the northern borderlands — to Ciudad Juárez and then later to Tijuana, Baja California; consequently, I was a border child: bilingual and bicultural.

Why are you a poet/writer/artist?

I am sure that I was born a poet, because my father and my paternal grandfather had great imaginations and they told us stories — classics as well as stories that they invented. In this way, they helped open the path to the imagination for me. My father and grandfather also had a lot of books, so me and my sisters and brother read a lot throughout our childhoods. Beginning when I was ten years old, I read almost all of the romantic poets and modernists in the Spanish language (at least those on the bookshelf at the house); that is where my poetic sensibility came from and I began writing poems that rhymed. From junior-high on, I continued buying books and reading poets.

When did you decide you were a poet/writer/artist (and/or: do you feel comfortable calling yourself a poet/writer/artist, what other titles or affiliations do you prefer/feel are more accurate)?

I remember clearly the day that I wrote my first poem. I was ten years old. It was a love poem dedicated to a beautiful girl that I was enamored with. But my first reaction was surprise and doubt (I surprised myself), I didn’t understand how that text had emerged from me. At first I didn’t believe that I was the one who wrote it, I thought maybe it was one of the poems that I had read in the books around my house and that I had learned it unconsciously. So I decided to reread all of the poetry books to find it, but it wasn’t in any of them. So then I accepted that I was the author of that poem, and I implicitly accepted that I was a poet. To this very day, that is how I’ve written all of my poetry.

What’s a “poet” (or “writer” or “artist”) anyway? What do you see as your cultural and social role (in the literary / artistic / creative community and beyond)?

I am convinced that, as a poet, I am a medium of universal wisdom, as if somebody (God? The Universal Unconscious?) asked me to report the visions they present to me via the poems.

Talk about the process or instinct to move these poems (or your work in general) as independent entities into a body of work. How and why did this happen? Have you had this intention for a while? What encouraged and/or confounded this (or a book, in general) coming together? Was it a struggle?

As I said before, my book Híkuri emerged spontaneously. At the time, I was living in the Sierra Tarahumara (Rarámuri) of Chihuahua. I had seen a photo of my maternal grandfather, Jesús Leal, and was struck by his Rarámuri features. I decided to go live in the territory of my antecedents, my ancestors, and learn everything about what the culture had been (dances, peyote, language, songs, legends, history, daily life). I lived there for many months. Later I befriended the shaman Osé Mereílo, who initiated me into the rites of eating peyote. Afterwards, in an instant, the poem Híkuri — which I had been writing little by little — presented itself to me in its entirety, but it took me over a year to finish writing it.

What formal structures or other constrictive practices (if any) do you use in the creation of your work? Have certain teachers or instructive environments, or readings/writings/work of other creative people informed the way you work/write?

The structure, the language, the formation of words and the series of events were formed by themselves. It wasn’t a rational work, thought out ahead of time. I let my thoughts flow out of control.

Speaking of monikers, what does your title represent? How was it generated? Talk about the way you titled the book, and how your process of naming (individual pieces, sections, etc) influences you and/or colors your work specifically.

In the Rarámuri or Tarahumara language, “híkuri” means peyote (in the Huichol language as well). The word by itself expresses all that is known or can be said about that powerful, hallucinogenic biznaga [cactus].

What does this particular work represent to you
…as indicative of your method/creative practice?
…as indicative of your history?
…as indicative of your mission/intentions/hopes/plans?

For me, it is a poem that has no literary precedent, and from this point of view it’s entirely novel. Furthermore, it’s a sort of call to the collective unconscious.

What does this book DO (as much as what it says or contains)?

It bears a new language that we should attend to.

What would be the best possible outcome for this book? What might it do in the world, and how will its presence as an object facilitate your creative role in your community and beyond? What are your hopes for this book, and for your practice?

This book (since its first edition) has taken its own path, as if it were an entity that made its own decisions. It will follow wherever its destiny leads it.

Let’s talk a little bit about the role of poetics and creative community in social and political activism, so present in our daily lives as we face the often sobering, sometimes dangerous realities of the Capitalocene. How does your process, practice, or work otherwise interface with these conditions?

My poetry is an entity immersed in these, our times, just as we human beings are.

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