Exclusive interview with Sean Negus

North American Sean Negus is a lecturer in the English Department at San Francisco State University, a poet and an experimental writer with a keen eye to hybrid modalities in arts. He holds a Master in English: Composition and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing: Poetry from the same college. In 2016 he completed a fellowship at Stanford University, in which he investigated pedagogies of the literary transnational. Negus has just launched the online magazine Dusie no. 21, dedicated to contemporary Brazilian poetry. This latest issue is a project of Susana Gardner and it was co-edited and curated with Brazilian poet and teacher Donny Correia. The magazine was launched in February in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro; it comprises 54 poets, translators and visual artists.

 

Negus speaks to Rosane Carneiro exclusively for O B L I Q U E.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oblique: You talk in the Introduction of Dusie about the path which may have opened your ways to Brazil. Besides the enchantment with Brazilian culture as a whole, what specifically in Brazilian poetry gave rise to your interest?

 

 

Sean Negus:  As someone interested in experimental autobiographies, and ways that we can author our own experiences in collaboration with the field of phenomenon we call the world, the reconstruction of events is curious. I was attempting to allude to this process in the introduction to the magazine, but there is a more specific history about my relationship to Brazilian poetry. My interest in Brazilian poetry arose during graduate school, when Paul Hoover, an American postmodern lyricist, introduced the work of Brazilian modernist poetry to me. He, with Maxine Chernoff, had edited an issue of New American Writing featuring a concise suite of Brazilian poetry in translation and was introducing work from that publication, in part. Right there during my first encounter, I felt a thrill and sort of filed it away intending to engage with Brazilian poetry in greater depth sometime in the future (though, by the time my engagements had started, I had forgotten about this, and was just going on nerve). The work of Mário de Andrade, Oswald de Andrade, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, and João Cabral de Melo Neto struck me immediately as somehow more poignant, more in-touch with a ground of reality or experience that felt very honest, and more penetrating than any other modernist work that I had encountered, and perhaps this is still true.

 

 

 

Carlos Drummond de Andrade                                          João Cabral de Melo de Neto

 

 

O: What specifically in Brazilian modernists caught more your attention? Something related to the authors’ interdisciplinary approach, in certain cases...?

 

 

S.N. The modernist poetry of Brazil seems not to refute tradition to arrive at an artifice of art, but to reinvigorate poetic language with the potential to carry and transmit the depths of experience that felt more authentic than some of the experiments of the American modernist movement of the same periods. You might say that I thought the Brazilian modernist poetry tradition had more “heart” without denigrating the American tradition of modernism, which I still find compelling and influential for other reasons. I was also taken by the socio-political consciousness that infused much of the poetics of the modernist masters, like Oswald de Andrade’s “Manifesto Antropófago”, and Mário de Andrade’s adaptation of ethnography as poetic methodology. There was a global consciousness and also a design to move between discourses and fields of experience

for the production of a new poetry. As someone who was interested in inter/trans-disciplinary approaches to art, writing and scholarship, this felt very much in-line and instructive about what potentials might exist.

 

 

O: How long did the entire process of editing the magazine take, from contacting Susana Gardner to launching it? Given the experimental character of the publication, tell us if there was any special method you elaborated during your editorial journey.

 

 

S.N. From the very inception of the project, which began with a query e-mail to Susana, to the formal release of the magazine, it was exactly 380 days (according to dated e-mails). I remember once I had received Susana’s enthusiastic reply, I reached out to Donny and began very awkwardly trying to initiate first steps. I think that I made room for myself to experiment with different approaches, and to feel confused and unprepared for the challenge. There is something of the “beginner’s mind” that Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki Roshi introduced that I was excited to work with and learn as much as I could about how to put together a magazine like this. I imagined some constraints, and tried to figure my limitations, to gain a sense of what might be possible given the fact that I was working full-time and dedicated to other practices as well. Quickly, though, this project became a really invigorating way to interface with poets creating exciting work and was integrated in my daily life in a way that injected a sense of the new and the possible.

 

 

 

 

O: Could this invigoration be related to (or be rooted in) the digital aspect of the project?

 

 

S.N. Yes, the project opened also a sense of what is possible across spatial boundaries when we think about the potential of the digital. In some ways, being very young when the internet was first developed, with experiences forming long distance and close friendships via instant messaging, this felt like a natural extension of that early trajectory. There might be a lot to speculate about the digital platform through which Dusie, and poetry at-large now occurs. I wonder what might happen to a poetic through non-local influences? How do the relational spaces made possible through the internet affect the ways in which poetries might become cross-pollinated?

 

 

O: Did you have main influences whilst working in the magazine? Which previous collections of Brazilian poetry in translation and respective criticisms did you acknowledge for Dusie?

 

 

S.N. When I ended the fellowship at Stanford and started teaching transnationally-focused literature, I knew I wanted to move into the domain of praxis (away from theory), as I wrote in the introduction to the issue. From that experience, and from personal inquiries stemming from it, I had a sense of what transnational literature might look like, and the role it might play in moving culture across various borderlands. I had already travelled to Brazil and befriended Donny by the time the magazine had started, and so knew him, and had been in contact with Charles Perrone (a great scholar of Brazilian poetry). Perrone’s work on Brazilian poetry, Seven Faces: Brazilian Poetry Since Modernism, and Brazil, Lyric and the Americas were especially robust and provided socio-cultural contexts and direct references that helped me orient to contemporary work. Also, Mike Gonzalez’s and David Treece’s scholarship, including a volume titled The Gathering of Voices: The Twentieth-Century Poetry of Latin America, had a few chapters that were specifically useful for thinking about Brazilian poetries in the present.

 

 

O: What was the most difficult part for you in this work?

 

 

S.N. I think that the lack of a social network was a primary challenge, since so much of poetry, perhaps more so than other arts, occurs through a vital community and expanded network(s). Within these communities there exists, of course, little ecosystems of differing approaches, and some within these communities carry different poetic intentions, while other poets exist more autonomously and appear more singular. The lack of this network felt like a major obstacle. Despite trying to circulate the call for work through various academic channels, I realize that I would have to be more inventive and so started reading poems published on Brazilian digital platforms, and writing those poets whose work I liked, and thought a good match for Dusie. However I was informed by my own readings in American experimentalist work and wanted to find poetry that represented similar threads of inquiry, if I could. I was open, however, to encountering work that might radically shift my sense of poetry. Both happened in rich and rewarding ways, I think.

 

 

O: Despite the diversity in literary and aesthetic histories and styles present in Dusie, were you able to notice any possible strands of common traits among the participants?

 

 

S.N. Yes, I am glad you asked this question. There are threads or continuities between poetries in the issue, perhaps even in ways that I cannot fully access or explicate here, but the primary aggregation concerns a kind of socio-political (and even cultural) response to various realities of the state/system. The poets who work in this vein make use of poetic approaches to both enfold and respond to social and political realities. It might be inaccurate to identify this thread as “activistic”, but there is included in these addresses of the present an obvious critique that permeates these poets whose names include: Ana Kiffer, Adelaide Ivánova, Claudio Daniel, Renata Aparecida Felinto dos Santos, Leandro Rodrigues, Danielle Magalhães, and Gabriel Innocentini. In many ways, you might say that all poetry is cultural work and necessarily political, but these poets address those dimensions more explicitly in their work.

I would also identify a very important thread of Afro-Brazilian poetics that extend throughout the issue, where the cultural ground of its traditions is used through imagery, allusion, and other central elements of the poetic to invoke various aspects of its worldview stemming from this social location into the poetic. This is really fantastic work and includes poets like Edimilson de Almeida Pereira, Lívia Natália, and Alex Simões.

Interestingly, there are poets who address the micro-local qualities of the everyday through artefactual consciousness of place. These are poets who have entered place and transformed it through the poetic, often making using of objects and landscapes of the mundane territories they inhabit and find themselves compelled by. This thread or aggregate in the issue includes poets like Greta Benitez, Angélica Freitas, Prisca Augustoni, Ana Kiffer, and the masterful work of Régis Bonvicino.

 

 

O: The political turmoil Brazil has been living in the last years is discussed abroad. Could you as a scholar realize poetic focused critical stances in this regard? Do you relate any of the aesthetic tendencies perceived in Dusie to the moment the country has been facing?

 

 

S.N. For sure, as someone living mostly outside of Brazil except for maybe a month or so a year, I also maintain social connections with people living in the country, the political (and social) turmoil within the nation has felt at times to be acutely a part of the context within which Dusie was produced. These contexts show up most explicitly in the work of Claudio Daniel and Gabriel Innocentini, who address the state in overt fashion through poetic synthesis. However, a reader might also hold this context and speculate about the relationship between nations and citizens, and political and personal consciousness that reveals itself through the poetic. The degree to which we are national subjects can be

disputed, and I think that as individuals and groups we feel solidarity with these meta-categories in varying ways (some more than others), so I don’t want to be presumptuous. It might be interesting for some readers of the magazine to hold the question about the relationships between cultural, political and poetic.

 

 

O: If we discuss transnationalism in a critical way, we could perhaps understand translation plays a role on raising a wider and more social ‘mode’ of transnationalism. Do you believe translation holds a singular place, if considered the questionable hegemonic concept of transnationalism as economical, i.e., global capitalism and its forms of monopolization? In other words, do you believe translation can help to build a more integrated transnational society, engaging better individuals, groups, institutions and states, in a counteraction to capitalist globalization?

 

 

S.N. If we take translation in a very liberal sense to mean the various ways that culture is made available through different channels (film subtitles, cultural practices, and traditionally translated alphabetic texts, as examples) we see that the circulation of ideas via texts in translation has a prominent role in creating space for the reception of diverse worldviews, especially those that might be counter-hegemonic and resistant to a capitalist globalizing tendency. This tendency increasingly has fewer national ties in the globalized economic system, and traffics capital across borders to evade civic, political and environmental responsibility. The movement of ideas (via translated texts) across the borderlands of the world shouldn’t be underestimated as a way of enacting transformational consciousness and action. I think one of the more important aspects of circulating texts and ideas in translation might be to provide a critical method to help people also do the work of translating social, cultural, and political contexts in order to have greater awareness about how ideas, approaches and practices were originally formed, and how they might be re-interpreted or mobilized in new contexts.

 

 

O: Could you give us some examples?

 

 

S.N. In discussing with friends at Brazilian universities the integration of American social justice discourse (transnational feminism, Black power, etc.) into Brazilian society, there are various interpretations about the reasons and effects of these movements, but the point remains that translation does enable counter-hegemonic ideas to occur, and that this is a method for moving transformational ideas across borders (I was really happy to see Angela Davis’s text in Portuguese at Livraria da Travessa in Rio). The work of selection for translators determines which texts get translated and is an inherently political decision (recognized or not), and shouldn’t be used to create new hierarchies, unwittingly. Brazil has a very strong history of progressive aesthetic, political and social discourse that shows up in its arts, and I think that these ideas are important to mobilize and make available for the world to encounter. Not only because they have individual worth and should be promoted, but also to ensure visibility of the global South on the world stage.

 

 

O: Who are your favourite authors and books in Brazilian literature? Have you been reading Brazilian literature recently, beyond the huge work with Dusie?

 

 

S.N. I prioritize a lot of different and diverse titles in my reading practice when I get a chance to study and read creatively and am working to integrate Brazilian poetry into this stream more permanently. I see this engagement as a sort of an ongoing relationship, and reading is a good way to reinvigorate and keep that relationship with Brazilian poetry alive. I still really enjoy the work of Brazilian modernist poets, many of whom do not have

the visibility or accessibility in the United States that they should. I recently started a focused study of João Cabral de Melo Neto’s work for an artistic group that I participate in. Mario de Andrade’s Hallucinated City strikes many of the right aesthetic registers for me and continues to be one of my favorite books of poems. I am excited about reading more of the work of Edimilson de Almeida Pereira’s poems, which are beautiful and mysterious. Marília Garcia’s poetry was made apparent to me after Dusie was published. I am excited about encountering her work more deeply, as well as many of the books that have been gifted to me.

 

 Garcia's "Câmera Lenta"                                                     Almeida Pereira's "Poemas para ler com as palmas"

 

 

 

O: What is about to come next in your work as an editor? Any new projects related to Portuguese language?

 

 

S.N.: Yes! I am working with Rodrigo Bravo, Matheus Steinberg Bueno and Antonio Vicente Seraphim Pietroforte on initiating a running digital publication to feature the work of Brazilian poetries in translation. We are calling the publication saccades-sacadas, a title that refers to both the ocular movement of the eye in short lineated bursts that readers of poetry are familiar with, with the elusive (mis)translation of that word into Portuguese, sacadas, as in a view or situation one observes. We hope to have the first issue online within the coming months. Beyond this, I am excited about doing focused work with Brazilian poetry in the future, but those horizons have yet to become visible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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