Toronto-based poet Beatriz Hausner's forthcoming new collection, Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (available April 16 through Book*hug) is an examination of humanity's long-standing love affair with, well....love.
Playfully jumping across vast historical timelines and literary references, Hausner weaves together Italian troubadours, Byzantine-era royalty, and punk/new wave icons into an immersive linguistic web to explore the pleasure and pain of love, sex, and human relationships. A rewarding sensory experience, Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart is a unique and surprising read.
We're thrilled to have Beatriz at Open Book today to discuss why the beginning of a poem is so important, the formative literary education she received in her native Chile, and why Canada needs more translated international literature.
Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?
It is not any one specific experience, but rather the continuous influence of my upbringing. I was brought up in the household of an artist, my mother Susana Wald, and a poet and collage artist Ludwig Zeller, my late stepfather. I remember one instance when, while still in my native Chile, as children, my brother, one of my cousins and I were assigned one poem each by Ludwig to memorize. We were not only able to recite our designated poem (for me it was a poem by Gabriela Mistral), but perhaps out of boredom, the three of us, quite instinctively decided to recite our assignations in tandem, with ensuing cacophony. Ludwig found this to be quite a happy and natural expression of the subversive instinct for experimentation that has guided his and my mother’s creative stance throughout their lives. Later, once in Canada, and because of his isolation in Toronto as a Spanish-language poet, Ludwig took to me as principal interlocutor of all things poetry. He introduced me to the poets of the Spanish Renaissance and Baroque such as Garcilaso de la Vega, Francisco de Quevedo, and the incomparable Luis de Góngora. He read them out loud to me, as he did the poets that were his precursors, like Rosamel del Valle, the French-language poet and mystic, O. V de L Milosz, and the French Symbolist poets. He read and educated me about the poetry of surrealism, including most of the poets I would eventually make part of my poetic pantheon, and who would influence my work, including César Moro, Aldo Pellegrini, Enrique Gómez Correa, Jorge Cáceres, the incomparable César Vallejo, and all manner of poets on the same tangent as the surrealists of the inter and post war periods, whose work he valued, such as the writers of the Grand Jeu (René Daumal, Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, Rollad de Renéville). Ludwig was obsessive about the German Romantics, especially Hölderlin, whom he read to me in excellent Spanish translations, though my favourite at the time was Heinrich Von Kleist, whose plays in English translation I read with special avidness.
What is the first poem you remember being affected by?
No doubt it was “Le Bateau ivre,” the “Drunken Boat” by Arthur Rimbaud. I remember the moment exactly: I was a student of Spanish and French literature at U of T, in a class taught by Paul Bouissac, an extraordinary writer and literary critic. The way he analyzed the poem as he read it out loud to us taught me the basics about poetic structure and internal rhythm. This I quickly followed with a reading of Rimbaud’s Illuminations, which marked me deeply. Such daring, such confidence, such talent!
What one poem—from any time period—do you wish you had been the one to write?
What a wonderful question! In truth, the poems I wish I had written have changed over time. When I was starting out as a poet it was André Breton’s “L’Union libre.” Later and for a long period it was “Carta de amor,” by one of my favourite poets, César Moro, which I translated as “Love Letter.” It remains one of the poems I have read most deeply, a requirement of poetry translation. For the last few years, as I worked my way through the poems that now make up Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, I became infatuated with Dante’s Vita Nuova, truly one of the strangest book-length poems ever composed. This work has proven a kind of guide, which I have used alongside other works of the troubadour tradition, especially the tiny corpus of the Countess of Dia, named Beatritz, a poet who lived in the Rhone region of France, sometime around the 12th Century.
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What's more important in your opinion: the way a poem opens or the way it ends?
The way a poem begins is essential. More than the title, even, the beginning of the poem can announce its progression. The poem’s progression ultimately provides the ending, which for me is usually easier to arrive at than the beginning was/is. Always, getting going is the hardest.
How would you describe the poetry community in Canada? What strengths and weaknesses do you observe within the community?
During most of my life as an active poet, the Canadian poetry community was split into two camps: poets who experimented with language as a tool for formal, conceptual, often abstract expression, and everybody else, conveniently placed in the “lyrical” category. In the last several years these two “classifications” have incorporated identity as a theme and focus. As a surrealist, that is to say, one who upholds the tenets proposed a century ago by a group of artists and poets ¾ freedom in all its forms as a means to achieve and experience reality in its total dimension¾ I have been formed in poetics of all kinds, and have always availed myself to the limitless possibilities that the associative methods offer. In other words, form and content are inseparable to me and essential to each other. At the same time, I feel that the poetry community in Canada is full of talented creators who are eager for exposure to other voices and influences. I am fairly certain that access to literatures from other cultures and countries, written in other languages, can open up our poetics. For this to happen, a lot more international literature in translation will need to be published, sold and be made available for public use through libraries in Canada. Canadian publishers are eager to publish literature in translation written by world authors, and there is an outstanding literary translation culture alive and breathing, yet unable to express itself, in order to bring into Canadian poetry the needed sounds, cadences, ideas and forms that we are so thirsty for.
Beatriz Hausner has published several poetry collections, including The Wardrobe Mistress, Sew Him Up, and Enter the Raccoon. Selected poems and chapbooks of hers have been published internationally and translated into several languages. Hausner is a respected historian and translator of Latin American Surrealism, with recent essays published in The International Encyclopedia of Surrealism in 2019. Her translations of César Moro, the poets of Mandrágora, as well as essays and fiction by legends like Aldo Pellegrini and Eugenio Granell have exerted an important influence on her work. Hausner’s history of advocacy in Canadian literary culture is also well known: she has worked as a literary programmer in Toronto, her hometown, and was Chair of the Public Lending Right Commission. She is currently President of the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada, a position she held twice before.