JMW:So what do you take to be your role as an anthology editor?
FG:An anthology editor is something like Bob Dylan, you’re a guy with a song. You don’t want to write a national anthem, but you believe in voice and words and point of view and you have a sense of the art, its history and its possibilities. Its context. I’m not from Spain and I can’t expect to “represent” the total situation of contemporary Spanish poetry. That would involve my comprehension of Galician, Catalan, Asturian, and Basque. But as an outsider with a keen interest in Spanish-language poetry, I have a perspective that can be useful. And I can recognize a systemic change—which is what is happening in Spanish poetry right now.
JMW:Is that what you set out to accomplish, the recording of a systemic change?
FG:When you get down to the lick log, yes. Although there are always innovators, it could be argued that there’s a residual hide-bound conservatism in Spanish poetry that is part of Franco’s legacy. Many writers fought to conserve cultural and literary values in response to the grotesque manipulations of cultural and literary values imposed by the Franco regime. Writing was suppressed. Franco didn’t die until 1975. So the first generation of post-Franco writers are now in their late thirties. Those are primarily the writers I’m looking at in this anthology, although I start with three signal living forebears. Three incredible poets whose work has served as lighthouses for the younger generation.
JMW:And the pitfalls and limitations?
FG:. . . are going to be most obvious to the Spaniards. How could you include X and not Y?! But I set out with the modest ambition of highlighting ten living poets whose work is part of an innovative surge. Mine is a take. The more takes, the fuller the picture. I translated some writers that I ended up leaving out because I felt my translations didn’t do justice to the originals. I left out some because they didn’t resonate as keenly with other selections. I went for a body of work finally that feels connected across gender and generational lines. Poets whose work is distinct, whose talents are unequivocal, whose approaches to form are exploratory but very particular. I want the reader to experience a different complex of joy and engagement with each author.
JMW:Who is publishing anthologies now, and what advice do you have for future anthologists?
FG:Tony Frazer at Shearsman Editions published the first edition of Panic Cure. He’s great to work with, as any of his authors will happily admit. He designed a beautiful book with a cover image by one of Spain’s most esteemed artists, Frederic Amat. The Shearsman edition just came out at the end of October, 2013. Seismicity Editions / Otis Books, edited by Paul Vangelisti and Guy Bennett, will publish the U.S. edition in 2014.
This anthology was a dream project and the Spanish authors were glad to be involved, to consider my translations, and to help with permissions. But I was shocked to find that many presses in the U.S. refuse outright to consider anthologies. Wonderful translation oriented presses like Archipelago and Ugly Duckling—no anthologies. Open Letter, ditto. And it’s because, as the editor of Copper Canyon, Michael Wiegers, explained to me: anthologies don’t sell well in the United States. I simply didn’t know that. Naturally, I’m hoping this one will be an exception.
As it turns out, I’m finishing work on another anthology that has taught me a whole different lesson. Pinholes in the Night: Essential Poems from Latin America. The selection is by the great Chilean poet Raúl Zurita and Copper Canyon is able to publish it with help from The Poetry Foundation. I solicited translations from some of my favorite poets and translators, a really primo list. But the writers included in this anthology are mostly dead and their literary estates are often run by business people, not by people who care about literature. Permissions have been denied because the rights holders insisted we use translations by their friends or because our translations included a few Spanish words or because the executors simply couldn’t be bothered to get back to us. Understandably, there is some antipathy for The United States in countries where we have helped to overturn elected governments and contributed to the murder and immiseration of thousands. But for that very reason, you’d think they would want their poets infiltrating the U.S., altering the DNA of American English with Latin American rhythms, image repertoires, themes, syntactical possibilities, etc. Which is what happens when literature is well translated. So I would warn prospective anthologists that it can be exceedingly difficult to get the rights for work by writers who have died and that your vision of the right translator for the right work might come into conflict with the opinions of the holders of the rights. You’ll need to go like a spider, patiently, tentatively even as the deadlines near, testing the way with all your eyes open and with a fury inside you to make the thing happen no matter what.