Third International Mahalta Poetry Festival (Comença el III Festival Internacional de Poesia Mahalta) Lleida, Spain; October 24-26, 2007
Mahalta Roundtable 2007: A Dialogue Between Eduardo López Truco and Remi Raji
EL: I would like to begin this roundtable talking about the most personal aspects and later, we will arrive at the ideas that you have of words like globalizationand multi-culturalism. The goal of this (roundtable) is to discuss one of the ideas that articulates the Poetry Festival Mahalta 2007: poetry shows us that it is possible to understand to us from the singularity, that the more intimate sentimental landscape can turn-in universal and affecting to us directly. (…) it doesn’t matter if we dress similar or if we speak the same language. If we increase in our diversity and we encourage it, we are defending our own identity.
We can organize our discussion around three basic questions, which can allow ourselves to think about our own experiences and knowledge.
EL: Perhaps you can tell us about your personal landscapes, those with which you identify yourself and recreate in your writings. I wish you can tell us how you adapt yourself to the new places you visit or live in.
RR: As a Nigerian writer based in and out of Africa, I will say that I have several landscapes that populate my imagination and which in essence offer themselves for me to draw experiences from, to establish dialogues with or to engage in arguments. These landscapes which I speak of are more real than imagined, physical geographies which one necessarily encounters; but in contemplation and writing, they become mindscapes so to say, broad virtual spaces of the imagination upon which one anchors an idea and transcends the narrow, known paths of one’s immediate environment. For a number of reasons, my personal landscape is a complex space: once a colony, an occupied territory, a chartered protectorate, then a rough association of communities with huge potentials and problems. I reflect constantly and actively on this ambiguous relationship with my land. Indeed, our landscapes travel with us in ways that surprise us, especially in the way in which one constantly remembers or recollects even more vividly about left places. When I visit or live in other physical geographies, I find that the connections that I make between my homeland and the “outland” are always such that draw upon my comparative and contrastive energies.
When I am out in other countries, I absolutely feel like a foreigner only in terms of what people make of me, as Nigerian (in South Africa, for example) African (in Europe generally), non-resident, alien (in official documents), etc, and also in terms of the questions that people ask: usually curious, innocent and sometimes naïve questions about my homeland, because they do not know and therefore seek knowledge, the same way that I seek understanding of new, unfamiliar places. So the feeling is mutual. But I rarely feel odd, out in space, because I always embrace much easily the breath and the signs of places, wherever I find myself.
I imagine myself as inspired by the histories, the geniuses and the blunders of a nation-space, which is Nigeria. I imagine that what I say about that space is almost true of the rest of Africa, and as such if my poetry can reach a range of people spread all over the continent, and perhaps beyond, I would have fulfilled a mission of focus. But I also think that some poetry are not necessarily bound to a “common place” because they contain the possibility of speaking to the general humanity of man, beyond the physicality of artificial borders; some poetry cut across the concerns of race, religion or ideology; for instance, when I compose my poems of love, I don’t think only of geographies, I focus on the biology of emotions. But these are half-truths because even the poetry of love can also be infused with political metaphors which engage the landscape…
EL: How is the rest of the world (what is beyond your borders) understood in your societies or cultures? The information that we receivedin the West leads us to believe that this concept is not understood in the same way in Iran, Nigeria or Croatia. In each case, the concept foreignerhas connotations.
RR: In Nigeria, as in many so-called Third world societies, the outland is generally imagined as a potential place of escape from the hard realities of living. The outland, beyond known borders, is romanticized as the place where everything will work right; the “West” particularly is imagined as the favorite Promised Land for many youths who invariably or eventually live their days in the ambivalence of dejection and relative comfort. Ironically, there is a remarkable increase in the number of migrants, from Europe and Asia, into Nigeria, most of who are economic exiles/adventurers into a place where others prefer to leave! Generally, these foreigners (expatriates, as they are called) get a better deal and experience an upward scale movement in social status compared to the majority of African migrants traveling in the other direction of the globe.
EL: A website devoted to Mohsèn Emadi's poetry refers to “the western literary tradition has a hard time looking beyond Paris, [and it] is used to ignore the great geniuses of other Literatures”. Certainly this has been the case for a long time. For reasons of its political and economic supremacy, when the West has gone beyond Paris has been to catch the peculiarity, the singularity or, in a few cases, to look for its roots, as could be the case with Arab or Hebrew poetry. But THIS INTEREST has hardly ever reached post-colonial African poetry, for example. This lack of interest presents us as a society that, only in a very tangential way, has offered itself to the cultural interchange and it has assumed it like a process of personal enrichment.
In the scope of the Hispanic poetry, we have examples OF WHAT? like the interest of a J.J. Tablada by tankasand haikusfrom the Japanese tradition, the translations of Juan Ramon Jiménez and Zenobia Camprubí of the work of the Indian Rabindranath Tagore, the one of the first Catalan translation of the Staysof Omar Kayyam, or within the scope of Anglo-Saxon Literature the Ezra Pound interest in Chinese poetry, of aHilda Doolitle in Greek and Latin poetry, more in particular in the poetry of Safo, among others… And in the opposite case: How can you tell us you have received and interpreted the other cultures, those that also for you were beyond Paris? Do you feel observed by entomologist-readers, sometimes? Do we, the foreign readers, treat you as you consider that your poetry deserves?
RR: It needs to be admitted that as for other disciplines, what gets taught as Literature and as literary forms is what gets circulated as the absolute and Great Tradition. The historical fallacy of “Western civilization” has cut off other true civilizations (in science, philosophy, archaeology, literature …) from the intellectual and creative maps of the world so that the discussion of the basic issues of authenticity and imitation, influence and adaptation always lead us back to the names of Plato, Aristotle, Aristophanes, Euripides, Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare and Eliot, Balzac and Baudelaire…
Of course, very little is known of the magnificence of other poetic traditions, including the pre-colonial African heritage of griots, and troubadours, those who preceded much of post-colonial or contemporary poetry in Africa. As for my generation of writers, the question of the over-bearing presence of “Paris” or “London” has been thoroughly flogged and overcome. The language with which I package my poetry might be “colonial”, the idea and the force of the message is beyondcolonial, and transcendentallycultural. I do not make demands on the readership of my work; I only wish to persuade the reader to go beyond the stereotyped reading of “non-Western” poetry, for without a minimal understanding of the locus culturalwhich informs the mindscape of the writer’s work, the reader reads superficially…
EL: For the well-read people, concepts as globalization were already present in terms like “universal”. A text acquired this condition at the moment in which it was capable of crossing borders and of being assimilated by people from other places and traditions. Globalizationcarries with it the heterogeneity of our society, where maps have begun to stump the border lines and the citizens grant another meaning to the cosmopolitan word.
How open are you to the world and receptive to the effects of globalization? Is it possible to believe this communion of cultures, or are we still closed people, distrustful of what arrives to us from the outside? What benefit can you obtain from this phenomenon, and how is it reflected in your poetry?
RR: Globalization is of course the trumpet terminology for the practice of the fluidity of economies, goods, equipment, and to some extent, ideas across known and fixed borders. Globalization is an ultimate praxis of “traveling theory”. But the ideal of the disappearance of boundaries or the concept of crossing borders is a very problematic aspiration. In defining globalization, the transmission of ideas, texts, and things is not as crucial as the transportation of peoples. In fact, the measure of the concept of globalization is to be determined by how much ease there is in the flow, not of capital, but of capacity, of the citizenry across the world’s globe. The evidence of the constraints of migration (especially from the global South to the North) is a big question mark on the true value of the concept. So I think it is possible to achieve that communion of cultures where there is a mutual dialogue across civilizations, where citizens from different areas of the globe can meet and discuss with the confidence of mutual understanding and respect, having overcome previous experiences of prejudices. When such cultural revolution happens, I will be happy to see a change in the reception of concepts like foreigner, expatriate, migrant, migrant-labour, etc, all other concepts which continually contribute to the polarization of the world rather than the celebration of its diverse universality.
September 30, 2007.