A community of diverse poets and writers supporting literary arts in California. Somos en escrito provides a venue for these aspiring poets to feature their poetry, interviews, reviews and promote poetic happenings.
Arturo Mantecón and his Heteronym Winstead Macario by Arturo Balderrama.*
ARTURO MANTECÓN THE POET: A Personal Narrative
As a child I was an avid reader. I read a wide variety of things. Once I learned to read, at age six, I sought out all the signs that I had seen on store fronts on my walks with my mother. I had been fascinated by the mysterious, indecipherable characters, and the ones in neon entranced me. The first sign I deciphered was one that had always enchanted me. It was near my school at the corner of Quincy and Grand River in Detroit. The sign jutted out from the storefront at a 45 degree angle. Its lettering was very unique, vivid and colorful. It turned out the sign read "Dry Cleaning." That was the first of a succession of profound personal disappointments in literature.
I was read to up to then, so I enthusiastically cut out the middle man (my mother) and started checking out a lot of books from the library. (It didn't occur to me until a year later that one could buy books.) I read kid stuff, stuff that was fun: Munroe Leaf, Hugh Lofting, Dr. Seuss, Aesop, but my preference at the time was paleontology and, to some degree, archaeology. I developed a thirst for rudimentary cosmology, and I was interested in the evolution of animals and men and would check out books on those subjects. When I was seven or so, I came across the book "Microbe Hunters" which detailed the lives and discoveries of van Leeuwenhoek and Pasteur among others. It led to my begging for a microscope, which I got, one wonderful Christmas. No one guided me. No one made any suggestions as to what I should read. It was haphazard. I was indulged in my pursuits but not guided. I liked comic books and began to notice the covers of the "Classic Comics" series. These comic books were my first literary purchases (ten cents). I was introduced to Gulliver's Travels, Moby Dick, Don Quixote, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (It wasn't until I later checked it out at the library that I discovered its true title was Notre Dame de Paris.) I read these and, realizing that they were based on something grander, looked for them at the library. I read these things understanding perhaps 70 percent of what I read, but it was a start. My paternal grandmother had been given some old books by a white lady who befriended her. My grandmother didn't read English, so they ended up with my father. One of them was the The Lady of the Camellias which I dismissed as a bore after a page or two. Another was the complete works of Tennyson, and it included Idylls of the King, which I adored. It was the first poetry I ever read, and it started me off on a life-long love of chivalric romances, and when I came to read Don Quixote, it enabled me to understand the satire. Anyway, this is a good description of my early childhood reading.
Different writers inspired me. My first thoughts of becoming a writer centered on baseball. I was about 12 and I wanted to be a sports writer/reporter. My models were Ring Lardner, Damon Runyan, and Paul Gallico. But it wasn't until I was 15 and had run into Dylan Thomas, García Lorca, and Rimbaud that the notion of writing poetry occurred to me. At the time, I was already writing sports articles for my high school newspaper. But it wasn’t until I was sixteen years old that I began writing poetry.
THE POETRY OF ARTURO MANTECÓN
SARDINE I am tired of breathing, weary of my own two feet I want to crawl through the sand, to the shell-scattered shore, to the exhaling, inhaling surf, the rippling margin of the grey-green mother, who carries the lungless in her womb. I want to plunge in the beckoning waves; I want to be pulled and drawn, to where breath is fatal. I want gills to capture my essential gas from the sodium liquid atmosphere, so that my blood will flow, and redden the folds of my brain. I want fins; I want tail; I want a sleek, oblong body, with brilliant, lapping scales. I want to be small, no more than the span of a hand, small and quick and mindless. I want to be without hope; I want to be without disappointment; I want to be without happiness;
I want to be without sadness; I want to do without comfort; I want to be without fear; I want no love; I want no hate; I want no indifference; I want no motive; I want no idea; I will make no mistakes.
I want only to swim; I want to swim with my fellows; I want to school with the others, to move in unison as a glimmering, shifting cloud. I want to follow the signal of tail, and bend of body moving to the music of food and the avoidance of pain. I want to be a part of the shifting, quickening parabola, the conical curves of flesh flowing outward, downward, upward inward, suspended in the thickly inhabited ether of liquid darkness enlightened with the star-like phosphorescence of complex, darting animation; I want to minimize my zone of danger; I want plankton and more plankton; I want the nourishment of the infinite-formed diatomic soup I want to move, to swim, to swim and move over the red coral, past the mouth of the purple eel, to flee the ravening, yellow-fin tuna, to follow the silvery, corporeal alliteration, of a million, blue platinum sardines. I want to swim with them; I want to release my swimming, milky milt upon anonymous eggs. I want to eat my children; I want to die in the sea bass’s belly; I want to die in the beak of the squid; I want to be pierced by the needle-sharp teeth of the rocketing barracuda; I want to tangle in the net, to be enclosed in the purse, to be one of the shining, countless coinage of a thrashing, convulsive, collective treasure. I want to be entombed in oil and salt; I want nothing more than movement, un-thinking movement, organic movement, unconscious movement, movement, and the bliss of an unmourned end.
SONETO DEL ALBA El fulgor primitivo que aves provoke with a chaos of selfish song alumbra con aureolas suaves the night-hid, many-named colorless throng. Words are released in the logic of light extrañadas por negras mudanzas. They are bolted by tongue at war with sight, y transforman adargas las lanzas. La luz engendra aguda razón that wounds with every daily, mortal name. Seres parados en roja pasión are all torn from nothing, one and the same. Fatal destino de la fría luz, our dark bliss is broken when you accuse. en reverente idolatría debajo los quivering heavens, adorando tu sagrado cuerpo, adorando tus infinitas, únicas manifestaciones de maíz, the indelible, edible, skyborne fingerprints of the hands of our souls.
LORNA DEE CERVANTES There is a fibrous, ribbed quisqualis to her lines, at times rough, at times fine, like flat blades of chlorophyll, like tight plaited trenzas of hair, like set-at-angles herring spines, like the palpated hand of a textile like the wound filaments on a raveled spool, like the branched barbules of a starling’s plume, the warp as well as the crossing woof shocked by the incidental catches of her phrasing coins and drawn by the dylantommed orotundity of her gathers. But for all that, this weave is not meant to be worn but rather thrown and slung and draped and tied blanket, tarp, web and rebozo, all for love, hunger, and the forfending of fear and dark rain implicit all in the design of her designs y en la poridad de las poridades contained within the petals of her orchidaceous soul. And the relentless, vibrating shuttlebobbin within her brain speeds through the nervewebs of the loom perforce creating the impetuous searching with hand and tongue for the grace of love and memorial racial bliss y el justo anhelo for the restless peace of justice que anima y da luces y fuego azul a la poesía de Lorna Dee Cervantes
CULTURAL DELTAS: LINGUISTIC CHOICES: In conversation: Lucha Corpi (LC) and Arturo Mantecón (AM):
LC:A re-cap: At age sixteen you began to write poetry. Before, you had written only sports articles. You fell in love with the short narrative or epic in verse. In your own words: “…it wasn’t until I was 15 and had run into Dylan Thomas, García Lorca, and Rimbaud that the notion of writing poetry occurred to me.”
Have you kept some of those—your--first Lyrics or narrative poems? If so, would you share one or two of them with us here? And perhaps talk about your source of inspiration and the feelings they elicited in you once done?
AM: The first poem I wrote was directly after I first saw San Francisco coming across the Golden Gate Bridge. I had never in my life seen a city so beautiful. I wrote it after the manner of Tennyson, the only poet with whom I was familiar at the time. I thought it was brilliant. It was awful. I kept if for a while, and, when I discovered Rimbaud a few months later, I destroyed it. I think I burned it. In high school, a friend of mine convinced me to collaborate with him in creating a poetry magazine called Lost. Fortunately for me, and for everyone else, all that poetry is lost. I remember only one, and that only vaguely. It was titled “The Beetle”. Two or three quatrains about being like a beetle on its back, legs waving madly trying to right itself…something about being trapped by conformity. I thought it was a very cool, hip little poem. It wasn’t.
Every attempt I made at poetry before the age of 50 was garbage, very stinky garbage.
LC: I am assuming that you read García Lorca in its original language--Spanish. And, of course, Thomas in English. How about Rimbaud’s poetry--in its original French as well? How many languages do you know well or are conversant in?
AM: My first encounter with García Lorca was at age 15 via an LP checked out from the Sacramento Main Library. The poem that made an impression on me from that recording was "Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías". If I remember correctly, a line was read in Spanish followed by a translations of that line in English by another voice, another reader.
The same day I checked out the García Lorca, I took home a disc of Thomas reading his own stuff. I was completely blown away. By the power and mystery of the words—"In the White Giant’s Thigh" (!!)—and that reading voice!
The two books I checked out of the library--Illuminations and A Season in Hell—were the translations by Louise Varèse. The original French was presented on the facing page. I knew nothing of French at the time but was intrigued to discover that it bore enough of a resemblance to written Spanish, that I was able to puzzle some phrases out with the English on the opposite page.
I spoke Spanish until the age of two and a half. I then lost it, but began studying it starting in junior high school. I am not fluent in Spanish. I have a knowledge of Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese but, save for Spanish, have nothing approaching conversational competence. I can, however, read all of these languages tolerably well.
LC: You wrote a series of poems intended to memorialize a generation of Chicano/a poets, who were our contemporaries and have left us. All except for one: Lorna Dee Cervantes, who thankfully is still with us and writing her outstanding poetry. Among those taken from us are José Antonio Burciaga, Víctor Martínez, Alfred Arteaga, among others. I liked very much that you chose to use their names as the titles of their individual elegies, as if they were written on the stones that mark their resting places.
Perhaps you have already collected all of these tributes in a chapbook or publish them individually. Have you? Any plans to do it, if not yet?
AM: Some were written as elegies, some while the subject was still alive. I wrote the one for Arteaga about a month before he died. I wrote two for Alarcón, one quite some time ago and another a few days before he died which I read at Café Bohème. I started writing poems about poets when I started hosting poetry readings back in 2001. Instead of reading off some idiotic bio that the poet provided touting all their publications and how they had three PhD’s from intergalactic universities, I would introduce them with a poem…about them. Some people liked it, others thought I was trying to upstage the poets.
I have written about 60 of them, and about five are lost, so I’ve got a sizable collection. I would love to publish them. I have found that the biggest impediment to publishing is publishers. I’ve tried to pitch my dedicatory poems to a couple, but no dice. If they are ever to appear in book form. I will probably have to go the vanity route. If anybody out there wants to save me from such a humiliating act, I welcome their help.
LC: Would you mind listing some of your book titles and where your fans might be able to purchase them? Any other literary, publishing projects that you would like to mention?
AM: List of publications: As far as books are concerned, my own: Memories, Cuentos Verídicos y Otras Outright Lies is a collection of my short stories and some prose poems. Out of print, but some copies are out there somewhere.
Before the Dark Comes, a book of poetry, written by my heteronym Jose Primitivo Charlevoix
I have had five books of translations published, possibly available at Alley Cat or Bird & Becket bookstores in San Francisco, but most likely at Amazon.
1) My Naked Brain (collected works of Leopoldo María Panero) 2) Like an eye in the hand of a beggar (ditto) 3) The Sick Rose (a translation of Panero’s Rosa Enferma) 4) Chance Encounters and Waking Dreams (collected works of Francisco Ferrer Lerín) 5) Poetry Comes out of My Mouth (collected works of Mario Santiago Papasquiaro).
I have a number of things in progress that will probably never see the light of day: My translations of the translations that Leopoldo María Panero wrote of Lewis Carroll, Catullus, Edward Lear, John Clare, Browning, etc. Yes, translations of translations.
I have translated ten of García Lorca’s drawings and plan to keep going until I have at least 30 completed. Yes, translations of drawings. He stated that his drawings were poems, so I figured I’d call it translation rather than ekphrasis.
I am working on a version of Gawain and the Green Knight narrated by Morgan La Fey. In the same Arthurian vein, I have written a prose poem about King Arthur and the Cath Palug. In my version, the huge black cat kills and eats Arthur and assumes the throne of Britain. If it is ever published, I will be amazed. And I am currently in the pleasurably painful throes of writing a novel of manners set in Finland and replete with masters and servants, witches and giants. I will probably finish the first draft soon, although I am considering abandoning any idea of revisions and may let it fly off with little or no editing.
THE CASE OF ARTURO MANTECÓN AND WINSTEAD MACARIO.
LC: As you know, Arturo and Winstead, I am a poet and a P.I. crime fiction writer. I write my poetry in Spanish, my detective fiction in English, both published under my name. Often, my readers ask why I went from writing in Spanish to writing in English, my second language. Most importantly, why I went from “rhyme to crime.” I try to explain. I don’t always succeed. It isn’t that strange that writers and poets might publish or write under another name or in a different language or mode. It’s not unusual for two distinct creative personalities to co-exist within the folds or interstices of their shared-yet- separate creative minds. So when Arturo told me about Winstead Macario, I immediately wanted to know how Arturo and Winstead made their acquaintance and to read Winstead’s poetry. But first two poems by Winstead Macario:
La Santa Muerte by Winstead Macario
Holy Death Santa Muerte Maa Chamunda, come unto me. Santísima Muerte Most Holy Death Seventh of the seven mothers, Sapta Matrika Siete Madres… Mother Chamunda Madre Muerte Eternal crone Queen of addictions Protector of the outcasts Protector of the queers Protector of the mad and deranged Protector of the weak and the untouchables Protector of those who must carry off the shit of multitudes, I beg your help. Mata Devi, Madre Divina protect me guide me shield me from bullets open the doors tear down the walls that oppose me lead me to the mothering darkness lead me to the river under the earth… Light of the moon, let me see let me darkly see the god trees, the tree gods gods and trees engendered not from nut and seed But gods and trees that spring forth from the underearth roots of our souls gods of our making gods for the kindling of our fires Trees and trees gods and gods bearing near identical heaven wood with self-same birds and sustaining self-same beasts with their green hair and glabrous fruits creased and rugated fruits… tree of Chamunda tree of Santísima Muerte Santa Muerte, you carry sickle and severed head scythe and orbis mundi… scythe and sickle that cut the silver thread of the self… y el tecolote, la lechuza, le hibou, albowmetu, the uloo the ululating owl-- your vaahan-- is the bearer of your spirit, owl ever at your feet owl ever on your shoulder… owl of the heavens of gloom, the messenger of the Dark Goddess of la Blanca Niña of the Kaala Ladakee The land of Quetzalcoatl and the land of the four-handed Brahma know the black shade tree of the Most Holy Death know the black shade tree of Chamunda the ever-starving… Chamunda of the peculiar limbs great pestilence calacking bone music auspicious corpse white death Victory to Chamunda! Victory to La Santísima Muerte! killer of the guilty, suckling strangling murderer of innocents in the splendor of the night Goddess of fortune goddess of ignorance goddess of the slow, flowering whirlwind goddess of the fetus goddess of tantric lust goddess of the sweet delivery goddess of the sweeter abortion adorned with the strung necklace of dead, honey-dipped hummingbirds adorned with the strung necklace of the heads of the still-born Lady of Oblivion protect me Lady of Death take me underground Lady of Darkness confound my enemies Santa Muerte Santa Chamunda stop my breath halt my heart show me all that is blank show me all that is black.
THE BLACK MASK OF MERLIN by Winstead Macario
The Ever-White queen, the cup and the bowl of the heavens and waters, and the Blade-Bright king, the mountain pinnacle of the earth and the green, are only the wedded shine of the happenings in our eyes, and when the usages of time fail, when the hurtling boar will eat the sun and will steal away the moon to bring on the all and nothing night... When that end of time comes, Merlin the Black Man, Merlin the crab apple growing furled inverted beneath the crust of the world, Merlin will emerge... Merlin the excrement infertile, Merlin the stink-wild food of the dreaming gods. And then will Merlin the Black Man have no more need for his black mask. The Ever-White queen and the Blade-Bright king will be drowned by the black waterless liquid mask of Nothingness, and in the crushing embrace of Nothingness will the Ever-White queen and the Blade-Bright king breathe out and be reduced to the absurdity into which all truth and all falsehood must vanish.
***** ***** *****
In conversation with Arturo Mantecón about Winstead Macario:
LC: Tell me, Arturo, when did you first become aware of Winstead’s presence?
AM: I have felt his presence for years, perhaps 20 years, but I didn’t know what to make of him or an even stronger character that I felt living within in me, José Primitivo Charlevoix. My aspiration to “high art” kept both of them suppressed and locked away where I felt they couldn’t do any harm. José Primitivo cared nothing for the niceties of poetic expression and kept urging me to write in a wild, uninhibited way without caring for logic or letters. Winstead was very much interested in historical figures as archetypes and wanted me to obliterate the boundaries between legend and fact. Winstead got out later. The main difference between them is that Winstead is a very disciplined thinker. José Primitivo has no understanding of the word “discipline.”
Another heteronym emerged fairly recently. His name is Atanas Peev. He is a Bulgarian who writes in Spanish. He wrote me an email some months ago saying that someone had directed him to a poem that José Primitivo had written about Hammurabi. He sent me a beautiful poem about Lilith and a week later a poem in praise of slivovitz, both in Spanish. He promised to send me more things.
LC: Did his presence surprise you? Or had he been there most of your life?
AM: I was aware of him as a “voice” in my head. I didn’t think he was real until he started to write, and what he wrote was far more interesting than what I can produce. I think I was aware of other people within me fairly late in life. When I was young my ego was so strong that they must have been completely overwhelmed.
LC: What was happening in your life at the time?
AM: Well, I remarried, and my new wife kept urging me to break out of my almost formulaic way of writing. It was then that José P. and Winstead began to gloat and ridicule me, saying that I was incapable of accomplishing what my wife urged me to do, that they would have to do it for me.
LC: Did you welcome or resent Winstead’s presence at the time?
AM: I welcomed him. I wasn’t quite so sure about José Primitivo.
LC: While he’s been with(in) you, Arturo, in what ways has your life changed if at all? I ask because I’ve noticed how different, perhaps somber, the mood is in the Winstead poems.
AM: I believe my life has changed for the better. He has taught me to look beyond my own aesthetic inclinations, but I believe he was the voice within me when I would read a novel or poem that I thought was excellent. He was that voice that said, “The writer didn’t go far enough. I can do much better!”
LC: Will there be more future collaborations between both of you? Could you give us an idea of those future projects if any?
AM: Winstead has been insisting that he is the true author of my Arthurian poem, that I could not possibly have written it. We’ll see who wins out. There will be nothing more from José Primitivo Charlevoix because he died in around 1963, leaving only one book. There might be another work of his found, but I doubt it.
LC: Are you two planning or have been scheduled to read or present your work in the near future?
Calendar of events and readings please:
AM: There are four of us, but, no…no plans of that sort until the plague is under control.
LC: Amen! Thank you, Arturo. Thank you, Winstead.
Mil gracias, Scott Duncan y Armando Rendón. And Somos en escrito (SEE) literary magazine por hacernos posible esta serie de entrevistas con poetas latinos-as, y promover su presencia y sus obras.
Lucha Corpi, poet and writer: author of Palabras de Mediodía/Noon Words (poetry) & Confessions of a Book Burner: Personal Essays and Stories(Arte Público Press, Houston) Oakland, California 2020