Interview with Jesús J. Barquet editor of EDICIONES LA MIRADA
Somos en escrito speaks with poet, literary critic, and editor Jesus Barquet to learn more about La Mirada Press, a Las Cruces, NM-based press that publishes Latina/o/x and Latin American books of poetry in Spanish since 2014.
Does La Mirada publish in English or Spanish or both? Mostly in Spanish. When there is something in English, we provide the Spanish translation. If there is a text written in Spanglish or both languages, we respect that and don’t pretend to make any translation out of that because the writer wants to use both languages in one text. But I want to establish La Mirada as a Spanish publishing house in the United States. There are two more US-based Cuban exile writers helping me in La Mirada enterprise: Carlota Caulfield (firstname.lastname@example.org) as the Associate Editor, and Yoandy Cabrera (email@example.com) in charge of the book reviews. Let me add that each book tries to incorporate the works of an artist: Jorge Porrata, José Rosabal, Justo Luis, Esmeralda Guerrero, etc.
Do you think there is a growing number of publishing houses in Spanish? Well, I don’t know about the number, but I know there are several in Florida (especially in the Miami area: Baquiana and Universal being the oldest and most active), because publishing a book nowadays is a very easy task thanks to the internet and the services you can find using the internet. So you can have a virtual publishing house that publishes by demand. I know that in Chicago there are also a couple of publishing houses in Spanish; for decades, they have had Spanish literary magazines, like Contratiempo. I don’t know about New York and Los Angeles, but at least Chicago and Miami have independent publishing houses in Spanish, and now Las Cruces in New Mexico.
What kind of books does La Mirada publish? Mostly poetry. I’d say 95 percent of the books are poetry in Spanish or bilingual or Spanglish if the author prefers that. We published Reinaldo García Ramos' Espacio circular, which includes his poems along with a long interview about his writings, life and concept of poetry. We made sure the poems mentioned in the interview were included in the book, so the reader would have a better understanding of whatever is said in the interview. So it is actually a book of poetry, but with an interview serving as a bridge to his poetry. Another book we published is Mercedes de Acosta's Imposeída. Caulfield and I made the first Spanish compilation of her poetry and included a prologue in the style of an academic paper about her life and her writing. Mercedes de Acosta was a US-Hispanic poet who wrote in English and lived in New York at the beginning of the 20th century and ours was her first comprehensive translation into Spanish. The same approaches in prose closely related to the poems included in the book you will find in Mercedes Cortázar's Orbes, and in Jorge García de la Fe's Camino de imposesión. Whatever we include in terms of prose is intended to help the reader enjoy the poetry better. All our books have prologues, but they are not those laudatory generic look-alike prologues, but almost academic texts that analyze the actual poems included in the book.
What have you published? We have published 10 books of poetry, and have now two more books in the final stages. At the end of each book, we always add a detailed list of books published by La Mirada. So whoever buys the book knows what we have done. The list includes the proper bibliographical information and a little description of the book so that the reader knows what it is about. We started in 2014 with Katábasis, a compilation of seven Cuban exile poets born in different decades of the 20th century who transformed into long poems their experiences of exile and the Cuban Revolution. Katábasis has two editors, myself and Isel Rivero, who lives in Spain. After that Caulfield and I published JJ/CC, a kind of personal book of poetry. The third book was Todo parecía, which is the first book compilation of Cuban and Cuban American poetry about LGBTQI+ topics. We meant "topics", and not gay authors. More than 40 poets collaborated on that book. I coedited it with Virgilio López Lemus, a poet and literary critic who lives in Havana. In fact, Todo parecía already has a very expanded version (more than 75 poets) which is getting published now in Cuba by Ediciones La Luz, under the name of Las piedras clamarán.
La Mirada is very happy with the fact that two of its books have called the attention of bigger and more established publishing houses in such a way that they requested from us the permissison to publish their own versions (with variations and expansions) of our books. Before Todo parecía, our Imposeída was republished by Ediciones Holguín in Cuba, and in a bilingual format by Ediciones Torremozas in Madrid. Another book of La Mirada that has 2 editions is my Aguja de diversos (2018), also published in Holland by Bokeh Editions.
We do not mind these almost immediate reeditions of our books by bigger publishing houses: our goal is not just to sell—even though it is always helpful and desirable—, but to call attention to certain authors and topics and to do it with the urgency those authors and topics deserve. For example, in 2017 we published a very extensive compilation called Orbes, by Mercedes Cortázar, who is a Cuban poet who currently resides in Florida. It includes her poetry from 1959 to 2016: more than 55 years of poetry most of which was never included in books. Included in this volume were five collections of her poetry: "Tierra-Agua-Fuego", "Orbe terrestre", "La Afrodita de Cnido", "Razón de Eros" and "Naturaleza en el espejo", along with an introduction by Cuban writer Alberto Abreu Arcia and notes on her poetry by Julio Cortázar, Gastón Baquero and Servando Sacaluga. We are trying to rescue voices and put together works that have been dispersed, unknown or are difficult to access.
Everybody knows that Miami and New York constitute two relevant centers of contemporary Cuban poetry in exile, but La Mirada has located and published two Cuban authors from Chicago who deserve a closer attention: Om Ulloa, whose Glotonerías y olfateos (de flores en cubículos) we published in 2017 mixes Spanish and English in a highly personal linguistic style; and Jorge García de la Fe, whose book of sonnets Camino de imposición (2019) we published in co-edition with Chicago-based El Beisman. Then we looked at Toronto and found the Canadian-Hispanic writer Heriberto Pagés Lendián, a Cuban poet who published a couple of small books of poetry in Cuba in the early 90s and had not published a book ever since, so we put together a compilation of his poetry from the last 20 years: Una onda en el agua. Expanding by including is our motto.
La Mirada seems to have several transnational publications and writers. Do you think you are filling a need? It was not the original purpose, but it has happened that way and we do not see anything wrong about it. We all inhabit the same one world. If something we published captures the attention of another publishing house, we welcome that attention. And if that publishing house has more resources and distribution capacity, that is fine with me. I am doing this for the love of art, but I have many other personal projects, so I do not have the time, skills and energy to do the marketing in the way a more established for-profit company would do. I am always looking for a way to spread the information about La Mirada books, and I am very concerned with placing the books in important libraries, like the Library of Congress, certain university libraries in the United States, national libraries in Latin American, Spain and Cuba. In many cases I myself donate our books to those libraries. Of course, all our books are for sale on Amazon.com, but we do not count on those sales as a reason or guide to continue our work. If you check the important database site called WorldCat, you will find La Mirada books already in several libraries and collections. We are very interested in getting reviews of our books, and fortunately most of them have already been reviewed, at times more than twice.
You mentioned to some students about the importance of digging to find something beyond the mainstream, particularly for Latino Literature. That is right, I was telling the students that if you like a writer taught or mentioned in a class, then go on and find by yourself something else written by him or her. Do not wait for the mainstream to do that work for you. One way or another, you are going to find more works by that writer. It may not be that easy, but it will not be either that difficult thanks to the internet and the excellent public and university library systems in the US. WorldCat, for example, can help you find what you want and even tell you where those books are. You can always request them through the interlibrary loan service available in the United States. Instead of blindly believing that your readings (the same with films and other forms of art) are controlled and limited by the mainstream and the big markets, people should be more active about their cultural interests and use at their own will the ample benefits and freedom we have in the United States to do so. Nobody is forcing you to see a Hollywood movie or eat a Wendy's hamburguer. Those who have lived under Socialist regimes like that of Cuba and of the Soviet Union in the past would have loved to have the freedom of information that Americans have nowadays, as well as the many and even free of charge sources available to them.
Is La Mirada currently open for submissions?
Well, kind of. It is good to always be surprised. I never say no to a nice surprise. Now we have been concentrating more on voices that have been forgotten, lost, dispersed, or topics that have not been explored like the LGBTQI+ compilation. Something needed to be out. Maybe that is why some of the books have been republished since they had this kind of novelty. But we are open, open to whatever surprises us. Now we are going to start a collection called Nuevas Voces (New Voices), which will be dedicated to the first book of a poet. We are already working with Maricela Duarte-Stern, who is a Mexican writer who has lived in New Mexico for more than 15 years. It is going to be her first book of poetry: De cierta arena is the title.
Could you talk about the challenge and publishing and editing in Spanish in the United States?
One of the things I noticed since I arrived in the United States in 1980 and started dealing with the Hispanic Literature in the United States is that sometimes books in Spanish were not carefully edited, that the Spanish language was sometimes mistreated in terms of syntax, punctuation, spelling, and that it was not in many cases due to a conscious writer’s style, but to a somewhat careless editing of the publisher. I noticed that publishing houses did not extend to the Spanish language the same linguistic respect they had towards the English language. In many occasions, I found bilingual books in which the English language was perfect in terms of editing, but the Spanish had all kind of flaws, like if the Spanish were the Cinderella of the book. And that is not proper: Spanish is a very respectable language, with a highly respectable and rich literary tradition. So La Mirada tries to be very careful in the editing. We respect any writer's desire to break some rules, to play games with the language, but a not-intended misspelling or mistake is inadmissible in La Mirada. I am proud to say that it is hard to find a language error (an errata) in our books.
Do you think this may be because the US doesn’t have as much higher-level Spanish learning? Even a native speaker might not get an academic education in Spanish. Maybe, but there are also a lot of highly educated Hispanics in the US who are willing to do those editing jobs, and it is the editor's job to find them and hire them, and more importantly pay them accordingly, which has not been the case in the past, according to several individual testimonies. It is the editor's job to be worried about the ideal quality of the books, and I would add that also the Hispanic authors themselves should be more vigilant about that. In many cases, the editor does not pay properly for the editing job, or does not go after the right-skilled people. Some editors seem to believe that just speaking Spanish is good enough for editing, or simply accept whatever the writer sends. Behind all that, I can detect a disrespect for the Spanish language. Even if the writer is not well educated in the academic aspects of the Spanish language, it would not hurt to tell the writer, “The spelling of this word is wrong, it should be like this. Did you write it on purpose? Do you want to keep what you wrote or want to correct this mistake?" That is what the editor is for. And let the author consciously decide. As I said, if it is something intentional or relevant to the book, then it should be kept; but if it is due to lack of knowledge, then let's learn from the experience of editing. If the author loves the Spanish language, he or she could appreciate that possibility of learning through a well-informed editing job.
Fortunately, I have noticed some positive changes in this regard in the last 10 years. Some publishing houses have been more careful with the Spanish in their books, and I am glad that this is happening.
Ediciones La Mirada is a Las Cruces (NM)-based press that publishes Latinx and Latin American books of poetry in Spanish since 2014.
Jesús J. Barquet (firstname.lastname@example.org), a Cuban poet, literary critic and professor emeritus from New Mexico State University, is the founder and Editor-Chief of La Mirada.