With The Infinite Loop (paperback), Cuban poet Oneyda González is presenting her poems in English translation for the first time. In the following email interview, González discusses what inspired and influenced these poems and this collection.
(Oh, and if you’d prefer to read this in González’s native Spanish, click here.)
So, what is the theme of The Infinite Loop?
I have said before that The Infinite Loop is a book of love, pain, and hope. But I have also said that it is only in that order, and not in another. And that was the path which I modeled and treasured, as a consequence of my life experience. I think that love is consciously built, and lived step by step. I think it has diversity, and it gives us infinite opportunities to feel it, to experience it, and to turn it into something much more solid —more objective, if you will — although it may seem paradoxical: love bathes everything. It cleanses it, and builds it again. Love is much more than passion, although it is also that —and that, of course, is a wonder.
But I am talking about a love of another kind, a love that is an act of conscience. Elevation into unimagined possibilities. And a land to dig, forge, and build, sometimes from pain, although always with the perspective of something better. None of these things are achieved only with passion. Sometimes there are contradictions in friendship, in motherhood, and in passionate love. Only when love in any of these forms proposes to go for the better, when it proposes to go, I would say “Martianly,” towards the light, love finds its highest dimension, and more fun, much more light and sweetness everyday. We learn to create love, and we turn it directly into a creative exercise. Those themes arose spontaneously, but I think it was the urge to understand life events. Now, for example, I have experiences that I had not experienced before: among the most profound, those that are generated in exile. There is material there for another book.
Did you start out with the theme or did it emerge as you put this collection together?
It was a progressive unveiling, which became clearer as the book was organized: the structure also has many things to tell the reader. Perhaps because I have been, and am, a narrator, I believe a lot in the natural scheme (copied, by the way, from life): of the beginning, the middle, and the end, which all the things we know have.
As for creation, I have a conscience that needs an art in which to merge, and through which to propose to ascend, in more than one dimension. Though it would be long to explain, it is beautiful to experience it. I recognize myself more in these poems than in any of the previous ones. That is a symptom not only of poetic work, but of the deepening of searches that precede it, be they existential, thematic, aesthetic, or even philosophical.
How did you decide which poems to include in The Infinite Loop, and which to leave out?
When I knew that they reached the expressive and aesthetic levels I was looking for, I knew they belonged. That is to say, I decided to include them because of the conceptual value they give to the book, first and foremost. Those that are there are those that had that capacity, and sometimes I had to work to focus something more closely. A book is a weaving together. It is like a fabric, which manifests itself in words, with the help of the mind and the heart. They don’t always go together in my case, sometimes one gets ahead of the other. Maybe there is an inspiration, and I take note. Or, there is an idea that I work on for days, and it suddenly comes out quite precisely, and spontaneously. Even so, later I do the watchmaking work, where the pieces have to be placed in the best place, not only because they fit into these aspects, but also because of their strength, because of their reach.
I’m sure there are writers who’ve influenced your style as a whole. But are there any writers who had a big influence on the poems in The Infinite Loop, or on specific poems in it, but not the ones in your previous books?
I have mentioned some poets who have made a mark on me, at different times. I would first refer to Spanish poetry (from the mystics to the generation of ’27). And I taught all that poetry in secondary schools, and it was wonderful for me in such a way that my daughter, from listening to me so much, repeated “Precious And The Air” by García Lorca as a little girl. At that time I didn’t dare to write: it was a kind of familiarity, and more than that, it was fun. Today I wonder why I haven’t tried to write in classical meters, or practice rhyming a little more. But at the same time I realize that something of that rhythm is felt in the free verses that I write. Other poets, who are not Hispanic, have influenced my thinking and the ease of language that my expression needed: Walt Whitman and T. S. Eliot are the first that come to mind.
What other things influenced the poems in The Infinite Loop? Any prose novels or writers, music, movies, paintings…?
It’s interesting that you include novels among my possible influences. There was a time when the story and the novel were for me no longer a wonderful world, but primarily a live-in one. You live inside a novel; everyone has had that experience, and there are many novels that awaken poetic inspiration. There are, in fact, some, whose fantasy is extremely inspiring. You might think that I am referring to a novel like Jardín by Dulce Maria Loynaz, which she herself considered a lyrical novel, and they would be right, but they are equally right if they think of Gargantua And Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais, or The Master And Margarita by Bulgakov, with all the humor that floods its pages.
There are two films from the 1990s: Pulp Fiction directed by Quentin Tarantino, and Burnt By The Sun by Nikita Mijailkov which revolutionized my way of seeing the world and its narratives. I can’t imagine any creator doing what they did, after witnessing so much courage and virtuosity. There is a third film, which moved me deeply, directed by a Franco-Algerian woman, La Petite Jerusalem by Karin Alabou. It’s about a young student who confronts the traditions of Orthodox Judaism. These are three of the films that we could still see in the cinematheque of my city, in those difficult years. Speaking of ideas, I want to express an almost festive familiarity, if it were not, in itself, dramatic, with the work of the Catalan philosopher Josep María Esquirol. Especially with his latest book: Humano, más humano, An Anthropology Of The Infinite Wound, with which I felt at home, as I navigated themes and depths that are very familiar to me.
Looking at the poems in The Infinite Loop, it seems they’re all free verse, or at least not rigidly structured, save for the last one, “Parable of the Infinite Loop or Möbius Strip,” which takes the shape of a Möbius Strip. Why do you feel a lack of a strict structure is the best approach for what you’re trying to say?
I think I needed to free myself, and that was part of the independence that was surging inside me. But if that was the case, it happened unconsciously. In fact, there is a certain expressive infinity in it, which emerged without intending it.
Now, The Infinite Loop is your third book of poetry after La Ciudad Promisoria and El Camino de Bárbara, but the first to feature English translations. Are any of the poems in Infinite ones that were previously in Promisoria or Bárbara?
La Ciudad Promisoria was my first publication, in plaquette format, because it was a time of great scarcity in Cuba. Later, it became part of El Camino de Bárbara; but none of those poems are in The Infinite Loop, which is an absolutely unpublished volume. It has been wonderful to access the bilingual edition of this new collection of poems; but it would not have been able to compete with the previous ones, because The Paz Prize For Poetry is a call for unpublished books, and as I said, those poems were published previously.
It was a surprise, which made me very happy, because it is a contest in which all poets who write in the Spanish language, within the territory of the United States, can participate. And it was good too, because The Infinite Loop had already matured enough as a book, and I was looking forward to trying it out in an important contest. Its publication will give me access to the Miami Book Fair in the city where I live, and where there is a large audience that could be interested in it. Being a bilingual edition, it will be accessible to many other audiences in this country, which introduces me as a writer.
With the exception of a text that will appear in an anthology made in Cuba, the book is purely from Akashic Books… And yes, I would like to see some of the poems from El Camino de Bárbara published in English, but not together with these poems, because they are very different lyrical experiences. One changes in life (one evolves externally and internally), and those vital existential practices automatically reach poetry.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Infinite Loop?
The poem “The Infinite Loop“ is a work that visually represents the figure of a loop, and is an allegory to that kind of network, or links of one’s own being, that stumbles and gets lost in meaningless issues. My bond is based on a symbol that is present in almost all cultures, although each one understands it with its own nuances. I have used it as a kind of fable, which for that reason should teach a certain lesson, although it is not my purpose, but rather to also play with all that. So, there I free myself from rigid opposites. And also, I use a very obvious biblical background (the struggle between good and evil / self and other). But more than all that, the poem is a question.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Infinite Loop, what poetry collection of someone else’s would you suggest they read next and why that one?
The simplest thing, for me, would be to say that they read the poems of Octavio Paz. Above all, some of the collections in which he investigates, specifically, the theme of love. But the result of that search, in Paz, which is beautiful on a lyrical level and contagious on a thematic level, I do not believe that it reveals the transition towards “the good and the beautiful,”, which has become indispensable to me, and is so comprehensive and profound, for example, in José Martí. In that search I would suggest reading Dulce María Loynaz, Gabriela Mistral (self-recognized as a disciple of the Cuban poet). And, of course, the Simple Verses of José Martí, which are so sweet, so humane and so profound that it seems unusual to achieve that wonder with such delicate, beautiful and clear verses. Maybe that would be a first reading, to which I would invite you. “Simple” poetry, but of a futurity (infinity), that has a lot to teach us.