Yesterday Granta was delighted to announce two New Poets: Soledad Marambio and Caleb Klaces. In the week before the simultaneous publication of their poems the two talented young writers exchanged emails to discuss each other’s work, reading habits, being in several places at once and finding intimacy in the modern, hyper-connected world. You can read the full exchange below, beginning with a message from Caleb to Soledad.

 

Soledad,

It’s been a pleasure to read your poems. I’m very glad to be starting up this exchange.

It seems appropriate to be making contact by email, and odd, too, that I can send this instantly and directly to you without knowing even what country you are in. It occurred to me that in ‘sleeping far from home’, you have people speaking on the phone, watching TV, and asking for a book, which will soon be making its way from home to somewhere distant – all ways of sending messages, with different conventions and speed, across the world.

I’m tempted to draw a parallel between these and poetry. Phones and email speed talk up, but poems, and your poems in particular, seem to slow language down. They are deliberate and concentrated. They’re precisely regulated. I wanted to ask if you think about your poems like this – in relation to other ways of sending messages home? Are your poems anything like letters – or phone calls even? Have your poems been affected by email?

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Best,

Caleb

 

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Dear Caleb,

You are right. I do like to think of my poems as messages. When I started writing the collection ‘sleeping far from home’ belongs to, I was in my third year away from Santiago, Chile. Home. I hadn’t seen my parents or the friends I grew up with in all that time. And I’m not very good with Skype and I’m lazy with emails and phone calls, even though I prefer them. I like to feel the real distance and not pretend that it isn’t there because I have a computer. So the poems were a way to deal with that distance and the longing that came with it. A way to let my people know about my life here in New York because my other ways to talk with them are not very fluent or intimate. So, in that sense, I don’t think email has had much of an influence on my writing. If you see that influence though, I’d be happy to talk about it.

I’d like to talk about your poem, ‘The Sun in a Box’. I love the way it builds alternative spaces: caves, places to hide from a reality that is always present. I’m curious, now that you mention emails, about how the internet appears in your work (the suggestion to post footage of the expanding insulation, ‘like a sun in a box,’ a screen cracking). For you, is the web a place to hide or to open oneself up? What is the relation you see between that and your poetry?

Best,

Soledad

 

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Soledad,

Yes, it’s amazing how Skype can end up making you feel more lonely, isn’t it. Often it’s more a reminder of the distance than a closing of it.

I can relate to your longing. The sequence that ‘The Sun in a Box’ comes from was written mostly in Austin, Texas, where I lived for two years. The poem was finished soon after I’d come back to Birmingham, which is where I grew up. While I’d been away, the place had been partially reproduced for me on Skype and on the phone, as well as on news sites and radio, and in books. So there were simultaneous layers of experience going on – memories, but also that feeling of looking down on myself while I was catching up with my dad in the house he now lives in on his own.

This seems increasingly the norm in parts of the world with broadband and smartphones. Just sitting in front of a computer in an office, or walking around a supermarket with a phone in your hand, you can see from space and from tiny cameras inside the body at the same time as everything else actually in front of you. With all the screens you’re both looking at and living inside, reality can feel a bit like a Cubist painting, so that often I don’t feel a separation between this proliferation of points-of-view and my experience of the basic things, like keeping the house warm. But it’s always one of the questions that poetry is a way of pursuing: how much of this experience is shared, and what of it is different for different people across the world?

One of the things I found being away was that I was more deliberate in what I read, partly because reading was a more fluent and intimate companion, as you put it, when relations with other people weren’t. I wonder what and who you return to in your reading, and whether that’s affected by your being away from home?

Warmly,

Caleb

 

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Dear Caleb,

Since I left Chile (four years ago) I haven’t returned too much to anything, except Roberto Bolaño. Last year I reread The Savage Detectives, By Night in Chile and The Insufferable Gaucho. His dark sense of humour and the rhythm of his prose always make me feel that I’m in a familiar place. But other than that I have been reading a lot of authors that I have always heard about and never read before and also a bunch of names that I have discovered for the first time here. Being away has been a certain influence on these discoveries I’m making. Everything is new: the streets, the bread in the morning, the subway, the bookstores, the language. The first two years I just read fiction and nonfiction prose and after that I felt that I was ready to start reading poetry in English. Since then I’ve read a lot and keep going back to Anne Carson, Louise Glück, Donald Hall and in translation the amazing work of Zbigniew Herbert and Cesare Pavese (I always think that Pavese must sound better in Spanish than in English, but I didn’t want to wait to get a Spanish version of his complete poems so I got a bilingual one: Italian-English. Not that I know Italian but I like to pretend that I do while I read his poetry out loud.)

The English language has very much influenced the way I write in Spanish. I was wondering how the two years that you lived in Texas changed the way you write (the style, the voice, the subject or any other feature of your work). I know that you continued to write in English, but was there another way of speaking that you picked up? More importantly I assume that in relation to Birmingham, Texas might not be just a different culture but a totally different world?

Abrazos (that’s Spanish for hugs)

Soledad

 

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Soledad,

I love what you said about Pavese. I’ve been reading Peter Handke’s Nonsense and Happiness in a bilingual edition recently. I know no German at all, but sometimes, where the English translation feels wrong, I end up staring at the original, trying to divine from it a better poem. If the German wasn’t there, I think I’d be less likely to imagine this third text for myself – so it makes for a different, and hopeful, kind of reading.

For me, there seems to be a time lag between being in a place and its effects. Looking back, I may have been protective over the language I was using while in Texas – and how I wrote was defined to some extent in opposition to American English. Not even how other poets I knew were writing, which was in very diverse ways, but the spoken language. While I was there, I was writing a lot with Sir Thomas Browne – a seventeenth-century doctor from Norfolk, England; now, in London, I seem to be looking more often to contemporary Americans like Ben Lerner and Jack Gilbert. I’ve also become interested in the possibilities of more expansive, extended verse (like Carson’s
Autobiography of Red). There are loads of dead writers from both sides of the Atlantic to read for that – Milton, Blake, Pound – but, of those writing now, the vitality and stamina and risk seems to me concentrated over there.

The landscape has to have had an effect, too. Texas is endless and empty. I’m fond of London, but it sometimes feels like it’s built underground.

I’m intrigued by how English has influenced your Spanish. Are there ways you write now that you couldn’t have done before?

Caleb

 

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Caleb,

Totally. I used to write much longer sentences or verses. This creates a specific and intricate rhythm, a texture that I like but that I’m happy to be breaking. English is more economical and direct than Spanish. It’s common to find a phrase or a verse that in just one line gives you a punch. I think – I hope – reading in English has helped me to be able to construct powerful images with very few words. Before, to write an idea that now takes me five words I would have written at least three lines. I think that living in an English-speaking environment gave me the opportunity to listen and contemplate Spanish from the outside, like if it weren’t so naturally mine. Because of that I saw my language and understood it and used it in ways that were new for me, which at first was a very subconscious process.

Speaking about new things that give meaning to old things, I’d like to know more about your literary trips to the past. Why did you decide to write with Sir Thomas Browne? Were you reading or rereading his work at the same time you were writing your poems?

Soledad

 

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Soledad,

I came across Browne and loved his writing, then became interested in him personally, so I was reading biographies and history too. He was devout, but completely single-minded; he wrote dogged and popular myth-busting books (with the results of experiments he’d undertaken on an ostrich in his garden, for example), and what we’d now call autobiography. Generally, I would say similar things you’ve said about learning a new language as I would about writing using other texts and people’s lives. It helps you see your own life and language from a distance. Or even more than that, it’s an attempt to be in several different places all at once. To make yourself bigger and contain more. There were tensions with Browne because I both feel a real kinship with him, and can’t help having arguments with him. He gets under my skin, so there’s a push and pull in that attempt to expand and speak in different voices.

The poems of yours I’ve read are enviably concise. Browne had the opposite effect on me – the poems started to sprawl.

Sincerest thanks for this exchange.

Keep in touch,

Caleb

 

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Caleb

Thank you very much.

To finish I’d like to take what you said and tell you that reading you was for me a way to be in different places at the same time: a prehistoric cave, an afternoon in front of the computer, a moment in a box. Thanks for the marvelous trips. I’ll keep in touch.

Best,

Soledad

 

You can read Caleb Klaces’s poem ‘The Sun in a Box’ here and Soledad Marambio’s poem ‘sleeping far from home’ here.

The Moon and Back
sleeping far from home