Beatriz Hausner, poet and author of Enter the Raccoon, participated in two events at this year’s IFOA. She answered our five questions about her inspirations and influences.
IFOA: Enter the Raccoon tells of an erotic affair between a woman and a raccoon. Why did you choose a raccoon—of all animals—as the lover?
Beatriz Hausner: I can safely say that Raccoon, pure and simply, appeared to me on a day like any other. That this strange creature came in this form, as a human-sized animal with elements of the mechanical, is a mystery that I would rather not resolve. He quickly became an object of desire. There is significance to the timing of Raccoon’s appearance. I was at a crossroads creatively, still writing in a form I had developed and that is best exemplified by my books The Wardrobe Mistress and Sew Him Up. However, I felt a kind of restlessness. I felt unsatisfied with my writing. Quite by instinct one day, I decided to write the little essays and meditations I often conjured in my head. I did so with no specific purpose, nor direction in mind. As I was writing, free-associating, I turned my gaze and saw, for the first time, this incredibly attractive, albeit disquieting creature sitting with me in the room. What struck me at the time was the fact of Raccoon’s aliveness.
IFOA: You could have written about erotic love between two human figures. What does the non-human object of love—“Raccoon”—allow you to explore in these poems?
Hausner: What interests me is the possibility of transformation that occurs through poetic creation. To be fair to the question posed, it was the exploration of the more violent, the often frightening aspect of Eros, which this strange relationship allowed. Inventing a being who is at once animal, human and machine allowed me to be overt about those aspects of love that are not possible in realist representations. Wild animals change something in one’s perception of reality: they are utterly unsettling. As humans we’ve become more and more separated from animals; they belong less and less in our civilization. Entering the space between, the uncertain and liminal, inherent in this existential conflict, gave me the freedom to explore the erotic completely. Suddenly I was able to be fully sexual, to take it, and to be with a creature that could take it, without either of us dying. There is no question that the extremes I embraced in the process came at a time of greater psychological maturity. In our infantilizing of things erotic, we’ve ended up replacing animals with toys that are often machines. My raccoon offers possibilities for play through all his attributes, because he is a grown-up. Raccoon is the perfect lover.
Hausner: It is true that I engage in a process that starts where others leave off. It wasn’t always so. I understood early on that the physical world, the emotions it engenders, as well as conscious and semi-conscious states were all at my disposal for transforming into poetry. After a while, however, I began to look elsewhere for echoes and clues that could lead to a deeper, more precise and more expressive poetics. True creation can’t exist in a vacuum. Very naturally I veered to the poets I felt an affinity with. My literary education is in Spanish and French, especially the modernist poets of Latin America and France, so I revisited César Vallejo, whose poetry expresses sadness and rage with an originality that is unparalleled. I love Robert Desnos and Benjamin Péret for their often whimsical take on things, and I am of the opinion that André Breton’s poetry is sophisticated and innovative, which is to say revolutionary, as all true poetry, regardless of its provenance and time of creation, must be. Closest to me emotionally and stylistically for a long time were the Peruvian César Moro and the Chilean Jorge Cáceres, both surrealists. These days I am interested in Classics like Dante, Ovid and the elegiac poets.
IFOA: You also work as a translator—what about the translating process do you most enjoy?
Hausner: The aspects of translation that interest me are not that dissimilar from those involved in the writing of my own poetry. Writing for me is an approximation to the truest expression I desire. Likewise, in translation, the transfer from the source text to the target language can’t be complete, because it is never truly rendered and remains, per force, an approximation. I have devoted much of my energy to translating Latin American surrealism, which means that I work with texts that were and are created in a spirit guided by the greatest of freedoms. I assume the same unfettered spirit when translating them, while always remaining true to their original intent. It really is too bad that none of the translations I have been working on for so long can see their way into print in Canada, where there is no official support for the publishing of international literature in translation.
IFOA: Do you have any rituals associated with your writing?
Hausner: I like writing in the mornings, soon after rising, while my mind is closest to that liminal state between dream and wakefulness, and, importantly, is still free of the pressures of my day job. I usually alternate between looking at images on the internet (usually fashion blogs), images on my walls or in print (art and design mostly) and reading from printed books (poetry and prose), which I take from my shelves at random, letting chance take over and dictate the process.
Beatriz Hausner has published many books of poetry and several chapbooks. She has also translated surrealist literature by writers like Rosamel del Valle, Olga Orozco, César Moro and others. She lives in Toronto, where she works as a public librarian.