Valeska Torres & Nathalia Pereira Jardim

Valeska Torres was interviewed by Nathalia Pereira Jardim.

— You have two books out, O Coice da Égua (2019), with poems you wrote over the years about your experiences as a young woman crossing the city of Rio de Janeiro, and Plutônio-239 (2022), a project in which you brought in dystopian and cyberpunk references and built a robotic world, full of metals and scraps. Echoes of this were already present in the first book. How does today's world, with its dual sense of hyperconnection and decadence through technology, influence the creation of these poetic universes?

I believe it's unavoidable to think about the future in the face of the technological transformations we are experiencing. It's a daily exercise, first because I'm an Aquarian with many planets in Aquarius—that's my delight and my fatigue—and second because I am willing to keep up to date, as much as I can, with those topics that fill me with curiosity. The truth is that curiosity feeds me. However, I'm not the kind of person who is curious about everything. On the contrary, I'm often conflicted when, for a long time, there doesn't seem to be anything that I consider to be new. I need to stay active in this sense, putting myself out there as someone in a constant state-of-attention, almost as if nothing could go unnoticed because... imagine if I miss out on what really feeds my curiosity? I suffer a lot, but I have been trying to be more distracted and relaxed. Maybe in the future [laughs].

I'm a great believer in poetry as a political force, so if I'm moving in this direction, a large part of what I experience as a black, Latin American, lower middle class woman from Rio de Janeiro's peripheral regions makes me create from my body, which has lived with these interferences since the day I was born. In fact, my imaginative exercises beyond this body always tend to return to it anyway. It's insurmountable at this point in my life, I don't know if there's any escape from it, but I'm always willing to find loopholes, even to find out whether or not I want to walk through them.

— Your poems contain disturbing elements, working in an allegorical or metaphorical way in relation to everyday situations. In the universe of the poem, however, it seems to me that these elements are also literal: you describe exactly what you observe. How do you experience the process of creating these particular worlds and choosing the words that will bring about the desired images?

Actually, they’re not literal because I interweave a lot of fiction into events. I do this even when I gossip, so don't ever fully believe in any gossip that comes out of my mouth, okay? [laughs]. I invent as an exercise of summoning memory, and my own memory is full of inventions. I often doubt myself when I recount something that happened to me because I'm very good at forgetting and repressing traumatic events. I don't deal very well with the past, I like to get away from it a bit, so deep down I think it's all fiction. I'm the poet that I have created and I think that, to some extent, I'm doing well. Nothing is naked reality. Regarding the process of choosing words, I have a list in which I keep the words I most enjoy savoring in my mouth. The ones I repeat and speak with pleasure. It's something that often precedes the writing of the poem: speech.

— In “artichoke hearts,” you begin with the domestic environment and expand your geographical scope until you encompass the whole city. In your poems, there is a recurring feeling that we are walking through and observing real and non-real places as we read. The environments are well described and we can project into them as we read. How important is this physicality to you?

The memories I have are usually linked to the weather and geographical space. The parts I remember most in a dream are related to whether it was cloudy or sunny, night or day, or if the situation took place in a house or on a beach, for example. There's always a setting to investigate in my dreams, and that is something that catches my attention when I'm walking through the streets of Rio de Janeiro as well. That's the key: Rio de Janeiro. I think that because I have been living in this city all my life, I have learned to be very attentive to my surroundings, because violence permeates every part of the city. In fact, it's a city built on corpses. What can you expect if not for the dead to haunt the living? I pay attention to my surroundings because I live in this spectrum of tension. I have witnessed a lot, so it's good to be vigilant and this immediately leads me to detect the smells, the sounds, the buildings around me, the people walking in the places where I find myself. It's inevitable that this is also in my reading of the world and in the way I write.

— Many of your poems feature wordplay and experimentation with language, such as the use of graphic symbols in unusual ways, the suppression of connectives, and subtle ambiguities that expand the possibilities of interpretation. How have you developed your writing over time, incorporating these authorial traits into it?

I consider myself a Millennial with a foot in Gen Z, so the use of emojis, for example, has the intention of occupying the page by invoking the language of my time. I'm alive and interested in these new words or how some of them make a comeback. I'm excited to know that I can use them in different ways in a book—this timeless object. I don't believe in the end of books, as many people do. I believe instead in the possibility of confronting their use or using them as an escape, articulating a present time, projecting a future. Sometimes I feel pretentious when I think about it, but I have put aside concerns about what others will think of my ideas, and have been encouraging myself to be a person who admits what may seem like a flaw to someone else. Yes, I am a pretentious person! And so my current interest is questioning the forms and uses of language, whether written or oral. I will also say that the book format itself intrigues me, both because of its use and because of the memory that is embedded in it. What words have not been used in poems because they are perceived as unmarketable or not very erudite? Which books have never been published? If not, why not? What is considered a good poem for the market in our time? Nowadays, if I think of experimenting with language, that is through oblivion. And that's a long story...

— Your poetry has scary, even graphic and violent elements. Why do you think these elements are so present in your poems? Why are they important?

It's interesting that I only became aware of this violence after the publication of Coice, when people started commenting on how some of the poems affected them. Somehow, some of the images I write about come naturally. Until I was 13, I lived at the entrance to a favela (Brazilian slum). I won't say I lived inside it because that would be a lie, but I lived where the police tank (caveirão) would still be able to get in. I picked up bullet casings to play with the other kids, and there was a time when there were drug dealers in front of my house, in Rocha Miranda. When you experience this kind of thing, it's unavoidable how much value they take on in your life. The brutality gave me courage and fear. Courage because I'm alive, I survived and I have a certain amount of flexibility to deal with situations that people who have never lived through these experiences could ever know. Fear because I know when it's the sound of a gunshot and how my body feels immediately afterwards. I haven't lived near a favela for many years; that was in my childhood and early teens. Then my dad rose financially during Lula's [first] presidency and decided to move to neighborhoods further away from what was considered a "risk zone" for the city's Postal Service. In any case, I still lived my entire youth in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, and there is still a spectrum to watch out for: rape, robbery, bar fights, murder for hire—about the latter I have a brutal story on my birthday that I'll leave for another time.

— How do you feel about your poetry being translated into other languages? What do you think is important to transpose from the original to the translated poem?

It's incredible, isn't it? First, because of the breadth of people my poems can reach. And second, because it's beautiful to see the dimension of the word too. The outline on the page or the rhythms in speech. It feels as if the poem's elasticity were infinite. I’m not too attached when it comes to translation. In other words, I don't believe in the literalness of the word in another language, especially because I don't believe in it in my own language. I'm open, to some extent, to the desire for the translation to be a movement of encounter rather than estrangement with the reader, but this is impossible to control. A bit of vanity, perhaps.

—To conclude, I'd like to know which literary and artistic influences are most relevant to your writing—the ones that immediately pop into your mind when you hear this question.

Look, when I think about influence, I take into account the people who are building this journey with me, because they influence me not only through writing, but also as a support network, as a kind of partnership, strengthening ideas and the desire for community, collectivity and everything else. I can say from the outset that Rafael Zacca has an immense dimension in various spheres of influence as a friend, project partner, attentive reader, critic, poet and cultural agitator at Escola da Palavra; I have respect and admiration for his generosity. Other people are Beatriz Malcher, Édipo Ferreira, Fernando Lima, Mar Delfico, Carol Luisa, Rudson or Set, Mila Teixeira, Rafael Amorim, Stephanie Borges, Gabriel Mação, Luiz Gustavo de Souza, Orquídea, Izabela Pucu, Catarina Costa, Julia Goromar, Gabriela Perigo, Ana Botner, Italo Diblasi, Daniel Massa, Marcos Nascimento, Heyk Pimenta, Gabriel Gonzales, Lucas Van Hombeeck, Ana Luiza Rigueto, Gabriel Bustilho, Mabel, Manu Alves, Ana Carolina Assis, Isabela Equor, Rita Isadora Pessoa, Leonardo Marona, Claudio Medeiros, Lucas Mattos, Lucas Ferreira—most of them are friends I meet in person, exchange ideas with; their conversations stay with me. From afar, I observe with real interest: Bruna Mitrano, Gênesis, Carol Dall Farra, Tom Grito, Nina Rizzi, Marcelino Freire, Gal Freire, Tatiana Pequeno, Heleine Fernandes, Maria Isabel Iorio, Renato Negrão, Julia Raiz, Carlito Azevedo, Guilherme Gontijo, André Capilé, Lucas Litrento, Geovani Martins, Ana Maria Vasconcelos, André Gabeh and a whole bunch of other people—there's a lot of stories here. I can't fit them all in because I really enjoy exchanging ideas with these guys and my memory is a bastard!

Valeska Torres is a poet, writer, performer, assistant editor at 7Letras, educator and library science student at UNIRIO, Rio de Janeiro. She took part as a guest poet in the World Poetry Festival in Montevideo, Uruguay, and the International Poetry Festival in Rosario, Argentina. She is part of the anthology As 29 poetas hoje (29 Poets Today, in free translation) (Companhia das Letras, 2021), organized by Heloísa Teixeira. She is the author of O coice da égua (7Letras, 2019) and Plutônio-239 (7Letras, 2022).

Nathalia Pereira Jardim (b. 1993) is a literary translator and writer. Her credentials include an MA in Portuguese-English (to be completed in 2024) and previous studies in screenwriting at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU). Her work can be found in World Literature Today, Stephen Spender Trust, as well as in Brazilian publications. She lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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