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Journal of Dreams

(interview with the poet Homero Aridjis) by Francisco Ruiz Udiel

January, 2011

Journal of Dreams is the latest anthology of the Mexican poet and writer, Homero Aridjis (Contepec, Michoacan; 1940), one of the greatest living poets and writers in Spanish. The work, to be published by Fondo de cultura Económico de México, resulted from dreams he had several years ago and which, when he wrote them down, became poems. Ever since “El poeta niño,” published in 1971, he has sought to recover who he had been before the serious accident he had suffered in January 1950 and which nearly cost him his life. Indeed his life was spared and when he “recovered”, he says, he began to read and to write poetry.

So it was that in 1970, finding himself in New York and his first daughter, Chloe, about to be born, he began dreaming about the child he had been before the accident, as a way of reconnecting with his own self, since that part of his past had been blotted out.

Night after night he dreamed, and upon waking and as if obeying a kind of oneiric discipline, he wrote down his dreams and these, linked into a literary sequence, provided him with a forgotten portrait of himself. The habit of writing down the dreams and turning them into poetic material stayed with him and, in the latest dreams, has become more intense. So that now “I confuse poems with dreams and dreams with poems. The result is that this new anthology consists of pieces of myself merged with experiences and memories.”


In this book Homero explores the themes of unreal reality and real unreality, which, in the end turn into dreams

THE THEME OF DREAMS IN YOUR WORK IS SIGNIFICANT BECAUSE FOR A LONG TIME YOU WERE KNOWN AS A POET WHO WROTE ABOUT EROTICICISM.

My first writing was erotic. The great French writer André Pieyre de Mandiargues (1909 – 1991) once asked me when I was going to write another erotic work like Perséfone. I told him “never,” because I am never going to be 26 years old again, an age when one sees the world differently and is becoming interested in new subjects in the light of other experiences. For example, I experience love at the age I am now which is different from when I was 18.

WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO WRITE THIS BOOK?

When I dream, I am sometimes in the habit of getting up and writing poems. Often these dreams are anecdotes about daily life and memories. But often they transmit or touch upon atmospheres, experiences and forgotten situations. For example, many years ago I dreamed about Jorge Luis Borges. We were walking through a kind of ruined city and suddenly Borges recited a poem to me. When I awoke I remembered the last line that went: “in this way time will have gone by”. That poem was mine, not Borges’”. He was just reciting it through me.


Homero Aridjis, his childhood in Contepec

Another time, after I had finished reading The Odyssey in a Greek and English edition, I went back over the episode where Ulysses meets his father Laertes in a garden. His father, now old and in rags, doesn’t recognize him. Ulysses is happy but his father doesn’t know who he is, his father is like a ghost. Something about that passage affected me strongly and that night I dreamed about my father, Nicias Aridjis (1900 – 1986); all of a sudden I was meeting him in a garden by my house. “Father, I am your son,” is how I greeted him, because I was afraid of frightening the ghost with my living presence. We began a domestic conversation, family questions, until he suddenly left. We separated, the living from the dead, but that was a conversation that identified itself through a fig. The garden was relevant because my father was Greek and planted fig trees in the town garden and at first I saw the fig trees as quite normal, but they weren’t. The Mexican terrain was very rough, almost craggy, where he planted those fig trees.

Also, many of my poems come from the movies. In the fifties my father had a cinema called Apollo where they showed movies that gave me very strange feelings, especially the old movies where the faces were of people who had died. There they were, but they were actors now dead. I had this kind of phantasmagorical feeling.

IS THAT WHY YOU REFER TO THE SPECTATORS IN YOUR POEMS AS GHOSTS….

Exactly, because they are often in the darkness, looking at dead people, but they are ghosts looking at other ghosts. The cinema caused that effect, because my father’s theater was very dark, rustic, and the picture was projected onto white sheets. Perhaps I associate dark rooms with the maternal womb. But, in addition to this feeling of the senses, I would suddenly see a couple of lovers, heads sticking up above the seats, hats, shawls. I didn’t know what was happening. Something of the senses was being infringed upon and that made a big impression on me.

“EL POETA NINO” AND” DIARIO DE SUENOS” GIVE AN ACCOUNT OF WHAT YOU DREAMED, BUT WHAT IF THE PROCESS IS REVERSED, IF YOU DECIDED TO WRITE WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO DREAM OR WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAPPEN TO YOU?

Create a dream? That could happen too. I haven’t done it but I think it’s legitimate, they would be created dreams. Some people have been born inspired by the paintings of Elenora Carrington (1917), a surrealist painter and writer of English extraction who inspired me to write a poem called “Cine Balmori”. She told me she used to go to this cinema in the Colonia Roma in Mexico City; it was a cinema full of fleas and some families had no problem taking their children to the movies.

HOW IS YOUR NEW BOOK DIFFERENT FROM “EL POETA NINO”?

In “El Poeta Niño” the writing arose from dreams that I first wrote down and then they became poems; however, “Diario de Sueños” is like a diary of life, that is to say, for me the dream is life, in the same way that it is Calderonian, as when he wrote in one of his verses “and the dreams, they are dream,” the dreams are a metaphor for life.

WHAT ARE YOUR DREAMS MADE OF?

They are made out of life, of the imagination, of what one wants to happen or what happened, but modified by one’s own memory or events.

ACCORDING TO THE TALMUD, A SACRED BOOK OF THE JEWS, A DREAM THAT HAS NOT BEEN INTERPRETED IS LIKE A LETTER THAT HAS NOT BEEN OPENED. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION?

It is possible, but I would say the opposite, a dream that has not been lived is not a dream, it is a dream that has not happened. For me, the way to live a dream is not only physically but rather through the imagination. What the Talmud says is Freudian, it has to do with interpretations, but I haven’t wanted to get involved in psychoanalysis, it would be like killing the dream, making it almost into a crime mystery novel.


Homero Aridjis with his wife, Betty, when they met.

IN THIS BOOK YOU TALK ABOUT UNREAL REALITY AND REAL UNREA LIY. CAN YOU EXPLAIN TO ME WHAT THIS MEANS?

For me unreal reality and real unreality are always confused, a matter of chance, of situations. For example, one time in 1966, a diplomat recommended me for Cultural Attache in Nicaragua. It seemed odd because I was barely 26 years old and I wasn’t in the diplomatic service. The idea was interesting because it concerned collaborating on events and tributes to Ruben Dario, but I had doubts about it because it was Nicaragua at the time of the Anastasio Somoza dictatorship. In the end I didn’t go to Nicaragua because I obtained a Guggenheim scholarship and years later I was appointed Cultural Counselor in Holland and it was in 1972 that the earthquake occurred in Managua. I thought about that strange coincidence. I could easily have been in that earthquake together with my wife Betty. On the other hand, I always remember the readings of Ruben Dario when I was in Michoacán. One day I had a conversation with the Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges in New York. I told him about the country bumpkins in Paris and Borges jokingly commented: “And the Parisians of Managua”, although we knew that Dario was born in Ciudad Dario, which before was called Metapa.

HOW DID YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH BORGES BEGIN?

I met him when I was teaching at NYU, and I saw him there on several occasions, I had breakfast with him once and I went to his readings. I found his personality very interesting. Later, I invited him to the International Poetry Festival in Morelia, Michoacán in 1981. Borges got to meet Luis Buñuel (1900-1983), the Spanish filmmaker and the Belgian poet and naturalized Frenchman, Henri Michaux (1899-1984). I once asked Buñuel for his opinion of Borges. He told me, very emphatically: “I detest blind people”. It reminded me of his film Los Olvidados where he says: “they are all swine”.


Homero Aridjis with Jorge Luis Borges in 1981.

YOU WERE ALSO A GREAT FRIEND OF BUNUEL, HE WANTED TO MAKE HIS CINEMATIC TESTAMENT BASED ON ONE OF YOUR WORKS.

Yes, based on El Ultimo Adán, a book that is now out of print. Both of us had an apocalyptic vision that the end of the world would be the work of man, not God. I remember that in the eighties there was a play, Moctezuma, based on one of my books. We prepared a private showing for Luis Buñuel who sat down beside me and said: “I’ll be frank with you, if you see me disconnect my hearing aid (because he was becoming deaf), it’s because I don’t like your work. And if you see me get up and leave without saying a word, don’t ask me, it means your work is a piece of shit. OK?”

At the end, he stayed behind when the function was over and he said to me: “you are a surrealist poet”. I protested that that wasn’t the case. “Hey man, accept the compliment, because for me to say that someone is a surrealist poet is the highest praise”, he said. The cinematic testament didn’t happen because Luis was now very sick and near death. What he did was to write me a letter about his impressions of El ultimo Adán.


Luis Buñuel with Homero Aridjis.

YOUR NEW BOOK WILL APPEAR AT THE BEGINNING OF 2011. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WHILE YOU ARE WAITING FOR THE PUBLICATION?

From 2007 until February of 2010, I was Mexican Ambassador to UNESCO but my principal profession is poetry and that’s why I continue to write. For me poetry is a way of life, a way of knowing the world, time and myself. Poetry is material that the earth is made of, as is space and time and, above all, dreams. If, at the end of my life God were to ask me what I did in life, I would tell him, I was a poet.

UNEDITED LETTER WRITTEN BY LUIS BUNUEL BEFORE HIS DEATH.

“The Last Adam”, by Homero Aridjis

Dear Friend: Here in a few lines is what I told you about my impressions after the reading from your book. I am going to omit what I consider irrelevant.

“I believe as an absolute truth that the apocalypse will be the work of man and not of God. That is the big difference between the passionate apocalypse of the LAST ADAM and the mediocre apocalyptic vision of St. John. Clearly, the human imagination has been enriched by the passing of the centuries.

The last Adam, Eve has disappeared, roams under a dark sky thick with smoke, destroyed cities, frozen fields, meeting terrified human beings, with their burned eyebrows and hair, hollow eyes, skin hanging from their stomachs. Erupting volcanoes, difficuly walking the cracking earth, smoke, ashes, skeletons, body parts everywhere and above all the horrible putrifaction of flesh that I call ‘sweet smell of eternity.’

‘The uncountable smile of the sea,’ of the Grecian Homero has been extinguished and now is blackness and chaos..

The narrative is a permanent and obsessive reiteration that in my opinion gives weight to the terrible atmosphere of that passionate apocalypse of Aridjis whose title could also be “Dies irae, dies illa, solvet saeclum in favilla”. (1)

Luis Buñuel

(1) I rejected “teste David cum Sibylla, because it seemed idiotic to me


- translation by Jeremy Greenwood.


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