The following is an interview with John Burns, author of Contemporary Hispanic Poets: Cultural Production in the Global, Digital Age:
Question: Why did you decide to write Contemporary Hispanic Poets?
John Burns: I decided to write Contemporary Hispanic Poets because the need to emphasize the relationship between text and context is important when addressing poetry. This is particularly important for English-speaking readers, so as to avoid projecting certain assumptions about Latin American poetry onto texts that may produce meaning in surprisingly distinct ways from English-language contexts. I also hoped to highlight connections between Spanish-speaking literary traditions as well as between poetry and other forms of cultural production, from Internet culture to television and newspapers. Ezra Pound once wrote that “Literature does not exist in a vacuum.” This book attempts to dispel any perception of a vacuum. In order to do so I employed an interdisciplinary approach, using the tools of traditional literary studies as well as critical theory on globalization that focuses largely on political economics, mass media and regional history.
Question: What do you hope your readers take away from your book?
John Burns: I hope that readers appreciate the variety of work being produced in the Spanish-speaking world in numerous contexts and in numerous forms. There is a tendency for readers of poetry, or of literature in general, to exist in metaphorical silos. These may be silos of taste, silos of regional interest or silos of historical periods. I hope to undermine those silos. Although the book focuses on the end of the twentieth century, I situate the work in terms that readers of literature from other time periods can appreciate, highlighting the history that informs more contemporary texts. I move between poets who are highly distinct in terms of national tradition, style and artistic trajectory to illuminate some of their common underpinnings.
I also hope that readers come away with a sense of poetry as a human artifact that can be understood in broader cultural terms. In academia, there is an institutional bias that views poetry as inherently difficult, even as elitist. Rather than elitist, I view poetry as essential. It is embedded in the politics, cultural practices and social norms that inform daily life in different corners of the Spanish-speaking world.
Question: What other research do you believe is needed on this topic?
John Burns: I think there needs to continue to be work that takes into account the massive paradigm shifts the world has undergone in the last thirty or forty years. In Contemporary Hispanic Poets, I look at poetry in relation to certain forms of cultural production that might be, for more traditional-minded scholars, a rather far afield from literary studies. For example, I include reference to television productions, web pages and even digital games to look at the status of textuality itself in the late twentieth century. Scholars will soon have to look at other forms of textual production that compete and coexist with book production: for example, mobile phones, smart watches, wearable technology in general. How will our relationship with those forms of technology influence our relationship to literature? Additionally, how are these forms of technology referenced or employed by poets or writers of other forms of literature.
Contemporary Hispanic Poets will be on display at the LASA congress next week.
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