An Interview with Mandy Gutmann-Gonzalez

Dear Readers,

In the week leading up to the publication of our MIDTERM chapbook, we’ve selected a few poets to interview regarding their work both in this issue and more broadly. Please enjoy the following conversation with Mandy Gutmann-Gonzalez and follow the link below for details of the MIDTERM 4 release reading on December 19th

MIDTERM 4 Release Reading

1. Why do you write poetry?

I’ve always been interested in language at it’s most compressed, in pushing at the edges of what is possible with language. Poetry tests language’s limits. It exists on the border between the intelligible and the unintelligible. That’s a very interesting space.

2. Your novel, La Pava, or The Dodo (in English) is currently being translated into English from Spanish. What are you most excited about in this translation?

I’m most excited about the collaboration with my translator, Allana Noyes. The Dodo is not La Pava—and is? That tension and the possibilities that emerge from it are exciting.

3. On your website , you have listed many of your poems. Which ones are you most proud of and why?

I find well-constructed long poems fascinating, those poems in which you can detect various movements, patters with sub-patterns, echoes, repetition with a difference, small tangents that are in tension with the whole but still held together by the elastic larger form. How do you keep the reader’s interest for that long? How do you prevent the poem from falling apart? Glamour Purse and The Bunker in Berlin-Mitte were interesting challenges in duration and accumulation. Suture I enjoy for the opposite reason. It is compact and indivisible.

I’ve been thinking about long poems in relation to something E. M. Forster writes in Aspects of the Novel, “Is there any effect in novels comparable to the effect of the Fifth Symphony as a whole, where, when the orchestra stops, we hear something that has never actually been played? The opening movement, the andante, and the trio-scherzo-trio-finale-trio-finale that composes the third block, all enter the mind at once, and extend one another into a common entity. This common entity, this new thing, is the symphony as a whole, and it has been achieved mainly (though not entirely) by the relation between the three big blocks of sound which the orchestra has been playing. I am calling this relation ‘rhythmic’” (168). Is it possible to produce this ghostly effect with the long poem?

4. In BPR’s MIDTERM 4 chapbook, you’re publishing “To the Oracle of Delphi” and “Wreckage Candy.” How do you think these pieces connect to our theme of Stasis/Static?

To the Oracle of Delphi is about the preservation of a human sound that becomes inhuman through that very preservation: canned laughter. Listening to canned laughter by itself (without visuals) is a surreal experience; the content is gone, only the response remains. In the case of canned laughter, once that relationship is severed, laughter becomes fake. But is it fake if it was recorded as a live response? I like the term “canned laughter” (over “laugh track”) because of how it suggests (to me) something you might find in a supermarket aisle next to canned beans.

Wreckage Candy is about another static human invention: plastic fruit. Plastic fruit is delightfully absurd, fruit devoid of taste and smell, a chunk of air wrapped in plastic, unable to rot. Only color and a (very!) vague semblance of shape remains to tie them to their tree cousins. I remember being astonished as a kid when I first saw plastic fruit decorating a neighbor’s table. What an aberration! (One queer recognizing another). It was fun to write a dramatic monologue from the point of view of this kitsch object. Both of these poems, like the rest of the poems in my manuscript Edge Beast, put pressure on the “human” until that category starts to dissolve.

5. When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?

Reading and exploring Mass Audubon’s Wildlife Sanctuaries.

6. In your bio, you mention that you are from Vilches, Chile. Did you grow up in Vilches? How did it impact your writing?

I grew up in the small town San Nicolas, where my plastic fruit memories come from. Later we moved to Vilches, a rural road that cuts through a valley in the Andes Mountains. It’s impossible to think about how the place influenced me without also thinking about the little stone cabin where my parents live and the hodgepodge of culture and language my Chilean mother and US father brought to it. Each thing had at least two names and these two names had no correlation to each other. Contradiction and paradox, a love of absurdity, all of this makes an appearance in my poems, and it’s indebted to that early relentless clashing of meaning.

7. What would you say is the biggest difference between writing a book and a poem?

I don’t know if this question is answerable! But it does suggest a poetic form: What would you say is the biggest difference between a pear and the seeds of the pear? What would you say is the biggest difference between a swimming pool and a sinking leaf? What would you say is the biggest difference between the sun and a baseball bat?

8. What are you reading right now?

Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, Cotton Mather’s The Wonders of the Invisible World, Don Mee Choi’s Hardly War, Valzhyna Mort’s Music for the Dead and Resurrected.

9. Any new writing for us to keep an eye out for?

“To the Oracle of Delphi” & “Wreckage Candy” appear in my book manuscript Edge Beast which explores and questions the line between the animal and the human and the rhetorics used to justify oppression. The book asks “where is our edge?” and claims “Historically, ‘beast’/consists of whoever is beaten down harder.”

My current project is a docupoetry manuscript on the Salem witch trials informed by research on 17th century Essex County Court Records at the American Antiquarian Society. In this manuscript, I consider the court examination as a poetic form and unpack the violence these official documents reveal & conceal. Reading transcripts of the trials as studies in voice, accusation, and fear, I consider how the language of law can be used to enact violence or be manipulated for survival.

MANDY GUTMANN-GONZALEZ is from Vilches, Chile. Their poetry has appeared in West Branch, The Malahat Review, Boulevard, BLOOM, Hobart, and other literary journals. Their novel in Spanish, La Pava (Ediciones Inubicalistas, 2016), follows three children who indirectly experience the trauma of the Pinochet military dictatorship in Chile. They won the 2018 Boulevard Emerging Poets Prize and have received fellowships from the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets, the Lambda Writing Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices, The Center for Book Arts, and the Frost Place Conference on Poetry (Latinx Fellow). They hold an MFA in Poetry from Cornell University and teach creative writing at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.