Translated from the Spanish by NAFTA Cover art by Omar García Designed by Mutandis
Poetry Bilingual edition
October 18, 2022
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Commonplace examines the layers of colonial and geopolitical violence that underlie both contemporary landscapes of Mexico City and the nation’s literary institutions. Literally, the Palacio de Bellas Artes is constructed over chinampas, floating platforms used by the Mexica in agricultural cultivation. In Commonplace, García Manríquez delves into the mutually-constitutive relationship between national culture and the culture of nationalism, asking if other forms of poetic and artistic production are possible given the conditions of ambient violence under which that production must inevitably occur. García Manríquez further links the Mexican state―and the cultural apparatus it supports―to ongoing ecological catastrophe, suggesting that more explicit forms of political force find their basis in the slower violence of environmental exploitation and the systematic erasure of indigenous knowledge across the Global South.
Commonplace is a literary topos of the natural world, a compilation of the environmental
crisis made with an eye so wide that it includes the Popul Vuh, the Palacio de
Bellas Artes, and the budget of SEDENA. This makes it a nature poem that is in
no way nostalgic, a political poem that is in no way nationalist, and one of
the most moving poems I’ve read in a long time.
Hugo García Manríquez’s Commonplace brims with lists―of statistics and flowers, of weapons and endangered species. Think Whitman, if Whitman were not concerned with raising up a new nation but with documenting the failure of the nation state and interrogating the role of the poem as witness. Commonplace is a catalog that collapses into a poetics, as well as a catalog of collapse. In stark and brilliant verse, García Manríquez reminds us that “discussions about poetry / …are in the end discussions / about politics.” Commonplace is a poem and a lesson, an indictment and an incitement to action!
These poems both catalog and interrupt contact between the military and the ecological in everyday contexts: how traces left by the glands of a white-tailed deer and petals from bright yellow creosote also touch Colts and Glocks and ion scanners. In doing so, they ask me to confront whether there remains anything private in my so-called private life. As García Manríquez writes, “When we read literature / we read the budget of the Mexican army.” And in that budget, we may spy the poetics of our own elegies. This compact, but frightening, book invites us to consider “The collapse of abstraction / as another form of freedom.”
Hugo García Manríquez has crafted here an unsettling anti-art puzzle for the present; a chamber piece sounding life now on the perpetual brink. Commonplace performs, in terse serial transmutations, at once a forensic architecture and a revolt against the narrowing gulf that keeps separate forms of life and a host of unnerving encroachments or enclosures. Lyric and documentary techniques restrain “first something / about our private life” within a nation’s war machines and culture palaces; then, within the overwhelming menaces to species and planet. In our commonplace of aspect and moment, to intonate is to detonate―nowhere to hide from the devastations of modernism; no cold comfort from the “collapse of abstraction / as another form of freedom.” Epitomized in the discerning English-language face-en-face by Gerónimo Sarmiento Cruz, Whitney DeVos, and Zane Koss―a.k.a. the North American Free Translation Agreement collective―are responses to what Commonplace poses: Can a disintegrating world enter language only as a means to an exit? Is it possible to strive together in situations already so torn asunder?
ABOUT THE AUTOR
Born in Mexico in 1978, Hugo García Manríquez is a poet and translator. His most recent full-length collections are Anti-Humboldt: A Reading of the North American Free Trade Agreement (2015), and Lo común (2018). He has translated
William Carlos Williams’ Paterson (2009);
George Oppen’s Of Being Numerous (2019);
a collection of essays and poems by Sean Bonney, El lenguaje de las barricadas (2021);
After Lorca y otros poemas, an anthology of Jack Spicer’s work
among others. He lives in Oakland, California.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATORS
The North American Free Translation Agreement/No America Fraught Translation Argument (NAFTA), ratified in 2019, currently consists of three poets writing from the occupied territories of Canada, Mexico, and the United States: Whitney Celeste DeVos, Zane Koss, and Gerónimo Sarmiento Cruz. Their translations of Jesús Arellano Meléndrez have appeared in Denver Quarterly, and additional translations of Karen Villeda have appeared in Folder. Selections of this manuscript can be found in tripwire: a journal of poetics.
ABOUT THE COVER ARTIST
Omar García (Oaxaca, México, 1991) is a graduate of the Faculty of Arts and Design at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). In both 2017 and 2022 he was the recipient of the FONCA grant for young creators. His work has been selected in national and international competitions including the
Triennale Grenchen (Switzerland, 2021), the “Shinzaburo Takeda” Biennial (2019), the XII International Graphic Competition for Ex Libris (Poland, 2018) and the III Bienal Internacional de Grabado “Jose Guadalupe Posada” (2017). He has participated in numerous group exhibitions and has two individual exhibitions, “Bocetos para un funeral de Estado” (2017) and “Notas para informe” (2016). His work consists of planning projects that are fictitious, impossible, or that will never be realized, with the aim of sabotaging, through the absurd, Art itself.