(A spanish language version of this interview can be found here
Tanya Tynjala for Amazing Stories: Antonio Mora Vélez is a key author in Latin American science fiction. He is best known as a narrator. Why did you choose a book of poems to translate it into English instead of choosing a prose one?
José Luís Herreyra Collante: Both Antonio Mora Vélez and I started in literature as winners of the El Espectador Literature National Award in 1971, the first national short-story prize awarded to a bunch of quite young short-story writers who also wrote poetry, essays and novels. That became a significant friendship, particularly among Antonio Mora, Guillermo Tedio and me. In the 70’s and 80’s, I had written and published several books of poetry, but Antonio had written and published several short-story and essay books, and he just started writing poetry in the 90s. As I worked as a professor of English and Literature, and assistant editor at the magazine of the university CECAR in Sincelejo, on the Colombian Caribbean Coast, of which he was a founding member, I was very close to him in that genesis of his poetry, as a reader and commentator of his early poetic creations. Since the very beginning, I began feeling the clear, substantive and wonderful structure of these cosmic, mythical, scientific and sci-fi poems. And I immediately felt –I could say I felt more exactly than I thought– those poems should really sound in a fair, more accurate and dazzling way in English, as if they had been originally written in this language.
AS: How would you define the poetry of Antonio?
JLHC: For Antonio, the transition from narrative to poetry was not easy, but given his discipline and tenacity without limits, all these years he has been working his poetry as a goldsmith, chiseling word by word, to achieve the precise adjusting of all historical and cosmic, mythical and scientific themes to the fineness of the poetic texture that was needed in order to represent the symbiosis of the Universe in this unique, authentic and dazzling work, paradoxically in a substantive conciseness structure.
AS: In your humble opinion what poems in this anthology might interest Anglo readers?
JLHC: In fact, The Riders of Remembrance is already a sharp, rigorous selection of poems that I thought would be closer to the Anglo-Saxon reader, rigorously weighed and chosen from the three initial books he had written Los caminantes del cielo, El fuego de los dioses and Los jinetes del recuerdo. I opted for the latter title translated into English for amalgamating the 60 poems that flesh out this book, because the astonishing treatment of the poem Los jinetes del recuerdo makes me tremble due to the fact that I find in it something totally new as a concept or feeling: something I would like to call a cosmic compassion, where values ??suffer a tumble and tenderness is no more, historically and from that moment, as the exclusive heritage of nice or sweet as bourgeois concepts, but Mora Vélez makes us look for us as a human species in a very superior concept of love to the creatures in the solidarity of their misfortunes or in the reflection about ourselves of our elusive hope.
AS: Has Antonio written long poems or is it quite the opposite? Is he looking for the synthesis?
JLHC: Poetry found Antonio already grown-up, that is, from the beginning, Antonio knew practically everything about poetry, with regard to poetry and technique, except that he had not begun to write his own poetry, his singular poetry. So, he has maintained an intermediate scheme of poetic structure, which is not only the verse extension he likes but the exact hunting grounds for the depth and accuracy of his arrows in his personal guerra florida, a structure that tends itself more to noun and hence towards conciseness, by which I mean that his poems usually manage a scheme somewhat less than one page each. Interestingly, one should look for certain freedoms or leaks, by naming it somehow Antonio allowed as very few licenses, but on a deeper stage between the substantive or male yang of his cosmic thought and the female ying that underlies as a Spanish heritage in poems like La hoja que cae (The falling leaf), where lyricism looms as an ancestral condition of a babbling DNA that is within us as a species.
AS: What difficulties have you had in translating these poems? Do you think that English speakers will notice the cultural differences, of Antonio Mora not being an Anglo author or, on the contrary, do these poems deal with universal themes?
JLHC: I have never wanted to allow myself become a traduttore, tradittore, due to my affection for Antonio Mora as a great friend, the respect for his creative work and my recognition of the humility and responsibility a translation work must possess. I have worked tirelessly, even commenting Antonio himself, each terms where necessary, to enrich, to intuit, to comprehend them, in a kind of symbiosis of jewelry and cave art, detailing with a mixture of work or virtuosity the minimum, and magically invoking the rest, as our Paleolithic ancestors did in Altamira and Lascaux, when and where they painted the bison in agony pierced by spears and the deer crucified by arrows, reaching in reality what loomed on our longing.
AS: What topics of science fiction do the poems in this book touch?
JLHC: The complete poems of Antonio Mora Vélez can be classified thematically in esoteric, mythical, anthropic, apocalyptical, microcosmic and macrocosmic. They deal with the evolution of human history, ranging from the dawn of mankind to the daydream future, and from the proton to black holes, counting the innumerable galaxies and the incessant explosion of unknown suns. In The riders of remembrance, from the beginning of the selection of these 60 poems, I have tried to keep the proportional themes balance that keeps the entire book as a summary of Los caminantes del cielo, El fuego de los dioses y Los jinetes del recuerdo.
AS: Poetry in anglo science fiction is a minority. Do you know other Spanish poets who write science fiction poems?
JLHC: A poetry like Antonio Mora’s poetry is a rara avis in any latitude. I know that René Rebetez, another Colombian sci-fi author, who had some notoriety a few years ago, wrote some poems of science fiction, but I do not know them. It is said, that he was some time in Cuba, where he became much more interested in the practices of Santeria and magic, supernatural relationship between man and the universe. In three successive trips I made to the island of Providencia, where Rebetez lived several years and finally died, I tried to find out more about him, but I only got anecdotal information that raizales scarcely gave me, nothing more.
Now, with regard to the poetry in English that I have read from PoetrySoup, a poetry website supposedly a science fiction poetry website, occasionally I have found certain poems united by the label “poetry of science fiction”, with gruesome themes most of them, that in my modest opinion are symptomatic of different leitmotiv closest to Elton John’s Rocket Man, or scandalous radio sagas as Orson Welles’ Invaders from Mars than to sci-fi itself.
AS: Do you have new translation projects for Antonio or another writer?
JLHC: This interview shows that the translation of the poetry of Antonio Mora Velez has not finished yet. For me, my work as a translator is an act of genuine love, and I would translate another literature work just if I feel this secret connection mentioned by Cortázar: “As if you could choose in love, as if it were not as the lightning that break your bones and leaves you staked at the middle of the backyard … You do not choose the rain that will permeate to the bones when you go out from a concert.”
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*This interview was a team effort by José Joaquín Ramos, Ricardo Manzanaro and Tanya Tynjälä.
About the translator
José Luís Hereyra Collante. Colombian Writer, poet, translator, journalist, and language teacher. He has won several national and international prices like: El Espectador de Literatura in 1971 and 1972, Iberoamerican Poetry Price in 1985. He was also finalist in the “Famous Poets Society Award” ithe “International Library of Poetry Award” in 2000. He has published: Memoria No Inicial (1985), Esquina de Seis (1989). Direcciones del Cielo (1996), Kilimanjaro, Corazón Helado (2000), Casa de luz (2002) and Entre la sangre y el destino, (2008).