Jack Little (b. 1987) is a writer from Newcastle, currently based in Mexico City. He has forthcoming poems in Wasafiri, Ink, Sweat and Tears and The Barehands Anthology. He is the founding editor of The Ofi Press Magazine, which publishes international poetry and fiction, with a specific emphasis on promoting the work of young Mexican writers.
In this interview, we discover the idyllic and violent mix that constitutes Mexico, as well as ambitious young Mexican poets who defy categorization. We also have an insight on Jack Little’s work and influences.
Dzekashu MacViban: In a review of Granta 113 (The Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists), Lizzie A opines that the new generation of Latin American writers are “not as obsessed with the Pinochets as the older generation(s) of writers”. Do you agree with this view of the older generation, and how would you describe the younger generation of Latin American writers, especially vis-à-vis Mexican writing?
Jack Little: I have to say that I am certainly not an expert on this. Apart from the young poets that I have met in Mexico, it would be extremely difficult to categorize their work into any one particular interest or theme. I have to say that the poetry I have read from young Mexican poets certainly has a “flavor” characterized in its lyricism, something different from the British and American poets I am familiar with.
One caveat for this interview, I really have to start doing my homework on “the older generation” and really, all generations. I have never studied literature academically so this question is incredibly intellectual for me.
Do Mexican writers attempt to balance the often misconstrued image of Mexico perpetuated by the news which consists of “the fighting between drug cartels and the authorities”?
This is an excellent question! What is the role of the writer in society? To change the society? To report what is going on around him or her? Slam poetry in Mexico tackles social issues on street corners through the medium of hip-hop; the Mexican written word offers escapism as does poetry all over the world.
I have found that it is sometimes foreign writers living in Mexico who misconstrue the country in their work by creating images of Mexico as a romantic idyll of girls with flowers in their hair or on the other hand, the terrifying, dark and violent Mexico— the failed state. Both of these worlds do exist, but real life can be found between these two extremes. What is Mexico? A beautiful chaos, my home.
How would you evaluate the relevance of Mexico to Latin American writing, and writing at large, given that writers such as D.H. Lawrence, Roberto Bolaño , Gabriel García Márquez, Graham Greene, John Steinbeck, and William S. Burroughs have lived in and were influenced by Mexico?
Before arriving in Mexico, I read Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives set in Mexico City about a young poet. Full of sex and violence, I knew Mexico City would be the place for me, coming from a small city, a place to be me, reinvent myself. Did my expectations live up to the reality? I agree with André Breton who described Mexico City as “the most surreal place in the world” and certainly it is a wonderful place to be a poet!
If you ask if Mexico has been relevant to my own writing— of course. An Estonian poet told me last year that my poetry was “Far too English, too stringent, with too many rules” and from that moment my work changed, I saw beauty in the chaos of the city, the magic in the everyday. I recommend Sierra Leone’s Syl Coker whose work has clearly been heavily influenced by the magical realism of Latin American literature. It is a fascinating blend of two different worlds!
As a British writer from Newcastle, living and writing in Mexico, do you identify yourself with Mexican writers or with British writers? And how do others identify you?
I think my work is influenced a lot by Latin poetry, especially over the past year. I was very lucky to have been invited to read my work at the Linares International Literary Festival in the north of Mexico earlier this year where I came in contact with some top European and Canadian poets. As mentioned previously, I made a great friendship with an Estonian poet who read of my poems and rather poo-pooed them as being “too English” in the sense that they were very restricted and perhaps over worked, always looking for the perfect word. Since then, I have relaxed; let the poems flow and what I feel is that they have improved, having become more fun and free. I’m fascinated by city life and I think my poems have an influence of the magical realism dominant in Latin literature. However themes of isolation, the history of my home city also seem to be dominating my work at the moment.
In terms of how other writers view me, well, I am very new to writing and I’m not very well known at all outside of a small circle of writers in Mexico City and Newcastle. I guess they would perceive me as a European just passing through Mexico but I do have plans to settle here (I’ve been here nearly three years now) and eventually to take Mexican citizenship along with my British nationality. Perhaps then I would define myself as a British Mexican poet? I’d rather prefer to think of myself as a “man of the world” though. Haha.
I am very proud to be assisting in the production of an anthology which will incorporate collaborative poetry written by well-known poets purely from Mexico City and London. Being born in London myself and now living in Mexico City, I will be fascinated to see what comes out of this project set for publication in early 2013.
Who are your favourite writers, and which of them has influenced your writing?
Some writers who have impacted heavily upon my work have been the Mexican poet Rocío Cerón, who I have had the pleasure of collaborating with over the past couple of years in some translations and in organising some readings in Mexico City. Another poet who I have yet to meet in person, but now call a very good friend is Luljeta Lleshanaku from Albania whose hauntingly beautiful poems about family and exile really blow me away. My Estonian friend Kätlin Kaldmaa whose honest and brutal criticism changed my mind set about writing has had an important role but most of all, my mum, Pippa Little, who is a poet herself based in the UK. She is an inspiration for my writing and her constant encouragement and thoughts about my work really have provided a huge impetus for my own writing. I am quite obviously biased about this but she really is one to watch on the UK poetry scene with a new book out called “Overwintering” by Carcanet which came out in October 2012.
The Ofi Press is currently collaborating with Bakwa Magazine on a number of projects. As an editor, has the collaboration enriched you in any way?
The main reason that I am an editor is to open my world beyond the immediate. Each day I am exposed to the poetry and friendship, albeit by email, from wonderful writers, poets and creative people literally from all over the world. Personally, I find this extremely fulfilling. On a professional note I believe that these creative links and collaboration have really improved The Ofi Press, giving it a real depth with each issue. What can be better than to spend each day reading contemporary poetry from all over world?
Connection between people, that’s what life is all about.
Are you currently working on any project(s)/books?
Yes, I have just finished a manuscript of poems entitled [7:05am] which is an exploration of the city and life away from home. I am currently working on two other books of poetry of my own, one entitled “Learning to Read”, a study of childhood and another on British colonial rule in Tanzania. My other projects at the moment include translating a book of the early poetry of Mirta Yañez of Cuba into English and also a book for The Clipperton Project [www.clippertonproject.com]. Next year I’ll produce an Ofi Press edition with work solely from Newcastle, translated into Spanish with the theme of “displacement”. Like I said, life is all about connections.