Poets in Profile: Beatriz Hausner
Beatriz Hausner's poetry collection Enter the Raccoon (BookThug) tells the story of a love affair between a woman and a raccoon in her signature surreal and beautiful language.
Beatriz speaks to Open Book today about influential early experiences, the poet who taught her how to write Eros and the surprising poetic inspiration of clothing.
Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets by following our Poets in Profile series.
Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?
More than a single experience, it is an amalgam of sensations associated with moments lived. The pain of immigration to Canada certainly marked me, perhaps because it happened when I was in my early teens, a time of great confusion for any person. The feeling of isolation, the humiliations associated with not being able to express myself (I spoke no English at the time), of not fitting in, these were deep experiences that began to build the tensions necessary to trigger poetic expression. Add to this the fact that I grew up in a home where poetry and artistic expression formed the context of our family life and the answer is complete.
What is the first poem you remember being affected by?
Perhaps a poem by Gabriela Mistral, from her “Sonetos a la muerte”, which I learned by heart when I was a child but whose import I did not understand at the time: “This long exhaustion will one day become the greater / and my soul will tell my body that it no longer wishes / to drag its mass down the rosy way / which men travel, content in their being alive...” [my translation].
There is something about this sonnet, its ability to express “ennui” as a kind of fatigue wrought by human struggle, which has stayed with me, which moves me still. It’s strange, what impacts and what doesn’t, because I was weaned on modernist French poetry, particularly the poetry of French dada and of international surrealism, a poetic tradition without much space for a poetry like Mistral’s, which could be construed as sentimental within that framework.
But I can’t limit myself to just one… The second most affecting poetic experience of the early years was the thorough reading at the best poetry class ever (taught by the incomparable Paul Bouissac, at the U of T) of “Le Bateau ivre” by Arthur Rimbaud. Even though I was exposed to the very best poetry at home by my step dad, Ludwig Zeller (for example: César Vallejo’s “Let’s consider coldly, impartially, / that man is sad, that he coughs and, still / takes pleasure in his reddened chest; / that what he does best is to be made up of days / that he is a gloomy mammal, that he combs his hair…” [my translation]), there was something in the way Rimbaud’s famous poem moved, its perfection of form, its cadence, its depiction of the inexorable flow of existence, which changed something inside me.
What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?
“Love Letter” by the Peruvian surrealist César Moro. Moro’s poetry taught me what I needed to learn, in order to write about Eros, to express sex with men in the most naked and honest way possible.
What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?
Clothes. My wearing them, certainly, but also my imagining them in all manner of contexts. Exploring the way clothes are constructed. The way fabrics feel. It took me a long time to accept the fact of the power of clothes on my imagination, because they are material objects and, as such, products connected to negative human impulses, such as the exploitation of women. However, like so many objects anchored in the reality of the body, clothes are for me, the closest representation of sex. In fact, clothes and sex are inextricably connected, one merging into the other, and vice versa.
What do you do when a poem is not working?
I usually leave it be for a while, set it aside. Then, when I come back to it, I most often change it completely, transform it into something altogether unplanned at the outset. I very much enjoy the process of taking the guts out of a piece of writing in order to turn it into something else. One way to do this is to use poetry by others, which I splice in. This form of collage allows me to be taken elsewhere, emotionally, intellectually, and in terms of being IN the poem, inside its form, as it emerges and disappears, only to emerge again, but changed, renewed. It’s incredible, really, the liberating feeling of poetic creation.
What was the last book of poetry that really knocked your socks off?
It’s two books, both of incredible breadth and scope: the first one is bpnichol’s The Martyrology. The other is Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Thankfully, both are very long works, so that I will be reading them for a long time to come. Somehow, these two books have helped me break out of a form of writing, which began to feel somewhat limiting, constraining. In the case of nichol, there is the freedom with which the central concept is allowed to develop, to grow into all manner of things over a lifetime. It is remarkable and which has served me as an example of “stance,” an attitude towards the poetic. In Ovid, it’s the form, the long lines (although I prefer the elegiac couplets he uses in the Fasti) for sure, but more importantly, the way in which the poet tackled and retold the great myths. Again, it’s an attitude, a sense that there is nothing impeding one from rewriting the world, transforming it utterly.
What is the best thing about being a poet….and what is the worst?
The best thing about being a poet is being able to enter another world, a world that is at once this world and a world altogether apart, a more complete reality, a place of freedom. Writing poetry is transformative. The only negative thing about being a poet is not being able to be a full-time poet, having to make concessions to the real world. By “real world” I mean the kind of life where one is not allowed to truly become, a world which is intolerant of the imagination, a world where one can’t be free.