Strange Days: Reading Mario Santiago Papasquiaro

Mario Santiago Papasquiaro is a strange poet whose work bends the boundaries of what we think poetry should sound like. I recently spent some time reading his long poem Advice From 1 Disciple of Marx to 1 Heidegger Fanatic, just published by Wave Books. I must confess that it was the title that caught my attention at first. As a Heidegger fanatic myself, and as someone who has also recently decided to reemerge himself in Marx, this seemed like an interesting choice. Moreover, Wave Books is an independent publisher out of Seattle and I like to support these types of small presses whenever I can. Cole Heinowitz and Alexis Graman translate Advice From 1 Disciple of Marx to 1 Heidegger Fanatic from the Spanish.

The poem itself reads as if one were trailing a comet along a drug-induced trip across the universe, but a universe that is only a smoky mirror of our own. There is no real musicality to the poem and Papasquiaro’s use of the numeric 1 for one takes some getting used to. The poem is more like a conversation between two drunken angels (fallen angels of course!) rather than a work whose intent is poetry itself. In fact, I’m not really sure what this poem is about. On a first reading it sounds like the ramblings of a madman, but of course there is more to it than that. Papasquiaro begins the poem by declaring the following: “The world gives you itself in fragments/in splinters,” and perhaps that is the secret to how we should read the poem: as a series of cognitive splinters whose sharp jagged edges cut deep into the psyche of the reader. The poem reminds us that existence is painful and full of suffering, but a beautiful suffering. In another part of the poem Papasquiaro admits, “If this isn’t Art I’ll slash my vocal cords/my tenderest testicle/I’ll stop blathering if this isn’t art.” Art, of course, is purely subjective and we could debate the merits of this work, but then we would be missing the point. So, what is the point of Advice From 1 Disciple of Marx to 1 Heidegger Fanatic? Damned if I know. But I do know that in reading the poem I am presented with a new world I had not known existed prior to the reading, and isn’t that ultimately the purpose of all art, to reveal what was once concealed?

I must admit that I was happy to discover that Mario Santiago Papasquiaro was a friend with Roberto Bolaño. In fact, the two of them (along with a few others) founded the Infarealist poetry movement in 1975 in Mexico City, where the two were living at the time. Mario Santiago Papasquiaro is a pseudonym for José Alfredo Zendejas. If all of this sounds familiar to those who have read Bolaño it should. Bolaño based the character of Ulises Lima from The Savage Detectives (1998) on Papasquiaro. Along with the fictionalized Bolaño, Arturo Belano, Ulises Lima made up the two “savage detectives.” They are founders of the visceral realists, drug dealers, poets, and searchers on the trail of the illusive/allusive poet Cesárea Tinajero.

At the heart of all worthy literature is the concept of the quest. Zendejas/Papasquiaro’s quest was as labyrinthine as any of those traveling the Latin America and Mexico shadow-worlds Bolaño labeled “an insane asylum.” While walking the streets of Mexico City in 1998 Zendejas/Papasquiaro was hit by a car and killed. His life was even stranger than that of Ulises Lima. It would be a shame for Advice From 1 Disciple of Marx to 1 Heidegger Fanatic to go unread. Here is poetry in all of its explosive glory.

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