The Costa Rican “Poet of the Periphery” Ernesto Con inaugurates our occasional series of interviews
by providing radical insights into his life, loves and philosophy
ERNESTO CON, better known as the cyber (and real) “Poet of the Periphery”, was born in July 1961 in San José, Costa Rica. His paternal great-grandfather, Gil Con, was one of the first Chinese immigrants to arrive in the country at the end of the 19th century. In 1981 his parents decided to emigrate with the family to Los Angeles, California. His first poems in English (“Autumn Night” and “The New Order”) appeared in the American Poetry Anthology edited by Robert Nelson in October 1988. His first collection, Letanía de una tarde de invierno, was published in Puebla, Mexico, in 1996, and was subsequently reviewed in several US, Costa Rican and Mexican journals. Key figures he has met during his literary career who have influenced his work include Ernesto Cardenal, Isabel Allende, Wang-Hongbin (the charismatic leader of Nanjie Village in Henan Province), Jacques Derrida, the Maoist scholars, Dong-Xulin and C.Y.Tung, and the photographer of the Cuban revolution, Alberto Gutiérrez alias “Korda”. His works include: “Réquiem para un hombre-cloaca”, “Lluvia”, “Tarde de invierno”, “Oda al Ché Guevara”, “La rebelión de las hortalizas” (dedicated to his father, Ricardo Con Sanchún), “El grito irreverente”, “Ars poética”, “Oda a Puntarenas”, “Caperucita, el lobo y la granada roja” and “Alaskan night”. Among the collections he has contributed to are Che in Verse (2007, Aflame). As a faithful adherent of the philosophy of the Chinese leader Mao-Zedong, and the philosopher-general, Wang Yangming, Con professes through his poetry a conviction that art should be used to defend the defenceless and dispossessed. He deems that all “art for art’s sake is an exercise in futility and a perfunctory, bourgeoisie, pastime”. The poet resides with his Indonesian-born wife, Nety, alternately in Anchorage, Alaska, and Orange County, California, where he has represented his birth country in the capacity of honorary consul in various gastronomical institutions, and as a sampler of fine spirits in places that he can’t recall for obvious reasons. His next collection, Divagaciones de una sombra, is scheduled for publication.
How did you begin to write? Who read your work initially?
I began my literary career through a certain twist of fate at the age of 17, when I was writing a small note to my about-to-be ex-girlfriend threatening to kill her. Before signing it, I noticed that two of the stanzas rhymed and that all had nine syllables. I decided to polish my missive and thus distracted myself for three days on what would end up becoming my first poem. At the end of the day, the shot backfired: I ended up falling in love with her again. In this way, poetry enabled love to be imposed once more upon death.
What’s your favourite genre? Is there any link on which we can see or read something about your recent work?
http://www.gksdesign.com/atotos/poetry/ernestocon.htm (…) http://www.mundoculturalhispano.com/spip/auteur.php?id_aut (…)
What is your creative process? What happens before you sit down to write?
First I fart, given that intestinal gases tend to be exigent and demand your maximum attention and do not allow you to concentrate. I cannot write in that way. I am one of those individuals who is distracted easily by anything and, as such, it is essential that I have absolute concentration. Because of this, first I free myself of these, I adjust my trousers and … all hands to work. What type of reading motivates you to write?
Obituaries. For some inexplicable reason, they move me such that they leave me with a sense of urgency.
Whose shoes do you most like to put yourself in: first person or third person?
Being an incurable narcissist, I like the “I” most. Only gossips and those who live from blackmail tend to speak in the third person.
Which well known writers do you admire most?
Certain writers that I admire are not necessarily those that have influenced me. So, I admire Gogol, Borges, Yukio Mishima, Henry Miller, and a number of others. Those that I admire who have really exercised a great influence upon my person I can count on the fingers of my left hand: Marx, Mao, Neruda, Galeano y Wang-Yangming.
How does a character become credible? How do you create yours?
For a character to be believable he must have halitosis, lice and end up being killed violently. Anything to the contrary would be a caricature created by Hollywood.
Are you equally adept at telling stories orally?
Yes, and I can mention the names of many women who can testify to my oral skill.
Is writing therapeutic? At the heart of your motivation, for whom do you write?
Maybe to some. I simply write so that my wife doesn’t make me wash the dishes or scrub the floor. Any work that exempts me from domestic chores is welcome.
Do you enter competitions? Have you won prizes?
I have never been able to conceive mentally that it is necessary to choose between a beautiful poem and another equally beautiful one. These literary competitions merely reflect a deeply-rooted immaturity, and the self-declared judges or critics or whatever they call themselves, in my opinion, are nothing more than a herd of buffoons.
How do you discipline yourself, in terms of hours of work, goals etc.?
I have never imposed any kind of discipline upon myself. This explains why I have not written a single poem in the last 10 years.
What do you surround yourself with in your study to help your concentration?
Often I visited brothels, which always favoured my concentration and poetic production. Many of the social workers that practise the most ancient of professions tend to have the most noble souls that can be found in this life, and I must confess that more than one has been my muse.
Do you write on screen, print often, correct on paper… ? What is your process?
I must admit that I am a little old-fashioned and, because of that, I continue to write with pen and paper. Only once did I try to write with my faithful Mont-Blanc on screen and ended up cracking it.
What has your experience with publishers been like?
Same as with bad-tempered, rude and ugly women: I prefer to see them pass by from afar and don’t even go near them or greet them.
What do you recommend I do with all those texts that I have been writing for years but have never shown anyone?
Do what I did with mine, torch them! Only in that way will you ensure that you will never torture a living being with your scribbles.
If you are sent to a desert island, what book, record and film would you take?
Unless there is electricity on this desert island, I doubt whether I would be able to listen to the record or see the film. Moreover, if they send me to a desert island, reading a book would be the last thing on my mind. Instead of these three things, I would ask them to send me three pets: Playmate of the Year 2005, Playmate of the Year 2006 and Playmate of the Year 2007.
How do you kill time?
Kill it? On the contrary, I try to keep it alive. Only to an imbecile would it occur to kill something that never comes back.
It’s 5pm on a typical Sunday. What are you doing?
If I am not exchanging ideas, philosophical treatises or seminal secretions with a feminine of the species, it is possible that I can be found in one of these lethargic spiritual trance sessions that I am accustomed to take for eight hours a day, preferably without interruption.
How did you meet your current partner?
In the library of my university. I remember I was reading The Birth of Tragedy by Friedrich Nietzsche when a mutual friend introduced us.
What was your first vehicle?
A red tricycle.
A word or expression that you love?
“To know and not to act, is yet not to know” by the ancient Chinese philosopher-general Wang Yangming.
A word or expression that you hate?
If you are reincarnated, which character from real life would you like to be?
I would like to return as Ernesto Con, “The Poet of the Periphery”, with all his defects and virtues. I would change absolutely nothing. His triumphs, his defeats, his defects and virtues, his joys and sadnesses … I would reclaim everything!
Should consensual crimes like drug-use or prostitution be legalised?
Would you look at that! And all this time I thought alcohol consumption and marriage were legal…
In favour of or against bull-fighting?
Definitely, I have always been in favour of the bull, I support them unconditionally, and even cheer them on. I have always had fun watching my future dinner gore a bunch of idiots because in order to stand in front of a bull with those tight pants that hardly even let you move and a little red cape to annoy the already enraged animal you must be extremely s-t-u-p-i-d.
Do you defend experiments on animals to develop medicines that can save human lives?
I have always declared that experimenting on little innocent animals is an unjust and barbarous act. Why not experiment on corrupt politicians, remorseless criminals, child molesters that pass themselves off as priests. I propose that President Bush finally does something positive for humanity and becomes the first to offer his body up for science. Hallelujah, Brother!
Do aliens exist?
Of course; I am living proof that they exist. I still remember when one of my ex-girlfriends tried, in a moment of exasperation, to guess my place of origin attributing it to a celestial body of the universe: “Ernest, you are not from this planet. You are always on the moon!”
What comes after consumer society?
A society indebted up to its balls.
Has any personal development book transformed your life?
“The Poet of the Periphery” refuses to read and opposes vehemently reading those lies that tend to cause nausea or the sudden expulsion by mouth of recently ingested food. Such books, described by the poet as “books of personal brutalisation”, that overflows with platitudes, superfluous clichés and a virulent superficiality, do not justify the sacrifice of the tree whose cutting down is used to bring about its pages.
What counts more for your vote: the party, candidate or ideas?
Ideas. A candidate or a party can betray the ideas or the principles that are planted in a given moment, but an idea can never betray itself.
Are we experiencing the end of the American empire?
Mao-Zedong had declared that “U.S. imperialism is nothing but a paper tiger” and, as we can see, he was correct. No nation, no matter how powerful, can subjugate a people that is determined to struggle for self-determination and sovereignty. The Iraqis, just like the Vietnamese in the past, have shown themselves to be the Spartacus(es) ? of our era. This interminable war of exhaustion, and the cancerous humerus of neoliberalism, will ensure the defeat, once and for all, of the terminally ill skeleton of North American imperialism.
Why did the economies of the communist countries fail?
The imperialist press and its chatterboxes have declared, even with the luxury of detail, the failure of the communist economies. They always mention Cuba, despite the fact that Cuba does not figure among the poorest countries of Latin America, even when its economy has suffered the imposition of an unjust embargo that will soon have lasted half a century. However, there is not a peep about the tragic situation in Bolivia, which before the election of Evo Morales found itself among the poorest nations of Latin America alongside that other capitalist nation and faithful ally of the North American empire, the Central American nation of Honduras. And, Haiti, perhaps one of the poorest economies on the planet, is it not capitalist? And why talk about Venezuela? Before Hugo Chávez came to power with a resounding popular victory of 90 per cent of the vote, more than 70 per cent of the Venezuelan population was living in poverty, without access to medicine or education. Where did the petroleum revenues go? It is obvious that they lined the pockets of just a few people. And what about the human exodus by the Mexican population for the country to their north despite the fact that Mexico is officially a capitalist country and oil producer? Silence!
In these first days of 2009 we are experiencing, probably, the worst economic crisis in the history of the modern world. A crisis created by the CAPITALIST financial world based on the neoliberal policies professed by Ronald Reagan, Alan Greenspan, Milton Friedman and the poster boy of neoliberalism, the same one who did errands for Reagan, the incomparable Carlitos Menem. For this reason, Mr Interviewer, I ask you to rephrase the question in this way: “Why did the economies of the CAPITALIST countries fail?”
Do you believe in any conspiracy theory about 11-S in 1973?
My conspiracy theory about that time has already been proven: Nixon and Kissinger were behind the coup by the patricide Pinochet and his assassins against President Allende.
Are there peoples who are more civilised than others? Or is everything a question of cultural differences?
The Americans brag about being a civilised people, but can it be civilised when your own government has massacred more than 1 million innocent beings on a war based from the start upon a lie? The English are others that have always boasted about being civilised, to the point of confusing being well-mannered with being civilised, but again, can it be civilised when you have drugged millions of human beings as was the case in the vilified Opium War in which they forced the Chinese people to open their ports to accept this drug?
Does globalisation help to develop the poorest countries or perpetuate their condition of exploitation?
If previously exploitation occurred at a local or national level, with so-called globalisation the large corporations and multinationals can extend their tentacles and exploit at a global level. The proposition of globalisation is to find the cheapest labour and natural resources at a global level, and make the rest of the workers of the world compete among themselves, accepting the very same alms that the “chosen ones” accepted that was tossed down from above “with much, much love” using the phrase of that famous hermaphrodite astrologer on television. In this way, applying with great efficiency the “Law of the Funnel”, the poor become poorer and the rich, richer.
Do you think the global crisis can bring positive change with regard to social values?
Definitely; this positive change is called REVOLUTION, and the social values that will be implemented are called social justice and the equitable distribution of wealth. Aren’t these the social values that humanity has aspired to since biblical times?
What techniques work for you to calm your mind in moments of great tension?
I visit a funeral parlour and leave like new with a great enthusiasm for life.
On your deathbed, what do you think you will regret not having done more of in life?
Your philosophy for good health?
Exercise and fornicate. Long live redundancy!
Do you think it is true that we only use 10 per cent of the potential of the human brain?
Sorry, I didn’t understand the question.
Translated by Gavin O’Toole
Original interview in Spanish at WhoHub