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Rodrigo Toscano

in conversation with Leonard Schwartz

2004, Transcribed by Nicholas Perrin, from radio interviews originally broadcast on Cross-Cultural Poetics, 89.3FM, Olympia

Photo of Rodrigo Toscano Rodrigo Toscano is the author of To Leveling Swerve (Krupskaya Books, 2004), Platform (Atelos, 2003), The Disparities (Green Integer, 2002) and Partisans (O Books, 1999). His work has recently appeared in Best American Poetry, 2004 (Scribner’s) and War and Peace (O Books, 2004) and In the criminal’s cabinet: An anthology of poetry and fiction. (See the links at the end of this interview.) His poetry has been translated into French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. He was poetry co- coordinator for ‘The Social Mark’ symposium in Philadelphia, 2003, and a recent participant in ‘Poetry & Empire, Post-Invasion Poetics’ at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as in ‘Societies of American Poetry, Dissenting Practices’ at Georgetown University. Toscano is originally from California (San Diego and San Francisco). He lives in New York City.

You can read Deborah Meadows’ review of Platform, by Rodrigo Toscano, in Jacket 22

This interview is 5,500 words
or about 16 printed pages long

Bumper-car effect

Leonard Schwartz: You are an interesting poet in that you’re involved with the Labor Institute in New York City, as well as involved in the experimental poetry scene. Could you speak a little bit about the connection between your work within labor and your poetic labor?

Rodrigo Toscano: There are two sort of intertwined lives intersecting at various points along my political and poetic careers. Many years ago I got involved in experimental literature and at the same time also got involved in the labor movement in various capacities, one, as a shop steward at work — I was a social worker — and then going on to becoming vice president of the particular chapter of that union. Then moving to New York and working on various projects around environmental labor issues with the Labor Institute, where I currently work. Yeah, the work that I do politically informs what I do, but not always exclusively. In the sense that I don’t sit down and write a poem about what happened today — but most definitely does that work inform my work. My open (public) participation in experimental literature has been going on for over fifteen years now, or more, and they do in fact intertwine, you’ll be able to hear maybe when I read a poem how they do...

I think we should go to the text immediately. There is a new piece of yours called “Writing”, I wonder if you could read “Writing” for us?

Absolutely, this piece is from my collection titled To Leveling Swerve, which was published by Krupskaya Books in 2004, in June actually. The title of this is simply “Writing”.


Swivillization and its bearings grinding — listen.

Cylindrical vertical shaft to a flat disk — expansive — beveled, bolt-mounted clarity of surface, distortion, dramatic layout, world.

Rotating Superfly Periodista writes bearings are born in bearing-maker’s alley.

Rotating Superfly Periodista is correct.

Swivillization and its bearings grinding — sounding out.

Politically Correct has always been fair play — all around, in that it means to ramp-up preceding narrative — so that it might proceed to a counter-dominant current — that if honed, correct, or not, as the narrative’s intent to transform is — we’ve duly noted, and have responded — is on its way.

Pissing in the toilet instead of on it — is correct.

Determined to flush out the empirical side of it, Pier 49, Guangdong, 12 hour shifts the walk-off’s daily the roundups hourly the pulse of fear second by second related word by word as expressed by 99 cent mops in Brooklyn that last a week.

That much he knows and that his life has dribbled out its last soixante-huite hurrah.

That much its accumulated effective swerve toward the point of

Below the shaft is a double-notched mounted triangular tangle of angular solid iron — turbine.

The social function of the Turbine is determined by the power motor, the power motor by the fuel hose, the support hose’s fine mesh is achieved by infusing small amounts of liquid rayon the droplets sticking to their forearms, 200 of them streaming out of Hangar 48, Tegucigalpa.

Causal Description gives the worker-reader a much needed workout and that he or she resists it is because of the ease of swivillization and its disconnects — on the sphere, flat, rotating, distracted, nervous, fickle, but true.

True, Superfly Periodista could be tracking it in sections, flying fractions of the world, 2,000 shots per second, yet, Superfly has to make a calculation as to its

General Motion.

Corollary being the consciousness does not depend on either self-embroglio’d poetic or academically-encased temporalities.

And thus, in agèd accents, a stranger in the audience asks:

“of us, present here, which of us stands imputed so?

are we
as to
which is

to lash out at all? or forestall?

to a love of all? or forestall?”

And Superfly, in slightly less agèd accents, responds:

“in this my neighborhood, in this my city, my country, on this my daedalian disk — flat — beveled, bolt-mounted clarity of surface, distortion, dramatic layout, world — neither.”

Another stranger pipes up:

“Neruda might say the bearing makers are his Madres de Grafto y Hierro Palpitanes — by the millions, that they cradle him, that through the svelte-leopard night — rocks it, humanity.”

And a third stranger:

“to slinky-dink at all — enthrall?

of a slicky-slack of all — enthrall?”

But the empirical evidence gathered without correct Dialection of the Social is like a mop without a handle, hard on the knees.

Conversely, correct Dialection without empirical evidence is like a mop without a sponge, hard on the aesthetics of acetate flooring.

The narrative so far diagrammatically alludes to the earth as a flat disk mechanically rotated instead of a lush sphere afloat in space elliptically around the sun.

Of so many substances
Future Poetry’s

Of so many instances
ball-bearing rollers’

And that we are all like bearings, support-swivellings, grinding on, our tropes.

And that we rotate — like a CPU fan, clamped on cooling.

And that we swivel — like a utility desk chair, poly-angular, free but for the screen.

“Build Nature!”

“Nurture Building!”

As photons from the spastic sun pelt the same hemisphere, comrades report from Caracas:

Las Comités Montañeras — on fire! 

Of so many assemblies — confederative, careen towards Dual Government.

Collective work tied to collective product’s circulation . . . scrap wood to the central pile, some to the flame . . . tawny smoke over the city hills.

systolic necessity, diastolic


To have heart
in the face of confusion.

unto the matter present.

around Carthage.

A cheap pair of support pantyhose.

A transnational relay.

A democratic assembly.

unto the Blap Blap.

unto the Blip Blip.

Rodrigo, thank you so much for that reading. Where do those mops in Brooklyn come from? And I ask that question because it is clear when you’re reading the poem that there is a way in which your poetics is industrial. The interest in where things come from and how they end up where they are, and what were the conditions of labor that led them into coming into being in the first place. Where were those mops in Brooklyn coming from?

Well those were actually coming from China. That reference I think was a direct reference to the Guangdong which appeared earlier in the poem; the line about “12 hour shifts the walk off’s daily the roundups hourly the pulse of fear etc...”. Those mops, those 99-cent mops, are mysterious things that swivel, like we do in the world of labor and words.

Like swivillization itself.

Exactly, with it’s bearings grinding. So I am sort of likening ourselves to bearings, but bearings, you see, are a very important component of anything that swivels: you gotta get some gotta maintain have to — ya know — think about them. That’s why I begin the poem like that “bearings grinding — listen.” I mean that as a sort of reflexive gesture, pointing to us. I don’t want to sit here and point out and say, well, there’s the problem out there, but I also want to include it as a complex participation in that swivillization.

What would be the difference between saying, “I’m dancing as fast as I can” and “I’m swiveling as fast as I can”?

Well, dance we do in this world. I think the difference is that with swivillization, in this metaphor I’m trying to find where I finish. First of all, a “periodista” in Latin America refers to a newspaper person, a person who works in Journalism. But also a lot of people who are poets in Latin America are periodistas, and sometimes when people want to put down somebody, say they are a cretin or something, they say periodista. But Superfly here also refers to me, and I say “Superfly has to make a calculation as to its/ General Motion.” And so when we dance, we do it — when someone takes a revolver and starts shooting at your feet — that’s sort of a desperate situation when what you are having to do is dance. But here with swivillization we have to make a calculation as to its general motion. Not in every moment do we know specifically what to do, but as long as we understand some general motion of the labor process that we are involved in. That’s what I’m getting at.

There is also that great moment in the poem which happens like this “Of so many substances / Future Poetry’s / composites/ combining”. Could you comment on that?

At that point it’s a conceptual lyrical moment where the poem is becoming aware, or I am becoming aware of the piece at that point as having to do with futurity. That futurity is a composite and not a plane in which we speak. Right before it I say “The narrative so far diagrammatically alludes to the earth as a flat disc/ mechanically rotated instead of a lush sphere afloat in space elliptically around the sun.” Now at the same time I sort of own up to it in the next group — after the one you pointed out — I say “Of so many instances / ball bearing rollers’ / futures / remain” [here] I don’t say solid, I don’t say concrete, I say “gelatinous.” And so gelatinous is sort of a state of matter that’s somewhere between a solid and a liquid that’s like consciousness.

Wouldn’t you also say that the difference between the poetic object and many of the other industrial objects that come about in your poem is that in a particular poem such as yours, with a complicated series of surface features — multiple languages, broken spellings, transformations of words, neologisms — such an object has almost no exchange value. So we know poems have almost no exchange value. Unlike that 99 cent mop.

That’s right, so it’s in the form too. That’s why I have those interlocutors in that poem, grammatically to lend to what your talking about, which is the first sort of stranger that asks “of us, present here, which of us stands imputed so?” That third character that gets in there says something that sounds completely without value whatsoever “to slinky-dink at all — enthrall?” And that’s practically unrecognizable to me. It’s supposed to be a comedic moment or kind of collapse of discourse. But it’s exactly that, to emphasize what you called this exchange value, a paradigm of commodity exchange as it relates to poetry as well.

I wonder if we could go back to your book Platform, which came out not too long ago, 2003 actually. There’s a piece in the book entitled “Conglomerate Transatlantic Pantocracy” and I wondered if you could read us that.

That’s a sort of sub-section, part of a longer piece — in the middle of the book — that’s titled “Satire #4”, and the title of that poem is “In-Formational Forum Rousers — Arcing”, and that is a section from it.

Conglomerate Transatlantic Pantocracy 


psank u
ox & axy swung
stirr at


cough & wheeze

teary eye’d


[come again?]

“chaunge the chaunnel”

tear gas canister
on five-century-old

green-glow & pink-glow


chalked in


scuffling feet

hold steady

lines —

crossing ‘em —

[if isolate

translates to danger]





pata —


nyet —

something qualitatively



in switch-packeted

screen view 


Ron Phillyman
on a Bart somewhere

can’t help —
can’t re-particualate me (who?)
me me me —

“now now now”

pot banging!
pot banging!


hover over a long-picked-over <victorian> Novel

inverted — carcass

not all’s that safari like

no more

for the demo

we, only

focus! — in the cross hairs



Après tout! 

how ever

thniggle thnaggle thnuggle

at (“upgrade now!”)

barriers —

conflicting run-time race politics drivers

(“une gauche gauche, eh?”)

gosh —
Barfy —
I don’t see any fledgling literati in the


grazing on. . .




STEINKASTING: Tildekte demonstranter kaster stein mot politiet. 


Rodrigo, your tongue is dancing and swiveling there as you work your way through the number of languages and elocutions that happen in just the span of a couple of pages. It almost feels to me like a poem that’s overheard as opposed to heard. Does that make sense to you?

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense because the other one is more like a form of address where I’m saying, “listen,” I’m appealing, there is a feeling that I’m on one side of the podium and the audience on the other, a sort of civil exchange. But this one’s more of a sort of carnivalesque surround sound kinda thing where voices come in and out and respond to each other fractally and sometimes they get sort of caught in the middle of a word and get spun off into a different language even, or a different era of a different language, and/ or a different moment in the social ... a different poetry moment if you will, in New York City...but still trying to maintain a broad perspective on history and poetry. So I would agree with you it is definitely more of a surround kind of poem.

It’s such a pleasure to hear it. I wonder if you could go a little further with it for us?

Sure, I’ll pick up where we left off.

fund a


ism —


in snatches?

I wonder

(Alpha) Spanner, why not dual inducement?

Formal and Programmatic

fajita fave

bundled with




calibrated —

“and then ding the bell”


(more on this later)


Psss —

it’s docked, it’s unloaded


kris kringle
a gift economy

Pss —

capacity to the max

Pss —

I don’ know nobahdee,
I don know nobahdee here


the department chair
is against
the union, man 

Pss —
so are you!

Pss —

this reading sucks!

Pss —

has come back to life
they say

L.A. County

Five Curators

(one, a Latrino — serviceable)

“we feature individual success here
not a cobra pit of
minor literature
tail up (ending)



The Secret Password?


(every global girl and boy wants. . .)

<thank you>



Yes, and the next line in the poem is “The Top 1% / in the United States / has amassed over / 40% of the nations wealth.” I didn’t read it the way you would have read it, but the poem is just this one continuous stream of observations and remarks and comments coming in from invisible and yet highly recognizable sources all one at the same time. It’s quite hard to stop listening actually, Rodrigo.

Thank you. That one is a piece which is maybe 48 pages, kind of a long poem in the middle of Platform, that, like you said, keeps going through those different voices.

What are you working on these days?

Well I just finished a book called To Leveling Swerve, like I said, I read one piece from that collection. I’m working on some notes that will end up as pieces that perhaps or likely will end up as another book somewhere down the line. So that’s what I’m working on ... poems. You know word by word, verse by verse — as you know yourself — stanza by stanza then it eventually turns into a manuscript. Let’s get into a more recent poem. It’s a poem that’s in sort of a more minor tone than what I have been writing. Which is for me hard to imagine, because I look at my work as being very much in minor tones.

Minor as in “miner” or “minor”?

As opposed to major, as in chords.

I think of it as kind of digging for gold, and finding it too, but all right — you say minor in the other way.

The title of it is an enticer, “Twelve Riddles of Spirit- Crook in Hand”

12 Riddles of Spirit, Crook in Hand


The returning legions of “spirit”
kick up dust, clouds
the size of Connecticut

drifting, showering down



Thinking of the Ravenous Billions
the screen blinking
the front part of the storm
— the avant of it

calling you


Who was I?

Who will I be?


A clear stream of libertas
clarion tenor


is not enough

What gives pause
or impetus
to my hand or mouth
in culture

interests me

as in

(whose not)

like an 18” monitor
dropped on your head
whispers to you

an animus

What was it?

What will it be?


In the desperate lotto draw of the “soul”
(soul, a kind of outsourcing of the social)
someone wins a freedom
dreamt of on the iron mattress of

All the Friday eves of the world, the Saturday morns,
the Sunday bunny hop days
bounding away

“flex-time” — boxing in

remittances — frozen




An integral who’s who

informing on

— you?

family circuits too —


it’s pretty

you have to admit


To be young at heart
though the elbow quit pronating fully
years ago

That today
we’re “faithfully” fulfilling
someone’s enough

To wittingly swamp the senses
baud rates being

has all but flummoxed
the imag-

has all about itself an aura
of the etern-

present continuous

has all about its nape

little skulls

goofy smiles

chomper-romper teeth


So that who’s strung out by “wait”
so that now, adding spirit-dust to it

without the means
to fund such a hill of beans

Art thou frightened of death?
Art thou frightened of disease?
Art thou frightened of war?

I too flew straight into this lungèd-life a-heaving
without preview, choice, or much deliberation.

I too, in a different circumstance might embrace an art that’s
irreducibly provisional” that’s “infinitely plastic”

But Ich can’t stand the feel of the assigned (starchy) uniforms

And Ich will love basketball, though Ich won’t watch it on TV this season

and perhaps many more


To lose faith
Finally, in the face of economics
Infrastructure, the common weal.

To gain bulk in the shoulders
Padding in the ass
To approximate
Fellow toiler’s

A to C, screw B


“lotsa motsa!”

“lotsa lumpia!”

“lotsa chalupa!”

“lotsa hefe weisse!”

“lotsa lemon vodka!”

“lotsa spritzer!”

“if we had so much as suggested something different,
we might have been spared these dried mango chips”


e x p r e s s i v e    r e p u b l i c s

(another day)


Permutations of the Billions’

How’s possible not to — rep?

Micro-Direct, Indirect-Delegational, Random-Spectral

If it ain’t already dreaming, bidding
for you



different dips

for different chips

is only a marketing scheme


In the grand tussle between words and spirit...


give people time to fortify or run


(not without its cruel humor)

maketh its own abode within the soul

Hail! Hail! Hail!




Two things Martin Luther said

“ohne micht!” “count me out!”

“ich kann nicht anders?” “how can I do otherwise?”

Two things Luther said

(as Anselm Berrigan put it)

“Trained Meat”


What bones of mine will be left to gnaw on

once the plume settles

Could you comment a little bit, without spoiling the aesthetics of the poem, about the kinds of vocabularies that you’re mixing ? Obviously I hear so much of the language coming out of the kind of work that you do at the Labor Institute, out of that kind of activism. But there is also a kind of vocabulary being drawn from spiritual / religious vernacular in this particular piece, and then of course there’s the level of the spoken — the spoken word — I think of Louis Zukofsky who talked about upper limit music, lower limit speech. All of that seems to be present in a poem like this.

One of the things that you can do in culture, and specifically poetic discourse, is bring what’s allegedly high philosophic discourse to bump up against the demotic, or everyday kind of speech. Sitting people at the table together who “shouldn’t be” sitting together is an intervention in the way that language structures. You know proper places, a proper sense of time for something. If you bring heterogeneous elements into your poetry you have a better chance at shooting the gaps of where you would want to liberate yourself.

Liberating some of the words themselves by putting them into new combinations.

Absolutely, and that’s really well said. It’s the words actually that have to be liberated before we can be liberated in a sense too.

In the poem you deposit word against spirit, and it seems to me you choose word there, which is a perhaps derided word, or a word that’s devolved in some way, yes?

It’s a very abused notion, for example in the current political situation, sometimes when you ask people fact by fact whether they agree on whether this was a mistake, or whether this was not found, word by word they’ll follow you all the way down but then they’ll revert to “it’s the spirit of being against terrorism.” So spirit acts as sort of an umbrella; I’m not against spiritual discourse per se, but I’m certainly against the abuses of it and bring the notion of the materiality and potentials of the word as against spirit into my work. But now I’m being too wordy — the spirit of wordiness.

You can’t be too wordy but you can be too spiritual. That is what I gather, especially when “spiritual” is a word, and a word which is badly abused as you say. Could you take us further into your new work?

Sure, this poem is composed for two or three voices simultaneously. This one is largely meant to be read in two voices with an additional two others chiming in in the middle, so you have to imagine it. The title of the piece is “Memories of Somewhere — to Somewhere Else.”

Memories of Somewhere, to Somewhere Else

When not in shuffle mode you know what I mean, shuffle?
(poly wants a monad wants to compre-squawk what’s meant by — )

When not pinned-down on “selective” “moments”
pervy screen — sticky — the news the screws the flooze of —

When not in elevated baby chair, bare-faced spanked-up ugly in the —”

Whoa...that’s bangin’ around in your head, not mine...

But you know...what’s on is, my friend...

The now

The now?

Spanked up — ugly — in the now

That I can see. But what’s this “when not” business? “When not” this that, the other...mere suspense? a blind spot in some story?

Signs, obviously...configuring some kinda social logic, the outlines of a yet unspoken. At any rate, they’re not things in my head...of that I assure you. I mean “I” ain’t no guarantor of anything.

Yeah yeah I gotcha there, but, what exactly... uh...well...maybe it’s best you just do your thing for now...flow on through...spin this space a while

Spin I do, spin I must. But maybe you can kick-in with something too...perhaps together we can conjure up a volatile space...where signs shake off their “natural selves”...cloak and de-cloak, you know?

Yeah ok, alright...But aren’t signs already doing that — in the world? World of necessity, world of necessity’s expression...apart from any “special” conjuring?

Of course, yes, so this “conjuring”’s bestriding all that.

I hear you... You mean like...epistantagonal suppositings poly-looping materially mundus in superstrings — relations — matters of matters — tying knots, cutting ribbons, tresses...

Uhhh....right. How ’bout you repeat this “when not in shuffle / when not in shuffle” stuff maybe like five or six times...but each time, shave off a syllable. That way memory (somatic-semantic memory) can tie up some of the slack. You say the string and I’ll be inserting a sort of lyric in there, ready?

Uh huh...

when not in shuffle —
    Living, they say, is
when not in shuff —
    For simplicities sake, or
when not in —
    For complexities sake, or
when not —
    For the sake of nothing, or
when —
    For the sake of something
s p e c i a l

Or that life itself is cavalierish enough to —
    They? never really say —

But what do you say?

Bubble in the chicken soup of what’s said...

Umbrage of let’s paddle though the rudder’s jammed...

Whoa... That’s pretty poetic there.

Actually not. Not by some standards.

Yeah I hear that, “standards”...

Anyway, I’m starting to wonder myself what this “shuffle” thing’s all about...

Well, maybe we can re-...volatize that somehow...

I like that, “re-volatilize”... But how?

Well I’ve got these notes here, actually...

— Oh good good — shoot!

...though...not sure if it’s shuffle itself, or a break in shuffle...but here goes...

Photogenic / Compliant

Lemon soldiers, expression
Spontaneous gaieties
Gone sour

Bunkered down among
News sessions, speakable
Heads, spherical
Squeezlings, the levitates
Squirt outs

Tag touchers

The squeeze their end-points
The whole other story is of by smearing it

Odd jovial
Mogul-like moan under a stone




Shrill summer’s a’ comin’ in — goin’ goin’ — blank — cope —
Shrill summer’s a’ comin’ in — goin’ goin’ — blank — cope —

And the thing is still
seared in this —

what should we call it

phew!...That’s gotta be a poem...(by-some-standard)

Yeah yeah, but what do you think? You think we’re hittin’ on the same thing?

Hell I don’t know...but let’s...or I’m thinking...didn’t you say

“Bunkered down...among

didn’t you say


the levitates”

Weird that — or something like that

(like Capital ain’t “free,”
but forced, so flipped over as — “free”)

also something about

“Shrill summer’s a’ comin’ in — goin’ goin’ — blank — cope — “

“blank — cope”

and something about


should we call it that’re sounding like that polly wants a monad — and quick! Hey, why don’t we trick it up some...To see if it’s the stuff of shuffle...or some kinda anti-shuffle...

Alright, I’m game...(Some way to spend the day, huh? I can hear my mother now... “Que es eso...un...hohbee?...o?...”)

Listen listen...why don’t we smush that sequence we did before with some of poem there...

Really?... That’s gonna be one fat lentil burger...

Uh huh...I’m also wondering if we should fling-in the actual sign ‘shuffle’ whenever, you know — fidgety...but maybe under the cover of’-flinga-bling-bling... (ka’-flinga-bling-bling...Ah yeeah...“hohbee”)

Alright alright...that’ll work... Let’s take a fiver...maybe bring Dick and Jane into it, then run it...


when not in shuffle [Photogenic / Compliant]

    Living, they say, is

when not in [Lemon soldiers, expression] shuff —

    For simplicities sake, or

when not in — [Gone sour / Bunkered down among]

    For complexities sake [sessions] ,or

when not —

    For the sake of < ka’-flinga-bling-bling > nothing, or < ka’-flinga-bling-bling >

  [speakable / Heads]

when —

    For the sake of something [spherical / Squeezlings, the levitates]

s p e c i a l

[Squirt outs]

Or that < ka’-flinga-bling-bling > life itself is cavalierish enough to

— they [The whole other story is of by smearing it] never really say —

But what do you [Shrill summer’s a’ comin’ in — goin’ goin’ — blank — cope — ] say?

Bubble in the chicken soup of what’s < ka’-flinga-bling-bling > said...

Umbrage of [what should we call it] let’s paddle though the rudder’s [“brain?” ] jammed...” keep going...say what’s left

Tag touchers

The squeeze their end-points

Odd jovial
Mogul-like moan under a stone



And the thing is still

seared in this...

Together now:




Hey you know what?... That makes no sense whatsoever...

and somehow... it makes more sense too...


By Some Standards


Did you see that couple looking at us through the window?

Who? I didn’t see anybody...oh you mean that billboard across the street?

Yeah, that one with the waterfall, the power jeep, the ferns at attention think they’re the squeezers of those nozzles of those hoses of those prim & primed?

You know what, let’s bag this for now — what do you say?

Yeah ok, let’s bounce on outta here (not shuffle)

Yeah — not shuffle

To somewhere else.

Listening to the poem, it almost feels like a verbalization of the compositional process itself: when one is writing and trying to figure out how the words should fit together, and how the words should hold together, and what the standard is, and of course realizing the absence of a standard, that every poem has to come up with it’s own form. I wonder if that has resonance for you; but I also wanted to ask about the way in which the mother tongue appears at a certain point in this poem — how did you say it? — hobby? I know Spanish is your first language and English is related or in a conversation with Spanish at all times in your work. I wonder if you could talk about those two dimensions: how it’s about the writing process itself in some ways — this piece — and also the relationship with Spanish and English in your writing?

Let’s begin with that phrase. Sometimes family can have a way of stimulating you into some kind of discourse, a way of getting under your skin like no other. My mother is a very lively sort of person and that is a phrase that I sort of lifted from a conversation she had with me many years ago. She really got under my skin by saying that — you know — “choosing a high-paying career of a low-income poet,” not exactly what they had imagined. And so I lifted it and included it in the original language, I think it’s simple enough to where an English speaker could understand what it is.

Absolutely. I was also thinking about the way in which you invent words in the poems. I wouldn’t call them neologisms because a neologism is a new word that has immediate definition or sense. Often times it seems to me that what you do in a poem is use a sound and bring it through the poem almost to the cusp of meaning, where it could be a neologism — but not quite. The meaning is being generated, or almost generated, in the poem. I wonder to what extent that is possible because of the friction, or bumper-car effect, between the two languages, where things and names are completely disassociated.

For me growing up in the border regions of the United States, the San Diego/ Tijuana general megalopolis, code-switching and speaking in two languages is something that millions of people do. To me it is not such a poetic technique as a sort of deployment of what’s in my ability, and then a sharpening of it. Then there’s poetic techniques that come into play, but it’s pretty natural for me to switch between languages. And I guess it’s that code-switching facility that also leads me to include German very easily even though I’m not a fluent speaker of German — or French or Latin — I’m not afraid of not understanding something immediately. And so I try to make my audience, through the whole course of a half-hour reading, not to be afraid of letting go of meaning. These plays, like the one I just read, have these kindred voice characters that sort of facilitate each other through the piece. What do you do when you are faced with a very odd poem like the one they sort of inserted in there with the “lemon soldiers”... “the levitates”, you know — really weird stuff? Can you talk your way through that sort of stuff? So that’s what those plays are about, walking through that.

Understanding really is a form of control, isn’t it? There are certain social circumstances and cognitive situations where we want that, but your poems provide a possibility to be liberated from the need to control. Does that sound close to what you would like the poem to do?

Yeah, optimally, and the reason I write other poems is that once you look at what you’ve done as a speech construct which has gelled once it’s written down, you see its oppressive qualities as well, and its contradictions vis a vis a liberational perspective, at least with language. So that’s the impetus to write another piece, is to get yourself out of that snare, or address the snare.

Thank you Rodrigo. The work really does address some of our basic snares.

Leonard Schwartz

Leonard Schwartz is Professor of Literary Arts at The Evergreen State College, and hosts the radio program Cross-Cultural Poetics.His most recent book is The Tower Of Diverse Shores, published by Talisman House; in late 2005 his next book, Ear and Ethos, is due out. Recent work has appeared in Verse, Sentence, Conjunctions, and 26.

Nicholas Perrin is Transcript Editor for Cross-Cultural Poetics. He is co-directing the Synergy Conference at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

Links to some of Rodrigo Toscano’s books:

To Leveling Swerve (Krupskaya Books, 2004):

Platform (Atelos, 2003):

The Disparities (Green Integer, 2002):

Partisans (O Books, 1999):

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