VOICES Reading: Francisco Aragón

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On Thursday, March 12th the latest in the St. Mary’s VOICES Series came to campus for an engaging reading. This month’s speaker was Francisco Aragón, an award-winning poet, translator, essayist, and anthologist native to San Francisco.

Aragón read from his two main publications, Puerta del Sol (2005) and the more recent Glow of Our Sweat (2010), as well as some pieces, both original works and translations, that had never been shared before.

Aragón was introduced by Professor of Spanish José Ballesteros, who also led the poet around St. Mary’s in the days leading up to the reading, inviting him to sit in on literature and Spanish language classes. Ballesteros thanked VOICES leaders including Jennifer Cognard-Black and Karen Anderson for reaching out and working with the ILCS department “so that yearly the college can bring deep and powerful Latino poets to share their verse with the college community as a whole, but especially with our Latino and Latina brothers and sisters in the student body, staff, and faculty…”

Of Aragón’s subject and purpose in his second book, Ballesteros spoke of “the certainty that unless one speaks for himself, he cannot speak against the silencing of others.”

Identity and the courage necessary to have pride for it have been driving forces in Aragón’s career; as a gay man, as a Latino man, as a child of immigrants—Aragón has grappled with his identity, as well as how he could express it in his craft. In the essay included in Glow of Our Sweat, he described the instinct to leave his more revealing poetry out of his lectures, about feeling the need to “cover” or tone down his sexuality even amongst colleagues and artists who already knew.

He also discussed part of the inspiration for the book, telling of a story he had heard of a young man who recorded a reading of famous poet’s work for a film project about people and poems they felt personally connected to. In this case, the young man connected the poem to discovering his own sexuality; as a result the family of the famous poet pulled their support, and the reading was cut from the project. The case incensed Aragón—you could feel how much it still affected him as he recounted it for the VOICES crowd.

Aragón called Glow of Our Sweat something of a queer project. The original works that Aragón included did not shy away from the homoeroticism that in the past he felt afraid to share: it was made a centerpoint. He included translations of works famous poets like Rubén Darío of Nicaragua, Lorca of Spain—some of which had never been popularly translated before Aragón. The poets included almost all had for years sparked controversy over their rumored sexualities; by including them in his collection, Aragón made it impossible to reject queer interpretations of their work. Other pieces were riffs of others’ poems, not just translations but complete reworkings of famous pieces that held personal significance to Aragón.

A lot of the time, Aragón’s translations came across more powerfully than his original pieces. That’s not an insult to his writing—but the reworkings and translations felt like just as much a part of his work as an artist as his own pieces, and you could feel how much they meant to him.

One of the last poems Aragón shared exemplified this conversation he was having about modern readings of famous authors and the rejection of queer interpretations—even after personal letters were uncovered that showed a relationship between Rubén Darío and another male poet, the academic community was rife with rejection of the theory. Aragón read a poem from the perspective of long-dead Darío responding to those outraged rejections, expressing his own frustration alongside the imagined reaction of one of his idols. “I am dead,” Aragón read, “and the dead are very patient.”

Aragón’s poems, translations, and riffs emphasize the importance of representation and the encouragement of queer readings of famous poets and writers—having a model artist to connect to can mean so much to young LGBTQ+ readers who are just coming into their own identities.

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