April 21, 2023
Lotería: Nocturnal Sweepstakes is a collection of deeply evocative coming-of-age poems that take the reader on a voyage through the intimate experiences of displacement. Conjuring dreamlike visions of extravagant fruits and rivers animated by the power of divination, these poems follow the speaker from the lash of war’s arrival through an urgent escape and reinvention in a land that saves with maternal instinct but also smothers its children. This collection is the winner of the Academy of American Poets’ Ambroggio Prize! Below, read a brief interview with poet Elizabeth Torres.
What inspired you to write this collection?
I’ve always been writing about subjects related to identity, agency and territory… but it is possibly due to the distance, both physically and mentally, caused by being in Denmark (and by time, of course), that I was able to think back and poke at my own story, and disrobe it / see it / relate to it as I do to the stories of other bodies in movement, refugees, migrants, nomads, whom I’ve encountered in my path.
This book was very much written as a response to the turmoil being faced by families of immigrants, who carry these memories in their blood which cause them to look at their own stories from multiple mirrors… but also as a commentary on the idea of identity, and who really is allowed to belong.
How did the themes of displacement and home shape the poems in this collection?
Home is a relative term. To some, it is found when there is shelter and silence from a dangerous environment, to others it is a physical space that must be guarded from any disturbance. To me it is a fluid idea of recognition and acceptance. A collection of moments that molded me and carry me through uncertainty. In this book I combined poetry, testimonial, fiction and legend to look deep inside my own understanding of “what happened”, threading the waters to my definitions of memory, displacement, and adaptation.
Lotería includes pieces of your artwork. Would you tell us more about how your art and your poetry work together in the collection?
As a multimedia artist, to me everything has more than one dimension. A poem is musical, rhythmic, it is a soundscape on its own, not just confined to paper… and at the same time it is very visual, for it must create firm images that readers can attest to. It is the same with visual art. It must contain poetry, and leave enough room for others to breathe, take breaks, come back, return to. So I like to illustrate my poetry as an organic map of the process. And I like also to continue each investigation from a different angle. Lately I am doing small paintings inspired by the poems, to make my own arcana of these symbols I present in the book… and I recently received a grant in Denmark to make an experimental album based on these poems as well, so the body of work becomes richer, deeper, but really it’s all just poetry.
You translated your own poems in this bilingual collection–what are your thoughts on the poetic process of self-translation?
Translation is another layer of my work, and I think it is a very organic part of the process, in great part because of my dual identity as an American and as a Colombian. I tend to write in both languages, to borrow from each of my voices. In my writings in Spanish I can recognize melancholy, a craving for nurturing and kinship, attachment, blood and ancestral wisdom. In my English, there’s the coming-of-age, the sarcasm, the curiosity of the artist, the cotidianity of the adult. So I can borrow from each voice to give more depth to my poetic characters. In this specific case, since the story is so personal, so intimate… I needed to distance my present self (who mainly speaks English and Danish) and return to the nucleus, to the beginning, the origin which now is also a blurred dream, hence it was clear that it needed to be written in Spanish. And then, by translating to English, I was able to explain to myself what it is I was coming to terms with, what I was celebrating and what I was letting go of, but also to remain somehow removed from the painful/inconvenient/uncomfortable aspects of the story.
What are you working on now?
Currently I am writing a play about interpretations of democracy in our current times and how these are influenced by AI/technology. It’s a gameshow and it involves an app for the audience to decide the turns of the story, so I have been enjoying the process very much. It premieres in May here in Denmark.
Additionally I just translated a compilation of Latin American women poets for a book titled “The Witnessing of Days” released this month by Versopolis as part of their Poetry Expo.
I am also a cultural organizer so I’ve been curating a series of literary events as part of a festival throughout the Nordic region, and last but not least of course, I am writing. I am always writing. Currently I am working on a poetic lexicon about artistic research and the embodiment of knowledge… and adding the finishing touches to a book in Spanish titled Expediciones a la Región furtiva (Expeditions to the Furtive Region), which narrates the voyage of a polar expedition towards oblivion, which comes out this spring in Spain, Mexico and Colombia with Valparaíso Ediciones.
…I am also working on a novel, which I fondly call my “lucid spectacle of redemption”.
In the meantime, for the past 13 years I have directed a quarterly arts magazine called Red Door, and I host an arts & culture podcast called Red Transmissions. See? It’s a poetic takeover.
Elizabeth Torres (Madam Neverstop) is a poet, multimedia artist, and literary translator. She is the author of more than twenty books of poetry in various languages and has toured more than thirty countries with her work. Torres is director of the arts quarterly publication Red Door Magazine, founder of the Poetic Phonotheque, and host of the Red Transmissions podcast. She resides in Copenhagen, where she is pursuing an MFA in performing arts at Den Danske Scenekunst Skole.