Michael Barron features Dominican poet Frank Báez and interviews him for Culture Trip, asking him questions about the ideas that inform his work, about Dominican literature and its reception in the U.S., about the on-line poetry journal that Báez co-edits, and more. Here are a few excerpts (read full interview at Culture Trip:
In 2013, the celebrated Miami-based poetry festival O’ Miami invited another round of luminary writers down to the city to honor the art of the verse. Among the attendees—which included Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, poet and memoirist Patricia Lockwood, and inaugural poet Richard Blanco—was Frank Báez, one of the Dominican Republic’s best known poets and writers. Described by Words Without Borders as “the homegrown Junot Diaz of the Dominican literary scene,” Baez has honed a talent for turning conversant language into fiery rhetoric, a mix of cool observations, pop-cultural connoisseurship, and crackling street smarts. Baez sharp-witted observations and visceral existentialism recall the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño and the Spanish writer Enrique Vila-Matas. His short story “Karate Kid,” in which a narrator and his sister take taekwondo classes alongside the neighborhood bully, is the Dominican selection for our Global Anthology.
Baez is the author of several collections of poetry, many short stories, and book of essays that is being published in the Dominican Republic; along with his writing, He is also the co-editor of Ping Pong a DR-based online poetry journal with a mission to instigate more conversations between writers of his native country and writers from abroad.
We spoke to Baez about his writing, the struggles and joys of being a Dominican writer, and how some of his country’s canonical literature has yet to be translated into English.
[. . .] The Dominican Republic has a rich literary history, and very close ties to the United States, yet so little of its literature is translated and published here. Why do you think this is? Do you feel like DR writers who have had successes here (like Junot Díaz) should be doing more to bring awareness to DR literature?
I think it’s both an internal and external problem. There is little interest in the United States to translate what comes out here, nor is there much effort from us in spreading our literary heritage. Perhaps this can be attributed to that great barrier—language. For a Dominican writer like myself, it’s always been more fruitful to be published in Spain. But then again, maybe the real problem is laziness. In our country, we lack publishers and major publications. Poetry is only sustained because poetry can survive anything. But for works such as essays or longer narrative pieces we would need a more robust literary sector. And we also need translators specializing in Dominican literature. It is essential that there is interest abroad in having our classics translated and published, especially in the United States, since, as you say, there is a deep relationship between our countries. To give you a couple of examples of what I mean: the writer and critic Hoyt Rogers translated Manuel Rueda’s Bienvenida y la noche (Bienvenida and the Night) and told me that he felt this novelized account had much in common with the writings of Truman Capote and other southern writers. Unfortunately, he has not managed to find an editor in the United States. Then there is Pedro Mir’s Contracanto a Walt Whitman, which was translated by John Landreu and even praised by Allen Ginsberg. But Landreu’s translation was never published; a very poor version by another translator did appear in the 90s… Junot Díaz should be applauded for opening the door to DR writers of my generation and of those who will come after us. He has been a wonderful advocate for our culture and literature, both in the United States and to the rest of the world. But what we need are works that cause a stir, works that put us on the literary map, and our writers on par with the rest of the world.