Mexico City-based Irish poet Dylan Brennan’s first stint in Mexico came in 2002 when he was offered an English teaching job while at a carne asada stand in Monterrey.
“Well, I was vegetarian, so I just had the stuffed chiles,” he says over coffee at his humble apartment near the Monument to the Revolution.
Luckily, his carnivorous hosts didn’t hold his meatlessness against him, and so began his life in Mexico. His heart, however, seemed to have moved here long before.
As a child, he obsessed over an illustrated history of the Aztecs that his mother gave him, and in university he fell in love with the fiction of Mexican novelist and short story writer Juan Rulfo.
“Rulfo’s story Talpa just blew my mind,” he says. “The way he plays with time. The story jumps around; the way it’s told, I recognized the language of cinema in the story.”
The more he read, the more he knew he wanted to be in the place Rulfo wrote about.
“Getting glimpses into Mexico through literature, through photography, it started to make sense to come here.”
Fittingly, Brennan has been asked to write the introduction for a new translation of Rulfo’s collection that includes Talpa and is called El Llano in flames, to be published by Structo Press later this year.
He also co-edited the collection of essays Rethinking Juan Rulfo’s Creative World: Prose, Photography, Film.
He met his future wife Lily in Monterrey, and the two later moved to Ireland. Then over the next decade he spent time in her home state of Tamaulipas, more in Monterrey and a short spell in Mexico City.
It wasn’t until 2011, however, that Brennan knew he wanted to make Mexico his permanent home.
“There was kind of a practical side to the move, as well,” he says. “The economic crash hit Ireland pretty bad. I had two jobs, and I lost both in the same day. The next day I was offered a job at a university in Miahuatlán, Oaxaca.”
There, he began to take writing more seriously and started compiling the poems he’d sporadically written for years alongside newer ones for what would become his first book. As he did so, he began to notice similar themes running through them.
“I’d seen how Tamaulipas had changed, and how Monterrey had changed. People I knew had been killed, and someone I knew had been kidnapped, tortured and killed. The persistence of violence, and the history of violence in the country, that all linked into what was going on in the periphery of my own experiences.”
Blood Oranges was published in 2014 as a limited-edition print run by The Penny Dreadful Press. He is currently on the lookout for a publisher to take up a second printing.
In March, he was awarded the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary.
When asked about the influence Mexico had on the writing of the poems in Blood Oranges, his response is unequivocal: “Mexico isn’t just a backdrop to the book, it’s what the book is made of.”
Indeed, these poems encompass everything Brennan has found upon making a life here, from love to violence to rich history to tireless death, as in the succinct and forceful “Bone Couplet:”
skeletal hand in skeletal hand
lie the lovers of Tlatelolco
Whereas many canonical foreign authors writing about Mexico have tended to focus on what they considered exotic about the country, Brennan’s work strives to find connections between seemingly disparate worlds.
“While Mexico is very different from Ireland, and I like those differences, I also look for the links that connect the two,” he says.
“I have a concern that never goes away, that of not wanting to fetishize or exoticize what I see. Writers like D.H. Lawrence, Huxley, you read what they write about Mexico — and everything is a product of its time and place — but some of the stuff they come up with is just offensive.”
Thus he tends to shy away from describing the country with the word “magic.”
“There is something peculiar and special in this country,” he says. “There is great abundance and great horror, there’s so much life and there seems to be so much death, and it’s all coming together. And there’s something, I don’t know if I’d call it magical, but it’s intoxicating.”
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