Poetry In The Time Of Tumblr And Taringa

South American poets Silvina Giaganti to Pedro Mairal are among those who have successfully used social media and other digital spaces to drive interest in their work.

Drop the pen
Drop the pen
Dalia Ber

BUENOS AIRES — "Clouds pass, slowly dissolving/ It's a holiday in the sky at least/ birds glide serenely overhead/ a baker rises, losing himself/ up in the air so light/ above, in the celestial part of space/ the clearest part of the day and stillest/ part of time, quiet as a suburb/ Cloud shapes keep changing in the sky/ a bread bun, then fish, then nothing/ just a celestial climate in the thin/ tide of the breeze of your hair/ it's summer in the sky and down here/ you feel like, Oh, what the hell."

The "porno sonnets' of one Ramón Paz circulated for more than a decade on blogs, Tumblr accounts, networking sites and even Taringa! profiles before Vox and Eloísa Cartonera, two publishers based in Bahía Blanca and Buenos Aires respectively, finally published them in print. Then, in 2018, Emecé published the work, this time using the author's real name, Pedro Mairal, who also wrote the successful novel La uruguaya ("The Uruguayan Woman") and poetry compilations such as Tigre como los pájaros ("Tiger Like the Birds') and Consumidor final ("End Consumer")).

Something similar happened with Silvina Giaganti's first book of poetry, Tarda en apagarse ("Takes Time to Turn Off"), published in 2017 by Caleta, another small publisher. It sold 3,200 copies and is still drawing attention more than a year later.

"The success of the books by Silvina Giaganit and Pedro Mairal reveals a lot about current interests, particularly with regards to gender issues," says Santiago Llach, an editor who also organizes writing workshops.

"Giaganti's poetry practices a feminism that refuses to raise a fixed standard, and prefers to reside in contradiction. Mairal's porno sonnets, which introduced bastardized material into a sophisticated genre, can be seen as the last testimony of something that, culturally speaking, is no longer of interest: the desires of a middle-aged homosexual man."

Diffusion through social networks is creating a publishing event, and unprecedented poetry sales worldwide.

Another sign of the times is the already mentioned presence of authors and their works online. Networking sites have formed "a kind of community of poetry lovers, which we follow with interest," says Glenda Vieites, head of the Literary Division of Penguin Random House Argentina.

"For example, we have just published Elvira Sastre, a very young Spanish poet who has many followers in Argentina. Even our dear author Magalí Tajes, whose book Caos ("Chaos') is a best seller in the country this year, has a lot of poetry and she too participates in circuits devoted to the genre."

Random House also has the Poesia Pórtatil ("Portable Poetry") collection, which will include the release this year of works by Portugal's Fernando Pessoa, the Argentine Julio Cortázar, Rimbaud and Robert Louis Stevenson. In addition, it plans to publish a single-volume complete poetry of the Argentine Juan Gelman, and Shakespeare Palace, Uruguayan poet Ida Vitale's memoir of 10 years spent in Mexico. She recently won the Cervantes Prize.

While poetry's space was always restricted, today online circulation helps boost sales of emerging works in the genre, once published in print. Another point favoring the trend is the restricted length of poems and the possibility of reading them in a few minutes, which may be decisive in an age of haste.

Photo: Official website

"Diffusion through social networks is creating a publishing event, and unprecedented poetry sales worldwide," says Mercedes Güiraldes, head of Emecé publishers. "There are web sites and even applications for poetry, and many of the titles later come out in print. Let's hope this is not just a fad and that the revival of the genre will duly encompass all types of authors, even those that did not emerge from social networks."

Next year her firm will reedit El gran surubí, a narrative poem by Mairal, Últimos poemas en Prozac by Fabián Casas, and The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur, a Canadian with strong online presence. Another of its authors is Marwan, a Spanish poet and folk singer who thanks to word of mouth and online recommendations, managed to sell more than 125,000 books in his home country.

New channels, greater access

The Internet and poetry go well together, it seems. And yet, the question arises of whether or not the results are entirely positive. "If we compare analog with digital literary life, what has changed is much more in the circulation than content," says Llach.

"Internet and social networks have activated the idea that anyone can write, and anyone is a poet. That can be negative, because the only yardstick of literary merit becomes the "like"! But it's also positive, because anyone can access poetry. Decisions on circulation are no longer in the hands of a small and biased group of specialists."

And it's not just the web. There are other channels helping poetry reach a wider public, both in terms of quantity and variety. "We have managed to have our poetry books in the shop front and not just on tables set aside for the category," says Fabián Lebenglik, editorial head of the publishers Adriana Hidalgo. "Booksellers know our titles, they know that good readers and critics have luckily judged them to be very good, and open a path this way for the general reader," he says.

That can be negative, because the only yardstick of literary merit becomes the "like"!

The firm doesn't focus exclusively on poetry, but it does publish poets like Arnaldo Calveyra and Juana Bignozzi. It favors compilations and sometimes indulges with new and expanded editions of poets' works. An example is Diana Bellessi. The publisher released her book Fuerte como la muerte es el amor (Love Is as Strong as Death) in 2018, which sold out, and it will now publish a compilation of all her previous and new works.

"We want all our books, whatever the genre, to use language poetically," says Lebenglik. In Spain, the firm has brought out a third edition of the works of Olga Orozco, an Argentine poet who died in 1999, and is successfully publishing the poetry of Marosa di Giorgio, an Uruguayan writer who died in 2004.

In addition to classic Argentine poets who do not go out of fashion, other, notable younger names include Tom Maver, Germán Schierloh, Aixa Rava and Camila Sosa Villada, a transgender poetess from Córdoba. We shan't be running out of poetry any time soon.

Stepping into the Sea, by Silvina Giaganti

I think writing

Is like stepping into the sea,

The water is freezing at first,
But as you wade in,
and stay,
It becomes a little warmer.
In the same way, I think,
You can move through this mud
without too much pain.
I also think that writing
is to talk of love
when it's over.
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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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