In May 2015 the archbishop emeritus of Guadalajara, in concert with a Spanish demonologist (my dream job) and other men, performed an exorcism of the entire Mexican republic during a closed-door ceremony in the city of San Luis Potosí. Backed by the Vatican they were worried about the spread of evil cults (La Santa Muerte) and non-Catholic practices such as mindfulness, yoga and gender equality. Hence the exorcism.
I needed to write about it.
I came up with a 666-word prose poem that mixed the humorous with the serious. I called it Exorcismo Magno, in honour of the official name of such an event. I started to picture the text, to visualise it in black and white with splashes of red and asked my artist brother Jonathan to contribute some accompanying images, linocuts prints. The results were astounding to me (he had peered into the text and seen what I had seen) and I asked him to do more. I would write some new sections. We’d make a small book. But there was a problem. I’d said everything I wanted to say in those 666 words. The project stalled. But not for long…
I arrived in Mexico for the first time in August, 2002. I worked in Monterrey, in the northeast of the country, and after about eight months embarked on a road trip from the deserts of the north to the jungles of the south. Through Belize and Guatemala to the Honduran Bay Islands. I didn’t keep a journal—I had ideas about living in the moment. Memory would log my experiences, no need to write. But those images and those emotions, they only stay clear for so long. As time passed the need to write bullied me into documentation. Memory is not a videotape to be replayed at will. It works more like a historian, like a detective. It takes found pieces of evidence and weaves a plausible narrative around them. If you’re lucky, an emotion or an image stays clear and you fill in the rest. Re-create the feeling and the colour of your shirt that day is irrelevant. The truth is not always factually accurate. When you write it you refresh it, re-create it.
I published my first full collection of poetry in 2014. I’m happy with how Blood Oranges turned out. I didn’t want it to read like the traditional collection that oh so frequently marks the beginning (and, sometimes, the end) of a poet’s publishing trajectory—nostalgic and autobiographical verses about one’s formative years. So no poems about childhood traumas or school-life. We’ve seen them done before, brilliantly and otherwise. Instead, I wrote poems mostly inspired by my adopted homeland—Mexico in all its manifestations, the splendor and the abject. Not a backdrop, no, but the flesh and bones of the work. Destruction and fertility became my themes. I let them get on with it and, for the most part, stayed out of their way. But you write what you are, whether you want to or not. Your concerns, preoccupations, obsessions. They are always there. So Dylan Brennan did feature in Blood Oranges. But he lurked around in the back, he wore disguises, he inhabited other voices.
After Blood Oranges came out, editors started requesting new poems. I didn’t have any. Almost every poem had been previously published in literary journals. So, what about an essay? Sure, I’ll see what I can come up with. I didn’t know what to call the texts I did come up with. Some were published as essays, others as poems, others as memoirs. All contained elements of fiction but they weren’t really stories. So what were they? Memories, for the most part. Some recent, some not, 2002—2015. I was left with a modest batch of work that blended the real and the fake, the remembered and the forgotten, truth and lies. A few years earlier something in the poetry had made me stay out of focus but, when it came to writing prose, I found myself standing to the front and centre. Feeling uneasy.
I talked to Jonathan last summer and asked for more prints to go with these new prose pieces. Eventually I found myself with seventeen of these hybrid texts and twelve original prints. The Penny Dreadful Press offered to publish these words and images as an ebook and I agreed. The result is a publication named Guadalupe that is available from thepennydreadful.org. Readers will be able to download it for €5.00 thus, reward two hardworking, independently funded artists. For those who prefer the physicality of the codex, a limited edition hardback version of the book will appear some time in 2017.
(c) Dylan Brennan
Originally from Dublin and currently based in Mexico City, Dylan Brennan writes poetry and prose. His debut collection, Blood Oranges, for which he won the Patrick Kavanagh Award runner-up prize, was published by The Penny Dreadful Press in 2014. In 2016 he was selected as one of the Poetry Ireland ‘Rising Generation’ of Irish poets. He has been invited to read at festivals in Mexico, Ireland, Italy, USA and Nicaragua and has twice been the recipient of Culture Ireland Travel grants. His co-edited volume of academic essays Rethinking Juan Rulfo’s Creative World: Prose, Photography, Film is available from Routledge (2016). Atoll, a collection of twelve poems, is available as a free download from Smithereens Press.
He contributes regularly to online literary sites Portal de Letras (Mexico) and Numéro Cinq (Canada). In 2015 he received his doctoral degree from the Centre for Mexican Studies at University College Cork.