Writer’s Block: Beatriz Hausner

In this interview, poet and translator Beatriz Hausner tells us about being raised bilingual and raised among books, and what she wishes people would ask her most about her new collection, She Who Lies Above (Book*hug Press).

Photo of Beatriz by Negar Yazdanpanah.

A photo of poet Beatriz Hausner. She is a light skin-toned woman with dark, short hair in a pixie cut, bold round glasses and red lipstick. She smiles widely for the camera.


Share It:

Writer's Block

All Lit Up: Is there a stand-out moment or experience you had that helped you realize you wanted to become a writer?

Beatriz Hausner: I grew up in the home of parents who made books through writing (Ludwig Zeller, my stepfather, was an exceptional poet), through art making (my mother, Susana Wald is a visual artist), designing books (both were/are prize winning designers) and publishing (they established several presses, including Canada’s only surrealist publishing venture, Oasis Publications). Life at home was carried out in Spanish. Like most immigrant children my life was bilingual.

I became aware of the importance of translation very early on. I published my first translation, an essay on surrealist poetics by Aldo Pellegrini, in The Philosophical Egg, my parents’ zine, before I turned 20. It became my focus and my education: I learned how to write by translating poets as diverse as César Dávila Andrade, Enrique Molina, Olga Orozco, César Moro, Humberto Díaz Casanueva, and many others. Being inside the work of such exceptional creators also proved an obstacle: faced with such extraordinary poetry, I simply did not feel confident enough to write poetry of my own. I tried and failed to find publishers for the larger book-length works I translated. Frustrated and despondent, I gave up.

Interestingly, the retreat from translation helped me, because it forced me to pull out of myself the poetics that had been gestating in me all along. I started writing my own poems and showed them to willing friends, who provided feedback and gave me confidence: Steven Heighton, Karen Shenfeld, Matt Cohen, Ricardo Sternberg, and A.F. Moritz, guided me, each in their own way, until the collection that became The Wardrobe Mistress (Ekstasis, 2003).

ALU: Which writers have influenced you or had the most impact on your own writing?

BH: The greatest influences have been César Moro, Rosamel del Valle, Alvaro Mutis, and the poets of Mandrágora (Enrique Gómez-Correa, Braulio Arenas, Jorge Cáceres), who came together in 1938 and over the span of about fifteen years changed the face of Chilean literature and art. I’ve devoted a lot of my life to translating these writers into English. Moro in particular, because of his bilingualism (he wrote half his work in French) and because he wrote what to me is the most extraordinary erotic poetry written in Spanish. Here is a bit by way of illustrating:

I think of the anguishing holothurians that often surrounded us at the nearing of dawn
when your feet warmer than nests
burned in the night
in a glowing blue light.

I think of your body making sky and supreme mountains from the bed
I think of the only reality
with its valleys and shadows
moisture and marble and black water mirroring the stars
in each of your eyes…

(My translation from Moro’s emblematic poem “Lettre d’amour”)

A photo of Beatriz Hausner's working space, where a long desk has a laptop and various stacked notebooks, cups for pens, and a slender work lamp. There are framed art prints on the wall and the room is softly, naturally lit by the daylight.
Beatriz’s workspace.

ALU: What do you enjoy reading?

BH: Reading books and articles about writers, about artists, their historical and cultural contexts, these seem to be what I most gain from these days. I spent the pandemic years reading about André Breton and using those readings to guide myself through his extraordinary work, especially the poetry he wrote during and after the years he spent exiled in New York. I am currently reading a translation of a two-volume biography of Wolfgang Paalen by Andreas Neufert. It is an impressive work of research, covering Paalen’s amazing trajectory, including the period he lived in Mexico and published DYN with Moro, my hero.

ALU: What was your most rewarding moment as a writer?

BH: There was, and continues to be, that perfect moment when one’s mind is clear of worry. Suddenly and without prompting, one finds a solution to a problem that has been plaguing one, be it with the structure, the diction, or both, in the writing proper. It happens rarely, but there are moments when everything comes together.

ALU: Have you experienced writer’s block? What did you do about it?

BH: I am not alone, I don’t think, in experiencing writer’s block… I’ve devised various tricks I play on myself, at various times, depending on the circumstance. One such trick is playing music loud and dancing until I get lost in all that sound and movement. Sometimes I reorder my clothes, trying things on, fantasising about wearing various outfits for parties and occasions that never come to be. Whatever works!

She Who Lies Above by Beatriz Hausner.

ALU: What question do you wish someone would ask you about your book? Let us know, then answer it here.

BH: Question: “Historical figures seem to interest you. In your previous book Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (Book*hug, 2020) Empress Theodora figures prominently. Why Hypatia in She Who Lies Above?”

Answer: It is true that certain historical figures have obsessed me, mostly because they were people who struggled against limitations in their quest for freedom. Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart is a book more nakedly centred on erotic love, where I consciously worked around and inside the paradigm of the troubadour poets, exploring sensuality in all its dimensions, often quite explicitly. Hence Empress Theodora.

Hypatia, on the other hand, was an intellectual. As a character she furnished me with the possibility of exploring the world of ideas and, importantly, the consequences of those ideas. In that sense, Hypatia’s Alexandrian context offered me the means of expressing my view of the world. She lived during a time of immense expansion of concepts, like library-making, alchemy (the first alchemist was an Alexandrian Jewish woman named Miriam), astronomy, mathematics, and, of course, poetry. In fact, Hypatia’s fourth century shares many of the problems we face today. We are at a crossroads: our freedoms are being assailed, often violently, and in many cases irrevocably.

* * *

Beatriz Hausner was born in Chile and immigrated to Canada with her family when she was a teenager. She has published many poetry books, including The Wardrobe Mistress (2004), Sew Him Up (2010), Enter the Raccoon (2012), and Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (2020). Her prose and poetry have been published in many chapbooks and included in several anthologies, and her books have been published internationally and translated into several languages, including her native Spanish, French, Dutch, and Greek. She is an active participant in the international surrealist movement, and a respected historian and translator of Latin American surrealism. Hausner, who is trilingual, served three terms as President of the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada and was Chair of the Public Lending Right Commission. She was also a founding publisher of Quattro Books. Hausner lives in Toronto where she publishes The Philosophical Egg.