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Author Spotlight: Éric Morales-Franceschini

Buy: Syndrome by Éric Morales-Franceschini | Anhinga Press | January 1, 2024 | 96 pgs. | $20 |

ISBN: 9781934695814


What living poet/writer had the biggest influence on your book?

If I had to pick only one, it’d have to be Craig Santos Perez, which is to say, his from unincorporated territory series; it’s a kindred project, thematically, pedagogically, and politically, if not stylistically. It’s uncanny just how many grievances and peculiarities Guam and Puerto Rico share, each knowing well the enigma that is “commonwealth” status and what it means to feel “small.” I came to his work somewhat belatedly, after having already written a draft of Syndrome, but it quickly became an interlocutor of mine, a fellow traveler I could turn to in times of uncertainty, outrage, or grief. Other honorable mentions would go to J. Michael Martinez’s Museum of the Americas, heidi andrea restrepo rhodes’ The Inheritance of Haunting, and the obras of Ada Limón and Daniel Borzutzky—whether for their vitality or virtuosity.   



What non-living poet/writer had the biggest influence on your book?


I’d answer this two ways. First off, there’s the work of Mahmoud Darwish, who, as a Palestinian poet, writes with a collective urgency and forlorn history that I, as a Boricua, can’t help but find beautiful and resonant.  Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy, which is difficult to classify, is easily one of the most stunning works I’ve ever read—at least in its original Spanish (i.e. can’t vouch for the English translation!); he and that project are a referent for me. But the truth is, many of my biggest influences come from studies in history, psychoanalysis, political economy, theology, and critical theory. I’ll go months where all I read are in these “non-literary” fields, without which my poetry would be far less analytically acute—less politically dangerous, too. In this respect, Marx, Freud, and Fanon rank amongst the most influential.    



What are some key themes present in your book?

No doubt, militarism, racism, and colonialism are decidedly at stake, they and their psychical repercussions.  The notion of a syndrome is not, after all, purely metaphorical. “Puerto Rican Syndrome” was the name for what was considered a culturally unique nervous disorder. Psychoanalyst Patricia Gherovici has pointed out that its symptoms are strikingly similar to classical hysteria, with schizophrenic complications, and argues that its best understood as an idiom of protest against a psychologically unbearable situation, namely coloniality of power. Syndrome reckons with this and other “disorders,” like impostor syndrome (for those of us in the diaspora) and Stockholm syndrome (for those of us coerced to identify with our captor), and with major cultural referents, such as West Side Story, Hamilton, and the Columbus monument in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, the largest monument to Columbus in the world! In fact, it’s the largest monument (base included) in the western hemisphere, larger than Rio’s El Salvador and New York’s Statue of Liberty. Does that not speak volumes!?


What’s your favorite line(s) from your book?

That’s easy, the epigraphs!  I won’t give them all away, but here are a few of my favorites: Fuera de tu canción soy ala seca, Julia de Burgos; To whom shall we sing when salt poisons the dew?, Mahmoud Darwish; Que la historia huya de los museos y respire a pleno pulmón, Eduardo Galeano. None of my words can rival these in their depth and beauty, but maybe I’ll take some credit for the selections and where they’re placed! That said, if I had to choose my own line, I’d go with the final line: Our work here is not done.  At the risk of sounding overly dramatic (or just quintessentially Boricua!), that line comes with the cumulative weight of not only 33 poems but also 500 years of (de)colonial history.       



If you could organize a reading with any writers living or dead, who would be in the lineup? Where would you host the event?


I love this question. And do forgive me if this comes across as coy, but Che Guevara. Fidel famously eulogized Che not as a heroic guerrilla or revolutionary cadre inasmuch as a poet. By that criterion, I’d invite Queen Nanny of the Jamaican marrons, Rosa la Bayamesa of the Cuban mambises, Tupca Amaru of the Inca, and Emiliano Zapata of Mexican glory. The guest of honor would, however, be Toussaint L’Ouverture, that world-historic Haitian revolutionary, and the event would take place outside the frigid Fort-de-Joux prison in France where Toussaint was left to die, his remains unceremoniously and secretly buried.  I’d like to hear it from their mouths, their poetry, neither mythologized nor demonically caricatured.  Afterwards, we’d have a Catholic priest and Vodou priestess officiate Toussaint’s last rites and burial. Che, whose remains weren’t exhumed and properly buried until the mid-1990s, would give the eulogy. What would they say, in retrospect and in verse?             



Do you have a new project that you’re working on? Could you tell us a bit about it?


Yes, my new project was inspired by the summer of 2020, that ecstatic summer when so many Columbus statues in the US were, as it were, “decommissioned.” Syndrome finishes with what I call an “anti-ekphrastic” poem about that colossal Columbus monument in Puerto Rico, but I feel the need to delve deeper into Columbus (counter)memorials across history and throughout the Americas. This has taken a fair amount of research. I draw on papal decrees, travelogues, court cases, epic poems, paintings, and sculptures and on indigenous, Black, and populist rebuttals. For this project, documentary poetics, (anti)ekphrasis, odes, and prose poetry are my expressive tactics of choice. With some luck, I’ll finish it this year!      


Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Tampa, Florida, Éric Morales-Franceschini is a former construction worker, US Army veteran, and community college graduate who now holds a PhD from UC, Berkeley and is Associate Professor of English and Latin American Studies at the University of Georgia. He is author of the chapbook Autopsy of a Fall (Newfound 2021), winner of the Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize, and the scholarly study The Epic of Cuba Libre: The Mambí, Mythopoetics, and Liberation (University of Virginia Press, 2022), winner of the MLA’s Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize.  Syndrome, selected

by Juan Felipe Herrera for the 2022 Philip Levine Prize

for Poetry, is his debut full-length collection.       


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