The Operating System

3rd ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 20 :: Christina Rodriguez on Clarice Lispector, Agua Viva, and the Art of Breathlessness

It’s a slow kind of love that builds as the pages are turning.  When you read a book, you grow to love the story, the characters, and the author. If you are a writer, you might find a mentor and a muse among those pages. You’ll study technique, language, and the emotion behind each line. It may take one book, it may take a few. But a writer knows when they have found the writer they aim to be.
For me, reading Clarice Lispector‘s Água Viva, it only took the first paragraph to realize this is who I wanted to be:
It’s with such profound happiness. Such a hallelujah. Hallelujah, I shout, hallelujah merging with the darkest human howl of the pain of separation but a shout of diabolic joy. Because no one can hold me back. I can still reason – I studied mathematics, which is the madness of reason – but now I want the plasma – I want to eat straight from the placenta. I am a little scared: scared of surrendering completely because the next instant is unknown. The next instant, do I make it? or does it make itself? We make it together with our breath. And with the flair of the bullfighter in the ring.
I was in love in an instant. With the instant Lispector often speaks about in Água Viva. Though I was originally given this work – also known as The Stream of Life — as a reading assignment for an English course, my life was changed forever.
Clarice Lispector was a Brazilian writer of Jewish-Ukrainian descent who published nine novels, several short stories, and worked as a journalist. Água Viva was her seventh novel (seven is my favorite/lucky number – another sign of fate) that was published in 1973 and translated into English in 1978. Along with three of her novels, it was re-translated in 2012 by New Directions.
Água Viva is different from the rest of Lispector’s work. It is a non-novel with an unknown narrator talking to a mysterious “you”. It’s stream of consciousness that knocks the reader into a state of breathlessness. You know that feeling. You don’t know where your lungs have gone and your heart walked out the door in praise seconds before. You sit in a state of trembling and wonderment, trying to figure out what your life was before you read these words. Sometimes the feeling is so intense that you have to stop and close your eyes to bring yourself back in your skin.
[box][teaser]The world: a tangle of bristling telephone wires. And the brightness however is still dark: that is I facing the world.
As a poet, this is the ultimate achievement – the state of breathlessness. I am sure I have felt this before I read Água Viva, especially in poetry, but reading this book was the first time I knew what it was. And I knew I had to be that breathlessness in my own writing. I knew I had to become the Clarice Lispector of Poetry.
That’s a heavy statement isn’t it? Well I was nineteen-years-old at the time. I was going to school for music production and giving writing another shot at the same time (I stopped writing for a bit, come find me and I’ll tell you why). This time around I was not only studying different poetic techniques on my own, but I was starting to show my work to the world. I was a bit in denial, but it was the beginning of my acceptance of being in the craft of writing. When the thought crossed my mind that I had a writer that I aimed to be, this was the first steps of saying, “Hey, I am a writer.”
Why is Clarice a poetic inspiration?  Água Viva is filled with clever metaphor, repetition, and rhythm. It’s intelligent, but sensual. The mysterious “you” that is spoken to throughout the book could be the very same “you” that most poets speak to in their poems. The “you” is her muse that makes her want to wax poetic on the act of creation and have a living understanding of the instant within herself and the “you”. The “you” could simply be a moment of time. To some readers, Água Viva could be considered an epic prose poem, simmering with lines like:
[articlequote]The day seems like the smooth stretched skin of a fruit that in a small catastrophe the teeth tear, its liquor drains. I’m afraid of the accursed Sunday that liquidifies me.[/articlequote]
With technique, I find that when I write prose, whether it’s prose poetry or creative non-fiction, I do emulate her use of repetition of a theory or concept in whatever I am writing about. I  find myself falling towards more of a logical approach to express deep emotions, not worrying about “making it sound pretty” or to “appease what would make it gentle for the reader” when I dabble in prose form. Yet there are still lines of painted beauty mixed in the throes of logic.
I also relate to her feelings about writing, especially how she felt when she submitted the manuscript for Água Viva to her publisher. She was unsure and hesitant about this work. She had edited it many times. My guess that since it was a reflection of her inner workings, she was afraid of failure and judgement. With certain pieces, I feel the same.
The impact Lispector has had on me as a writer intensifies as time passes. Rereading Água Viva teaches a new lesson each time. If I dare say,  it’s a bible for me. Though I enjoy her fiction works as much as I do Água Viva, they do not call to me as a writer. As a reader yes, but as a writer, I take notes. I imitate. I keep that breathless feeling nestled close to me when I am writing.

[articlequote]I want to write to you like someone learning. I photograph each instant.[/articlequote]
I relate a lot to the emotions in Água Viva and I find myself trying to recreate that feeling at times in my poetry in general.  She’s not my number one craft muse, but she is the foundation of the type of writing I want to push out of myself. Reading her book and discovering her writing/history came at a point when I was exploring what it meant to be a writer and learning that writing was my true path in life.
[articlequote]My unbalanced words are the wealth of my silence.[/articlequote]

I could go on and on, but I will leave you with this and urge you to add this book and writer into your collection:
[box] But no one can give me their hand to help me out: I must use great strength—and in the nightmare, with a sudden wrench, I finally fall face-down on this side here. I let myself lie tossed upon the rustic earth, exhausted, heart still beating madly, breathing in great retchings. Am I safe? I wipe my damp brow. I get up slowly, try to take the first steps of a weak convalescence. I’m managing to get my balance. No, all this isn’t happening in real facts but in the domain of—of an art? yes, of an artifice through which a most delicate reality arises which comes to exist in me: the transfiguration happened to me[/box]
An excerpt of Clarice Lispector inspiration, time machined from the age of nineteen:


It is difficult for me to talk about my identity as me without talking about my identity as that girl. That girl is a bag of Skittles, a taste for everyone, a different color for all to see. That girl is a child, her daughter, his daughter, their possession. That girl is a friend, her best friend, his fuck buddy, their “one of the guys” decoy, an acquaintance of distraction. That girl is everything I wouldn’t want to carve in stone. Because that girl is known for having an easy brain, effortless dances of intelligence that bore her to death. That girl is Jesus, healing the sick with her touch of compassion, giving and living ancient messages of Her Father, her holier than thou Mother. A carpenter of building many lives of virtue. That girl is your average angel next-door, the one that gets ridden on for every ounce of her kindness, driving her use of common sense and intelligence till she runs on empty.
But that’s not me. I like to twist around the boundaries of madness and wit into bite sized pieces of me for men pick on at the 5 o’clock shadow bars. I don’t respect anyone who is higher until I see they are humble enough to respect all who are lower. I let my mind be lazy until a challenge screams at me to pay attention to reality again. I like to babble nonsense and call it art. I poetry my way around life so nothing seems as simple as it sounds. I sin like everyday is after church Sunday, when everything is already forgiven before I have to confess it all over again next week early morning. I am emotionally blunting intellectual deterioration, building social isolation through disorganized speech and behavior, creating delusions and hallucinations. Only melodies tell me what to keep in sight. I am the product of a “suppose if Jesus and the Devil had a baby” question, keeping it good intentioned with a ting of dare devil. I talk in orgasms, yet hardly get them. Can you say signs of womanhood? I am wondering how much of me is me and how much is that girl?
I am indefinable, which has a definition, so there is identity in being nothing special, but everything special. I am the given element that everyone takes advantage of, but whose presence is always known. I am nobody’s little woman-child, breaking all my rules the minute that girl comes along. I am the chameleon, changing with each environment, but there’s only one of me. I am no “that girl” Skittle. It’s all or nothing with me. I am loyalty which is better than asked for company. I am the ramblings of that girl, still trying to blur the lines.
[textwrap_image align=”right”][/textwrap_image]Christina D. Rodriguez is a Queens-born writer/artist, trying to live this thing called “The Writer’s Life”.  As an aspiring arts journalist with B.A. in Journalism from Brooklyn College, she blogs about her writing life on her site, The Write Queen. She is also the editor for the literary journal Her writing has appeared in QueensZine, a handful of stones, Daily Love,, High Coup Journal, Train Write, Short, Fast, and Deadly, 50 to 1, fri haiku, rust+moth, Other Rooms Press, Yes, Poetry, The Body Narratives and the anthologies, pay attention: a river of stones, Old Hollywood, Skeletons, and A Thing of Beauty Painted By Words as well as various college publications. Christina will be pursuing her Masters in Arts Management at the Columbia College of Chicago in Fall 2014 to expand on her emerging online media company, Establishing Artists for Tomorrow Media Group.
[Editor’s note: yet another entry in the dazzling array of fierce women participants via the creative conduit also known as Caits Meissner series — check out Maiga Milbourne on Nazim Hikmet and Cristina Preda on Lillian Yvonne Bertram from earlier in the month, or any of the great work from Caits for the OS, searchable here! and there’s still one more to come, believe it!!!]

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