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Art After Hours: In Conversation with Ana Maria Caballero

Feb 28, 20248 min read

Alexia Wright: You have mentioned that writing is a vocation for you. What compels you to write, and what is involved in practicing your craft?

Ana Maria Caballero: I began writing organically as a child, without giving it much thought. It was just something I did—a lot. Today, writing also involves authoring, the process by which I get my writing out into the world. Earlier this evening, I knocked my head against the wall as I wrote the acknowledgments section for my new book. I consider this type of work as authoring, and it’s part of the creative craft of writing.

Adrian Avila | 2016

AW: What inspires your creative process and where do you find your best ideas?

AMC: My poems are ideas. There is a hinge that makes the poem, a volta. I don't see a beautiful sky and want to write about it. First, an interesting, layered event happens, then I seek to reveal or silence something by describing something else beside it.  My poems are contraptions, hardly any are descriptive.

I scribble a lot. I have journals full of notes that even I have a hard time deciphering. I’m writing a book in Spanish right now, and I have two to three notebooks full of notes, moments, thoughts, questions, images, and interesting word combinations that should go in the book. Once I start getting it into a word processor, it feels more like work. But I value that work—writing is a discipline. Hemingway used to say that even if you write one true sentence after the next, and it takes you days to do that, you are a writer. 

It's quite enjoyable to be out in the world, scribbling. But if you don't set an alarm clock and find the time to put it down on the page, edit it, format it, draft a cover letter, and send it out, it’s not going to get published. It will sit in your notebook.

AW: In your writing, you talk about everyday experiences as a woman and as a mother. How do you tackle the task of transforming those everyday moments into poetry? 

AMC: Complex politics are nestled deep within all our interpersonal transactions, with our mothers, with our siblings, in the ways we process the death of a loved one. I'm interested in family. I never tire of writing about family. I have a son entering adolescence, and I’m witnessing his behavior change.

In the act of observing, a poem comes. 

The Errands of Death | 2016

AW: You have highlighted that, during your studies, you and fellow poets received advice to explore jobs in other areas due to the financial challenges associated with this line of work. How have you managed to embrace and pursue poetry as a craft?

AMC: I still have a day job. I have yet to meet a person who can make a sustainable living as a poet.
I don't count teaching poetry as being a poet. I once had a wonderful conversation with one of my professors, Campbell McGrath, and I said, 'Do you think my day job, which is not related to poetry, makes me a traitor to my craft? Should I join academia and galvanize the next generation of poets?' His response: 'Ana, being a teacher is just another job. There are so many requirements and complexities, which take time away from writing. If you feel like your current job gives you the mental and life stability to write, stick with it.’

AW: What inspires you to engage your audience as collaborators in your works, such as in your Being Borge sand Paperwork projects?

AMC: I’m very passionate about classic literature and helping new audiences rediscover it. Through Being Borges, I wanted to connect people to Borges' work, specifically to The Book of Imaginary Beings.

Borges and Margarita Guerrero, who was his collaborator on the book, named it The Book of Imaginary Beings. They didn't use the word monsters, or creatures, or figments. They chose beings. We associate beings very pointedly with humans. These beings are deeply linked to our humanity because they’re the result of our capacity to tell stories. Animals see the sun go down and think, 'I better find a cave,' or 'I better find a tree.' We look at a sunset and say, 'An invisible winged creature is pulling our pulsing orb of fire down as part of its eternal war with another invisible horned creature.'

Stories define humanity. I really wanted people to think about this. 

I also wanted to see how AI visualized these beings because AI represents an evolution in storytelling. Because the prompt is open—people can read the prompts—there's a real tension between the reading of the original texts and the seeing of the images. For me, the images feel itchy because they limit meaning in a way that I don't think the original texts do.

We often think of language as precise and of images as open-ended, but there are so many connotations and slippages to words that burst open when we try to fix them, when we try to confine them to a two-dimensional image. 

Shang Yang: The Rain Bird: Image Generated by di Giovanni's English Translation #1 | 2023

AW: A few days ago, you posted about “reconocimiento”. What forms of recognition do you find most meaningful, especially considering your recent reflection that it often comes in quieter, subtler expressions?

AMC: I was recently asked to contribute a poem to a major US poetry publication. It's a dream publication, and it's coming out in print. Then it will be on their website where they register the top poets who've ever written—from T.S. Eliot to E.E. Cummings to poets writing and working today. 

Perhaps this moment is not as flashy as an auction house sale, but this form of recognition, of having the editor of a major publication request my work is transformative. We want our peers to value our work. It’s something that occurs in family dynamics, too. At the end of the day, the successful businessman just wanted their father to say, 'Hey, son, good job.' These are the forms of recognition that signify arrival in a life-affirming way. 

AW: What leads you to sometimes mix Spanish and English in your writing?

AMC: I have a Spanglish household. I was raised in a Spanglish household. My friends and I speak in Spanglish. It is how my brain functions. I also consider myself somewhat of an activist for the Spanish language, and I hope that by sprinkling some in, someone may learn a new word. 

AW: You want poetry to be seen as art, and it can be a challenging medium for some. What do you do to enable your poetry to connect with a wider audience?

AMC: I share a lot of my work on social media. Poets don't have a lot of advantages, but we certainly have an advantage on Twitter Spaces, where we can read our poems.

I think that voice is such a powerful tool. It is so intimate, and it connects and transmits even beyond language. 

Caballero, Ana Maria | Minting Event with Bright Moments | 2023

AW: Your recent sale with Sotheby's emphasized the value of the written word. How do you decide when to let your writing stand alone, and when to pair it with sounds & visual imagery?

AMC: I think each work requires different presentations. For example, I'm releasing a new 1/1 poem at Art Dubai with GAZELL_iO in which I perform my verse for the first-time, using body language. 

I’m very attuned to my body. Movement is important to me; body language is important to me. For a long time, I’ve wanted to incorporate my physicality into my digital practice. I worked with an incredible photographer in Madrid called Luis Gaspar who filmed hours of me performing the poem in different ways, but not speaking. There’s a voice-over. I transmit the emotion, the meaning, and the story of the poem through my body.

You progress as an artist; you feel things could get thicker in certain areas, and you go there. For the first collection I released with Gazelli, nearly two years ago, I created very bare, minimalist poems. In that moment, I wanted to lean into the bare-faced power of language, its ability to deliver meaning without adornment.

Cord | 2024

AW: I came across your poem Fruition, which seems to be about internal conflict, using cooking and the mess it creates as a metaphor for the tension between the need for order and the desire for spontaneity or indulgence. How do you choose which experiences from your life to write about, and what is involved in turning an idea into a poem?

AMC: Not too long ago, I read Carla Linnaeus' biography as I was reading Emerson's “American Scholar” essay, in which he criticizes the need for humans to always categorize and label everything and, of course, he champions a return to nature. I was also listening to Goethe's Faust as an audiobook, which is ultimately about how humans just can’t get enough. 

The experience of listening to Faust, while reading Emerson, and Linnaeus—a fantastic historical figure who lived a truly original life while methodically categorizing the natural world—birthed this poem. 

My poem is about reconciling the need to categorize with the urge to be free.

It’s possible for us type A’s to be wildly crazy too.

Fruition | 2021

AW: Some of your notable achievements include being the first woman to win Colombia’s Jose Manuel Arango National Poetry Prize, being the first person to sell a poem with Sotheby’s and winning the Beverly International Prize in Literature. Which of your accomplishments is the most significant to you, and what legacy do you hope to leave behind?

AMC: That’s a very powerful question because it raises notions of legacy and ultimate intent. Since entering the art world, I’ve experienced several exciting moments. At the end of the day, I really value the book. In May, I will publish Mammal.  It's a book that I wrote when I was having a really hard time after my daughter was born. She’s eight now. It's been a massive process to get this book out into the world. 

Before the book won a national poetry prize in the US, I received two offers to publish it. My professor and mentor, Julie Marie Wade, advised me against accepting these offers despite them being tempting. When you say no, there is uncertainty about when, or if, your book will be published. I’m happy I waited, and the book will be published by a special wonderful press. This book means everything to me. 

Ana Maria Caballero is a poet and artist whose work explores how biology delimits societal and cultural rites, ripping the veil off romanticized motherhood and questioning notions that package sacrifice as a virtue. She's the recipient of the Beverly International Prize, Colombia’s José Manuel Arango National Poetry Prize, the Steel Toe Books Poetry Prize, a Future Art Writers Award and a Sevens Foundation Grant. In 2024, she became the first living poet to sell a poem at Sotheby’s and has sold the first digital poem via live auction in Spain. Her Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net-nominated work has been published extensively and exhibited as fine art at museums and leading international venues, such as the Wroclaw Contemporary Museum, Museo de Arte Miguel Urrutia, bitforms, Office Impart, Poetry Society of America, Gazelli Art House, New World Center and Times Square. The author of six books, she's also one of the founders of digital poetry gallery theVERSEverse.

Alexia Wright is the Head of Social Media and Marketing at Tribul, combining her passion for art with her expertise in content creation, community management, and stakeholder relations. Alexia holds a Master of Arts degree and has extensive leadership experience. She enjoys keeping her pulse on the latest art news and trends in web3.