Flash Frontier

Agnes Marton’s ‘Mission Jaguar’, and a conversation with Michelle Elvy

Interviews and Features

Artist statement

First published at Long Poem Magazine

To be able to explore the jaguar corridor and the jaguar habitat in Costa Rica, to do field trips to national parks like Corcovado, Amistad and Piedras Blancas, and to become familiar with the Boruca culture, I applied for and won the Jaguar Luna Arts Collective Residency and also the Mauser Harmony with Nature Foundation residency. However, because of COVID-19, my research trip had to be postponed, probably until March 2021, maybe longer. I used the lockdown for doing the necessary research, and for finishing my poem sequence anyway. I studied wide-ranging areas from felid conservation to animal tales. I tried to make the best of the situation and to reflect on the lockdown as well as ecological issues, the extended role of social media in our limited lives, the selfie-culture and artistic self-representation, the way mythology and shamanic practices might infiltrate the mundane and ephemeral. Instead of looking into the necessity and the advantages of wearing surgical masks, but certainly hinting at them, I elaborated on numerous aspects of artistic masks: their history, techniques to create them, cultures where they were widely used. Masks also gave me the opportunity to ruminate over identity, integrity, trust and betrayal, even blasphemy. Another part of the poem sequence revolves around desires and expectations, fulfilment and loss. The text is multi-layered with vivid imagery and playful language. These jaguars lured me and haunted me throughout the lockdown.


Mission Jaguar

 

Postponed Or Cancelled

God was supposed to take a field trip
to explore the jaguar habitat. ‘To get inspired.’
He wasn’t commissioned, he had to apply.
Smart God, he got it, good boy. Even a god
is allowed to learn. Gest is kept out of books.
He packed his suitcase well in advance.
Jungle boots. Insect repellent with DEET.
But the borders were closed on him. COVID.
Day and night, Costa Rica’s jaguars struggled
in his head. Or hers, who knows God’s gender.

God As Poet, Poet As God

How to catch sight of a jaguar during lockdown
so that you could depict it?
Not on a cave wall right before the hunt,
I’m not for the pelt. I’m loitering with intent.
I would just show you the last one to cherish.
You might blurt it’s the last cherry in your bowl
but not quite. It’s not to wolf down.
How could I spot the swear fangs? They are in-
side, they wrestle the canopy of my lungs,
the upper layer of the habitat zone.

God On Facebook

On the fifty-fifth day of containment
God’s porridge tasted ashes and soap.
Last year on Ayahuasca,
he took selfies with a jaguar.
Well, the creature he hugged in the pic
was a poacher in feline pelt,
a creature of crapulence,
full of sweat under the rosette-ish sky,
but God gained the awe he had aimed for
when posted on FB: Arm in Arm with Nature.

Hero As He Used To Be,

Later he took photos even of his framed photos.
Life! Nature is like a painting, isn’t it? Almost.
Now all he has is wamble and time.
Time to reflect in his Domestosed kitchen.
How to transform into flame. Into fame?
Wish I had a spirit jaguar.
Once there was another god, namely God L,
primary lord of the underworld.
With buds sprouting from his head,
he seduced Waterlily Jaguar.

Crave (abhor?)

‘Reality doesn’t interest her, the truth does,’
it was the note beside God’s goddaughter’s
grade, a couple of years back.
‘Does it apply to me?’ he contemplated.
I climb those jungle paths every minute of my
lockdown. I swelter, I disguise, I google,
as if. Sweet home jungle.
The truth of the beasts I have to immortalize is
they bridge pitch dark and pale, trees and water.
They bridge your mum’s trembling and yours.

Appearance(s)

In the fog it’s the question of decision to trust.
You might claim to be a barista or a wolf.
Behind mask and protective shades,
even a shield,
you may say you are Brid Patt or Brad Pitt,
while who you are indeed
is a were jaguar at large. Hidden: slanting
almond-shaped eyes, round irises,
a downturned open mouth, a flared upper lip
and toothless gums, a cleft head.

Identity Loot

Jaguar as victor.
A man in jaguar pelt,
an aggressor towards a defeated opponent.
Losing a loser. Or looser.
Wearing loincloths,
which would negate copulation.
Or a fleshy toad shedding his skin.
As the old skin is shed, the toad will eat it.
The dead skin hangs out of the toad’s mouth
just like the fangs of a werejaguar.

Every Mask Goes Back To The Jaguar

A carving: a man disguised as a jaguar?
A jaguar in the process of becoming a man?

Jaguar. Raw material for tone trophies.
Jaguar. Model human warrior.
Jaguar. Mythic lover.
Scroll Jaguar, Bird Jaguar, Moon Jaguar.
Dualistic weapons: claws or fangs.
Prominent nasal bridge, large nostrils.
Jaguar. A less-than-human god.

Rosettes

The outer circles are often ragged
with scalloped contours.
The seals with their zigzag edges
and inner circles,
as well as the roller stamp butts
with the curved lines,
could create feline markings on a human body.

How to cover a victim,
how to geometricize it to make it look normal.

God L Atop a Jaguar Throne

I kill and trade. Lord of the Jaguar Pelt.
On the façade I’m a major charity.
Give me, give me.
In my headdress there’s a muan bird,
nesting Chichén Itzá’s Misty Sky.
My shawl is a feathered serpent:
the underworld’s entrance is its mouth.
I’m Sun God, fear me behind your blinds.
Jaguar in the evening,
rising eagle in the morning.

Predators Are Search-Imaging

This is the best way of foraging.
Like you. Want berries? Go for strawberries.
In the tropical forest,
aim is like a tree-fall gap: the dying tree
cleaves its way through the canopy,
opening a canyon of light
and an avenue of change
into the understory gloom.
Fresh patch of sunlight, proliferation
of weedy shrubs and tangled vines.

Integrity

The werejaguar’s equivalent in the sky
is the harpy eagle.
Both apex predators.
Eagle as a rain deity, a feathered human,
sporting pleated ear bars
running down the sides of its face,
and a crossed bars icon on the chest.
Or on the navel.
Water as mercy.
Prize, and kill right then. As mercy.

El Jaguar de la Ceniza (Jaguar of The Ashes)

God
can’t cheap himself to be a skinwalker, can he?
To turn into, possess,
or disguise himself as an animal,
however mighty? Rather than heal?
Indulge in the griffonage of prescriptions.
Trip-trap on all fours
while the vulnerable protagonist
escapes as luck has it. Or,
in the lack of luck, there comes The Hook…

Ephemeral Visit: The Jaguar of The Ashes

It started with the jade throne of a cat-
eared king, ended with the escape-corridors.
The coddiwomple
to the not-yet-contaminated places.
How optimistic, how ill-informed.
Holiday-homes to cave in,
to hibernate,
to dream of claimed fights and flights.
It started: Jaguary, February, March,
it ends: Ash, Ash, ash, ash, shhhh…

Quarantine

My neighbours are jaguars.
I never see them. They hide, I hide.
As if we could avoid the Contagious.
Pale, fading roar in the corridor.
Rain to run into. Or be taken?
Horny papillae on the tongue,
it might be used
as a rasp to pull meat off bones.
A tiger kills by snapping the neck vertebrae,
while a jaguar crushes the prey’s skull.

The Jaguar God of Terrestrial Plague

The Aged Jaguar Paddler,
steering the canoe with Tonsured Maize God.
A nagual, protecting shamans from evil spirits.
Earth, you gave me pace and reproach.
I keep repeating the same mistake.

Habitat loss.
The Jaguar Patron of the War Mouth of Pax.
The Jaguar Goddess of Midwifery and War.
Peacing out sea, piercing out the Earth —
the Jaguar of the Backward Glance.


A conversation with the poet

Michelle Elvy: In your statement about this project, you note that the collection is related to the jaguar corridor and the jaguar habitat in Costa Rica. How did you get interested in this part of the world?

Agnes Marton: To be able to explore the jaguar corridor and the jaguar habitat in Costa Rica, to do field trips to national parks like Corcovado, Amistad and Piedras Blancas, and to become familiar with the Boruca culture, I applied for and won the Jaguar Luna Arts Collective Residency and also the Mauser Harmony with Nature Foundation residency. Meanwhile, I wanted to focus on how to generate participation in reforestation, clean-up and involvement tourism rather than securing a mere photograph or very lucky view of the intensely stressed wildlife. Experts have found that while ecotourism served an integral process in protecting areas, areas such as Costa Rica are being ‘loved to death’. Many tourists arrive there thinking that taking a yoga class, surfing, or white water rafting/canopy tours ultimately stop the inherent stress to wildlife. Costa Rica does what it can to protect 5% of the remaining biodiversity on the planet… yet economic development is rampant as desperation rises with farmers trying to produce more at lower price yields — meat exports to the USA and Europe.

ME: COVID-19 greatly impacted the project, of course — you were not able to travel to Costa Rica in 2020. How did you decide to proceed anyway? And what did you gain — in perhaps abstract terms, as opposed to real feel-on-the-ground terms — from this experience of writing about a place from a distance, as a writer?

AM: I used the lockdown for doing the necessary research, and for finishing my poem sequence anyway, as well as finishing my studies in Zoology. I studied wide-ranging areas from felid conservation to animal tales. I tried to make the best of the situation and to reflect on the lockdown as well as ecological issues, the extended role of social media in our limited lives, the selfie-culture and artistic self-representation, the way mythology and shamanic practices might infiltrate the mundane and ephemeral. Instead of looking into the necessity and the advantages of wearing surgical masks, but certainly hinting at them, I elaborated on numerous aspects of artistic masks: their history, techniques to create them, cultures where they were widely used. Masks also gave me the opportunity to ruminate over identity, integrity, trust and betrayal, even blasphemy. Another part of the poem sequence revolves around desires and expectations, fulfilment and loss. The text is multi-layered with vivid imagery and playful language. These jaguars lured me and haunted me throughout the lockdown.

ME: Your poems are notably about the idea of the jaguar, from many views. The idea of the jaguar as the original mask, the idea of jaguar as a metaphor for hidden neighbours… We venture a guess that this set of work is very different from what you would have discovered had you travelled to Costa Rica. What can you say about that?

AM: Even in ‘normal times’ it is impossible to say, without coming up with a long list, what my poems are ‘about’, they are quite complex and far from simply descriptive or narrative. This time the jaguar was the starting point, but new concerns and practical difficulties seeped in the poems too. Lockdown has taught me, like many others, to cook with the ingredients I have at home – literally and in the abstract sense as well.

ME: And are they holding a space for you in Costa Rica, for the eventual possibility that you can travel there and take up this residency?

AM: Yes, they are. At the moment the trip is postponed until February 2022. If necessary, we change the dates again.

ME: Are you in the middle of any other projects?

AM: Eventually, lockdown gave me the headspace and time to submit to Hungarian literary magazines as well, and it is fabulous to get the acceptance letters, today for example from Janos Afra, the editor of the prestigious magazine Alfold.

In my teens, I was published in Hungary a lot and won competitions there, but then during my studies in the States I switched to English, have been published in American and British journals (and by such publishers) ever since.

It’s great now to be able to address my Hungarian readers directly again. Nowadays I do a lot of literary translation too, from Hungarian into English, poems by Zita Izso, Anna Terek, Bettina Simon, Krisztian Biro, Henriette Kemenes and Dario Szabo. Some of my translations were featured in the Women in Translation reading organized by the Translation Committee of PEN America.

Other than the ones in Costa Rica, I am looking forward to writer’s residencies in Sweden (Bergman Center – I am going to do research in and around Ingmar Bergman’s house on Fårö, a Baltic Sea island just north of the island of Gotland), in Spain (The Valparaiso Foundation), and in Ireland (Shankill Castle). I am also polishing the manuscript of my second full poetry collection ‘For Waltz You Don’t Need a Compass’, to be published by Red Squirrel Press in 2023.

I participated in the Tupelo Press poetry conference in October, and as part of the Tupelo community, I am preparing for some readings and further conferences.

This year I became the Art Curator of One Hand Clapping Magazine, I have just selected images by Russian artist Vladimir Karnachev and Peruvian Joselito Sabogal.

Agnes Marton is a Hungarian-born poet, writer, librettist, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (UK), and reviews editor at The Ofi Press. Recent publications include her collection Captain Fly’s Bucket List and four chapbooks with Moria Books (USA). She won the National Poetry Day Competition (UK), and an anthology she edited received the Saboteur Award. Her work is widely anthologized; some examples include Alice: Ekphrasis at the British Library and Anthem: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen. Her fiction was called “exceptional” at the prestigious Disquiet Literary Contest (USA). In the award-winning poetry exhibition project “Guardian of the Edge,” thirty-three accomplished visual artists responded to her poetry. She has been a resident poet at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, on a research boat in the Arctic Circle, and also in Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Serbia, Portugal, Chile, Canada and the United States. She is based in Luxembourg. She can be found online at facebook.com/agnesmartonpoet/.
Share this:

You may also like