Leo Boix is in the hot seat for today’s instalment of our #MeetTheContributor series. The bilingual Argentine-British poet, translator and journalist, who is based in the UK, is the author of of an English collection (Ballad of a Happy Immigrant) and two Spanish collections (Un Lugar Propio & Mar De Noche), as well as being a long-term contributor to Modern Poetry in Translation (MPT).
MPT is a tri-annual poetry magazine edited by Khairani Barokka that publishes poetry from all over the world in English translation. Founded in 1965 by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort, it has consistently published the very best of world poetry in the very best translations, and has introduced a number of famous poets and iconic translations to the English-speaking world.
Leo Boix has contributed to MPT issues ‘Our Small Universe’ (2019), ‘The Previous Song: Focus on Somali Poetry’ (2022) & ‘If No One Names Us: Focus on Mexico’ (2021). He has been awarded many accolades, including being the the first British- Latinx poet to be selected for the Complete Works Poetry, and being the recipient of both the Bart Wolffe Poetry Prize Award 2018 and the Keats-Shelley Prize 2019.
Very impressive stuff! Now it’s over to Leo to tell us a bit more about how he got to where he is today.
— — —
1. How did you first get involved in the arts?
I first got involved in the arts while working as a journalist for a Latin American newspaper in London. There, I was editor of the Arts & Culture pages, where I’d commission, write and edit news articles, from interviews with artists, poets and writers to reviews of books and art exhibitions. My life as a poet began with various Latin American poetry collectives in London. These were mostly SLAP (Spanish and Latin American Writers), Invisible Presence and Un Nuevo Sol. I was later accepted for The Complete Works programme, an Arts Council England scheme to nurture ten outstanding black, Asian and Latinx poets that included mentoring, seminars, literature retreats and publication in a Bloodaxe anthology.
2. Do you find writing English-language and Spanish-language poetry to be different experiences?
Completely. I wrote two poetry collections in Spanish: Un Lugar Propio (Letras del Sur Editora, 2016) and Mar de Noche (Letras del Sur, 2017), which were well received in Argentina. I wrote both books having in mind an Argentinean or Latin American audience. I’ve read from both collections at various places in Buenos Aires, which was great fun. My debut English collection, Ballad of a Happy Immigrant (Chatto & Windus, 2021), was a culmination of years of work in the UK, including my mentorship scheme with Nathalie Teitler and with The Complete Works. At the moment, I’m writing more in English, perhaps because I’m working hard on finishing my second English collection. But I plan to start writing poetry in Spanish again. I’ve recently translated a book of poetry by Argentine writer Diana Bellessi, Amar a una mujer/To Love a Woman (Poetry Translation Centre, 2022), which was a great inspiration to write again in my mother tongue.
I always say I’m a different person and a poet when writing in each language: when writing in Spanish, I tend not to focus too much on form and perhaps more on music and rhythm, whereas, in English, it might be the opposite. Also, if I’m reading mainly in English, I tend to write poetry in that language. And the same happens when I focus my reading on Spanish/Latin American books of poetry and fiction. I’m fascinated with the endless possibilities and challenges of bilingualism. It has been my life since I first came to the UK from Argentina back in 1997.
3. What has been your proudest achievement in your career so far?
One of my proudest achievements was publishing my debut collection with Chatto & Windus (Penguin/Random House) and being part of The Complete Works and Un Nuevo Sol family. I couldn’t have asked for more. I was also very proud of winning a series of poetry prizes for my English poetry, including the Bart Wolffe Poetry Prize, the Keats-Shelley Prize and a PEN Award, and The Society of Authors’ Foundation and K. Blundell Trust grant.
4. What does an average working day look like for you?
I tend to wake up early in the morning and go for a daily swim (I live in Deal, in East Kent, just a few minutes from the sea) before I start my writing day. I write much better in the morning and after lunch. In the afternoons, I’d read, write review articles and essays or sometimes lead poetry workshops/mentoring sessions.
5. What advice would you give to a young person wanting to become a writer or poet?
Read as much as you can. I cannot emphasise this enough. The more you read (from books, Poetry magazines, pamphlets, fanzines, etc.), the more inspired you will be to write your poetry. Take courses with some of the brilliant organisations there are in this country; The Poetry School, Arvon, Poetry Translation Centre, Spread the Word, The Poetry Society, Faber Academy, the National Centre for Writing at UEA, etc. Also, join your local writing group to share your work, read your poems out loud and get feedback to learn how to improve and get published. And always keep writing!
— — —
Thanks so much for participating Leo; it’s wonderful to hear your advice for for burgeoning poets of the future.
Digital subscriptions to Modern Poetry in Translation, which feature unlimited & fully-searchable access to the complete archive dating back to 2003, are available in the Exact Editions individual and institutional shops.