Poet and Fútbol Fanatic Yago S. Cura on the Sport and Writing

A couple of months ago, I had the chance to conduct this interview with poet and soccer aficionado Yago Cura but through a series of lackadaisical events that cued in my innate laziness the results got shelved for a rainy day. Today is that rainy day. Born in NYC to Argentinian parents, raised in Miami and currently living in Los Angeles, Yago is a man of many hats. His written work is informed by his career as librarian, correction’s facility instructor and fútbol cretin; it is best described by the term coined by poet Justin Petropoulos: “dashiki eclectic.”

He maintains a blog on observations and issues of importance to Latino writers cleverly named Spicaresque as well as having founded the online literary journal Hinchas de Poesia with fellow Miami author J. David Gonzalez, now in its eleventh issue, a strong feat for a fledgling independent. But that is something we pride here at Tuff Gnarl. While some issues we discussed are by now slightly dated, his observations on the beautiful sport and the current state of American letters is not.

Before we get on with the footie, please tell us about the state of letters and the written word in America today.

Without sounding like Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch, there has never been a better time for letters or the written word in the U.S. E-book manufacturers will have you believe the book is dying, but that’s because it’s E-book sales that are buoying the overall book economy. According to an April 11, 2013 L.A. Times article, “Book sales rose 6.2% last year in the U.S., thanks to the continued growth of electronic publishing,” So, the book is definitely going through an evolution, or freefall, depending on who you ask. Reading on digital devices is popular because manufacturers want to be ahead of the curve, and digital publishing is clearly where the book is going. I am not against E-book devices or digital readers, and I am certainly not against reading on them. E-books have several advantages the print book world does not. For example, when you publish an E-book, you charge less money for it, but if you are the publisher of that book, you also see more money in your pocket. Whereas with the traditional publishing model in which authors typically see 10-15% of sales in their pocket, with E-books authors typically see like 60-70% of sales. There are several advantages to self-publishing, if you can solve the Gorgon’s Knot of Distribution. I just finished Steve Erickson’s “Zeroville” and it just made me fall back in lust with fiction again. More importantly, I got Erickson’s book from the Los Angeles Public Library, and the version they lent me is a hard-cover that’s been Duralam’ed. I carried that thing with me on a place to Miami and then to DocweilerBeach for my kid’s third birthday and the claustrophobic toilet of a 727, environments I’d be extremely squeamish to occupy with a digital reader, etc.

What first compelled you to write soccer odes?

I started writing the odes that would help form Odas a  fútbolistas (Hinchas de Poesia, 2010) because of my complete and utter ignorance surrounding the history of the Beautiful Game. My parents are from Argentina so culturally, fútbol  is my brand of Catholicism. Also, I started playing soccer more regularly into my thirties and set up a home of sorts at the Harlem Y.M.C.A. with a pick-up league that I helped run for about five years. My father is a soccer encyclopedia con patitas so it was a way for us to continue talking to each other without actually talking to each other.  Fútbol  is the perfect medium because it is a fluid dialogue, a conversation with a dial, and constantly changing its actual topic of play. However, actually talking during the observation of a match like some bitch Sophist is horrifically taboo; during matches you shut your filthy trap, or they (Hinchas) will start accusing you of jinxing the game and call you a MUFA! (punishable by acute filial embarrassments).

Ode to Riquelme
In creating the Hinchas de Poesia imprint, what were your initial goals and have you met them? Was it a reaction to the way literary journals were beginning their migrations to online publishing?

The genesis of Hinchas is completely a result of the lack of diversity in most American print and online journals. Many say they are diverse and blather about seeking different voices, but unfortunately very few deliver. I have tried to include as many types of voices and poetries, and many short-sighted people have confessed to not being Latinos after I solicit them to send us their poems. They don’t get that poetry from the Americas can be poetry from North America and South America—the whole of the Americas. I’ve actually had people say to me that the reason they don’t submit is because they are not Latino, and the truth of the matter is I would prefer those types of people don’t submit to Hinchas.

I went to library school at QueensCollege after having been swindled into an MFA in Creative Writing; during library school, I learned a little about html and XML and began to see how easy it was to put together an online journal or digital literary space. My work as a librarian allowed me to see the relative ease with which an individual can become a legitimate publisher of their own work. There is a huge stigma that exists against self publishing your own work, and yet the history of literature is rife with examples of authors having to take personal, financial stock in their work. The same people that talk smack about self publishing would not have the balls to address Walt Whitman as a hack because he published several versions of Leaves of Grass, all on his own dime.

For example, go to Bowker’s website and compare the price of buying one ISBN versus buying a stack of ten. At Hinchas we are working towards our eleventh issue, which is going to be guest edited by Bojan Louis, a frequent collaborator, compinche, and compadre with what Hinchas is trying to obtain; however, our editor in chief, Jim Heavily, and our web designer Jennifer Therieau, are really the one’s responsible for the Hinchas brand, and the growth of our scope and the breadth of our reach.

Your family is from Argentina, a country known for its fervent football religiosity. Without turning into a clichéd pibe, what can you say about Lionel Messi’s contribution to the sport and its worldwide profile?

The ode I wrote to Lionel Mess was actually published in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, and the only approximation to the awe that I feel when I see him play I could think of had to do with an exhibition I saw at the new fine arts museum in Boston. It was an exhibition by Tara Donovan; the artist had made these sculptures which were massive, free-standing blocks of pins or toothpicks or sewing needles that were being held by their own weight so if one piece were to be suddenly removed the whole center would collapse. For me, that’s about the closest I can get to describing how Messi plays. I imagine that fool is so fast, it is as if the world is falling off all around him. Obviously, in terms of recompense, he has been crowned as the most handsomely paid athlete on the planet. I also kind of enjoy seeing him fail, like when he plays for the Argentine National team because I believe to Messi, Barcelona is a nation unto itself. He has big problems connecting with the Argentines because Barcelona really is Messi’s terminus, home, asylum, etc.

I know your father is a devout fan of Boca Juniors and by extension I’m assuming you are too, what can you tell me about your bitter rivals River Plate’s relegation to the Nacional B a couple of years ago?

Man, you know que no soy hincha de Boca, but I do really appreciate the history, the beginnings, and the rise of that  fútbol  club. I even wrote an Ode to Boca Jrs not too long ago and enjoy reading it a lot. I believe it is tragic that River was relegated to “B” status, but at the same time look at the history of River in terms of players it has produced, and you will see a Mythology Apparatus as robust as Boca’s. I think ultimately it’s good for River, but it is blood in their eye, especially for Boca fans who have always striven to delegitimize River Plate’s standing, even their right to be en primera.

With Brazil out of competition as hosts of the next World Cup, what are your thoughts on the current elimination rounds in the CONMEBOL zone and what can you offer concerning the bottle-necked middle table in the standings with the final matches coming up in the next few months?

I can’t say that I have been following the games, except in highlight reels and journalistic pieces on The Bleacher Report and the N.Y. Times Gol Blog but any CONMEBOL game is going to have international players, or is going to support people trying to get to that stage, so you are pretty much assured a good game.

How has the panorama changed worldwide? How do you feel about the sport developing and what do you foresee for the future?

I would lose my shit if Nigeria or Senegal were to take the World Cup. Everyone always talks about Pele’s prediction about an African team taking the World Cup before the end of the millennium, but it hasn’t happened. At the same time, the Asian teams, specifically Japan, have been kicking ass, in both men’s and women’s  fútbol . When I was moderating that indoor league at the Harlem YMCA, we mostly had West Africans, Senegalese, Cameroonian, and Nigerian, coming through with smatterings of Sudacas, Eurorefuse, and Greek accountants. We were like a frigging UNICEF commercial, but I learned a lot about fluidity in  fútbol  from African players, and being at the right place at the right time to take a beautiful pass and nail it down the throat of the goalie.

Did you enjoy the USA’s Gold Cup win? Did you ever imagine the final would come down to the minimal difference against Panama?

Actually, yes, because no matter how much my Dad makes fun of the USMNT, I am still very interested in the lives of Donovan, Altidore, and Dempsey and plan on writing them odes in the very near future. I have already written an ode to Tim Howard, but I have been neglecting these other players. The Edie Johnson goal was sick, and the Altidore goal only proves the USMNT is finally an entity that follows through on balls, and really, really fights for possession and control.
Any predictions for who will be the top contenders for the Cup and who might actually win it?

The thing I like most about  fútbol  is that every dog has its day. Granted it would take the Aruban National Team eons to beat a team like Barcelona, but Xavi and Iniesta might not be communicating telepathically that day or have some other pedo which nullifies the hours upon hours they’ve spent playing together. It can happen and it happens lots, but you would be wise to put your money always on the stronger team. All I am saying is that in  fútbol, especially, every dog has its day.

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Abel Folgar

Scoundrel, bon vivant, rocanrolero, fútbol cretin... giving into flights of poesy whenever the whiskey's free. Caracas, VZ/Miami, FL. Follow me on Twitter @abelf77.

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