The Unknown Life Of Viggo Mortensen

Source: Critica de la Argentina

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The Lord of the Rings star and well known San Lorenzo fan has many other interests: he's been writing poems since he was a teenager and he has his own publishing house in the United States. He's just published an anthology of Argentine poets.

We all know that Viggo Mortensen is Aragorn, the irresistible hero of The Lord of the Rings, and also David Cronenberg's latest lucky charm, whose tattooed body tells us of his violent past, and the San Lorenzo fan who carried his red and blue flag to the Oscar ceremony, and the almost-Argentinean who learned to speak Spanish during his childhood in Chaco.

But there is another side to Viggo, the Renaissance man who lives off his acting salary, paints, takes photos, is a musician, writes and has his own publishing house which (attention!) just published an anthology of Argentine poetry.

"Kevin Power introduced me to these Argentine poets; he is a very interesting and crazy guy who had worked with me in several Perceval Press projects: a book about Cuban art, two books by Henry Eric, Strange Familiar by Icelandic artist Georg Gudni, and Signlanguage, a catalog for an exhibition I did in 2001," Viggo tells us by mail. Perceval Press books are available through Amazon.com.

The anthology of new Argentine poetry, the recent work of Mortensen's publishing house, brings together 22 authors of the so-called poetry of the Nineties - Gabriela Bejerman, Fabián Casas, Washington Cucurto, Martín Gambarotta, Fernanda Laguna, Damián Ríos, Laura Wittner, among others - in a beautiful hardcover binding.

But to reach the generous hands of Viggo, it took a slightly rugged route.

The story goes that four years ago, the cultural agitator and editor of Vox, Gustavo López, had prepared this anthology for publication in Mexico. The project was dropped and López discussed it with Kevin Power, who besides being the link in this story, is a well known art critic who worked as deputy director of the Queen Sofía Museum in Madrid. Power told him that he had a friend who might be interested in financing it.

Some time later, someone called López on the telephone in Bahía Blanca (Argentina); he introduced himself as Viggo Mortensen and he proposed that he would take over the publication of the book. López did not know with whom he was speaking, even asked whom he represented, until his daughter heard the name and said, "Dad, it's Aragorn, the man from the Lord of the Rings."

"Up until now my relationship with Argentine poetry was that of a person who had read some of the old poetry, like Alfonsina Storni, and a little bit of what is termed new," explains Viggo. "My connection with the work of the poets included in this anthology edited by Gustavo is relatively recent. The only person I've met personally is Fabián Casas, a good-looking, wise guy from Boedo who is an even more insane fan of San Lorenzo than I am. Obviously I liked everything I read and therefore it's being published by Perceval Press."

Besides being this sort of patron of literary projects at the point of collapse, Viggo has published eleven books. Writing, he says, performs a certain escapist function and, is, at the same time, healing. "I have written poetry and stories since my adolescence and it always felt like a way to travel, which is something that I like a lot, and to see life from multiple points of view. It can also be a way to escape difficult moments or situations that seem to have no apparent relief. It is a way to understand and to learn what happens to me."

Some of his poems - written in Spanish - evoke the geography of his life between the ages of 3 and 11. Like Chaco, from 1995: "I shit in the forest/like the monkeys/with their teeth/ perfect and yellow/having no fear/ of any tiger."

"I wrote that one while thinking about my childhood, the mental and physical strength children have: the daring, the innocent courage, the absence of prejudice, the visceral connection with nature, with the environment that surrounded me, which seemed to threaten me and embrace me," he says.

Which authors do you find interesting?

Many, many of them. I read everything I can; I leave it to luck, to whatever crosses my path. Sometimes I re-read books, stories and poems that I liked. At the moment I am reading three books, Seeds of Terror, by Gretchen Peters, on drug trafficking of the sort that fuels Al Qaeda's economy; a collection of essays about Medea in literature, philosophy, and art, and a "brain twister," On Certainty, by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Also I have re-read poems by Octavio Paz, Billy Collins, Jaime Sabines, Charles Bukowski, Julio Cortázar, Mario Benedetti, John Ashbery, Artaud.

How do you reconcile your celebrity side with your poetic vein? What does it mean to write poetry in that context?

It is difficult for me sometimes because the films or rather the promotional work of doing the films and the interaction with journalists and fans require a lot of time and energy. But I continue writing when I can, in planes or at night during the periods when I'm very busy filming. Sometimes a poem comes to me and I do not have the energy to write it, and it goes away, disappears, probably forever. That's how it is. Occasionally I also write things about the work of making and promoting films, about things that happen to me in my life, things that I feel at one time or another, things I miss or which confuse me. It is not always a treatise on trees or on personal entanglements. A poem from 1991 that speaks a little on the cinema and my life is this one called Edit:

"A half-soul in transit/the man you were/for one brief season/has been pruned/ removed/to a well-groomed graveyard/that smells like popcorn."

Do you have other projects in Argentina?

We've been working in the northern area of Argentina and in Paraguay for some time, and three books may result from that: one based on the photographs and research done by Max Schmidt about a hundred years ago and by Branislava Susnik about fifty years ago in the region known as Gran Chaco. Another one consists of photographs takes by different indigenous populations from the northern area of the Salta province (Argentina), and a third project that has to do with the work done by John Palmer about the Wichis.

What kind of books do you like to publish through Perceval Press?

I choose my publications in the same way that I choose what I read: here and there, little by little, without a clear path. And yet, we never run out of projects.
Last edited: 10 July 2009 15:10:34
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