Morgan L. Ventura (They/She) is a Sicilian-Irish American expatriate living between Vancouver, Canada, and Oaxaca, Mexico. Originally hailing from the (haunted) Midwest, Ventura was an archaeologist in their former life, but converted to anthropology and folklore only to now become a speculative poet, essayist, translator, and fiction writer. Their poetry and translations have appeared in Strange Horizons, Augur Magazine, and Ghost City Review, among others, while essays can be found in Geist Magazine, Folklore Thursday, and Jadaliyya. Ventura’s poem, “Extinction No. 6,” was nominated for both the Rhysling Award and Canada’s National Magazine Award for Best Poem. Find them on Twitter: @hmorganvl.
If I abandon this project I would be a man without dreams and I don’t want to live like that: I live my life or I end my life with this project.Werner Herzog
What does this quote mean to you?
I’m a big fan of Werner Herzog, and I realize that people respond to his cinema and writing like marmite: you either hate him or adore him. In order to understand me, you must understand Herzog – what drives his passions is a particular philosophical orientation toward the world that upholds the concept of dreams and dreaming. We may see dreaming as a passive act, or as an action that is often unknown, misunderstood, even irrational, but dreaming is also critical to envisioning new futures, fresh perspectives on not only what the world is but what it could be. Just as I’m nothing without my dreams, a world that’s stopped dreaming would also indicate the end of possibility.
What books have made an important impact on you and why?
I’ve always been a voracious reader – haven’t we all? It’s a difficult question to answer because I’ve consumed countless books and stories in the form of novels, anthologies, and the internet. As a child, I loved Michael Ende’s the Neverending Story, which is essentially a fabulist story deeply concerned with psychology, self-worth, and corruption. It asks the reader to find themselves in the story, to take charge and become the person they could only dream of, and then presents the classic temptation of pure, unadulterated power. Whereas I was less captivated by the second half of the book and thus the parable, I became obsessed with the idea that a whole other world reflecting our deepest desires and fears could exist, and, even more, would cease to exist when we grew up and began to forget. This is another book – maybe this is a very German way of thinking – that positions dreaming as key to being human, almost critical to our survival.
On an entirely different (and more recent) note, I always am reading Samantha Irby’s writing because I need that kind of levity (code: give-zero-shits attitude) in my life. If you haven’t read her blog piece on her substack, Bitches Gotta Eat, called “Block People and Pretend They Died,” you absolutely must do that right now. Carmen María Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties left me breathless, and as a survivor of sexual assault, the way she deals with violence is unlike anything I’ve ever read. I finally felt seen and understood after reading Machado. I carry with me a copy of Seamus Heaney’s, Seeing Things (1991), which is both spiritually moving and otherworldly with lyrical verse such as “The stone’s alive with what’s invisible…”. But my favorite collection of poetry right now is If All the World and Love Were Young, by Stephen Sexton. I picked up a copy while visiting Belfast, Northern Ireland, and it’s just the most astounding, tender, and luminous chapbook I’ve ever read. Wrestling with the grief of losing his mother, Sexton wrote a series of elegiac poems channeled through Super Mario World. Read it.
What is the value of writing and art in the current state of the world?
Creativity is priceless, which is to say it is incompatible with the society we live in. The world is more or less stuck within the confines of an unbridled capitalistic system where any act of production carries a price-tag so that it can be exchanged and consumed. Art and the act of writing carry an intrinsic symbolic value – they exist, I believe, to not only bring beauty and illumination to society as we know it, but they’re also powerful tools of transformation. Ritual acts of creativity, art and creative writing helps us imagine new ways of existing. Without either, we would never be able to address structural and systemic problems, and on a less tangible level, we wouldn’t be able to nourish the emotional and spiritual dimensions of being human. If I could change how writing and art were received by other facets of society, writers and artists would be salaried, supported unconditionally with universal income because without us the world would be painfully dull. Try to imagine a day without music, without photography and drawing, poems, stories, films, and television.
How has writing and art helped to form the person you are today?
Writing and art helped me survive an inordinate amount of trauma. It’s helped me process and imagine other lives, other worlds. I find a lot of power in speculation, which allows me to put distance between myself and open wounds. Writing poetry and stories has strengthened me, it’s reshaped me and helped me realize that the answers to my questions don’t reside in the academy but rather through the twinned acts of creation and reception.
What is something that matters to you?
Justice. Justice means a lot to me. Many of my poems – whether they be lamentations, requiems, or elegies – they all explore grief by interrogating the notion of justice. I’m not sure if justice can ever be achieved here, in this world, but I’m interested in what we call the three R’s in anthropology and archaeology: repatriation, restitution, and reparations. Some collectives speak of restorative justice, and I like this term, too. Art can be a powerful intervention, and creative acts – essays, poems, and most science-fiction – are often positioned as sociopolitical commentary. And while I find a lot of value in crafting narratives that eviscerate the current structures-that-be, I am actively engaged in projects of repatriation and restorative justice. One project, stemming from my doctoral fieldwork and co-directed with a friend of mine from Mexico City, returns the ethnographic fieldnotes of an anthropologist from the 1930s to the Indigenous community in Oaxaca where this anthropologist spent several years conducting research. She’d never translated or shared her work with the community, and so I saw repatriation and translation of these documents in Spanish and Zapotec as a mode of justice and way of correcting historical power asymmetries. The archive will now exist on a community curated website; after more than 80 years, they’ll control the narratives and have their history present to share however and whenever they like.
I love sunflowers and cats, I watch the Mummy (1999) annually, and not-so-secretly enjoy Italodisco and dream pop.