Poems sell for thousands of dollars these days. Ana Maria Caballero has played a key role in bringing about the change. She speaks in depth to Leo Nasskau about her poetry and what's coming next, her poetry collective theVERSEverse, and her journey in web3. Lea Rose Emery tells the story.
Juan jumped off a balcony
around the time a horse
threw me off its back
as I circled
Parque Simón Bolívar in honor of
the beauty queen of
In Ana Maria Caballero’s Once, she explores the significance of seemingly small moments. The spoken-word poem, written to commemorate a friend’s passing, finds the profundity of the everyday by unearthing almost painfully intimate details. Ana has built an illustrious career upon her unflinching attention to the mundane, including the 2020 International Beverly Prize for Literature, for her forthcoming A Petit Mal, and being named runner-up for the Academy of American Poets Prize. Blessed with clear-eyed wisdom, she brings the reader close, welcoming them over the threshold.
“My poetry accompanies my life,” she explains. “It's very true to what I'm experiencing. It's an outlet for me, a moment of private rebellion made public.” That sense of private rebellion made public is what makes her work both nuanced and powerful. And because of that closeness and deeply personal inspiration, the themes of her poetry have shifted along with the transitions in Ana’s life.
Having spent most of her 20s in Bogotá, Colombia, she observed “what it was like to be single in this traditional, conservative, but at the same time, wild, massive South American city.”
“The collection of poems I wrote during this time is called From Sunday to Sunday, and it captures the cyclical feeling of going from week to week and wanting to transcend it, but not being able to,” she says. “Waking up on a Monday morning and saying, ‘What am I doing with my life?’, Which is so rawly felt in our twenties.”
As her life has evolved, the themes of her poetry have followed suit, but her work has never lost that insight, the sensation of the confessional. In her more recent work, motherhood, and her relationship with the nature of care, is embedded throughout. “My collision with motherhood coincided with my father's illness, which has been very long and drawn-out. It continues to this day.”
That dual caregiver role, both in caring for child and parent, can be knotty, complex; in a forthcoming poem, due in January in Salamander, she explores “the distance between caregiving and caretaking.” This interpersonal element is a fascinating constant, whether writing about child-parent dynamics or the “waves” of being in a long-term, committed relationship and how that sometimes “crashes against our own personal desires as individuals.”
Embedded in this scrutiny of human relationships, this deep-dive into domestic moments, is a fascinating tension between aspirations and reality; dreams on the one hand, the everyday tasks that fill our lives on the other. Having recently taken up a job outside web3 alongside her poetry work, having left the workforce following the birth of her firstborn, it’s a tension she feels all the more keenly.
“It’s really challenging to juggle our dreams as artists, our roles as mothers or keepers of the home, and then our responsibilities to a job,” she says. “So in that sense, the mundane is a point of departure to enter the world of the transcendental. Because no matter what anyone says, we can't separate our hopes, our dreams, our philosophical quest for meaning, from the logistics of living, from buying groceries, from paying bills. That sort of detail enters our minds even as we're wondering about the ultimate meaning of our existence.”
This overlap of the commonplace and the profound is perhaps most clear in Fruition. Originally titled Cauliflower à la Linnaeus, it was reformatted as an NFT — one which Ana calls “the most playful” and the most “philosophical poem” that she’s launched in digital form. In it, she muses on the optimal way to chop cauliflower as she battles with her inner dislike of mess and how her impatience must come across to her children. At the same time, the narrator’s mind floats to the teachings of great writers — Goethe, Emerson, Linnaeus — applying them to her worries about a dirty worktop or cutting techniques.
“When it's personal, it can become universal.”
— Ana Maria Caballero
“It was about how the conflicting desire to have clean kitchens and the desire to have tikka masala encapsulates opposing teachings from some of our greatest philosophers, and it’s funny how we can boil it down to something as mundane as that.” While many artists draw the connection between small moments and wider, deeper truths, there is a biting self-awareness, a deep-running curiosity, that is apparent in Ana’s work.
“I think there's an element of play, a little bit of subversive rebellion in the topics that likes to make fun or likes to just hold up a mirror to myself. And when it's personal, it can become universal: people have related to my work — I guess they also feel implicated in these mirrors that I hold up. We try to understand what life is about, but then events like the loss of a friend happen that throw everything out of balance and there's no tidy bow to package it all up.”
Finding inspiration in the mundanity of everyday life means having an inquisitive mind, being open to that inspiration. She finds that there’s “always this spark, this phrase that pops into your head”, around which a poem can be formed. And this same a-ha moment, the “proverbial, cliche light bulb”, went off when she first encountered the possibility of combining poetry and web3.
“This is exactly what I've been waiting for,” she recalls thinking. “When I read one of those big splashy headlines, I’m like, ‘Well, why not a poem one day? Why not?’ And so that's how I entered, with the position of a dreamer, of wanting to build something new and fresh and meaningful and beautiful in web3.”
“Why not a poem one day?”
— Ana Maria Caballero
She is a deep believer in the community of web3; its power to spark opportunities, to foster creativity. “I think technology and poetry form a powerful marriage.” The platform that web3 provides, broader than traditional poetry and publishing and directly connected to people who deeply relate to the art, was something that Ana experienced first-hand when her manuscript advisor felt that one of her poems was too long to publish.
“She said, 'I think these poems should be submitted to this journal or that journal'. She gave me all these great ideas, and I asked her about Vasectomy and she's like, 'Oh, Ana, no one's gonna publish Vasectomy'. No one wants to deal with such long form text anymore!” Instead, Ana turned the piece into a digital poem and submitted it to an open call by Playboy and the Sevens Foundation.
It won — named as one of the winners writing on themes of gender and sexuality and minted in the Playboy x Sevens collection. Soon, Ana performed a reading of the poem on a Twitter Space, finding a live audience of hundreds for the 7-minute poem that traditional poetry might never have mustered. “The poem existed, but it would've been a very quiet, lonely existence. Now it's had this really joyful life thanks to the blockchain.”
“There's a lot of joy to be had in web3.”
— Ana Maria Caballero
As well as finding new platforms, Ana has been able to connect with new people. “I created a poem called Mujeres, for example, with a Cuban artist named Octavio Irving, who is one of the top artists in Cuba in my opinion. I created a piece called The Public with Joëlle Snaith, who is Richie Hawtin's artist-in-residence.” The list goes on, and she carries a palpable, radiating excitement about connection and collaboration.
On how web3 has played a role in fostering these blends of diverse creativity, Ana is emphatic. “It’s a hundred percent the case. Definitely. There's a lot of joy to be had in web3.”
That deep sense of meaning, joy, and curiosity, all find fruition in theVERSEverse. Co-founded by Ana alongside Kalen Iwamoto and Sasha Stiles, theVERSEverse “is a poetry NFT gallery where poem equals art.” But its impact is far more wide-ranging than a gallery. They onboard new talent, celebrate poetry both crypto-native and crypto-nascent, and do everything they can to “build the future of literature on the blockchain.”
“We need the poets of the metaverses to assert their value.”
— Ana Maria Caballero
Finding and elevating poets – providing a curatorial home – is a large part of how theVERSEverse contributes to the ecosystem. “The SuperRare Space was really special. I really think we have a beautiful collection there. We also had a beautiful exhibition at the Digital Francisco Carolinum building in Voxels, which was very generously granted to us for National Poetry Month last April.”
Although she channels the excitement and possibility of the intersection of web3 and literature, she’s also aware that, for many, it’s a complex space. “This week I transferred almost $500 to a poet whose poem sold through our SuperRare Space. He wrote to me saying, ‘Oh my god, Ana, I can't believe it. You made my week.’ I asked, ‘Will you set up a crypto wallet?’” His response: ‘No, I want PayPal.’ “And that's fine,” she laughs, “His work is fantastic, and we're honored to have it.”
Her passion for not just poetry, but for the poets themselves, is clear. “We need the poets of the metaverses to assert their value, to put their work out fearlessly into the world, day after day.”
“We can't separate our hopes, our dreams, our philosophical quest for meaning, from the logistics of living.”
— Ana Maria Caballero
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