Montalvo resident poet intrigued by different cultures, styles

February 12, 2019 — by Samantha Yee

A published free-form poet, playwright, performing artist, French-language translator and astrology connoisseur, Ariana Reines was a resident artist at Montalvo Arts Center up until recently.

Reines has published multiple books, such as “The Cow” and “Thursday,” and her poetry takes on a distinct style and subject matter: internal body-and-mind experiences, derived from Reines’s hope to truly connect with others.

“The cool thing about poetry is it’s close to the body because it’s measured by the breath,” Reines said. “I find that [poetry is] an exciting medium where all human beings have these bodily experiences.”

In much of her work, Reines delves into the innate intimacy and intensity of poetry — how every poet’s internal beat differs, offering them guidance in dividing the lines in their poems based on “some mysterious metabolic rhythm.”

Her writing style is based on spoken conversations. To her, it sometimes feels like people are “talking” to you but not “speaking” to you, and instead they’re putting words into the atmosphere and creating a sort of energy between the two people. Reines’s goal with much of her poetry is to recreate this experience for the reader.

“Whether it’s a night that you spend talking to your best friend or to someone you just met, there’s something electric,” Reines said. “That’s something that I personally feel starved for.”

Reines also “namedrops” other artists as characters within her work, an element inspired by circles of poets from the New York School of Poetry who put each other’s names and personal details in their writings, creating a feeling of “intimacy and glamour.”

The Bay Area is just one of the places where Reines has lived, and the variety of people, cultures and relationships she’s experienced has sculpted her voice as an artist.

“There is this moving constellation of friends that are part of my world,” said Reines. “It’s not that it’s a specific circle; it’s like we’re all these moving parts in a very strange time for the culture and the planet, and some of us bump into each other in different places.”

Because her grandparents lived in the French-speaking region of Belgium, she learned the  to speak the language.

Wanting to include French in her work and deepen her relationship with the French language and culture, she started working as a French-speaking translator nine years ago, when she translated three works at the request of friends’ publishers.

“When a great poet translates another great poet, there’s an intimacy there,” Reines said. Reines expresses her love for French with translation, so while other translators do it professionally, she translates as a “spiritual” or “artistic” exercise so she can have a piece of that culture with her even when she can’t express it fully in a non-French-speaking country.

Reines has also explored culture and art through playwriting. Armed with a taste for the whimsical nature of spoken word, Reines’s first play, called “Telephone,” was an “unleashed torrent of language.”  

However, since then, she’s begun exploring more physical movement and art in plays.

This decision was inspired by a commission with Jim Fletcher, an actor Reines met in New York City. She and Fletcher happened to have the same birthday, but they were starkly different in appearance — Fletcher is male, two feet taller,  older and “powerfully” built, “sort of like a superhero.” But with their connection being their shared birth date, Reines wanted to play with the parody idea that they were equals.

She wanted to experiment with the idea of bringing words out of the extravagant movements of the actors on stage.

“In the traditional play, there’s a bunch of words and the actors come and make it physical, but I got really interested in reversing that,” Reines said. “Sort of exploring what if the writer was just like a dumb animal?  And the language and the plot and the structure would come out of that, so it was a very different working process.”

The play, influenced by her meeting Fletcher, was titled “Mortal Kombat,” inspired by the video game. It was structured with rounds of physical fighting, the ultimate idea being a fair fight with an adversary.

“The play, which we performed in Switzerland, Canada and New York, became a really interesting laboratory for exploring,” Reines said. “Not just the relationship between fighting and dance, the relationships between unspoken aggression and verbal confrontation, but also looking at the ways that very different bodies try to negotiate dominance in space, and so it was a really exciting, fun, weird experience.”

Another type of insight that further expanded Reines’s artistic life is her practice of astrology. She had initially been adverse to working with anything witchy or cult-related, since her mother’s schizophrenia had manifested when her mother developed an obsession with astrology.

However, when Reines was in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, she saw a voodoo priest using astrology as an integrative approach to healing people.

“That really was eye opening for me, and that’s when I thought, ‘it’s time to stop being afraid of this thing that my mom was so passionate about and start thinking about it more consciously,” Reines said.

After that encounter, she began her New York based astrology project called Lazy Eye Haver, where she works with individuals’ horoscopes to hear their stories and offer insight into their lives in a unique way.

“I called it ‘Lazy Eye Haver’ because there’s something kind of funny to me about what we’re supposed to be looking at in our lives,” Reines said. “Like, are we supposed to be looking at the reality in front of us, or what’s happening ‘over there?’ So I liked the thought of having one eye on the physical manifest of reality and the other eye looking somewhere else.”

Although she’s enjoyed traveling all over the world and collecting unique experiences, Reines has decided to stay in California for a while. She’s spent time in California before, having lived with old friends in Berkeley. The Bay Area is also a notable hub for poets and has a well-rounded art and culture scene that she can celebrate.

The residency at Montalvo, in particular, contributed to Reines’s decision to stay in the state. She felt pulled toward the variety of plants and animals sprinkled around the grounds. A unique aspect of her poems are the references to constellations and musical notation, and she wanted to add natural elements like Montalvo’s Redwoods, fungi and insects to her pieces.

“The trees, the smell of nature, it’s a real nice fit for me,” she said.  “It’s really magical. California, the state, I’m a fan.”


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