In this volume, the poet meditates on his own poetics, while analyzing his history and heritage, reviewing the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Humanism, as well as the wounds of the civil war and the fight for democracy.
—I didn’t want to start this interview without first asking you about the Cervantes Prize announced for the Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas.
The award is given by the Spanish Ministry of Culture. The Cervantes Institute is represented by a member of the jury. I would like the prize to be given by the Instituto Cervantes! But I can tell you that I feel very happy. I have been friends with him for a long time. I prefaced his latest book, published by Editorial Visor, and it seems to me that he is a poet who has maintained a critical awareness of language, poetry, and society. He has been at the head of Venezuelan poetry for years. He and Eugenio Montejo have been poets who have opened many paths in contemporary poetry.
—And he is a poet in exile, because of the dictatorship in Venezuela. A sad poetic tradition…
He is a poet who has always had a very clear social dimension, maintaining ideas and values that have had to do with Human Rights, with social equality, with democratic values. At a certain moment, although he was identified with the left, he became aware that being on the left is also criticizing the powers that degrade democracy in his name and question development within a framework of freedom and equality. It reminds me of the situation of Sergio Ramírez in Nicaragua. People who are very committed to social advances, to progress, to equality and who have ended up facing political forces that at first seemed progressive and what they have done has been to degrade democracy.
—You have just presented your collection of poems “One year and 3 months” in your country, based on the time you lived with your wife, Almudena Grandes, from the time you were diagnosed with cancer until your departure. Was writing for you a consolation after his death?
I think so. For those of us who have a very marked vocation, in my case poetry, asking yourself about your situation through your vocation is always a positive path. After an experience like the death of your wife, something so radical, and where life loses meaning, you have to ask yourself what is happening to you, what is your relationship with the world. In that sense, it has been very useful for me to write poetry. After many years of dedication, it is clear to me that writing a poem is not an outlet: it is a meditation.
– The vent has no control. And literature is, above all, control.
Control and dialogue with oneself through the inheritances received by traditions. A poet when he writes does not pay attention to a biographical self. He has to transcend it to arrive at a self that represents the fullest breadth of human beings. For this reason, when you write about death, you do not write about the death that has affected you, but about the awareness of death that defines a human being in the face of animals, who are aware of the danger but are not aware of the fatality, that life is ephemeral. Writing about death is conversing with Jorge Manrique, with Quevedo, with Calderón, with Vallejo. That dialogue means that instead of being submerged in your own well, and making a spontaneous confession, you have to look at yourself with the distance of a tradition, trying to create a more transcendent self, with a broader meaning, more human. If one feels the pain for what has been lost, it is because they have had fullness in life before. You end up becoming aware of how lucky you have been to share 30 years with a person you were in love with. Almudena’s disease arose in the middle of a pandemic, in a very narcissistic dirt, which confuses desires with rights and it seems that the client is always right. Suddenly, a pandemic arrives and reminds us that we are vulnerable beings. The awareness of vulnerability tells you that if we live together, if we form a we, it is because we are beings that need to care and be cared for. This makes the problem of the disease transcend the situation of what you have experienced to look at the context in which you live, the history in which you live, the human condition that is beyond your own self with a broader perspective. . And that gives you answers, it offers you to gradually accompany your irremediable pain with a duel that gives you answers to the meaning of life and to what has happened to you.
—Let’s talk about “Illustrated Romanticism”, a book that you presented in Lima. In your prologue to the book you say that we live in good times for poetry and bad for politics. Do you think that the crisis of one strengthens the other?
The best thing for politics is normality, legally regulated life. But every time has its dangers. A peaceful age can at the same time give poets who are highly integrated into the status quo and poets who rigorously seek creation. And in times of abnormality, there may be pamphleteering poets, but also others who try to maintain their creative power. Democratic politics is the best invention of citizens to peacefully resolve their differences. That gives authority to public space. But we live in moments of great discredit of politics. It is said that politics is lies and corruption. In Spain we are living in very troubled times, like the United States or some European countries.
—We Peruvians know that well…
That’s how it is. It happens everywhere. We live in a time when there are powerful mechanisms to control consciences. The networks know what they have to tell you to awaken your instincts and for you to react, not in a reasonable way, but by responding to the first impulse. And that complicates coexistence, creates situations of tension and hatred. That is why I say that these are difficult times for politics. Why do I like to vindicate poetry? Because it takes the most intimate part of yourself out of the poem, modestly, meditating on each word. This need to vindicate modesty when transferring the private self to the public space seems to me to be an exercise that we should replicate in today’s world.
—Do you think that the border between the intimate and the public has blurred?
Completely. Privacy is being commodified, as an object to use and throw away. Poetry is the opposite, it approaches intimacy not to turn it into merchandise, but to meditate on it.
—”I am grateful to chance for this occasion in which you save me from oblivion”, you tell the reader. In times when there are so many distractions, the encounter with the reader is almost a miracle.
When we write a novel or a poem, they are there. But that for the literary fact to exist, a reader has to arrive who makes the poem or novel his own. It is the exercise of reading that creates the literary fact. If I write in a poem that I have loved my wife very much, it is a biographical testimony. But it is about someone reading the poem and thinking about love with their own experience of life and death. It is then that literature has dimension. Second: for a person like me who defends that he is very important, it is also very important to vindicate the rigor of the reader. The poem cannot be confused with a populist fact. I refuse to think that a poem has to be a speech written for poets. A language that does not understand even God. I want it to be the most personal use of language of all. I distance myself from hermetic poetry, from poetry that is too far-fetched, and at the same time I must warn that poetry is not an advertising campaign either. Poetry is a process of knowledge of the rigorous treatment of the language. In that sense, I flee from cheap populism. For this reason, I thank the reader for coming, for inhabiting my poem, and for entering it meditating on what I propose.
—Let’s change the subject: your great friend, Joaquín Sabina, announced a surprise tour of Latin America. How has his recovery been?
It’s much better. He suffered a fall and had trouble regaining his strength. But after an intervention that resolved her leg pain, she now feels much better. We share summers, we have bought a house together in the bay of Cádiz. She’s making songs and wanted to kick off a tour, so she’s getting ready physically.
—Will you come for the Language Congress?
I have a great ally there who is Ximena, his wife, who is Peruvian. We had talked about creating a dialogue between Mario Vargas Llosa and Joaquín, who has a very good relationship with him. The problem will be the tour, because it seems to me that it will come the first week of March. Let’s see if the last week, when the congress opens, is available.
—Is the presence of Vargas Llosa in Congress confirmed?
Mario is invited. He is from Arequipa. It was Mario who pushed for the congress to be in Arequipa. I remember the moment when he had to intervene in Córdoba, Argentina, and he told me: Shall we announce that the next congress will be in Arequipa? And I told him “well, that has been proposed by the Instituto Cervantes, but the Association of Language Academies has to give its approval”. And he replied: “If I announce it, they will have to give the go-ahead.” He did so and the announcement was brought forward. I think he will do everything possible to be here. There is a general consensus, from the government to the Peruvian embassy in Spain and the institutions of Arequipa, that beyond the differences and the political thoughts of each other, a Spanish Language Congress is something in which they can come together, beyond ideologies. We are very excited to have Mario at the congress.
—CILE Arequipa 2023 officially announced, what’s next?
We proposed with C.Cultural Inca Garcilaso that language and miscegenation be the central theme. The program has already been carried out in collaboration with the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language. Miscegenation has greatly enriched our language and coexistence with non-hegemonic languages is very important, and I think that Peru and Arequipa are wonderful examples of that. Historians, philologists, lawyers, writers will reflect on the enrichment that diversity and miscegenation entail. What is missing are only organizational aspects. The intellectual approaches are already made.
—The commemorative edition published by the Royal Spanish Academy for the Language Congress will always be “Los Ríos Profundos” by Arguedas?
It was the edition proposal made by the Spanish Academy. And I can’t think of a better book. That reflection on reality that Arguedas makes is fundamental. I like the word miscegenation even though there are people who think it is dangerous, because it is often used to discredit indigenism. Whoever reads Arguedas sees that it is true, that there is a temptation for a pure white to look down on a mestizo, and for a mestizo to look down on an indigenous person. What must be claimed is that all human beings must be respected. I defend miscegenation because it is a word that creates realities with coexistence and with the fusion of different worlds. In a world that pushes so much towards closed identities, supremacism and hatred, recognizing miscegenation, more than a danger, seems to me a blessing.
I have worked as a journalist for over 10 years and have written for various news outlets. I currently work as an author at 24 News Recorder, mostly covering entertainment news. I have a keen interest in the industry and enjoy writing about the latest news and gossip. I am also a member of the National Association of Journalists.