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Interview with Ada Salas

Ada Salas: Poetry that Says Everything Doesn’t Leave Much Room for the Reader’s Participation

Ada Salas

 Interview with Ada Salas on 23th of April 2012 at the Dámaso Alonso Library of the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin, in association with her participation in the poetry reading “In two voices” with Leeanne Quinn.

Ada Salas (Cáceres, 1965) has a degree in Hispanic Studies from the University of Extremadura. In 1987, she was awarded the Juan Manuel Rozas poetry prize for Arte y memoria del inocente (1988). Her book Variaciones en blanco (1994) won the IX Hiperión poetry prize. She later published La sed (1997) and El lugar de la derrota y Noticia de la luz (2003). Alguien aquí: Notas acerca de la escritura poética, was published in 2005, and with Esto no es el silencio (2008), she won the XV Ricardo Molina-Ciudad de Córdoba Award for poetry. A year later, she compiled her first four books in No duerme el animal (Hiperión, 2009). In 2011, Ada published the essay El margen, el error, la tachadura: de la metáfora y otros asuntos más o menos poéticos received the Fernando Tomás Pérez González Award for essays in 2010.

Sergio Angulo: —Ada, you started publishing poetry when you were very young. What motivated you to write?

Ada Salas: —I think most poets start out very young, mostly in their teens. In the beginning, the experience of writing poetry comes from a need to express your feelings. In that sense, I started like everyone else. I was infected with a passion for poetry by my school teachers, to whom I owe an awful lot. The readings of Juan Ramón Jiménez, Machado, Lorca and Cernuda, that my teacher gave when I was in second year of secondary school, made a deep impression on me.

I studied Spanish Philology, mainly because I wanted to know more about those poets. I started writing, like I said before, because of a need to express myself, to find a way to live in the world that gushes out from every side, that overflows, which is the stage of adolescence itself. It was like writing a diary, but in verse. Later, all that changed, and now it has nothing to do with it. Now it’s the opposite. I write in a completely different way.

Sergio Angulo: —Could you explain silence in your poetry?

Ada Salas: —I think poetry is a specific genre. Poetry is the most condensed genre when it comes to literary expression. So the poetry of silence would be a tweak inside the lyrical genre, where you´re trying to say only what´s essential, to transmit the message as complete as possible with the least amount of elements. Because in poetry, that which is not said is as important as what is said, and that which is said has to be capable of suggesting what is not said. In that way, there’s a dialogue between what´s there and what´s not, that I find very interesting, because I think that’s the place where a reader can situate himself. Poetry that says everything doesn’t leave much room for the reader’s participation.

Sergio Angulo: —Is there a particular way to read poetry?

Ada Salas: —Yes, of course. It’s completely different. As a reader, poetry is something infinitely more intense. I read fiction to have a rest. Reading poetry is very demanding. It demands a great effort from the reader. It requires giving up many things. Generally, it’s a sort of mirror that puts you in front of yourself with no mercy, and squeezes your heart painfully, at times. It puts your mind between a rock and a hard place.

You have to know what you’re doing when you start reading poetry. But all that effort is infinitely rewarded because, even though reading is very demanding, it gives you so much. Fiction transports you somewhere else, and it’s wonderful to be taken away by it. With the poem, you’re the one figuring it out. For me, there’s no better reading than that.

Sergio Angulo: —Do you think poetry is omnipresent in literature?

Ada Salas: —I think it´s sometimes misused. Nowadays, when things are beautiful or thought-provoking, they’re said to be poetic. If a commercial is a little soft, they say, “Oh, it’s so poetic”. I’m completely against that, because I don’t think poetry is soft at all. It’s true there are moments, fragments in a novel that are certainly poetic, precisely because they sum up what poetry is to me, which is a mixture of music, emotion and thought. When those three elements emerge in any other kind of artistic expression, there’s poetry there, obviously. Poetry is at the origin of literature because it’s linked to the singing. It’s in every ritual, at the root of every culture.

Sergio Angulo: —How do you see the future of poetry?

Ada Salas: —I don’t know. I have friends who are very pessimistic about it. I don’t think it’s ever going to end, because it’s always been in a bad way. It´s always been a minority and this will never stop. There were times when poetry was supported by the ruling powers, and poets had an important role in the service of the court. There was this idea of patronage that doesn’t exist now, and another kind of relationship between power and culture. Poetry is no longer supported  by power, so let’s hope it does well.

Sergio Angulo: —You say you’re not interested in feminine poetry, just like you’re not interested in masculine poetry or homosexual poetry. Dámaso Alonso, to whom we owe the name of this library, said Spanish women who write poetry don’t like the word poetisa. Is poetry something neutral?

Ada Salas: —The idea of the poetisa comes from the modernist poets. Rubén Darío’s followers, from the fourth or fifth tier, were called poetisos as an insult, because they were quite camp and wore scarves. So they were called poetisos to mock them for being feminine – it was an insult, a snear. Then, when a large number of female writers started publishing, followers of the romantics, of Clara Campoamor etc., were called poetisas. After that, many women didn’t want this noun to be used to describe them, because it had negative connotations of being effeminate. Because feminine doesn’t have to be effeminate. Female poets in the fifties collectively rejected being labelled poetisas.

Now I think all that has been overcome. I love to be called poetisa. I think it’s the grammatical feminine. Maybe, if I´d been one of those women struggling thirty years ago for the recognition of women as being equal to men, I might have been in favour of using poeta. But now, I just can’t stand the issue with alumnos y alumnas, profesores y profesoras… I think that’s nonsense. It’s absurd because it goes against the economy of language.

Sergio Angulo: —Lastly, as we are celebrating World Book Day, could you recommend a book of poetry or fiction?

Ada Salas: —In terms of fiction, I’m currently reading Oblomov by Goncharov. He’s one of the great writers of Russian fiction, next to Tolstoy and Dostoyevski. Oblomov, who is the main character, is a marvellous character. He´s one of those people who doesn’t want to do anything. He’s the slacker extraordinaire. He’s apathy in the flesh, and it’s really a fantastic novel. For poetry, especially for anyone who’s interested in the Spanish language, I would recommend Cernuda, La realidad y el deseo, which is a collection of his work and one of the greatest books of the 20th Century.

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