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Interview with Ángel Guinda

Ángel Guinda: Being a Poet is Not a Profession, It’s a Possession

Angel Guinda

 

Interview with Ángel Guinda held on the 22nd October 2012 at the Dámaso Alonso Library of the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin in association with his participation in the literary reading “Useful poetry: commented reading”.

Ángel Guinda (Zaragoza, 1948) is best known for his poetry. In the early eighties, he published his collected poetry in Vida ávida, where the rawness of his words and a self-destructive nature stood out. In 1987, Ángel moved to Madrid, which gave way to a more existentialist style of poetry with titles likeConocimiento del medioLa llegada del mal tiempo and Biografía de la muerte. With the new Century, Guinda’s attempt to better communicate and connect with people, led to a more open and unified style of poetry. With Claro interior and Poemas para los demás, his work began to appeal to a wider audience. In 2010, he received the Premio de las Letras Aragonesas prize. Since then, he has published three poetry collections: Espectral (2011) Caja de lava (2012) andRigor Vitae (2013).

Carmen Sanjulián: —Ángel, you’ve been writing for many years. Do you remember your first poem?

Ángel Guinda: —I think my first poem was a ballad, when I was 12, to celebrate (I’m almost embarrassed to mention it) my stepsister’s First Communion.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Embarrased? Why?

Ángel Guinda: —Well, because of the way life has changed… They say, “If you’ve lived, you’ve seen it all”. When I was young, I was an altar boy, I had to study Greek and Latin. I went to mass and was Christian, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman, until I reached 30, which is when I lost my faith.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Things have changed a lot. You not only write poems, but also theorise about poetry and the role of the poet in society, which lead yout to publish poetic manifestos such as Poesía y subversión, Poesía útil, Poesía violenta, o El mundo del poeta. El poeta en el mundo. Why do you have this need to write, to reflect?

Ángel Guinda: —That´s a really interesting question. I began to theorise about poetry when I already had my own poetic style. I already knew where I wanted to go and roughly what voice I wanted to project. Then I started to ask myself the big questions, “What is the word?” I thought the word was about being alive, so I answered myself, “The word is a living thing”. I was self-evident and I explained this to my students. “What is a poet?” I argued, “Being a poet is not a profession, its a possession”. “What is a poem?” “What is poetry? I mean, I started to ask myself the fundamental questions in order to reaffirm my style and my own voice.

Carmen Sanjulián: —You wrote one of your manifestos at the Casa del Poeta in Trasmoz. You where the first guest and you began with a hunger strike. Has anything changed since then?

Ángel Guinda: —Very little, unfortunately. I remember that among the literary claims there was one in Euskadi that vindicated the poetry and the great Basque poets who hardly wrote anything in Basque, but in Spanish, like Blas de Otero or Gabriel Celaya – poets who did so much for the advent of freedom in Spain.

When I attended a tribute to Celaya, in the village where he was born, his widow, Amparo Gastón, was there, and I witnessed tomatoes being thrown at them, at the widows of Blas de Otero, Sabina de la Cruz… I crumbled. It seemed a terrible injustice to me. Apparently now there is more respect for the poetry of Gabriel Celaya and Blas de Otero, especially after the truce was called.

I also pushed, for example, for the opening of a Poet’s House in each of the autonomous communities of Spain, there´s still only one in Trasmoz, as the only centre for literary translation is in Tarazona. On top of this, I called for 0% VAT  on literature. Although almost nothing has been achieved since then, it had some impact at the time and I felt great support from my literary colleagues and readers in general.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Paradox is a distinguishing element in your poetry, but it´s also an element that distinguishes you in life.

Ángel Guinda:—Yes, because as Cernuda said “It is not love that dies, but we ourselves”… I am eternally in love with life and I believe in the immortality of love but then I admit that I married four times. This is an example of paradox in my life, but there are many more…

Carmen Sanjulián: — Poets have been described as being cursed, is there such a thing as a poet who is blessed?

Ángel Guinda: —I think I´m blessed. Even though Ángel Crespo coined the term “Ángel Guinda, cursed poet” in a study about.my poetry. As a poet, I´m blessed.

Carmen Sanjulián: —How come?

Ángel Guinda: —Because I think I’m a good person. I want to be, and I think I am, a good guy. If we interpret being cursed as voluntarily choosing to be on the fringes of society, with little power and influence, then I am

Carmen Sanjulián: —You defend the idea of poetry as something useful. In what way has poetry helped you?

Ángel Guinda: —It has helped me in a lot of ways. It has helped me as a means of expression. For me, expressing yourself is part of being alive. When you have more and better ways of expressing yourself, you feel more alive.

I use poetry as a means of expression, of communication, of understanding and a way of looking at the world. Not only in terms of aesthetics but also in the way I face the world with a resilient attitude. Life is marvellous, that´s true, but life is very hard for everyone, it´s really challenging and feeling positive can be the contradiction to death.

Carmen Sanjulián: —This is one of the topics that you regularly visit.

Ángel Guinda: —Sure – life, death, the passing of time that erodes everything…

Carmen Sanjulián: —So you´re saying that poetry is useful. A few days ago I read that they´re thinking of making economics a compulsory subject in schools. Do you think they´ll ever make poetry compulsory?

Ángel Guinda: No, I don´t, unfortunately. It has nothing to do with looking out for our own interests, but unfortunately, no. I have given language and literature classes in secondary school and have tried to make my syllabus live up to the generation of 1936, which has helped me develop effective teaching tools to capture the students attention and try to motivate them. These include using song lyrics, including rap (students really like this), using the class as a translation workshop, using audiovisual aids…

Poetry is really interesting because it´s a cultural medium, like art or music, but it requires attention, dedication and a special method of teaching so that students, and especially adolescents, become interested in it.

Carmen Sanjulián: — You´ve had a lot of success with your students though. David Francisco, a student of yours, directed the film «La diferencia», based on your life. He mentioned in an interview that students regularly requested you, as you had a way of opening up their eyes to the world. 

Ángel Guinda: —It´s funny you mention that because three years before my retirement, I thought that nobody knew I was a poet.But then they began to check my books out of the library and soon they were discovered by the media.

Carmen Sanjulián: —In Entrevista a mí mismo, a documentary also made by David Francisco, we see Ángel Guinda bare all. Was it difficult for you?

Ángel Guinda: —No it was quite easy actually, because I had a poem called “Entrevista a mí mismo” and I had the idea to develop different characters, so I dressed up as a journalist, and afterwards a poet, to become myself. It was very interesting.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Do you distance yourself from labels or do you have any hidden weaknesses?

Ángel Guinda: — Poetically speaking, I´ve always stood out. When I was younger and used childish language, people said that I always did my own thing. The critics said it…Manuel Rico also mentioned it when he reviewed Caja de lava.

I’ve always been a poet who did my own thing and haven´t given into trends. Think of my very dear and admired colleague´s  so-called “poesía de la experiencia” or “poesía de la diferencia”, or “decadent aestheticism“…

But it’s true that for many years I admired two great poets of my generation – Pere Gimferrer and Leopoldo María Panero, until about ten years ago.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Has anything changes since you received the “Las Letras Aragonesas” award in 2010? 

Ángel Guinda: —Yes, there has certainly been some changes. After leaving Aragon 23 years earlier, I was surprised to receive such an honour from my people in 2010. At first I was surprised, but then I felt honoured. I promised not to let them down, resolving to remain honest and demanding more from myself, in order to get the most out of this constant learning experience that is poetry. The apprenticeship where I learned my craft was with the great Catalan poet Salvador Espriu.

Carmen Sanjulián: —You wrote a poem about Lavapiés, the neighbourhood where you live, amongst other things. When you look for an image of Ángel Guinda, it´s almost impossible to find a picture of you without a cigarette in your hand. Have you ever written a poem about your constant companion?

Ángel Guinda: —Twenty years ago I wrote a poem I know by heart, unfortunately, and it goes like this:

I have smoked life

as time has smoked me.

Look at this larynx, this trachea,

these bronchi and lungs

gunned down by nicotine.

I have smoked the underground fumes

of the subway, of its platforms;

Madrid air, dirty,

like a betrayal of the most beautiful light;

And speaking of smoke…my latest project, Rigor vitae, which I´ve been working on compulsively for the last six months, features numerous crosses, a lot of smoke and countless shadows. Of course, smoke symbolises many things. Smoke prevents us from seeing the reality around us.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Is your latest project closer to Espectral or Caja de lava?

Ángel Guinda: —Espectral. People surprised me a lot by saying it was the best book I had written. The truth is that it was written in a state of euphoria, in a trance for nine months. It´s a book that amasses all a poet’s obsessions – with authenticity and with all his inner demons. The ghost of the mother who dies bleeding in childbirth, the ghost of infertility and not being able to have children, etc… But I’ve come to realise that the reality around me is more haunting than the phantom of a work of poetry. So much to say that my writing opposes reality and this is not what it´s about.

Rigor vitae is closer to Espectral than the figurative poetry of Caja de lava .

Carmen Sanjulián: —I went to the launch of Caja de lava. So many comments were made about the title!

Ángel Guinda: —It has a very interesting story, at least for me, personally. When the book was in the works, it was called Caja débil (Fragile Box). But I’m a hypochondriac. Although I have the self-destructive instinct to smoke, I also have a fear of death. So I began to wonder if “fragile box” was really a metaphor for the rib cage, because this was so bad. So I tried to revitalise myself a little bit, inject more fire, more energy into my work, and so the title became Caja de lava (Box of Lava).

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