Chus Pato & Erín Moure: A Conversation

Chus Pato_Erín Moure_in Lviv 2011What follows is a conversion that Chus Pato and Erín Moure conducted by email in February 2014 about about their forthcoming BookThug title Secession/Insecession.

Erín: If you could sum up Secession in a few words, what would you say?

Chus: There was once a cut; this cut existed in a bygone time, and it cut life itself. Secession is a writing of the blade’s edge, the gash, and the void that any incision produces in a body previously intact and healthy, and it is the writing of the word that articulates, makes possible and sustains the tension of the before and the after, of contraries. Or I’d cite the final quote in the book, from Ludwig Hevesi in the Secession Building in Vienna: to each time its art, to each art its freedom.

Erín: Our lives have crossed in poetry and in translation for over a decade. My wish in translating your work is and was always to invite you into my Canadian poetic culture, so as to perturb it, open new challenges, demonstrate how your work is critical in my own practice of poetry and poetics. Now, for the first time, you have a book published in Canada, and it’s a book interwoven with a book of my own, Insecession, written in response to yours to articulate the blade edge, gash, and void of my own thinking and being. Together, our books reveal, I think, two very different lives of two poets, two women born in 1955. Do you have any transatlantic thoughts to share on this Canadian version or edition of Secession?

Chus: I feel enormous happiness, and gratitude. For a writer, translation is the best of fates and if, on top of translating, the translator-poet writes a new book in response to her translation and reading, I can only be glad. To me, the very spirit of poetry is “I read what you write and I write / You read what I write and you too write.” I can’t conceive of a poet who writes totally on their own; I have never thought of the poet as an absolute and isolated individual: we write poetry so that poetry circulates, so that you, so that I, so that all the six grammatical persons —I, you, she, he, we, they— write and read. Here, in this case, Erín, you’ve succeeded in demonstrating this, which is to say, that the being of the poem, its core, is this communism, this community of poetry that is never fusion or communion but is an exposure to the limits. I can’t be anything but thankful. This book is a gift, an offering that comes and goes from Europe to North America and back, from Canada to Galicia, from English to Galician, from you to me, from me to you, and from both of us to all those who set eyes on this writing.

Erín: In a recent interview, you spoke with the poet Elvira Riveiro. Your image or elaboration there of how the tree flees from the word “tree” is very powerful, I think, and is for me an image not only of poetry but of translation. It invokes, for me, the image of my mother who never wanted to be buried in a graveyard, who said we could find her in the trees. Can you comment on the difference between a poet who exists in secession, in the cut, and a tree that flees the word “tree”?

Chus: I spoke with Elvira, yes, about the tree, but I could have used any other word, any other body: rock, bird, the human bodies with whom we cross paths every day, our own body, an airplane. I was trying to address two questions, one: that words do not create the world and two: that by using words we are able to live in the falsehood of thinking that we dominate what we name, while what occurs in reality is that the ontic (that which is not language, that which is not sense/meaning) never stops apprehending, speaking, through the use of words. If we arrive at meaning, it is through language, but things do not need meaning in order to exist. Our need for meaning is alien to them; they are the insensate. They are that which has no need of sense or meaning; they are neither word nor silence, they’re mute. I conceive the poem as that word which assumes this folly, takes on this insensate that we don’t want to acknowledge and that lays seige to us for it keeps on confronting us. In response to the first question, I spoke to Elvira of the tension between contraries, in this case the tree (insensate and mute) and the word “tree” (meaning and articulated sound from homo sapiens-homo sapiens). The poem doesn’t abolish contraries in a dialectical synthesis but keeps them separate; the poem must be able to speak this tension, speak that which is dislocated.

In my view, a poet is one who ends up closely resembling what they write; as well, the poet holds onto the impossible harmony between sense and the insensate.

Erín: Between meaning and the unmeaningable. That’s how I dissect that word insensato you use, in-un/sens-meaning/ato-able. Of course I translate it by “insensate” here, but that word must be understood in all its echoes, don’t you think? I see that, or receive it, in the act of translation, in the bodily performance and movement of translation that allows me to read your work and others deeply and with incessant and unrelenting concentration. The act of translation allows me to concentrate my mind and experience the flow of thinking.

Chus: Yes, I do see that.

Erín: Your poetry, your books, are linked intimately with Galician, with your language, with your country that is stateless within Spain and that is not Spanish. But, as well, your work travels very well in our culture and makes its mark as a poetic discourse on sovereignty itself, of the bare relation between person (and women) and State, any state, between the speaker and the State, between persons (animal) and Order (State), and is as well a discourse on the role that a language, a given language, plays in any mouth of a person in community, ruled by a State.

Chus: I write, as you know, in Galician, a language without sovereignty, which does not mean that I conceive of poetry as national or nationalist. Let me explain: I consider that a poet writes not only for those who share his or her language but for all the species, and not only —thinking here of Orpheus— for humans, but also possibly for stones, for animals and for the stars furthest from Earth, whether they read what’s written or not, whether they hear or don’t hear it. I also sustain, on quite another level, that my own language, Galician, just like any language, deserves to be sovereign.

Erín: Can you speak a bit about your education as a poet? I have a hunch it’s different than that of a Canadian poet. The education of a poet, what should it include?

Chus: I don’t know if mine’s really very different; even though you and I are very distinct, we share a lot of reading and many interests. In the Spanish state, universities don’t try to educate poets; there are no poets in residence, nor creative writing courses, and there’s scant tradition of workshops led by poets. For my generation, all that was unthinkable, and we couldn’t have imagined that it existed elsewhere. Younger poets now do give and participate in workshops. Perhaps that’s a difference.

Erín: My own education didn’t include much of that either, and university programs in writing mostly grew after I was adult and working. I attended a summer workshop in Banff when I was 18, but my own education has mostly involved intensive reading, reading that challenging my very capacity to read: thus, philosophy, poetry, theatre.

Erin and Chus at Port de Tete

Chus: I’m not even sure what the education of a poet should include, though I could never write poetry without reading the work of other poets. As well, my own reading has included every literary genre: novel, drama, philosophy, history… I’ve always been attentive to the visual arts in general, as well, especially painting. Apart from that, I think that each poet must decide what their education should include. Though, yes, I strongly believe it’s not possible to write poetry without reading poetry. As such, our writing is always a re-citation, an echo that does not repeat.

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