Sunday, July 2, 2023

Francisco López Barxas : on m-Talá and poetry : an interview with Chus Pato : translated by Erín Moure from Galician

an interview with Chus Pato
by Galician critic and writer Francisco López Barxas
[1], 2023
translated by Erín Moure from Galician (links and references provided by Erín)


It’s amazing to hold the beautiful new edition of m-Talá from the atelier of Carlos Lema, issued in honour of the book’s twentieth anniversary as a supplement preceding the Collected Works of Chus Pato, Euseino?’s most ambitious project to date. This revised and updated m-Talá still merits a warning to those who embark: its verses have the explosive force of a cluster bomb. As the poet herself advises: “BECAUSE IT’S NOT ONLY LANGUAGE THAT’S UNDER THREAT BUT OUR VERY LINGUISTIC CAPACITY, regardless of the idiom we speak.” That’s a forceful statement!
Chus Pato was born and raised in the interior Galician city of
Ourense, along the Miño River. But just south of them, in the town of Trasmiras—her family village and mine in the Limia region—our family’s houses are scant metres apart, and on the same road as the house of Ramón Otero Pedrayo. On a stony summit above Trasmiras is O Castelo, in ancient times a Celtic fortress and today a tiny place with a medieval chapel and only two dwellings occupied year round. It’s at the eastern edge of the Lagoa de Antela, the shallow lake drained and erased from the map by the Franco regime [EM transl note: today we’d call it ecocide] shortly after Pato was born.
          O Castelo was first home to Pato’s great-grandmother,
Xosefa, who lived her lofty dreams there until she came down the hill to marry a Portuguese man from the borderlands and settle in Trasmiras. Even there, she was nicknamed Castela. O Castelo still nestles deeply in Chus Pato’s writing as well—a Castelo whose towers are books with expansive views. And her m-Talá, though more visible, does not overshadow the others, just as the Torre da Pena does not overshadow the heights of Sandiás or Porqueira, both visible from O Castelo.
          Urania (1991) was the first of Chus Pato’s book-towers, and others arose from this foundation: Heloísa (1994), Fascinio (1995), Níneve (1996). Her next, A Ponte das Poldras (1996), is not just a family history; the poems are universal cries of pain and absence (a shot right into the heart /my father!/ the Ebro/ that defeat/ the Ebro.) It is a shot right into the heart of the Antela, too, where they desiccated even our memories. As Chus Pato admits: “Of my lineage, I was the first woman whose work was not to sow, reap, or harvest. I wanted to communicate language, creation, linguistic praxis: WRITING.” In all her works, the poet calls on the people of Galicia—and the echo of her words includes readers everywhere—to join her on this side of the Lethe[2].

Lalín, Galicia, 2023


FLB: m-Talá marks a key point in your literary trajectory. While a book of poems, it invokes other genres, enacting Antonio Gamoneda’s idea (and in A ponte das poldras, Gamoneda sends you the writings of Crateuas) that poetry is not properly literature. So my first question is: how do you understand poetry?

CP: I have a beautiful relationship with Gamoneda’s work. In some respects I agree with your words, but with nuances. By poetry I understand a force that exceeds the array of knowledge we call Literature. I’d venture that poetry is one of the multiple configurations of life, and it goes without saying that life can’t be limited to what we understand as Literature. The poem is different, a very concrete type of writing but also diverse. Diverse, above all, because we’ve been writing poems for millennia. Whereas Literature, as we conceive it, is something very recent, a knowledge that gives form to various genres that it invents and needs in order to formalize its own knowledge. The European poem is also a recent occurrence, and in its short life it has varied over time. This type of writing, the poem, is studied by Literature and, in consequence, and given the historical time in which I live, I’ve no problem in accepting that what I write is Literature. I’d conclude by affirming that poetry exceeds Literature, however the written poem can, yes, be understood as Literature.   

Given this, were you conscious of opening a new path for poetry as you were writing m-Talá or, on the contrary, did not you notice its innovative character until the work was first received by critics?

I was aware of writing a different sort of book, a book that in some way was expanding what Literature understood as poem, and aware that I was breaking with a certain idea of what a poem must be. In my ear, there was an author/editor constantly murmuring “this is not a book of poems, stop!” I agreed with the voice but could not stop what I was writing.

What is clear is that m-Talá exceeds all the labels and adjectives used to describe it over the past twenty years across every literary geography, inside and outside Galicia. Might we call this book essential poetry, as opposed to accidental poetry?

I am not quite sure I understand what “accidental poetry” means! In m-Talá there is not a single accidental word, unless we consider every book of poems to be an accident. By accident, in this context, I mean something capable of transforming the mind and life of the one who writes it and of whoever reads it. Yes, m-Talá is not a book of sonnets, and includes no conventional forms. I’ll just mention the name of another unconventional title, known to the entire poetry reading community: Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard, published in 1897. Just to point out that the concept of poem has long included other definitions.

If I may say so, readers can discover very many things in this book. There’s even open disapproval of the institutions built by Galician emigrants to the Americas, in particular, the Galician Centres in Argentina (apart from the Federation of Galician Societies led by Paco Lores). Does your poetry enter into everything because everything must be in poetry? In other words, in your work, do we face an omnipresent poetry?

Your question leads me to a much-discussed and even perturbing topic, that of authorship. It’s an issue that m-Talá engages, so I thank you for asking it. In fact, the Galician Centres appear in a letter-poem entitled “this is a personal poem; keep your nose out of it, a title with a certain dose of irony. Someone named Ada signs the letter. I’ll just point out that the footnote to this poem reads: note: the author assumes no responsibility for the opinions dished out by the voices in this text or in any other of her authorship.” There are other quotes I could cite, but this will do. It’s Ada who speaks in the poem of Galician Centres, and not me, who happily answers your interview questions. So here we have two names, seemingly a double self, Ada and Chus. Are they the same subject? I’ll say no, and Chus Pato assumes no responsibility for Ada’s opinions, or even for Chus’s, much less for the author’s... and so we could keep on unfolding the writing subjects of these poems.

If, as you say, “the author assumes no responsibility for the opinions dished out...,” where does that leave Chus Pato?

I’ll state here that all these named subjects can be rolled into one, if we want; this one subject is the poem. It’s the poem that decides whether the poet is poet and what sort of poet they are. A poet is only one when they write the poem and it is the poem that grants them the honour of being a poet. I is always other and it is this other—the poem—that writes. I think m-Talá demonstrates this with clarity. That said, I confess that, yes, I do agree with Ada, and frankly with the majority of the children of 1950s emigrants to Argentina, at least the ones I knew. And yes, I do understand that a poem can be written from many perspectives. The forms that a poem can adopt are multiple and, amongst them, what I try to write is, as I’ve said, a poem that includes the world, that includes the entire dictionary and not a brief and exquisite selection. It could be, then, that the poem is ubiquitous, because it can choose any voice, any mouth for its writing.

Does Carlos Lema’s edition of m-Talá, in including reviews and articles as well as poems, aim to provide readers with various keys to interpretation, to facilitate new readings?

Yes, I believe that Carlos Lema aimed to provide the reading community with a book that includes everything that the earlier book generated, and that now undoubtedly forms part of it.

Scholars of your work can also now access your notebooks in the Chus Pato Fonds held in the archives of Euseino? Foundation, thanks to a generous donation on your part. What can those who are interested find in the notebooks?

To tell the truth, I am not a scholar of my own work so, frankly, I have no idea. I wouldn’t know how to answer your question. I am lucky to be friends with Carlos Lema and Beatriz Fraga, and I honestly believe that it’s me who gains, really, by donating the notebooks.

Is Carlos Lema’s edition, then, a major contribution to the study of your work?

It really is an exemplary contribution. Perhaps when publishing projects like a collected works are undertaken, the volumes should all include the environment they have generated and which now form part of the book.

With m-Talá, the Canadian poet of Galician origin, Erín Moure, began the English translation of your books. Have you always felt confidence in the versions of your translators or is there no other choice when an author tries to project beyond their own linguistic borders?

It happens that I do not know English, so obviously I either trusted Erín Moure or the books would not be translated. My trust in Erín was and is total. When an author does know the target language, she can intervene in the translation; in the Spanish and Portuguese translations, I did intervene, but more to applaud the translators. I am very lucky with my translators. In short, you just have to trust; it is impossible to know all the languages into which you are translated.

Do you think it possible to translate a poem without it ceasing to be the poem itself?

To me, the translated poem is not a copy of the original poem and shouldn’t be, because it would be an unreadable horror. Languages are different; it is not the same to say bread in Arabic as in German, the types of bread are different and at the same time bread is bread—a food that gladdens us, whatever language we speak. Translation plays with that equality and that difference. A good translation from Galician to English is one that brings Galician bread to a reader who eats bread in Canada, or who eats Australian bread. Besides, without translation, can you imagine? We wouldn’t know The Iliad, or the Bible, to give just two examples. Our ignorance would be total. Yolanda Castaño has said that the true language of the poem is its translation, and I agree.

I confess that one of the Pato translations that I really loved in Portuguese—I’m from Ponte Barxas, close to the border, and live part-time in Portugal—is that of João-Paulo Esteves da Silva (Carne de Leviatã, Lisboa, 2016). Chus, why are Portuguese readers so unaware of Galician literature?

That’s a complex question Not only are the Portuguese not aware of us, most of the world’s readers are unaware of Galician writing, having never heard anyone talk about it. To focus on Portugal, most Portuguese readers are like most Spanish: they are still not aware, nor wish to be aware, that there are Iberian peninsular languages besides Castilian or Portuguese. It’s a bit much, frankly, to ask our neighbours to read what our fellow citizens don’t even know exists! However, on both sides of the border, especially among the young, the idea is dawning that maybe there is something to read in Galician and in other languages of the Spanish state.

Even as a very rare occurrence, it’s significant that your writing crosses the linguistic border and appears in the Portuguese language.

For the Portuguese [EM transl note: whose language shares roots with Galician], accepting the existence of Galician as a language of culture means an effort to change their national narrative. In this narrative, Portuguese owes nothing to the archaic, peasant and illiterate language that is Galician. Even those who do acknowledge the existence of Galician have to make a continued effort; though the two languages are so similar, they are littered with false friends, and so many Portuguese readers find it easier to read a Spanish or English translation than read the Galician original. That said, I owe huge thanks to my Portuguese translators and editors for wrestling so tenaciously with what I’ve just described. And it’s a joy to know that Carne de Leviatã, wonderfully translated, holds a cherished spot for you. As well, José Rui Teixeira has an ambitious project to make Galician poetry more widely known in Portugal via his publishing house Oficcium Lectionis (Porto), which published Um fémur de voz corre a galope [A Voice Femur Runs Off at a Gallop], an huge selected Pato. I know other Galician books have appeared in translation and, in addition, the Poeta à solta Festival each year welcomes poets who write in Galician. In short, all is not lost, and as they say, “it’s not so bad.” There’s still a long way to go, though.

Let’s go back to Galicia, Chus. Although I see your poetry as rooted in tradition (as you’ve said, it is marked by Rosalía de Castro, Eduardo Pondal, Manuel Antonio, Álvaro Cunqueiro, etc.), you’re aware that it is called avant-garde, innovative, disruptive, postmodern, and other such things. Doesn’t every avant-garde have its time and isn’t there a time for every avant-garde?

Perhaps it’s more interesting to examine the concept of avant-garde than the avant-gardes themselves. I’m interested in the rupture it creates, and in where its “before” and “after” chance to fall. I can’t ignore the avant-garde, just as I don’t ignore poetry cut from more conventional cloth. The avant-garde takes risks, without which the contemporary idea of a poem is inconceivable, and this has been the case since the first German Romantic avant-garde, the Jena Circle (1797).

What I can say is that the avant-garde is part of the Western poetic tradition, and to ignore it is a huge mistake. As for continuing to write in the Surrealist or Cubist mode today; that’s a different state of affairs. In my case, I certainly wouldn’t write the way I do without Manuel Antonio and César Vallejo—without Trilce in particular—and if you pressed me, I’d ask: but aren’t Rosalía de Castro, Eduardo Pondal and Manuel Curros Énriquez avant-garde? I’ll leave you with this perhaps impertinent question.

Not infrequently, a situation of extreme emotion can leave us wordless. Maybe that’s why poetry doesn’t work as a way to communicate. It’s been this way since human beings first articulated language, and language articulated their lives back to them. I think here of Charenton (2004), the book after m-Talá, where you say that “–no, it has nothing to do with an imaginary idiom, it’s a non- / figurative language / –symbolic? / –no, real.” Can Charenton be seen as a biopoetics, like m-Talá?

I’m glad you ask about Charenton! It’s a book very dear to me. It was a book that sold out its edition, while passing through the hands of critics without shame or glory, ignored like so many others. I think there are biopoetics in almost every book I’ve published. The intent of the poem you quote, as I see it, is precisely to emphasize that the language of the poem touches the real—and here the real is what precedes us and configures us from a beginning unknown to us, but which we know is possible, linked not to the individual but to the animal species to which we belong, a line of forces that is not historical. This language, of the poem, that bears the touch of the real, and that lives on the border and in osmosis with what cannot be domesticated, carries a mark that differentiates it from the common-use of the language. It is a foreign language that enters forcibly into the language in which it is written. And here, to bring these thoughts to a close, I evoke Deleuze. A poem is a linguistic invention, and as such, I think it was and is crucial to reflect on language (linguaxe) and on the language (lingua). The question of what class of language is appropriate to the poem, to the poem I am trying to write, is decisive.

To what extent can we find Chus Pato’s biography in her bibliography? I say this, knowing that your origins, on your mother’s side, are in the Limia, in the lands where the world is called Trasmiras.

To the extent that this biography transforms itself into poem. To the extent that the poem wrests the poet’s biography loose and metamorphoses it into writing. To the extent that the world called Trasmiras becomes a mutant with a title like A Ponte das poldras [Step-Stone Bridge or Filly Crossing or Clip-clop Bridge] or a text like “Stalker.” This latter poem, from my upcoming book Sonora, intertwines three lands that have suffered major degradation; two belong to the territory of art and another is the Limia. Knowing that the Limia endured the incredible violence of desiccation is something that marks me. Somehow you live with what is, with what was, and with what could be. You live in that triple weave and in its gaps. To compensate for the knowledge of ecological damage, I had an awareness of the Castelo, a granitic dome that rises to the skies above Trasmiras and divides the entire Limia. My great-grandmother Xosefa came down from that Castelo, from the Castro or hill-fort, to marry a border-dwelling Portuguese man, and I know well that I am of her lineage, a shepherd lineage for whom wool is the fabric of the world. I often think of what my life would have been like if the Antela lagoon still existed, along with all the lexicon lost when its watery wealth was destroyed, and I think too of the subsequent forced emigration of its population, and the forced forgetting of the wetland dialects and lexicons. “Stalker” is a poem utterly outside my personal biography, yet it is the most intimate of my poems. With luck I might someday live up to it.  

It’s said that the roots of many of our strengths and weaknesses, though more defined in maturity, lie in our early years. In your case, where do you situate the roots of your first poetic experiences?

Sometimes I think that in my writing there’s a set of two cities and three regions. The cities are Ourense and Vigo, and the regions: the Limia, the banks of the Miño—where my father was from—and the Vigo estuary. The geographical migrations of my family could also be included: Buenos Aires, Camagüey, Caracas, New York, the arms factories of Nazi Germany where two of my father’s cousins laboured, along with Burgos, Madrid, Granada, Barcelona, Bilbao... Amid all this, I’d be happy if some of the beauty of these southern Galician borderlands, this Europe, and this America, shine through in the books I write.

If words belong to us, is poetry then a creator’s most accurate daguerreotype?

To shift what you say a bit, I’d answer that words never belong to us, that it’s we who belong to them. When a poet manages to write a poem, it’s because the whole language and the poem were already in existence. I’d add that the poet, after all these efforts, ends up resembling the poem. No doubt the poem is the daguerreotype of a creator. The difference is that the poet’s photo is sonorous: when someone opens the album, or poetry collection, and reads one of the photos, that photo speaks.

For a fiction writer, all the world is story, narration. Could a poet’s poems be the narrative of a world?

As I said earlier, there are multiple ways to write, to compose, to transform poetry into a poem. If you’re asking me if a poem, that appears in the world signed by Chus Pato, is a story, the answer is that never, never can that poem be a story. It may border on narration, but it will never narrate. The type of writing that I try to practise abstains completely from the possibility of narrative. This incompatibility comes from its trying to approach, get closer to, what we understand as language. By language, we mean the ability to articulate a given way of speaking, a fala, using the voice. Let’s not confuse language, linguaxe, in general with any particular spoken or written language, which in Galician would be an idiom, idioma, or lingua, tongue. Languages, idioms, ways of speaking, are historical; language is not. There is a line that divides what is historical from that which cannot be domesticated by civilization, whatever that may be. History is the narrative that underpins and obliges us; it narrates the law to which we submit. A poem lives on the side of justice, never on the side of the law. It is a living entity outside judgement, and as such, a poem is incompatible with being the story of a world. It is a world in itself, not a telling of the world.

“In the language of beasts / sire / in that language / I write,” you say in Carne de Leviatán (2013; Flesh of Leviathan, 2016; Chair de Léviathan, 2023). Do you mean to say that you write from the very origin of language?

Your reading is wonderful. Mine’s not quite as poetic. When I wrote that poem, I was thinking of Galician and of the history of the oppression of Galician, and of how Galician was excluded from culture for being an illiterate language, one spoken by labourers, men and women who were treated by their overlords as beasts. What the poem does is accept this and show pride in being written in that language of beasts. Last summer (2022) I was called upon to write an “Open Letter to Europe” for a poetry festival. As a result, during my time in Slovenia, I was interviewed many times, once on national radio. There I was interviewed by the director who told me that in reading this poem, he saw affinities between Galician and Slovenian, and recalled that during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Viennese emperor allowed himself the luxury of declaring that to talk of love, Italian was best; to think, German; and for talking to horses, Slovenian was ideal. That’s how I read “Dialogue.” The poem speaks back to the master, the lord. It is already something huge, just having the capacity to speak back.

Are you speaking about something similar when you say that you write for the stones? Galicia being fundamentally a region of granite, isn’t talking to stones the same as talking to the people who have inhabited them since the dawn of humanity?

Here, yes,... your questions always send me a bit further, or give me a push. Let’s talk about what you call origin and the stones. You know well that everyday language, in whatever language, basically refers to propositions that enunciate a self, enunciate a world, and put forth the arguments of logical thought. The language of the poem adds another use, that is not everyday, and is not good for communicating as do the three uses I mention above. The poem heads toward its wellspring, towards a sonority not articulated in words, towards something already, but not yet linguistic. It goes towards language, linguaxe, towards that ability that we share with other earthly animals. We all have voice, but not all of us articulate the voice, articulate language, in the form of speech. The unarticulated voice is sonorous and at the same time mute, mute because it does not speak. It is the sound of springs, waters, rivers, winds, mountains... you can extend the list as much as you want, that of birds, that of mammoths, that of dragons... Mute sonority, that does not articulate speech. The poem knows that without the wellspring there would be no speech or writing, and it heads toward it as best it can. It is a complex path. We sapiens all take it at night when we close our eyes. Then we forget speech, and sounds, voices, the languages we hear and produce are all other. In the morning we recover speech. There are other times when, without being asleep, we forget speech and go mute: in the face of death, love, and before the power of a birth, of being born.

And from these voices, and these languages, as you say, the poem surges up as something irrational, the poem as it expresses itself...

The poem, insofar as its talent permits, marks its own tongue with this mute sonority; it knows that it belongs to the wellspring common to all that breathes on the planet.  That is why it is useless to ask that the poem be didactic or to make it a conveyor of ideological transmission. It simply introduces a new use into the everyday ones. It’s not that it doesn’t communicate. It communicates, yes, but in its communication it introduces the force of the wellspring, of that inalienable mute sonority that is the very possibility of articulating speech, the mammalian voice. That voice which Aristotle sacrifices so that we can distinguish between good and evil. It so happens that the poem is, as I noted, outside judgement and so does not need to be faithful to Aristotle. Both of us studied Greek, Paco. Remember the aorist? To me, this the tense in which a poem is conjugated.[3]

Do you use prose poetry to express your desire to BE (ser) in the world because narrative is presented to us as a way of BEING (estar) in the world?

To my mind, poetry uses fictional techniques and narrative uses poetic ones. Narrative longs to be just as much as does the poem. Each responds with its truth. Truth is and exists under different schemas. Being in the world simply means we have to show up, to be, and have the desire to be.

You’ve said elsewhere that a poem moves via the tension produced between the music of language, which is not music, and the concept, which is not thought, properly speaking. The border is very imprecise… very subtle…

Very much so, Paco. A poem dreams of breaking free from its restrictions to be music, but it never is music because it bears a morphosyntax. A poem dreams of freeing itself from its border-place to be cipher and logic, but it never is. A poem is what it is: a poem. Gertrude Stein was very wise in saying a rose is a rose is a rose.

Do you know what, Chus? I don’t believe, as some say, that as a poet you’ve given voice to women. Rather, I think that your poems are simply written by a woman who declares herself feminist... The poet only gives themselves voice!

Well, I’ll be even more radical and say that the poem only gives voice to itself or, which comes to the same thing, that the poem is a linguistic living entity or being that is self-determined and chooses its own freedom. That said, if you let me, I could talk a bit more about feminism.

Please do!

I’ll sketch out three space-times of the nucleus that is feminism: one non-patriarchal, another patriarchal, and the third a fissure or porous border between the first and the second, a sort of path or tunnel. The patriarchal moment traverses all that we call historical time, including those great periods that History sees as prior to writing. The time prior to patriarchy includes the evolution of the sapiens species and is not part of the Western historical narrative.

And the relation between feminism and the poem?

I consider feminism, or, better, feminisms, as a conjunction of liberatory ideas and practices linked to human rights. But I’m sure that women have always fought in one way or another against different forms of patriarchy. The poem, as I noted earlier, is conceived on the side of justice. Does this mean that the poem is feminist? The answer is that the poem is a poem, and in so being, can situate itself on the side of that conjunction of practices and ideas that today we call feminisms. But what the poem will not do is cede the foreignness of its language. A poem can choose to situate itself in feminisms and combat patriarchy, but it will never be a tract or a feminist discourse. It will not give up its linguistic self-determination for anyone. A poem knows there are other options for that battle, and won’t let itself be used.

I agree that a poem can’t be recrimination, proclamation, admonishment, but if the poem speaks of feminism, where is it situated?

To me, the poem’s true place is in the fissure, crevice or border, tunnelled between the space-time that is non patriarchal and outside historical narrative, and the space-time in which patriarchy has dominated and still does. That is why it creates a tongue or speech, that, from the border, lifts non-patriarchal energy toward the time of patriarchy and struggles against patriarchy from there, traversing “civilized” times. Look, even a patriarchy as inflexible as the Catholic one had to accept, at a certain point, the veneration and sanctity of women. Reducing them to mothers, yes, but before this, they weren’t even that. I am a woman who declares herself feminist, I try to write poems, these poems stand against patriarchy, but I would never call the poems feminist. I reject any adjective next to the subject “poem.” The masculine part of the species can only aspire to freedom to the extent that the feminine part is free. A poem will be free to the extent that the species is free. So I think we agree in a way.

...”you too erect a cosmos with words”... says A ponte das poldras (1996), a book that surges from the Limia in Galicia, and can’t be fully grasped without awareness of the disastrous draining and desiccation of the Antela lagoon that flows beneath the Roman bridge in A ponte das poldras... What codes underly this poetic “cosmos,” so a reader can understand and inhabit it?

Codes exemplified by the image in which a bulldozer demolishes a stone bridge that stood since the time of the Romans. Codes derived from barbarism, greed, ignorance, theft, violence exercised on those who have no defense... In Catholic parlance, mortal sins exist; at the command of their prince, they govern the world.

Apart from its lexical and semantic riches, does poetry serve to make us freer, more critical and, as a result, in a way, more unhappy?

I agree with all you say except that last bit. Poetry celebrates life and life unfolds outside of judgement. As such, happiness or misfortune are irrelevant. In any case, and attending more closely to your comment, I believe that what expands the mind and makes us question ourselves and strengthens our critical ability—and contact with any art does this—always brings an increase in happiness. Being slaves does not seem like a happy option to me.

Apart from that, don’t you think that a reader can just feel attracted by the universe of words in which the poet lives, and want simply to enjoy its revelation?

I don’t know to what extent the word revelation applies... but people who read poetry know very well what they hold in their hands. I remember reading Rosalía de Castro when I was just eight years old. I didn’t understand a thing but I was drawn to keep reading. There are people, like us, who read poetry, and others who don’t. It’s very simple.

It is often said that in your first book, Urania (1991), you laid the foundations for the thematic and syntactic registers that characterize your later poetry, surpassing, even then, the instrumental uses of language. One of the first to say so was Camiño Noia, who suggested that these foundations have three axes: the social, classical culture, and feminism. Do you agree?

Urania, to me, is a book where you can find everything, yes. I really appreciate the words of Camiño Noia though I think that this desire to order and classify everything diminishes understanding of the poem. I’d never talk about what I write in terms of a triple axis. As well, I’ve published ten more books since Noia wrote about this first book. It’s rained many times since then, Paco.

Urania, together with Heloísa (1994) and Fascinio (1995), formed the first volume of your Collected Poems in Spanish translation, in 2017. How was it received by readers?

Very well, I think. Ultramarinos, the publisher who took on this adventure, tells me the volume is now in its third printing. As of 2021, six of my books were available in Spanish, including m-Talá, grouped in three volumes. The translations are by Gonzalo Hermo, who even managed to translate an impossible title like A ponte das poldras, which in his Castilian became El puente de los cantos, with “canto” resonating as song, as step-stones, and as intimate interior spaces. Gonzalo has pulled off quite a linguistic feat!

Speaking of referents among contemporary Galician writers, do you consider Xosé Luis Méndez Ferrín to be one of the poets to whom you are closest?

I first laid eyes on Ferrín when I was 17; I was hanging out with friends in Bar 42 and he walked in; someone said “that’s Ferrín,” and I had no clue who he was. I met him several years later, around 1986, in a protest in Ourense against Spain’s joining NATO. Manuel Guede had organized a poetry reading in the Youth Hall and invited me to read, though I’d not yet published anything. Antón Reixa introduced us. Of course by then I had already read everything that Ferrín had published. So he’s not one of the poets closest to me, he’s the poet, and he’s universally acknowledged as Galicia’s best living writer. As for me, I owe two things to Ferrín: the clear demonstration that the best of Western poetry can be written in Galician, and his teaching that no matter how strong a poet’s vanity—and I’m in no way immune to it— we must not bow down to idols, whatever or whoever those might be.

It’s clear that poetry and market aren’t bedfellows. While recent Cervantes Prizes in Spain have gone mostly to poets—Rafael Cadenas, Cristina Peri Rossi, Francisco Brines, Joan Margarit, etc.—the publishing marketeers still push fiction writers, as their sales make them more lucrative. To quote Mircea Cărtărescu, the great Romanian poet: “Publishers run from poetry like a soul carried off by the devil.” Why is it so difficult to market poetry?

There are many possible answers to this question and my response would simply be to say again that the poem celebrates life and its current heads toward that source of sonority that is not articulated in words... toward the voice, toward language itself. Life, and the power of language, are improper, which is to say they don’t belong to anyone, are proper to no one. It is not possible to appropriate them.

Perhaps the market doesn’t invest in something it can’t hunt down and appropriate. Perhaps the market is only interested in what it can own, in property. The poem is never property, it is improper.

What space does poetry occupy in your daily reading life? Is it true that when a poet’s work grabs you, you read everything they’ve written? Why?

These days it occupies no space at all because all I do is answer your questions! (laughter) Yes, when a poet’s work really grabs me, I read all they’ve written. It’s a pleasure. I’m always reading poetry; these days I’ve been reading Uxío Novoneyra, and am really enjoying his poem “Lenda de Íth.” What if I end with a few lines from it, where the poem invokes the Tower of Hercules in A Coruña...

Oh Lord of the Future! We’re awaiting the moment
          of a certainty equal to your “oh Tower that sees itself glowing red!”






Francisco López Rodríguez (Ponte Barxas, 1952, aka Francisco López Barxas) is a well-known Galician journalist, novelist, children’s writer, editor, cultural administrator, and critic. His family comes from the same region, the Limia, as Chus Pato’s maternal family.

Photo credit:  Elisardojm, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons







Chus Pato (Ourense, 1955) is the author of 11 books of poems in Galician. Among these are the pentology Decrúa, antes método [Delve, formerly Method] which includes: m-Talá, Charenton, Hordas de escritura [Hordes of Writing], Secesión [Secession] and Carne de Leviatán [Flesh of Leviathan], all translated into English by Erín Moure and published, variously, in the UK, the USA and Canada. In addition to her books translated in the English-speaking world, she has books translated and published in Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Netherlands, and Bulgaria, and her poems have been included in dozens of Galician, Spanish, and international anthologies. She has performed at poetry festivals throughout Europe and in the Americas (Barcelona, Rosario, Havana, Buenos Aires, Bratislava, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Lisbon, Córdoba, Ottawa, Brussels, Guayaquil and Berlin, among others) and her work has been honoured with prizes including the Spanish National Critics’ Prize and, twice, the Losada Diéguez Prize. Ultramarinos Editors in Barcelona has recently published the first three volumes of her Collected Poems in Spanish translation, Volume I translated by Ana Gorría et Volumes 2 and 3 translated by Gonzalo Hermo. Pato lives in the centre of Galicia in NW Spain near the forest of Catasós, home to the tallest chestnut trees in Europe. She is a member of PEN Galicia and the Royal Galician Academy. Her most recent book is Un libre favor, translated by Erín Moure as The Face of the Quartzes (Veliz Books, 2021), and a new work Sonora, will appear later in 2023 from Xerais.

Photo credit: Aula Castelao (from Instagram)

Erín Moure is a poet and translator based in Montreal. She has published 18 books of poetry, a coauthored book of poetry, essays, articles on translation, a biopoetics and two memoirs, and is translator or co-translator of 26 books, mostly poetry, from French, Galician, Portunhol, Portuguese, Spanish, and Ukrainian (with Roman Ivashkiv) into English. Most recent books: Chus Pato’s The Face of the Quartzes (Veliz Books, 2021) and two chapbooks: Retooling for a Figurative Life (Vallum, 2021) and Arborescence (Columba, 2022). Her translation of Chantal Neveu’s This Radiant Life (Book*hug Press, 2020) won the 2021 GG for translation into English and the Nelson Ball Prize. Theophylline: an a-poretic migration via the modernisms of Rukeyser, Bishop, Grimké is forthcoming in August 2023 from House of Anansi Press. More info at

Photo credit: EM


[1] Francisco López Barxas, pen name of Francisco López Rodríguez, is a well-known Galician writer, journalist, cultural administrator, and critic. His discussion with Chus Pato is set to appear in Galician in coming months in a collection of interviews with various Galician cultural figures. The translator has his permission and Chus Pato’s to translate and publish this work in English.

[2] The Miño River is often said to be the Rive Lethe of mythology.. Here Barxas says Pato calls us to the side of memory, not forgetting.

[3] Translator note: The tense without horizon. Present in a moment past (perhaps). “An aorist verb simply tells you that something happened, with no indication of how long it took.”

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