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Interview with Antonio Praena

Antonio Praena: Losing Can Be Winning. Less is More

Antonio Praena

 

Interview with Antonio Praena on 13th March 2012 at the Dámaso Alonso Library of the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin, in association with his participation in the literary reading “In two voices” with Judith Mok.

Antonio Praena Segura (Purullena, Granada, 1973) is a Dominicon priest and a poet. He is currently teaching and carrying out research in the Faculty of Theology at San Vicente Ferrer in Valencia. His first published poems appeared in collective anthologies. In 2003, he received the Víctor Jara Award for Iberoamerican poetry for Humo verde (2003). Three years later, Poemas para mi hermana was runner-up for the prestigious Adonais Award for poetry. In 2011, he received the José Hierro national poetry award for his work Actos de amor. His latest collection of poems, Yo he querido ser grúa muchas veces, won the Tiflos Award for poetry in 2013.

Sergio Angulo Bujanda: —Antonio, why do you write, and why poetry?

Antonio Praena: —I think poetry is something that is not chosen. I don’t remember consciously deciding at some point to start making poetry. It’s something that has always been there, for as long as I can remember and, at some point, it ended up being more serious than I thought. A little book was published and well, an award was won and you say to yourself, “Am I serious or not?” From that moment on, you are hooked and it’s been going well so far. I think when the poetry comes  to an end, it will leave on its own.

Sergio Angulo Bujanda: —In current times, where brevity, economy, and speed reign, why is poetry still the little brother of literature, the one that attracts less readers?

Antonio Praena: —Despite attracting fewer readers (it’s always been said it’s for an immense minority) from what I know of the literary world, every writer carries a poetic vocation inside themselves. We know that Cervantes had a thing for poetry. For some it’s for minorities, but even so it’s like the limit of language, or the essence of language, the centre of language, the epicentre of words, of intensity, of rhythm, of images. What I mean is, it’s small but very important.

I think the times we’re living in, to go back to the beginning of your question, is conducive to taking up poetry again. Last year, with the 15M movements, for example, I was surprised to find poetry again. The rebirth of a new type of social poetry, slogans that are verses, could even be endorsed by the likes of Blas de Otero. I think poetry will never die, and in times of crisis, poetry re-emerges with new strength. The vigour that Spanish poetry possesses today is proof of that.

Sergio Angulo Bujanda: —In your book Poemas para mi hermana, which is a book, about loss, amongst other things, there’s a very potent verse that stands out. It states, “Si quieres ser feliz, piérdelo todo” (“If you want to be happy, lose everything”). Do we live in times with too many attachments? Do we create needs or dependencies we may not actually need?

Antonio Praena: —I think we have to regard the negative consequences of the economic crisis we are living through in a positive way. We must realise that to sustain an existence, other supports and values are fundamental – friends, relationships and family. Particularly in societies where there has been poverty for a long time, as there has been in Ireland and Spain, people realise that giving is more valuable and it’s possible to live with less. We become more compassionate and we look for other means inside ourselves, and inside the hearts of the people close to us, who support us.

I think the line, “If you want to be happy, lose everything” is a little Buddhist, a little poetic, but at the same time, it´s a spiritual axiom. I think it indicates that you can and you must live knowing what is fundamental in life, and what isn’t, what makes us happy and what doesn’t – all those things that tie us down, that make us lose our freedom and fill our lives with things that, in the end, make us unhappy. Losing can be winning. Less is more.

Sergio Angulo Bujanda: —What do you think of the Internet and this overdose of information that´s not always as truthful as it seems? On the Internet, it says that Poemas para mi hermana was related to the tragic death of your sister that, but it´s not true, someone made it up.

Antonio Praena: —I think a book, once it leaves us, doesn’t belong to us anymore. Somehow, it belongs to the reader. I have always thought that a poem is completed by the reader, and publishing has a lot to do with letting go.

It´s true there´s a death in my book. Possibly a romantic death, or the death of many people I have met in my life, and in some way, this is given the literary treatment in Poemas para mi hermana. The fact that someone understands it like that and talks about it, giving an impression of truthfulness, this seems like an achievement to me. Literature doesn´t work like journalism, it doesn’t recount events in a chronological and accountable manner, it opens worlds and other depths, and that’s where the journey of love and death takes place and where it finds the means of expressing itself.

Sergio Angulo Bujanda: —If we go back to the origins of poetry, when obviously there was no internet, there were poet monks, like Gonzalo de Berceo. Some verses reflect a bohemian or secret life that is sometimes attributed to poetry.

Antonio Praena: —The life of a libertine!

Sergio Angulo Bujanda: —Are there aspects of self-indulgence and how does Antonio Praena deal with that aspect of poetry?

Antonio Praena: —Well, I have famous friends and in my house it’s fine. I mean, I try to live the normal life of a young person in the 21st Century, My way of loving, of understanding, and also finding God, the religious side of life, is in this world. I know it’s more than that, it’s different, but I absolutely believe the love for God is a complete lie, unless it´s channeled through our love for specific people, with names, with faces, with stories, with tears, with aspirations, with very concrete dreams.

In Actos de amor, this particular idea exists. At the presentation, when I received the José Hierro award, someone said, “It’s an unorthodox book”, because of the theme of sex, amongst other things But all these things are related to transcendence. You talk to God and you talk to people at the same time. I think that’s how it is, that it’s natural. I’m not spiritualistic or idealistic in that sense. I believe in reality. I find God essential, a God of friendship, a God of hope for men, who wants to make people happy, and for them to be happy in life, in the everyday life. This life must be lived.

Sergio Angulo Bujanda: —What would Antonio Praena say to a young person who wants to be a poet?

Antonio Praena: —I don’t know if it´s an appropriate answer, or if it’s politically correct, but I would tell him that firstly he has to give great importance to the formal aspects. Nowadays, when so much is written and there is so much poetry on the Internet, it’s necessary to study the formal aspects and spend a long time training the metrics, the rhythm, being rigorous, because it’s the only way of making a poem into art. I don’t know if mine are or aren’t, on a bigger or smaller scale, but the difference between a diary with feeling and a bunch of good intentions and a literary work, with the intent for communication and publication, goes through the formal rigorousness. When you have the formal rigorousness, like a dancer who has trained his body and learned the movements and formed the muscles, then you can have all the freedom to say whatever you want, the way you want to, to innovate, to do anything. I would recommend a young poet to read a lot and give importance to that rigour. Later, the time to do all the experiments you want will come.

Sergio Angulo Bujanda: —Lastly, could you recommend a book of contemporary poetry?

Antonio Praena: —The last book I read, and am still reading, is Mundo dentro del claro by Vicente Gallego. I’m enjoying it very much. Vicente de Gallego is a poet I admire, for his poetry of experience as well as for these new turns he’s making. I think it’s a book of great maturity. And also, any book by Juan Antonio González Iglesias or by José Mateos, who inspire me, or by Antonio Colina – I think they are all important.

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