Fill auditoriums on both sides of the pond, almost a dozen books published with different prestigious publishers, weekly articles, awards, tens of thousands of copies circulating – some translated into three languages - and half a million followers. It could be the result of an entire artistic career, but it has only been seven autumns since Elvira Sastre (Segovia, 1992) published her first collection of poems, Forty-three ways to let your hair down (Valparaíso).
In 2019 his first novel hit bookstores, Days without you (Seix Barral) –Brief Library Prize 2019–. Today, after four years, Sastre republishes a collection of poems, Goodbye to cold (Viewfinder). Elvira Sastre’s verses are drawn with nostalgia and forgetfulness, love and heartbreak, vertigo and calm. According to the poet Benjamin Prado: “Goodbye to the cold it is a step forward in his work. ”
What has it been like to publish poetry again after four years without doing it?
I am always writing poems, I have never written to fill a book, but suddenly I realize that all the topics that I have written have a meaning, have a concept behind and can be grouped in a book. I work from that perspective. I have never felt that I have stopped writing.
Are you more comfortable writing poetry?
Yes, I feel more comfortable. I believe that in each style of writing, be it narrative, be it poetry, be it articles; I count things that I need, but different things. For example, during the quarantine, I could not write anything or narrative or poetry or anything, nothing came out in confinement. The articles did give me that touch of goodness, unburden yourself here, and they allowed me to tell things that other aspects did not. For me, poetry has always been like that little house, like one feels more protected at home, with the usual. I start with a certainty that maybe in narrative I still don’t have.
Did you feel vertigo a year ago when you published your first novel, Days without you?
I had always thought of writing a novel, but I never saw myself capable. In fact, it reminded me very much of the feeling I had when I first wrote a poem in verse format, without rhyme. That’s something they proposed to me, I had a blog on the internet and one of the readers was a language teacher. Everything a language teacher tells me I pay attention to. He said, ‘Why don’t you try writing in verse?’ I wrote prose texts and I remember that vertigo and that saying ‘how am I going to write a poem’. I read a lot of poets and it didn’t seem like I could get in there. Suddenly I did it and I got it, it worked out well and I felt comfortable. And with the novel it was the same, I received a lot of external support from my people, from my friends and I said well, I’m going to try and discover another way to tell maybe the same things, but in a different way.
¿Goodbye to cold Is it a page turn? A second part of The loneliness of a body accustomed to a wound (Visor, 2016)?
Yes, Loneliness I wrote it in three months after a pretty toxic breakup. I did a brutal vent, it is a more heartbreaking book. Someone did an analysis online and said that he used the word island a lot and I think it’s true because I felt like a little locked up. Now, Goodbye to cold I think it is a more open, calmer book. In these four years I have worked hard on my calm, my tranquility, being well. There is like a final reflection on that you can say goodbye to those things that keep us frozen. If you see it compared to the previous book, I think it is like a first and a second part that is Goodbye to the cold. I don’t like to analyze my books, I like someone to analyze it and write to me. The idea that I had with this book is more reflection and calmer, but maybe someone else is provoked by a different emotion.
In the synopsis of his book, written by Luis García Montero, he says that Goodbye to cold it was to be called “The Reason for Lament.”
The titles give me terrible, they give me a lot of burden. I think that because poetry books do not start from outside, they are a set. Since I am so in it it costs me a bit. I was debating with friends for weeks. The title of Goodbye to cold We did it between Benjamín Prado and myself during a phone call. I think it is the most special of the ones I have because I have done it with him and that is already a milestone.
How do you prepare to write? Do you have any kind of custom or ritual or do you write in a more spontaneous way? Is it the same for prose, articles, poems?
In poetry I don’t mind being five months or a year without writing, it doesn’t overwhelm me, it will come. In the narrative, you do have to sit down, it requires a discipline that costs me more. And the articles, as they are weekly, I’m used to looking for topics and when I find it, it comes out quickly. I always write to music, I have my Spotify lists that I always put in the background, it’s like my little trick. Music helps me a lot.
In addition to being a poet and a writer, she is a translator, is there something that remains in the way when poetry is translated?
For me it is the most complicated work, the most difficult for me of everything I do. Translator work is highly undervalued. They are very important in the culture, imagine without translators here nobody would read Shakespeare. The great authors of the Spanish language could not have read others, they could not have learned. The figure of the translator is not valued because in the end the translator has to be invisible, it is not possible to notice that he is there, that is the real work. I love the challenge. When I went to the master they told me that poetry was untranslatable and I took it and translated it, I accepted the challenge. It is true that it is very complicated and in translation we also have tendencies to make it more literal. I like to make the message understood better than to maintain the rhyme, but with words that do not correspond to the quality. When I translated the Love Poems of Oscar Wilde (Valparaíso) I found old translations that had words in Spanish that I did not even understand and the words that Wilde used were simple. You are skipping something and you are presenting Wilde in a way that he is not. That is why it seems to me that it is a social and cultural task, I love it.
On some occasion you have made public your discrepancies with a publisher, do you think there are publishers in which authors are booked for meeting a quota?
The world in general is macho. I have always been very critical of positive discrimination. Yes, they have offered me no longer editorials, at least that I know of, but they have authors who have told me ‘give me the prologue that in the epilogue I already have a man. No, if you want me to do the prologue, it’s because you like what I do. Books do not have a genre, you can sell a book without the author’s name and you don’t know if it was written by a woman or a man. In the end, you have to take into account, removing all this issue of sexism, that publishers are companies. There is a false conception that makes me angry within this world of art, that it seems that things are done for art and that’s it and it’s not. Authors have to eat, publishers have to eat, distributors, booksellers, libraries … and people are not fully aware of that. Messages come to me every day asking for the pdf of my book, I think they don’t realize that many people eat a book.
I have ever heard him say that “love education should be a compulsory subject”, why?
In sight, I think we are all quite annoyed. We are very exposed to terrible things that happen in the world and nobody has taught us how to manage all that. That translates into depression, anxiety, which is the great disease of the 21st century in young people especially. I think everyone I know has ever had an anxiety attack and it seems like a terrible thing to me. Perhaps we would not get to that point if we were taught to manage our emotions, to know how they affect certain things that happen to us. Like the subject of death, when my dog died, no one had taught me how to do all that, I had no idea. In the end, I made up my own tools and was able to get out of there. But it is complicated and I believe that the emotional world is becoming emptier and more superficial aspects of life take precedence and there are other objectives that bring us into life since we are children, such as producing, studying, working, working and nothing else. And in the end you meet very sad and very empty people who do not know how to move in that world in which they are exposed all the time.
I read in an interview that a psychologist wrote to him to comment that he was using the titles of his twelve Days without you as therapy for women who had been victims of gender violence.
He wrote to me on Facebook two years ago. He was a doctor from Mexico or Colombia, I don’t remember him well. He had a battered woman’s therapy and had it posted on the wall every twelve days without you, and as they were overcoming all that pain and that damage that had been done to them, they were writing their names every day, as they felt. When they finished therapy and were recovered, they left their name on the twelfth day, which is: ‘I’m going to give myself a chance.’ It seemed brutal to me, it is the magic of literature and poetry. You write in your room, in your room, thinking about your moves and you don’t know where they can go. It is total magic.
Is this one of the reasons you think it’s worth writing?
I’m not going to fool you, I write for me, I write for me. Because I need it. I have never written thinking of helping someone. Even social poems start from something inside. When people, especially young people, tell me to give them advice, I always tell them: write from the truth even if what you tell is a lie. But it always has to start from something inside that exists and that is yours, only. I have always written for myself, it is true that afterwards all the subsequent work of publishing it and sharing it and working on it helps it reach people and you no longer know what can happen. Very nice things have happened to me. But it is never my goal and I would never want it to be because I think I would lose that truth.