Patricia Guzmán: “Me afano en celebrar con entusiasmo los oficios cotidianos” / Milagros Socorro

Patricia Guzmán: “I work to celebrate daily tasks with enthusiasm”

Journalism and literature. How do these two crafts coincide in you?

Although I’ve spent my life fighting with it, I have learned a lot from journalistic writing (which isn’t the same thing as journalism).

I learned a great deal from it and I’m grateful to it for my understanding of how the range of sensibilities that others might have when faced with a word is infinite. This forced me to be generous with what I say, to think about the other, including from within poetry itself. Journalism made me more balanced, more generous with my passion for language, and it forced me to have a clearer consciousness of who I’m talking with. Otherwise, I don’t reach them, I don’t reach, I would be a narcissist—and I don’t want to be that and even less through language.

Your first book (De mí, lo oscuro) has an epigraph from César Vallejo:

“Y si después de tantas palabras
no sobrevive la palabra
Si después de las alas de los pájaros,
No sobrevive el pájaro parado
más valdría, en verdad,
que se lo coman todo y acabemos.”

Just like many people cross themselves before they leave the house, I can’t read or talk about my books without the epigraph from César Vallejo. Each time it helps everything make more sense.

What do you read?

It’s like a chain letter.

The Spanish language poets such as San Juan and Santa Teresa are an obsession for me, but I love the intensity, violence and structure of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.

It’s not because they’re women writers. I don’t read men or women, I read poems and poets that interest me.

There are some who I can’t be without: Hanni Ossott is an obsession. Her voice is an obsession for me, her essays on poetry, her Rilke translations. I cannot be without María Zambrano, who is not a poet but her writing reflects so much poetry.

I’m interested in the mystics, above all San Juan de la Cruz. I read the Bible, the psalms, the Book of Hours, any writing that includes ritual, the Torah, Hölderlin, Heidegger’s books about poetry. I try to read all those writings that can translate existence for me, that can clarify my anguish.

On page 55 of Con el ala alta you say: “Vacíalo / ¿Quién quiere la sangre?...” [Empty it / Who wants blood?]. And I ask you, who could want blood?

I don’t know. I didn’t know when I wrote that and I don’t know if I’ll know…Because with my writing process—especially in that first book, which others have already identified as babbling, as a ciphered and austere book—I was beginning to write, in the sense of beginning to invent poetry. I felt as though everything exceeded me. And I still continue to write beneath a trembling, a threat, an oppression, a disturbance.

The truth is, I am not a professional writer, I don’t have the discipline for that. I don’t write according to a plan and I don’t create projects for books. Once I have a group of poems, I identify them as a unit. Over the years, now that I’ve been doing this for twenty years, I can distinguish my works, because I’m assertive and because of my readers.

I begin writing without knowing where I’ll be going. When the first line appears and I feel the route is visible, I dare to continue.

Finally, I don’t know who wants blood…In that poem you cite, I know that I want to empty a bird. What do I want to empty it of? The blood, but I found no one to give me peace because, who wants blood?...I don’t know.

The book is made, then, more by accumulation than by planning.

How do you do it? At what time? After what and before what?

At any moment. I always keep notes, many of them: a word from someone’s poem, from an essay, an image...and I write them on a piece of paper or the margins of a pamphlet. Sometimes, I get anxious and I tell myself, well, that if I don’t make an attempt at poetry, poetry won’t simply sit there waiting for me. At that point I return to these notes, I reread them, stick one to another and I find a poem there. I sometimes get satisfaction from an unresolved poem but I know that I'm not alone, without poetry.

Is that every day?

Not every day. I’ve gone very long periods without writing a single line. But I later realize that those silent periods are necessary. I worry about writing but not because I might not have a book.

Do you miss journalism?

I miss it at times. I don’t miss the newspapers. I learned how to distinguish the journalism from the newspaper. Besides, what I like, what I do best is cultural journalism. I’m very clear about that, while I don't know how to do the rest of it very well. Maybe because it doesn't interest me.

Of course, I stay in tune with political and economic events, I know that trade. I've spent too many years reading newspapers, and within newspapers, not to know the field. But I don’t miss any newspaper. I miss writing journalistic texts, because they offer another perspective to writing. I don't have an issue with journalism. I have nothing to deny to journalism. Far from that, I feel grateful toward it, and maybe that’s why I've fought so much with journalism.

Sickness Has Only One Wing

From page 19: "Reclamo mi cuerpo / entre tanta sordera / tanta lengua en lo oscuro" [I reclaim my body / amid such deafness / such tongue in the dark]. What function, if any, does poetry serve amid the tangle of discourses: political, journalistic, advertising, governmental and oppositional?

The poetic word is latency, palpitation, audible darkness, a veil for making the self and things transparent. In that sense, it becomes incompatible with the tangle of discourses, regardless of their order. I feel and think that poetry, just as Hanni Ossott told us, is a twilight speech, situated in a threshold. It recognizes no authority, and when it becomes a voice it arrives from the only core that is consonant to it, the deep core of being. It comes from deep wounds, from the thirst for clarity, from the battle for being and to be. In the verses you cite, from De mí, lo oscuro, maybe I was trying to warn against the digressions that words lead us to in their search for identity. Even that word with which we've lived, and those that we've carried while returning to a path we thought we already knew from visiting. Maybe I wanted to allude to our shrouded condition which begins to be symptomatic of our age. And I remain, years later, books later, faithful to that warning, with the need to break the so human and involuntary self-absorption that molds us.

From page 139: "Las bodas sólo se celebran / cuando llega la muerte / a mí la enfermedad me obsequió unas alianzas" [Weddings are only celebrated / when death arrives / illness gave me some alliances]. What is sickness for the contemporary poet?

I don’t have the capacity to enumerate what sickness is for the contemporary poet.

But I can intuit that she walks through her home, no longer with the echo of her cough, it is now a different depth of that shadow that exposes to the storm the corporeal pulses of the poet. I listen and I want to evoke, at this instant, the strange verb of the hallucinator from Coro, Elías David Curiel, when, drenched in despair, he said that "el éter es milagrosa escala / por donde Hahím psíquicamente sube / y cierne encima de la noche el ala." [ether is a miraculous stair / on which Hahím rises psychically / and the wing settles on top of night] I cannot ignore the timbre of a voice drunk from the smell of blood from "the old wound," with which Armando Rojas Guardia would mark that "by the light of the neon of our age, the unexpected confession of St. John of the Cross sounds like masochism: 'What I want is to die.'"

What is sickness for you?

In La Boda I wrote: "A mí la enfermedad me obsequió unas alianzas." [Illness gave me some alliances] They were placed in my hands so that I might cling to life that way, and, likewise, to the word and to the Beloved become Husband.

Because within vertigo, within the void which sickness leans toward, we barely hear a complaint, our own, turned into a monosyllabic complaint that we won't silence. So that it becomes possible to unwind ourselves in love's air for the one we have felt in our skin, and which grows, grows and accepts communion, to drink from the same cup. Besides, sickness taught me another song, a song that sounds like oratory, and which transformed my words into verses through which—like a grateful creature—I awoke to the health and the mystery of living and attempting the poem day by day. I work, then, in paying tribute to the thorny branch that brings the healing bird to my house. I work to celebrate, literally and with enthusiasm, the ordinary, daily tasks in which I am occupied: from immersing myself in reading and music, to teaching a class, or setting the table to receive family and friends. Because, as I wrote in "El Poema del Esposo" [The Husband's Poem], "La enfermedad tiene una sola ala / (Voy a enterrar en el jardín el ala de amar)" [Illness has one single wing / (I am going to bury the wing of love in the garden)]. So that the wing might sink its roots and allow me to continue clinging to life. And I repeat, it’s not that "en mi casa todo pájaro amanece curado" [every bird in my house awakes cured].

Is poetry a symptom? And if so, of what?

I would accept this idea of poetry as a symptom if we agreed to assume the word 'symptom' as being outside of the medical alphabet—and if we visualize it displaying the figured meaning which it carries. Meaning, as a signal, that it is the indicator of something auroral, which announces itself, pulses, peers in and is half-born, and which can only be seen in fragments. Consequently, we must accept that words, all of them, and in their essence such as those that the poet speaks, these all allude to a lost word, "the only word that guards the secret of divine-human love," as María Zambrano writes.

The Murmur of the Bird and the Rose

Patricia Guzmán (Caracas, 1960) received her Ph.D. in Latin American Literature from the Sorbonne. She is also a journalist who graduated from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, where she is now a Professor. Her journalistic career includes positions such as directing the pages of El Nacional, the cultural supplement Bajo Palabra, El Diario de Caracas, and most recently the Sunday magazine Estampas and the literary supplement Verbigracia, both at El Universal.

But above all, Patricia Guzmán is the owner of one of the most beautiful and singular voices of Venezuela.

Her four books of poetry have recently appeared in a rare publication, entitled Con el ala alta, which has been edited by the publishing house El otro, mismo, directed by Victor Bravo in Mérida. As one reads those impressive pages, the idea emerges that in Patrica Guzmán's poetry Spanish becomes Celtic because it acquires the remote intonation of a marvelous culture irrigated by the centuries, and which lives where we least expect it: in the illuminated letter, in the shadow of the chalice, in the murmur of the bird, in the panting of the fanatic and in the bordered fringe of the bride's dress.

In Patricia Guzmán’s poetry a rose is not a rose. It is the everything rose, the absoluteroseness, the extreme condition, engulfed by flames, free from gravity and geometrical within everything in the world which is rose and which is pregnant with its hint.

This book’s apparition comforts us from so many disasters: the country has poets. And that is already a great event. It is almost everything.

{ Milagros Socorro, El Nacional, 19 April 2004 }

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