Elizabeth Schön: El amor permite que el poeta encuentre el lugar que le falta / María Antonieta Flores

Elizabeth Schön: Love Allows the Poet to Find the Place She Is Lacking

The poetry of Elizabeth Schön (1921) is linked to the essentialist tendency of language and there are those who have found in her work a philosophical vision, but her poetic proposal is not limited to these aspects. The nonexistence of contraries has been a principle that marks her lyric conception, along with circularity as a cosmic and verbal movement. I met Elizabeth in the nineties and we maintained a fertile dialogue marked by friendship and poetry. We spoke at her house, a typical Caracas house of which few remain, with an inner courtyard marked by orchids. In this dialogue she offers her particular vision of an experience and coexistence with Poetry for more than fifty years.

– Elizabeth, how do you think the poet can contribute to freedom?
– The poet can contribute by loving, because in order to handle the real, the real that life provides, you have to love it and then work on that. You can’t separate love from your process of expression, from your language. Of course, you have to deal with the positive and negative parts of reality itself that man gives us.

– And how has this negative part of reality manifested itself to you, an aspect where violence and power express themselves in such a destructive manner?
– Since I was a young girl, since the day when I saw a boy completely tied to a telephone post and his hands were bleeding, a twelve or fourteen year old boy. I don’t know who he was, if he had stolen something, if he had done something. At that moment I felt an approach towards that. It was my first contact with the negative part of life. The complexity of life is found in that both good and evil are constantly walking together, they don’t walk separately. If someone fights for a freedom, he must see what exactly is blocking that freedom. So, both freedom and oppression go together, even if in reality you can say this side is one part that side another. I find it very beautiful how existential facts unfold in life, beautiful in the sense that freedoms have triumphed. Freedom is born when you emerge from the womb.

– And that freedom, how is it concretized in the poetic word?
– By loving. Because freedom can never be for you alone, freedom has to be for everyone. And the poet when he only speaks for himself is like someone who drinks an orange juice and completely forgets the plant from where that orange, that fruit was born. Freedom itself gives you the fact of loving more. If you’re restricted, subjugated, you can’t love freely.

– How does that relationship between love and the poem come to be?
– A word doesn’t fit in the poem, love finds it. Love is a generative force. The poem is a generative force combined with sensibility, emotiveness, memory, presences. All those intimate factors belonging to the poet join to provide equilibrium. The poet situates the word where it has to be by means of love’s consistency. Love allows the poet to find the missing place. When the poet is lacking love, the poem emerges without flesh as though it were lacking breath.

– In a certain manner, you’re proposing an aesthetics that revolves around love, around eros as a vital force, an aesthetics of agape. It’s obvious that your poetic writing has been an exercise of love, but it’s also been an exercise of rigor. How do those two forces coexist?
– By means of love itself. Love itself teaches you how to maintain an equilibrium. When the equilibrium breaks, everything is left like a fallen tree. What’s beautiful is for that tree to grow and look towards the sky. In that sense I think love is indispensable, because you find a rigor by means of love. Rigor doesn’t exist alone out there. Rigor is the product of a knowledge, of a knowledge that implicitly includes freedom, reason and intuition. A poet’s rigor is found through man and through the word, through the act of making sure that what he says of reality holds up a mirror where men might look at themselves, or find themselves or not find themselves.

– How do you conceive the poem as a mirror?
– It’s what illuminates. It’s a mirror where men can look at themselves. The mirror illuminates your face, poetry illuminates man so that he might find himself or not find himself, because when you reject a book for X reason, you haven’t found yourself in that book. You set it aside, it didn’t convince you. Why? Because your rigor and your demand have been elaborated in a sense that’s very much your own and crucial for agreeing or disagreeing. That agreement doesn’t preclude that tomorrow or the day after tomorrow you might accept it a bit more. I don’t believe in rigidity. Sometimes the poet makes himself a bit rigid and maybe it’s out of fear.

– After hearing that, it’s inevitable that I ask you which have been the mirrors that have illuminated you in poetry: those books, those poems, those voices that have illuminated your face and have illuminated your word.
– When I grab a book of poems, I open it. I read a phrase or, perhaps I’m being too rigorous there, two or three or four or five or six, but if I can suddenly manage to see its root I stay with it. At that point, I’m illuminated. It fills me with light because I’m seeing a root that extends toward nature, toward everyday life, toward the smallest, the most minor object. There it is and it illuminates everything, because the word illuminates. The word, for me, is a clarity, but it’s not a solar clarity because the sun’s clarity comes and goes, while poetry’s clarity is always there. And it’s beautiful when you grab, for example, Ida Gramcko who says to you “el mismo yo mas caracol” [the same I plus snail], the I, the same I, everything. It’s not a dividing light, it’s a unifying light, by means of the root. I don’t conceive of any poet unless he’s not raised up by a root, whether it’s love toward the smallest thing, whether it’s love of sex, whether it’s love of erosion, because in order to write about erosion you have to love it in some way. Otherwise you can’t feel it, you can’t feel it as something outside of you but part of life instead. So, yourself, in order to give it you must love it even if it hurts because of how you’re going to give it. Otherwise, something completely dry comes out of you.

– What role does fear play in all of this?
– Fear is a dread of not touching… and of not allowing oneself to be illuminated by what’s there.

– Has fear been present in what you’ve been writing lately?
– Fear is there because first of all there’s the sensation of not being able. At that point it stops you, because you think you won’t be able to. This is a battle. But, fear is much stringer and you don’t eliminate it. Let’s suppose, which is much simpler. This room. I close the doors and leave it in darkness… What you immediately think is: “Oh, a ghost is gonna emerge.” And you get scared, because you don’t know what the ghost is like nor do you know what darkness is. Darkness is the root of the luminous, but it’s darkness because of fear. It becomes dark because of fear, because fear stops you from seeing the clarity the poem brings. For example, Huidobro has moments, he has words, he has images that propose darkness, propose wasting away, propose sinking. But you find that along with all that there is a proposition of clarity.

Silence Is the Most Fruitful Thing In the World

– You’ve commented to me about a sensation of having your memory taken over, erased, that you feel this because of the moment we’re living through today, a moment where sometimes we’re asked to take on extreme positions. What would your role be during moments such as this one?
– For me, the extremes have never been fruitful. The extreme is cutting down another tree and you have no right to cut down. But sometimes an extreme is necessary. When a totalitarian and extreme government exists, it falls of its own accord. They’ve never been able to sustain themselves. The poet must always seek out the roots. I never forget that the person who taught me this the most was Lao Tse when he said that the state was unnamable, because then you feel as though you have complete freedom to create. The root is unnamable. Once it constitutes itself into a form it immediately implies the One, you’re the person who’s going to form that One. I don’t know if I’m explaining myself. When Thales of Miletus tells you that water is the world’s essence, he gives you something that is One.

– But, don’t you also receive it?
– You receive it but that reception is blocking you from reaching the unnamable. That One forms your own conception. The root of your perception is not yours but another’s. I point to Lao Tse as something that frees me so that I can feel casually that the unnamable can be anything. When one finds something fundamental, which is your root, which is what shines on you and you lose it, one can go mad because, unfortunately, we don’t know how to be content with nothingness. Because nothingness is like a silence, although I think silence is the most fruitful thing in the world.

– What has your experience been with silence in writing?
– A process. Silence is like a seed. It internally prepares you for being able to receive everything that comes to you, because things come to us, they arrive. In that arrival, it gives. It’s not a silencing in the correct sense of language. From silence surge a love of the world, [Armando] Reverón’s women, Reverón’s beaches.

– Facing the world’s events, the poet contemplates. Could silence be a stage, a right, or is it a sin?
– I don’t think it’s a sin, absolutely not, nor is it a stage. It exists and you hear it once in a while. It’s like the soul, the soul can be heard because it moves within you. Whoever doesn’t hear it, misses it because he has tied himself to something else, almost always the negative. You close the door to this room and there’s a total silence and that silence has always been there, but what happens is that the furniture, the dog, the word, conversation, they are like the wave.

– But our society today doesn’t seem to understand or accept silence.
– Of course, that’s natural. From that silence is born noise and in order for it to happen it needs the source that is silence. For example, you throw a rock and at that moment the distance it covers was made by a silence that existed before you threw it. Silence and solitude are incubating sources.

– What has your been experience with solitude?
– Ever since I was a girl I distinguished that the sky was blue and since I was born into a very religious family, I thought the blue was because of the virgin, because that was the virgin’s blue skirt. So I felt taken care of. I saw it from a distance but I wasn’t lost because there was the blue mantle of silence as though I could touch it with a finger.

– And that religiosity, how does it become a poem?
– By loving. Because love is what provokes the transformation of the fact into words. Love participates in imagination, it participates when you intuit, when you pronounce… It’s love that provokes, as though it gathered all those things and elements and joined them into one. That’s why you can pronounce, you can say: “el mismo yo, mas caracol.” That doesn’t come out so easily. Of course, you don’t perceive that. But it’s there because love exists within you; there is silence within you; there is solitude within you. And solitude is not abandonment, it is a wealth.

– All those coordinates that form the map of your writing, they also include abandonment.
– Of course… but I’ve gone on living. There is abandonment because I lost the most essential thing, which was my mother. Sometimes, in my case, that’s never filled by anyone. I feel that death can fill that for me.

– You’re speaking to us about a cycle that closes, this has to do with the circular and encompassing movement that can be seen in your writing, a movement that leaves nothing outside.
– All that inner movement surges up within me and I give it. What’s important is that the other discover that light I’m talking about and which I carry as though it were part of my intuition, but when I read it I’m capable of seeing the roundness and all those things, but I say to myself: “Is that me?” Then I feel afraid.

– Does poetry lead us to constantly live with fear?
– Yes, constantly. Because you get scared. For example, when I wrote La espada [The Sword], I never in my life had thought of writing something about the sword. Never. Because for me a sword was a terrible sign, but it turns out that in the book it transforms into a sign of equilibrium. The sword is the way of intelligently cutting away what is not positive for everyone else.

– Does poetry have a meaning beyond aesthetics for you?
¬– Poetry can’t be a decoration, a beautiful thing. Poetry must have a frightening human content. Its problem is man.

– What has poetry given you, after giving it so many years of your life, so much passion?
– To have discovered certain aspects of life and knowing that certain books of mine reach the public and knowing they’re useful.

The full version of this conversation was published in Versos comunicantes II (poetas entrevistan a poetas iberoamericanos), México: Alforja, 2005.

{María Antonieta Flores, El Cautivo, No. 40, November 2008}

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