Entrevista a Luis Alberto Crespo / Patricia González

Interview with Luis Alberto Crespo

Luis Alberto Crespo (Carora, 1941). Poet, critic and journalist. He received the Premio Nacional de Cultura 2008-2010, mención Literatura, for his oeuvre that includes: non-fiction, poetry, fiction and his work as a writer in the service of journalism.

Crespo is currently the president of the Casa Nacional de las Letras Andrés Bello and the organizer, year after year, of the Festival Mundial de Poesía. He spoke with us about the prize, literature and his new publications.

Your work is profuse, correct?

Actually, I feel a bit uncomfortable accepting that my work is profuse. I think, rather, that it’s a single book that has prolonged itself a great deal, because it has a single constant motivation. Really, I’ve also sought that same motivation in other forms of writing, in non-fiction and investigative articles, that have been gathered in various editions, about Venezuela, its geographical spaces, its people, its beings. This collection of publications is called Venezuela tierra mágica, gathered by Corpoven, which at the time was affiliated with PDVSA. Which is to say, I’ve had a single passion to reveal a landscape, a sky, an air, an atmosphere, an earth that is real and at the same time poeticized, turned into images and reflections. This could respond to an ambition of mine, to create a sum of publications that portray my inclination to reveal Venezuela. To reveal the country concretely starting from a region that’s essential to me, that of my childhood, Carora, an arid, spiny region, with lots of sun, but which has been growing and coexists with the jungle, the sea and the birds. Maybe what I’m saying is very ambitious but it’s like a fixed idea that doesn’t abandon me.

Do you link poetry and journalism together in your writing?

Journalism is integrated within my poetic language. It’s also found in my search for an image or metaphor that might represent Venezuela. Cultural journalism has brought me to a particular journalistic form or language, that consists of not just informing but feeling the country. To feel journalism like a literary genre. I’ve insisted that both forms of writing be united. To develop that union I’ve made allegiances with great writers, poets, journalists and novelists.

So, you’ve nourished yourself on fiction to create poetry?

A great deal, I’m quite an assiduous reader. I’ve been lucky to love the classics of fiction and poetry. I’ve nourished myself a great deal from the founders of literature in the world. I've been granted that curiosity or inclination because I had a father who loved going to the fountains of literature. I inherited that passion for the ancients, if you can say that, because I really consider them to be modern. Fpr example, there are the great cantos of Homer, Virgil, Cid Campeador himself, with his world in Spain. I delight in drawing close to the creation of a tongue, a country, a society and a destiny.

Is there a relationship between music and poetry?

I love silence and because of that I love music. I think the poetic should contain it because poetry is inserted in everything that man transfigures in writing. Poetry is inserted in the pictorial stroke, for example. There’s lots of painting in what I write and music especially, if not explicitly at the very least I reveal that musicality in an implicit manner. A musical intonation exists that comes to us from the traditional poetic forms of sonnets and of the great hexameters. I carry music within me and it motivates me to write. It’s actually hidden, but I feel passionate about that fact that it motivates me in some way. Painting is more explicit because it’s found in the colors I seek, white and ochre.

You’re not inspired only by reality...

No. My work uncovers the paintings of Armando Reverón, also those of the earlier Héctor Poleo, with his arid landscapes, which are surrealist landscapes that reveal an earth tensed by drought and wounds. At the same time it uncovers César Rengifo, who interested me a great deal because of his image of the naked earth, a man that walks on a no man’s land. That’s essential to me when I want to write spatially or to speak about a certain color, a certain space, with the aim that it be visible. I feel the need for a figurative poetry and I borrow it from painting.

What poetic form would you like to cultivate which you haven’t developed?

The sonnet, without a doubt, because of its restraint, the precise laws it has, because it is concrete, synthetic poetry. Because of its structure, formal perfection and the difficulty in attaining that formal perfection. I haven’t written even one yet, but one day. I have a great respect for it and I think the sonnet represents one of the great moments in poetry. It’s the poetic form I consider with the most illusions for achieving it.

Tell us about the content of your poetry. It portrays a concrete region: Carora. Later on, it starts to become abstract, each time more synthetic and intimate. Paradoxically, that’s when it takes on a universal character.

I like what you say a lot. First, as I mentioned at the beginning, I seek a single book. My reference to a very defined landscape has always been a constant, the landscape of my childhood, present in my first books. Later, those books or motivations go through a process of internalization, dissemination and they finally end up referring to any place with a naked, dry, spiny earth. Above all, wherever there might exist a great amount of whiteness in the light, with the presence of a constant color, ochre, and a bird like the turtle dove. At first, it’s a real turtle dove and later it’s the representation of the soul. So you might see my aspiration and my longing, that this region from childhood might be found anywhere I might live or where poetry manifests itself. With regards to film, an art form I love, I have sought the whiteness in Margot Benacerraf’s “Araya,” and in so many other works where that silence of the limitless, of the dry earth, of the desolate world, is present, as for example in the art of Glauber Rocha from Brazil.

Poetry is a way of expressing what one loves as a culture, in my case it’s no longer only writing, but also painting, music, landscapes. It’s photography, for example, which has a big impact on me. The photography of solitary places, of whiteness and blackness, of the detail. So, of course, my poetry’s not so regional, if it was at first it’s now moved to other places. I have a book I’ve just finished entitled La misma vez, which is a type of last moment. I intend for it to be part of a trilogy that began with Tierramente, continues with and concludes with La misma vez. The idea is to realize a trilogy that constitutes the culmination of a language that began with Si el verano es dilatado. I can’t say I’ll silence my poetry because I’ll probably continue being the same person who has insisted on a single image, a single motivation, even if it’s moved me through all those realms I’ve mentioned.

What was your experience of writing like?

I have a fault. I don’t know if it’s a fault, it could be a quality: I never reread myself. I’m scared of it. I have to keep going without looking back. is similar to any of my previous books but it also includes the presence of a new life. I think includes a concept of disenchantment, a type of emotional rupture, of an experience that may have been pleasurable for a moment but then became something devastating or desolate. There’s a type of experiential fracture, always accompanied by motives, images, phrases, formal and substantive elements that appear in my previous books. But if I want to advance within that same immobility I would say that is a complaint. The title says it, it’s a type of insistence that I always be who I am, be you, be what you are no matter what. It’s like a type of command, maybe it’s poetry that tells me: you have to be yourself, even when you’ve always done that, even when you have to speak at times about something painful, mournful, dramatic perhaps, it could be pathetic. It’s a complaint of poetry or of my consciousness more than poetry. And since poetry is one of the forms of human ethics, that complaint is undoubtedly valid.

How did you receive the Premio Nacional de Literatura?

Without a doubt it was a satisfaction, to say otherwise would be a lie. It’s a recognition, the highest given by the Venezuelan State and Venezuelan culture to a writer. However, one always feels there’s a complaint, a type of warning more than a complaint. Very well, you’ve been recognized, but how many were unrecognized because of you? Someone said that every prize is a great injustice, in any case, I believe that if it wasn’t a great injustice, it truly allows one to revise oneself. One says: why me, why do they kill me with glory, why do they highlight me? But on the other hand the choice has been in the hand of serious readers. So there is justice, without any doubt. I adhere to that justice and sure, I’m guilty.

Your considerations regarding the current poetic processes in Venezuela today?

There have been many literary workshops in Venezuela. Personally I have been able to attest to the great vitality of Venezuelan poetry, which at one point was warned it would become unanimous, that it wouldn’t have thematic and formal diversity, because supposedly the facilitator imposed his taste and language. This is a great lie, since several decades have passed now and the result of the workshops, which is the great collective experience the poet in search of a voice needs, has been thematic diversity. Who’s been in charge of these workshops? Writers as important as Guillermo Sucre, Ramón Palomares, Ludovico Silva, Alfredo Silva Estrada, among others.

Venezuelan poetry has enriched itself immensely with workshops but also with contests, competitions, present all over Venezuela, regional and national ones, for students and for the general public. There are the biennials, the great poetry festivals. All those phenomena produce a great diversity of emotion, of interest in poetry and above all they generate the possibility of finding and discovering poets. There’s the poetry written by women, for example, which is so rich and has given us surprising names.

It’s been said that Venezuela is a country of poets. I believe this is true, I think that the passion for poetry is evident and indisputable. Proof of this can be found in the various editions of the Festival Mundial de Poesía. We’re about to celebrate the eighth festival. Reynaldo Pérez Só will be the poet honored this year and Andrés Bello will be the emblematic figure. We’ve noticed that a large number of people attend. The majority are young people, kids who fill the festival venues, not just in Caracas but throughout the country. People of all ages attend but the presence of young people is evident. Especially when they realized that contemporary poetry has many languages, there’s dance, the poem is also hip-hop, rap is poetry. So poetry can be made of gestures, it’s not just present in writing. The variety of poetic languages allows young people to identify themselves with this art form. Concretely, I think Venezuelan poetry is experiencing one of its best moments. But this moment has its beginnings since a while ago, two decades already, around 1974. The presence of poetry in Venezuela isn’t composed of only past generations, it also has lots of people who are 18, 19 years old. Young people who are really surprising. I never get tired of ratifying it: I’m always satisfied and delighted to find new poets when I lead workshops or promote poetry.

Any new experiences regarding workshops?

Currently, I’ve accepted the responsibility of being the facilitator for the poetry workshop at Monte Ávila Editores Latinoamericana. I was invited previously but I hadn’t been able to take on that responsibility for work related reasons. This time I told Carlos Noguera, president of Monte Ávila, that I need and want to lead the workshop. I insisted on being the facilitator and he very generously accepted my proposal. So, I’m excited because it’ll be a great experience, like the many I’ve had when I’ve been, for many years, a facilitator in poetry workshops.

{ Patricia González, Monte Ávila Editores Latinoamericana, April 2011 }

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