INTERVIEW: 'Maturity, that wonderful extra bit' - Francesc Parcerisas

Maturity, that wonderful extra bit: Catalan poet Francesc Parcerisas interviewed
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Madimak 19
By J. Subirana

When and how did you discover your vocation as a poet?

I don’t think I have ever felt a ‘vocation’. I’ve always liked writing, and little by little I found I was writing poetry. That was when I was a teenager, about 15 to 17 years old, and then when I began university in 1961. My friends seemed to like the first poems I wrote, and then older people I knew also started encouraging me, and I immediately felt comfortable with the writing. Then, when I won the odd prize, I didn’t even question whether I really wanted to write anything else, which anyway, would probably have been prose.

Many people who talk about you see you as an Anglophile; in your work, how important for you are local Catalan and also international references?

I was lucky – it was absolute chance, by the way – to go to England at the beginning of the ’60s when I was pretty young, to make friends and to get married there. The world that opened up for me was amazing and very much unknown, with lots of freedom and different points of reference. I had been brought up, like the rest of my generation, with France and French culture as our reference points. But learning English was like discovering another planet. I then lived in England from 1969 to 1972, and much later, from 1989 to 1990, I spent another year in London. And knowing the language enabled me to move to the US, which I also know pretty well (my sons are half-American). I think that differences and distances are really important for all the new things they bring you, and also because they give you a perspective and help you judge your own culture.

You work as a teacher in a Faculty of Translation and you have done a great deal of translation yourself (including the work of poets such as Ezra Pound and Seamus Heaney). What do you think translation brings to one’s own poetic work?

As has often been said, translation is the most profound way of reading. Translation is a double operation: deep understanding and recodification in another language. It’s both a microscope and a telescope at the same time, and that’s how it should be. It would be good if all writers had to undergo the discipline of translating. I’ve learned a lot from it, and it’s also helped me to be able to analyse other texts which I haven’t had to translate.

What kind of relationship do you have to your own language, Catalan?

Language is the pith of literature, and it’s also a way of ‘seeing’ or at least of ‘saying’ the world. Translators are incredibly conscious of this. Catalan is the language I have heard at home (where we also speak Spanish, as my mother is from Asturias) and is the language I’ve always associated with the world of culture and respect. I believe that the Catalan language is the backbone of our culture. But the situation of the language, in the global world and without a state, is very weak. I sometimes wonder, and I’ve also  expressed this in public, whether it will still be around in one or two generations from now. It’s a question of survival, of critical mass, of ecology.

Your book L’Edat d’or (The Golden Age) was and still is a reference point for Catalan poetry of the ’80s. What happened in the period between L’Edat d’or (1983) and Dos dies més de sud (2006)?

Well, more than 20 years and a whole lot of personal ‘maturing’ have gone by. In L’Edat d’or the world is still positive even though it’s coming to an end. In my later books the viewpoint is more individual, more solitary and also, from book to book, more complex because things are less certain. L’Edat d’or could probably be considered a book that speaks for a whole generation (those brought up during the Franco era; fighters who, for good or ill, reached a point of maturity and responsibility during the Transition). Dos dies més de Sud is written more from the viewpoint of an individual faced with a personal and collective world that is frequently hostile and fragmented. But this individual is also lots of people: nearly everyone, I think, is like him.

The title ‘Dos dies més de sud’ is from a line by Rilke. It’s from a poem by Rilke, translated by Joan Vinyoli. Interestingly, what I found most startling was the way Vinyoli was able to translate ‘south’ as a qualitative noun. It’s a free translation, which isn’t present in other translations, and it’s perhaps not exactly the same as the original. But the line and the whole of Rilke’s poem talks about the need for a little extra dose of goodwill so that what is good can be ‘made even better’. He’s asking for a ‘little bit more of …’, and he goes on to say something like, ‘If you haven’t got a really solid base, you can’t move on’. In this sense the book also manages to drive home the point that whatever already stands unquestioned could be improved, perhaps simply by hammering in any extra nail or offering just one more caress. For me, as a writer, ‘south’ is the need to be rigorous and demanding with ourselves.







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