Sunday Ramblings: Poetry, the best company…

Library, University of Otago pic courtesy of Rogelio Guedea

“They were very personal poems in which I talked about my solitude and my unhappiness. I could not keep any of these poems but writing these pieces were very important because I did not feel alone. Poetry is the best company.”

Our Spanish 101 class, if I remembered correctly, was his first in Otago. When he walked in I felt the buzz. The jolly lecturer that was enthusiastic and spirited was excited and his energy was contagious. So we began, very quickly spouting out basic Spanish, watching Spanish clips and reading very basic Spanish texts. But we felt a kind of privilege, because we were being taught by Rogelio Guedea.

So who is this Rogelio Guedea? Well, firstly he recently picked up the 2012 Carlos Montemayor Prize for best novel published in Spanish. Then there are the other things I have gathered about him through conversations, he was born in Mexico, graduated and worked as a lawyer for a bit, and wrote novels, amongst other important things. In a recent email conversation with him I decided to ask him a series of questions for our Sunday Ramblings. Here is what we talked about:

Who are your favourite writers, why?

At the moment, my favourite writers are Juan Rulfo (Mexico), Juan Carlos Onetti (Uruguay), Javier Marias (Spain), JD Salinger (USA), Guillermo Cabrera Infante (Cuba) and Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru). I like these writers because I can find some elements which are very important for me: vitality, life, passion. You can see through their writing to the human being and not only their “art”. I need to feel that what I am reading (or writing) is not something abstract but concrete: pure life.

When did you figure out you were a writer?

First of all, I started reciting poems from other poets, when I was a child (9 or 10). Then, one day, I cannot remember precisely when. I started writing my own poems. Of course, these poems did not have any literary value, but at least I discovered myself in a new way, it was something which was feeding my spirit. Since then I started writing poetry.

What inspired you or motivated you to write your first ever piece?

I grew up in a very difficult family. My parents had problems all the time and I used to suffer for that. My first poems reflected these circumstances. They were very personal poems in which I talked about my solitude and my unhappiness. I could not keep any of these poems but writing these pieces were very important because I did not feel alone. Poetry is the best company.

You only write in Spanish?

Yes. My mother language. I do not feel ok writing in a second language. I always write in Spanish.

Why?

I prefer to write in Spanish because I cannot control my emotions in another language, I cannot see my face, my soul, my desire in another mirror. I can communicate basic expressions in English, but only I can express my deep feelings in Spanish. Spanish is a mirror and a window, a door and a chimney. You are your own language.

But you are obviously a reader of both languages. What are the main similarities, and differences between these?

Literature in general has the sames rules. I think writers try to explore the feelings of the human being; emotions, fears, desires, etcetera. However, language is different. English, for example, is more direct, concise, and Spanish is more rhetorical and complicated. If language is different, literature is different too. Two different ways to see the world even when the essence of the human beings never change.

You were trained as a lawyer, what motivated the change?

My happinness. I always suffered when I worked as a lawyer. When I write, on the contrary, I am always happy. You just have to do something to make yourself happy. That is the real success in life.

What do you like writing about? Why?

I like to write about everyday things using colloquial language but am always trying to find a deeper meaning to this daily life. The daily life, for me, has answers which we normally look for in erudite books. So, I look for these responses every day in my daily life.

And your purpose as a writer?

Difficult to say, but I think that I am a writer who is like a witness of all the things that normally normal people forget or do not see or do not want to see. For me, for example, it is important to have an “alert eye” which can see everything in seconds and it is able to discover something genuine every day. That is my purpose every day: to find something new.

What do you try to achieve when you write?

As I wrote before, I want to reveal something that nobody could see unless I point it out.

“You just have to do something to make yourself happy. That is the real success in life.”

Writer’s block mean anything to you?

No, writing is easy for me. I do not have any problems to write. When I started writing, yes, but not now. Sometimes I have difficulties to get the tone or music of the words, takes time to find your own “voice”, but once you find it, it is difficult to lose it. If you lose it, then that voice was not a real part of you.

What do you do when you are not writing, or teaching?

Reading or walking. I like to travel too. I would like to go to your country (Malaysia), for example. I like to see people. I love to see people on the streets. And I love discovering new customs, food, etcetera. 

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