Thursday, 31st May 2012
Oliva: the voice of a European poet
• ‘Imaginary Death Of A European Poet’ is a new book on poetry by Paco Oliva
by Alice Mascarenhas
Author and fellow journalist Paco Oliva puts aside the narrative and reporting to present us with rhyme and verse. Today with a launch at Boyd’s in the Leisure Centre complex he offers his latest work a volume of poetry called ‘Imaginary Death of a European Poet’ which includes a bonus volume of poetry in Spanish entitled ‘Poemario Gris Dorado 2009-2012’. Paco’s poems deal with the exploration of a spectrum of emotions both real and imagined but complex and which concern human beings in their everyday life. ‘Imaginary Death…’ is a book which Paco admits came about quite by chance as he set out to explore the realms of the poetic world whilst taking a break from the narrative. It is a first collaboration with local artist Karl Ullger who has illustrated the poems with original works. The launch for Spanish speakers of ‘Poemario Gris Dorado 2009-2012’ will take place at the Cervantes Institute, 11 June.
How long has this book been in the making – is it all recent work?
Other than two of the poems ‘Narcissus of the South District’ and ‘M’ which won prizes in the Ministry for Culture’s poetry competition in 2009 and 2010 respectively, all the other poems are from 2011.
Why have you chosen poetry this time round… is this your preferred form of writing?
No, not at all. ‘Imaginary…’ came about quite by accident as I did not set out to write a book of poems when I started to write poetry, but to take a break from narrative writing which is my main literary focus. There was no calculated intent and it was not until the end of the process that I realized I had written over 100 poems. I am not a poet in the traditional or formal sense of the term. My poems are instinctive rather than subject to rhyme and metrical structure although as a reader I appreciate these qualities.In any event poetry allows me to explore themes which are present in my narrative work in a different way, to develop a distinctive idiom, to shed new light on the mundane and the exceptional. Francisco Umbral said that Borges could squeeze the whole universe in five lines. I see myself as throwing an abyss into a word.
Why have you called this volume of work ‘Imaginary Death of a European Poet’… does this mean the poems are more than just on a personal level?
I think there is an inevitable element of autobiography in all works of fiction, the operative word being ‘fiction’ but there are many different voices, selves and overlapping selves in this book, not just the purely personal one. I am always reticent when it comes to providing readers lines of interpretation because the relationship with the poem is an intimate one that should remain free from interference. But inevitably one ends up talking about them. I have used the allegory of the European poet as an allegory for western civilization. It is a sad spectacle to watch it rotting away pushed down the chute by the weakness of emasculated so-called progressives blinded by their own complacency and utterly powerless to curb the irresistible tsunami of political correctness that is destroying what has taken 2,000 years to build. We are seeing that every day beneath our very noses.
Tell me about the poems and what you have written about?
Modern man is subject to a permanent state of anguish provoked by a precarious often absurd existence. Hobbes depicted human life as “solitary, nasty, brutish and short.” Everything stems from this reality which is subsequently split into labyrinthine ramifications and my poems tap into this psychological slough. Nevertheless, I always strive to find avenues for perfection, pleasure and beauty, working my way up from a cold emotional wasteland, an indifferent universe where alienation, fear and death converge. At times it is just impossible to break free from the mire.
Why English and Spanish at the same time… your ‘Poemario Gris Dorado 2009-2012’ (a bonus volume)? Is this work a collection of every day to day writings which you have collected?
The English and Spanish languages are like scalpels used by a pathologist, which I apply as a literary knife to dissect commonplace emotions. I breathe in both languages indistinctly, create and destroy in both languages indistinctly. If I can evoke an emotional response from a reader I really don’t care about the language I have used. My poems try to go beyond the importance of language but because of the peculiar circumstances the Spanish language finds itself in Gibraltar, my publishing in Spanish can also be interpreted as a deliberate act to restore an old tradition of local poets in the early part of the 20th century, in more recent times poets like MarioArroyo or Levi Attias, who expressed themselves primarily or also in Spanish. But that is a secondary reading, first and foremost emotions transcend languages.
In which language do you feel you express yourself best?
I am privileged enough to read Conrad and Hardy, Ortega and MA Asturias in their own voice. I don’t think of language in thecompetitive terms posited by the question. If anything, I make mine what Umbral wrote about Borges: “vive la esquizofrenia literaria de pensar en ingles mientras está creando un castellano nuevo.” I look at myself in that mirror. In terms of ‘thinking’ the language mine is a two way literary schizophrenia. What I do resent is a new form of colonialism in Gibraltar in the 21st century where a part of our culture and our identity is being suppressed and what is taking its place is a devalued, low, simplified, impoverished and semi-illiterate form of the English Language that dominates the media and social networks.
What is your primary source or sources of inspiration?
The literary critic Harold Bloom attributes to Shakespeare the invention of modern personhood with its “infinite self consciousness.” By plunging into this unfathomable chasm, one can observe the interplay, interaction and unfolding of basic human emotions and states of mind, love, hate, despair, domination, lust, suspicion, regret, repulsionwhich yield valuable raw materials for writers and poets. But there are other variations, for instance imagining an unfathomable chasm of fabricated emotions or appropriating the unfathomable chasm of someone close. None of which alters the ill-fated confrontation with the precipice, (i.e.) the precarious existence as described above that hangs like a relentless Sword of Damocles and can produce fascinating results. My poems are not seeds but more like meteorites that collide against the surface of a barren moon.
What of your collaboration with Karl Ullger – tell how it has worked and how you have worked together?
It has been a great privilege for me to work with someone I consider the leading artist of his generation who is called upon to take the mantle from Mario Finlayson as the Rock’s premier artist. I enjoy his art tremendously, and have three of his paintings in my private art collection from long before any talk of collaboration between us. At a time when there is so much rubbish masquerading as art all around us, it is good to see someone with real artistic talent not just dripping paint or subverting the Western canon to hide their artistic irrelevance and mediocrity, someone who respects and dignifies what he does. As regards our collaboration I gave him the poems and total freedom for his drawings, no guidelines
whatsoever, to do as he pleased.
Priced £12.99 ‘Imaginary Death of a European Poet’ will be available in all local bookshops as from May 30th.