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Q&A with Spanish Poet Olvido García Valdés

Written by Ofelia Montelongo Category: Literary Issue: January 2017
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flyer olvidogarciavaldesOriginally from Spain, Olvido García Valdés is one of the most renowned poets in the Hispanic literary community. Last October, Phoenix-based Cardboard House Press published the translated version of her book And We Were All Alive/ Y Todos Estábamos Vivos. Local poet and translator Catherine Hammond will be presenting García Valdés’s award-winning poetry collection at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe this Friday, January 13 at 7 p.m.

Cardboard House Press editors Maggie Messerschmidt and Giancarlo Huapaya will also join the bilingual reading. The outfit has been dedicated to literature written in Spanish and translated into English since 2014 and currently has eight editors around the country. “We are very proud to have Olvido as one of our authors and to be able to share this magnificent work with the community of Phoenix, but none of this would be possible without the excellent work of the translator, Catherine Hammond,” says Huapaya.

Hammond, whose translation captures the soul and essence of García Valdés’s poems, worked on the translations for eight years. “The dedication that Catherine put into this book was a great inspiration to us. She did a great job with the English translations – the re-creation of the concept, sound and content of the original versions,” Huapaya says.

PHOENIX Magazine also interviewed Spain-based author Olvido García Valdés about her 2007 National Poetry winner collection ahead of the book presentation in Tempe. (Responses have been translated from Spanish.)

What is your writing philosophy?
I don’t know if I have a writing philosophy. I trust more in the impulse that moves it. Some words heard in the train, a dream, a sensation, or the quality of the light in a specific moment, ask to be notated. And curiously they bring their own language; every poem has its own language, just like perception curdles in diction and syntax.

If you could describe your work in five words what would they be.
Need, precision, attention, violence, and patience. They are not descriptive, but what those words represent are part of my writing.

What is the background and inspiration behind this collection?
I think poetry works with life materials; I often say that a poem is an odd place where somehow life is kept. During the time when I wrote this book, I was still tinged by a serious illness that I went through. It seems to me, that in a lot of poems the component of unreality about death... is perceived [sic]. At the same time, the haziness of being alive makes us perceive and feel in other ways, intensifies the presence of the world, the trees, the animals, the countryside…

To this substrate other musings arrive, such as the one that presents the place of women, and other social features in today’s world: poverty, immigration, and the new relationships that all of these entail.

If you had to pick one of the poems as your favorite, which one would it be? And why?
I think I don’t have favorite poems. Each one is as it is. I watch them, with curiosity, with humor, with emotion, and sometimes with astonishment.

The English translation has been released after 10 years of its original publication. What do you think will be the impact on bilingual readers after reading the award-winning book?
Poetry, unlike, perhaps, other genres, doesn’t work with what is trending right now. Poetry is not part of the market. It is not controlled by those rules that ask writers for a book every year, followed by intense promotion. Whoever reads poetry, reads it differently. Poems by Williams, César Vallejo, or by Lyn Hejinian sound like they just have been written. Don’t you think?

How was the translation process into English? How do you think it affects the emotion, and the rhythm of the poetry?
I think Catherine Hammond, who is also a poet, immediately connected with my writing, with its roots, and also with the strangeness of the language. Then comes the work; translation is a parallel process, it’s equally arduous and stimulating, than the writing itself. I’m very grateful.

How does this book compare to your other previous books?
Every one of my books is different; they each correspond to some four or five years of my life. And yet, I believe there are threats that are weaving among each other, and that give them an odd unity.

About the event:
Friday, January 13, 7 p.m.
Changing Hands Bookstore
6428 S. McClintock Dr., Tempe

You can purchase the book online or at Changing Hands Bookstore.

About the author: Olvido García Valdés has written over 11 poetry books. She is also an essayist and translator and holds degrees in philosophy and romance philology. She was co-editor of the literary magazines, Los Infolios and El Signo del Gorrión.

About the translator: Local poet Catherine Hammond has also translated Carmen Boullosa and María Auxiliadora Álvarez poems. She has a BA in Spanish from University of Michigan and MFA in creative writing from Arizona State University. Her poems have appeared in Fever Dreams: Contemporary Arizona Poetry from University of Arizona Press, in MARGIN: Exploring Modern Magical Realism, and in Yellow Silk from Warner Books.