Diego Doncel, winner of the XXXIII LOEWE FOUNDATION Poetry Prize, by Yago Castromil.
Diego Doncel and Mario Obrero became part of the LOEWE FOUNDATION Poetry Prize in a year marked by strangeness, but also by the importance of getting to know each other better.
That’s why we chatted with the award winners in the places that inspire them – the Parque del Oeste, in Madrid, for Diego Doncel and his family home in Getafe, Madrid, in the case of Mario Obrero – to get to know them better.
Many people think of poetry as a means of escaping from reality. Do you agree or do you think poetry somehow takes the temperature of what’s happening in our personal lives and society as a whole?
DIEGO DONCEL: In the dedication page I include in my books, I say that we write poetry because we are searching to live with that rare intensity. I don’t think of poetry as an escape from reality but as the place where life manifests itself, where it becomes more intense.
What’s important to note is that poems are not pale and simple reflections of life, but rather where life is created. A poem is a linguistic fact that is on its way to becoming an emotion. As such, it’s a spiritual adventure. I like meditative poetry, the kind that Unamuno said thinks the feeling and feels the thinking. Or in Pessoa’s words: the part of me that feels is thinking.
MARIO OBRERO: I might not be knowledgeable enough to talk about how this applies to poetry as a whole, but I can comment on how it applies to poets. Poets, as people, cannot be separated from their circumstances, from the society they live in, from their communities. I would go as far as to say that it’s the desire to take care of, share and widen collective horizons that actually drives the creative process.
Even so, there are times when “escaping from reality” is more commonplace in our day-to-day lives than in poetry. Reality is Woolf’s mist, Pérez Estrada’s bird child or Manuel Antonio’s sea, and yet we pay no attention to them as we navigate our daily routines.
What inspires or drives you to write?
DIEGO DONCEL: I write because it’s what I was destined to do. All I’ve ever wanted to do since I was ten was to be a writer. When I turned eighteen, I won a prestigious prize that would have allowed me to publish the winning book of poems, but I turned it down.
Writing poetry carries an enormous responsibility to oneself. It’s important because, as everyone knows, it’s that secret you whisper in someone’s ear. It’s the bridge between the mystery you hold inside and mystery of the other person, the one who reads your work.
MARIO OBRERO: Just as the Fuentevaqueros poplars whispered in Lorca’s ear, I feel the need to write where I can listen to the whispers of my own surroundings and to the possibility of building a house that welcomes and values the utopia and motivation that hope brings with it.
Has sharing personal experiences in your work ever made you feel emotionally naked to your readers?
DIEGO DONCEL: Yes, most definitely. Particularly because the truth of what happened is behind every word, every verse, every poem. And that has determined my life forever. But when you write without hiding from the truth, you take on the act of publicly showing yourself and accept it.
You find there are many readers who will identify with your story, with what you felt: the pain and guilt, the fragility and the search for possible hope. That’s the beauty of literature; the words you write become the reader’s words, so that the act of reading becomes the bridge between different intimate worlds.
MARIO OBRERO: First of all, there is this wonderful invention in poetry known as the ‘poetic I’. I usually try to avoid the personal ‘I’, focusing either on the collective ‘I’ or the ‘I’ conceived where one’s imagination and sense of empathy lie. That said, there are no boundaries or ditches in poetry. As such, my experiences and I happily join the choir.
Mario Obrero, winner of the XXXIII LOEWE FOUNDATION Young Poets Award, by Yago Castromil.
Do you think the pace of modern life is a poet’s ally or enemy?
DIEGO DONCEL: Poems should talk about modern life, about petrol stations, cars, televisions, about what love means today… Things have changed.
Our relationship with nature and with our surroundings is no longer the same. Capitalist society, cities, small towns, everything is subject to new codes and interpretations. The way in which we write poetry must either change with the times, as it always has, or it must challenge it.
MARIO OBRERO: Rimbaud warned us to be “’radically contemporary’ and we should always listen to the rhythm, in as far as it’s a musical and uplifting element of life.
I think we should never succumb to the typical dominant behaviours or attitudes of certain fast-paced social models (poetry is also a type of resistance), but I don’t shy away from dancing to the furious pace imposed by certain agendas, as long as it’s my decision to do so.
Is being a poet a way of enjoying and celebrating the shared aspects of the human condition, or does it make you feel like the odd one out, an outsider?
DIEGO DONCEL: Poetry is a celebration because it’s written for others, but I believe a poet must be a loner in the sense that they must stand on the sidelines in order to be credible. I like those writers who did not succumb to the pomp of their times, who set themselves slightly apart in order to maintain an intimate relationship with things.
Joaquim Manuel Magalhães, one of the great poets I know, comes to mind. He lives in the countryside, far from everything, and he writes such real and mysterious poems. And the important thing is that every word that is said about him is one word too many.
MARIO OBRERO: Here’s a fascinating quote from Rilke’s Notes on the Melody of Things: ‘the person who perceives the whole melody shall be the most solitary and at the same time the most connected to the community.’
I’m quite intrigued by this, by how collective and group yearnings and the poet’s solitude come together. At the moment, I don’t quite know where I fit in. Luckily, everyone has doubts that can’t be resolved and questions that can’t be answered.