Diego Doncel, the poet of hypothetical readers

“A prize such as this one always comes at the best time”, says Diego Doncel (Malpartida, Spain, 1964), winner of the 33rd LOEWE FOUNDATION International Poetry Prize. Jaime Siles described the winning book, La fragilidad, as “a complete, decisive, and thorough book of poems that shows an admirable, vital, and expressive maturity”. The book is about losing one’s father and it’s a story that, as Doncel points out, “was inside me, was very intense, but emerged at its own pace, slowly, even quietly. I wanted to focus on the pain, and, most importantly, I wanted to give value to what it means to fight for our loved ones, for their lives, for our memories of them. It was about transforming all that suffering into an act of love”. The poet goes on to explain that writing means “learning to wait”. He prepared himself both mentally and emotionally “to ensure the memories and experiences would flow, in order to identify the truly important parts of that immense experience. The same was true for the actual words. I knew it would be impossible for that experience to exist if I was not able to find the right voice, the right images. The goal is not for the poem to reflect the experience that motivated it,” he adds, “but rather for the experience to take place within the poem”.

Doncel believes this collection of poems might be a consequence of all that he’s written before. “Perhaps I abandoned many things and went in search of others. Maybe the pact I made with myself to tell the truth, to read through my journal entries in order to recall what I had felt or thought at certain times, helped me find that voice. I believe everything is inside of us; we just need to look for it”, he concludes. He admits there are biographical elements in his work, particularly from his second book onwards, and goes on to explain that “sometimes my poems are about my life and other times about other people’s lives and experiences. It’s not uncommon to have them co-exist in the same poem”.

The 2021 winner says that the book’s launch has made him feel ‘fragile’. “A book is like a new being, it fills everything with joy, but it comes with its own set of responsibilities, especially when so many readers identify with the content”, he explains. He believes a book’s strength lies “in the fact that it stops being yours and becomes the book of a handful of people who, oftentimes, you’ve never even met, who perhaps haven’t even been born yet. It doesn’t matter if a book ends up on a forgotten shelf at a discount bookshop. What’s important is that there’s a reader somewhere who needs to find it. It is written for that hypothetical reader”.

He longs for poetry to “provide solace, to be a friendly companion” and likes to think of a poem as “something you tell someone in confidence, like a big secret you whisper to loved one”. Using his personal experience as research, Diego Doncel is working on an essay about poetry and about “its importance in today’s world; about its reach and relevance beyond its commercial value”. Doncel explains that, “according to Gabriel Ferraté, Carles Riba questioned poetry’s place in current economic, philosophical, and social systems. I wonder about that too, so I’m tackling this immense question in an attempt to find some answers. We have to try to show the generations living at the beginning of this new century the value of poetry and the extent to which a poem enhances our sensibility”.

The poet admits that he entered the LOEWE Prize “because of its unquestionable importance; because of what the prize means for all poetry written in Spanish”. But also because of the possibility “that this family story that caused us so much pain could also bring us joy”. In addition, he says, “the award is linked to my father, so it’s become a double source of satisfaction. It has also served to mitigate the crossroads at which we find ourselves. For many reasons, we are living in historic times. We are required to give the best of ourselves and I think it’s a good thing that I contribute with this book of poems”.

Photo captions: Diego Doncel, photographed by Álvaro Tomé for LOEWE FOUNDATION, 2021.

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