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New School Verses
We chat to poet and writer Elvira Sastre about the current literary scene and how she has made writing her way of life. We also cover her latest project, the performance ‘Desordenados’ [Disorganised], which brings protest songs and poetry back on stage.
Her artistic profile combines youth and tradition with the same ease as she writes lines and verses that have dazzled different generations of readers. Elvira Sastre (Segovia, 1992), philologist by training and author of the award-winning novel Días sin ti and five other poetry collections, has secured her place as one of the leaders in a group of writers that have brought poetry back into fashion among a younger audience. This is mainly due to the Internet and social media, which have become the new bookshops for this group of millennial poets and, where Sastre, recently awarded with the Premio Biblioteca Breve 2019, amasses a large number of followers.
A few days ago, at Festival Eñe, you presented the musical-poetry recital ‘Desordenados’, together with singer-songwriter Andrés Suárez. How did you come up with the project?
Desordenados comes from the admiration we feel for each other, which already brought us together onstage before; I invited him to Argentina, and he invited me to Madrid. One day, Andrés picked up one of my books (Aquella orilla nuestra) and saw that there were sentences that, if the order was changed, made a different kind of sense. From here, he created a song called “Desordenada Elvira”. Afterwards, I wrote “Desordenado Andrés”, which is nothing more than a poem with sentences of his, also in a different order. Then we started to think about making something together, and we decided to go big.
“We’re taking poetry to places where you can hear reggaeton, rock and pop, but never a poetry recital”
Is there a greater interest among a younger audience for poetry and literature?
Yes. Over the years, I've realised that culture is wonderful, but we have to be realistic and aware that many people need us to bring it closer to them, because they either don’t know about it or haven’t found something they like within it. It would be quite hypocritical to work in culture and expect to reach people without lifting a finger. This is the reason for Desordenados, we’re taking poetry to places where you can hear reggaeton, rock and pop, but never a poetry recital. We can’t expect people to like something if we don’t make it easy, accessible and attractive for them. I think that in the last few years, there are many people who didn’t know that they liked poetry and, suddenly, thanks to the Internet, it has reached them without them seeking it out.
Is it better to read or listen to poetry?
It depends on your preferences. I prefer to read it, although it’s true that at recitals a sort of magic happens between the audience and the person reading the poem, creating a special atmosphere. Obviously, they’re not incompatible.
Currently, there’s a group of young writers who are achieving plenty of fame, such as Loreto Sesma, Marwan, Defreds, Rayden, yourself included. Although you have different styles, would you call yourself a generation?
Personally, I find the term “generation” a bit jarring, because we’re still alive! (laughs). I believe that you can only talk about movements when time has passed; it’s too soon to classify us as a generation. It’s true that our names are already being included in some secondary school programmes, which is wonderful, but I’d rather be wary. What we do have in common is that we’ve coincided in space and time, and the Internet has become a tool for artistic expression in all fields. This means that there’s a much greater variety today and more options for all kinds of readers.
“I believe that you can only talk about [literary] movements when time has passed; it’s too soon to classify us as a generation”
To date, you have almost 380 thousand followers on Instagram. Nevertheless, you shy away from terms such as “millennial poet” or “social media poet”. Why?
Because they’re labels and I believe that labels restrict you. I understand that they’re necessary and effective as journalism tools, as is the case of “movement”, but I don’t like them. Poetry already has enough prejudices; it doesn’t need more. The only thing these labels do is make people who haven’t had the chance to get to know poetry or culture reject it, because if I read “millennial poet” and I’m not a part of that generation, I’ll probably stay away from a book by that author. There’s no age or gender restriction to poetry and literature, they can reach both children and adults.
How have you evolved since Cuarenta y tres maneras de soltarse el pelo?
A great deal, or, at least in terms of writing, that’s been my goal. I’m unwilling to publish something just for the sake of it. I want to offer books that are very different from each other and that show a progression, because otherwise I’d be deceiving my readers. Reading always helps. I always say that I learnt to write by reading, and I try to read more and more, look into other genres, discover new poets to learn from and hope that all this influence leads to better writing.
Since it’s a novel, is Días sin ti very different from your other work?
Días sin ti has nothing to do with the other books that I’ve written, and I worked hard for it to be so. The novel is a different genre that allows me to explain things that poetry doesn’t. I made it a challenge for myself and, in the end, after a lot of hard work and dedication, I did it.
Up until now, you’ve been inspired a lot by love and everything that surrounds it. Do you think it’s a vast enough topic for an entire career as a writer?
Love includes all emotion and that’s why I like to say that I write about feelings, because when you’re in love you can feel rage, sadness, nostalgia, passion... Love is all of that and it’s obvious that it’s a topic that doesn’t go out of fashion.
Some critics have said that your style is too young or cheesy. What would you say to them?
I think there’s space for everything. You can write however you want, it’s the readers who have to like it. If someone finds it cheesy, so be it. In the end, if you can move the reader, you’ve made it.
“If someone finds it cheesy, so be it. In the end, if you can move the reader, you’ve made it”
At this stage, do you consider writing your job or something that gets things off your chest?
It depends. For me, the act of writing is definitely a way to vent my feelings, although now everything it involves has turned it into a job: trips, promotions, interviews, signings... Which is why I say that artists work 24/7, they never stop thinking. In my case, I’m lucky, because writing is something that I need to do and, if I can make a career out of it, even better.
You’re from Segovia but have lived in Madrid for years. How does Madrid inspire you?
Madrid inspires me in every way. Also, since I’ve been here for seven years and have lived in five different flats, I’ve come to know different areas and neighbourhoods that have inspired me a lot. If I didn’t live in Madrid, I don’t think this would be my job, simply because of the experiences that this city has given me, beyond job opportunities. I feel very independent here: I can go for a walk or to the cinema on my own and nobody looks at me oddly, I can have a coffee by myself and nobody says anything... These are things that help me to write and that encourage me every day.