Eliseo Diego
Interview by
Rafael Gallardo and Dafny Giannitsopulos
"Paradise Bird" by Rafael Gallardo

...you are referring the part of my work that is in narrative form, which is not as large as I would like, but there is not time left...  As usually happens with any work of imagination, they are characters that emerge from the reality, and some of them are specially nice; then they themselves show up again.
    I started writing a small narrative volume named 'In the Dark Hands of the oblivion.'  All I have written obeys to a mere conception of Poetry.  A very  smart young Cuban told me he had written an essay about the subject that all my poetry was alike a novel.  I don't dislike at all the idea because I believe that al literature is poetry, at the bottom line; poetry that finds its own way to express.
    I have always thought so.  I don't think in literature as a person's manifestation, but there are poets that, since they start to write, have for granted that one has to admire them.  I don't think in a poet as an exceptional being, but simply as somebody that has the gift to see the surrounding things from an unexpected point of view, and unveil them to everybody else.
    Then, for instance, one takes a skylark -the skylark is a very humble little bird, very simple-.  And, how do you know that it is a skylark?  Either you subdue it to an anatomic dissection, killing it, or you move it from the reality to the word's material as  Shelley did in a poem to the skylark.  And Shakespeare also has one.  There is one in Spanish that is a beauty.  I have a small essay, one of the last books I would like to write, because some times one goes learning more, as the popular saying, 'the devil knows more for being old than for devil'.  They are little job's secrets that I would like to transfer to the young people, legate it to them.  This is a small book that I think in publishing -I mean, if I have enough health and encouragement to make it-.  Its name is precisely:  'How to Get a Skylark'.  It is about a fragment of a poem by a XVII century, an unknown poet.  Let me see if I can remember...

"As the sweet calandra starts its flight,
ascending toward the sky with its little wings gently rowing,
but after it is up there, while falling down,
it contemplates the form of that ascension,
and with happiness mixed to its life,
very proud it strikes toward its own earthly nest."

    What a curious thing by this poet from the 17 Century, this expression:   "it contemplates the form of that ascension."  You see there the game of gerunds.   There are so many things said in a dogmatic manner about the use of gerunds, or this, or that in poetry, without knowing something I have learned, just because I am old: the only valid principle in poetry matters is 'the principle of need'.  If it is needed, then it is good; anything else is a surplus. 
    You read this little poem, and when you are done, you say: 'Of course, a skylark is like that!  This is a skylark!'
    I think that poetry is a way to know the surrounded reality's mystery, which is unfathomable.  What happens is that one goes along life having flip-overs  as granted, and everything seams to us the most natural in the world: to be talking the three of us is a very simple thing, very natural, until one opens the eyes and realizes how terrible and beautiful that it is, at the same time, the mystery of being alive, the things that surround us,  the creatures, the human relationships.
    Anyhow, each one of this things needs a form of expression.
    There are things, for instance a skylark is a critter, a little, very small thing; but in a love relationship between a man and a woman it is much more complicated; sometimes it needs a dramatic development, and it is there where the novel intervenes.  The novel is a way to seize the human existence drama's sense, and we can say the same about the theater.  But, regarding poetry, which is written in small lines, I have always thought that the shorter, the better.  Y mean, the art of poetry: the most or the least.
    If it has some usefulness, this visit you are giving to me, is this counsel that I will give to you: look for the popular poetry of the 17th., 16th. and 15th. centuries.  There is a poem, it was a song -then those small poems used to be sang- and it says:

"From Los Alamos I'm coming, mother,
from seeing how they are shaken by the air,
from Los Alamos of Seville,
from seeing my pretty girl-fiend.
From Los Alamos I'm coming, mother,
from seeing how they are shaken by the air."

    As you see, this six verses are a real prodigy; it means, the secret of the matter is that the poet resigns to express what is love, resigns to describe how is his pretty girl-friend.  Precisely in this reticence, in this might-not-say all that has to be said, there is the secret of the real poetry.  But also it is certain that the same man-woman relationship requires a development.  How can I tell you...  Let's use a classical example, Romeo and Juliet.  There is the same matter, but dramatically developed
    This is why I'm telling you that I don't see a fundamental difference among the different literary genres.  A novel is like a good poem if it reveals something that you need, because it is elemental to think that one writes not for enjoyment, but for need of doing it; and the ultimate objective of all that one writes  is always somebody else; somebody that, with all that one has done, will recreate and make his/her own poem and own novel, and it is the usefulness secret of poetry, of art.  This a very deep conviction I have.
    The last reason 'to be' for the art is to be useful, a very humble word, and I think that very few intellectuals would use it.  It is why I'm telling you that in what I have written, some things needed a dramatic development.  Then I have used this for of narration  or tale, and in anything else, I have just tried to follow the principle we started our conversation with.
    This is other important think: one does not know why one is writing, why one writes a poem, and not other.  But also there exist this question: after you write a poem you most have an infinite patience, because when one writes a poem happen two simultaneous things, almost contradictory and curious.  First, you feel some sort of exaltation and, at the same time, the wish of finishing it as soon as you can, because it seems as if it were to escape from you.  As it happens, the impatience drives one to use the first word that comes to mind.   But the truth is that it is not the word that the poor poem wants.  The poem is like some species of creature.  Then, if you have patience, you will see how the poor poem is crying aloud for you to come back to it, the word  you rushed was placed just finish it; and then, if you go back to it with patience you will find the word that keeps it quite.