Poetry News

Michael Kelleher Interviews Chus Pato at Music & Literature

By Harriet Staff

Michael Kelleher is in conversation with Chus Pato, whose work from the Galician is frequently translated into English by Canadian poet, translator, and writer Erín Moure. As Kelleher explains in his introduction at Music & Literature, "[i]t was almost by chance that I encountered her work. I met Erín in the fall of 2017, and she handed me three of the books she’d translated." An excerpt from their conversation:

Michael Kelleher: In Secession, you write, “my native language is a linguistic conflict.” Your native language is Galician, a language once outlawed by Franco (under whose regime you grew up), a language that now exists as co-official with Spanish within the “autonomous community” of Galicia in Northwestern Spain. Can you talk about the complexities of Galicia as a place, of Galician as a “co-official” language, and what it means for a poet to write in Galician? In other words, what is this “linguistic conflict”?

Chus Pato: That’s what I wrote, and that’s how it is. Prior to Secession, in Fascinio, I’d written: “My native language is fascism,” and, in Ninive, in the poem “Outside”: “I had to learn American just like a foreign language // but she’d spent her childhood in Galicia speaking in Spanish // a combination of the correct Spanish of offices / and the impossible Spanish of ladies // native language: dismemory / vernacular: it was all vernacular // the sensation felt by an entire people / on finding themselves ousted / from their shared native language.”* Thus I’d say that reflection on the question you’ve asked is one of the power centers of the writing that I practice.

I was born in 1955 and—apart from the Castilian (which you know as Spanish) spoken by a minority of speakers—Galician was the language spoken in Galicia. What can be done with a people of whom a majority speak an incorrect language? Francoism made the answer very clear; its policy of emigration/deportation was successful. Thousands of Galician speakers were proletarianized across a Europe in need of cheap labor after the Second World War. With its demographic policy of emigration, Franco’s government met several objectives. One of those was, precisely, to break the transmission of Galician from one generation to the next. I belong to an intermediate generation; my parents were native Galician speakers but always spoke to us in Castilian, as they didn’t want their children to have painful issues in adapting, as they’d had. Naturally, what my generation inherited from our parents was a linguistic conflict, of which I spoke in Secession. My native language is the fascist prohibition against speaking the language of my progenitors, of the women who preceded me. This is definitely the case.

Continue reading at Music & Literature.

Originally Published: September 17th, 2018