What is the working title of the book?
Miguel Hernández. For a while it was The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández. But now it's just... Miguel Hernández.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Before many people reading this were born, I found myself digging around for Spanish-language poetry to read, in the innards of Columbia University's Butler Library. I'd studied Spanish in high-school and college, and was on the prowl. Well, in no time, I found poems by this incredible poet - yet nobody I took them to seemed know about him. So, I translated a clutch of his poems for myself, and for my friends.
Here's a link to one of the poems that got me going; it's one of Miguel's most famous works: the lullaby of the onion he sent to his wife and baby son on hearing that they had nothing to eat but a bit of bread and onion.
Much later, Derek Walcott was talking to me about translation, said I should try it. When I told him I'd already been working on some Hernández, he got excited (he loves Spanish poetry!), and read through the poems. He said, in his oracular way: "You must do a book." I was a bit flummoxed - like every other yokel, I wanted to work on "my own book." But Derek is very wise, so I kept going with the translations. My work on them got me a PEN/New England Discover Award, so... I pressed ahead.
When at last I had a book together, I sent the typescript off to Carcanet, New Directions, Houghton Mifflin, and some other places. Carcanet turned them down, saying I should work on somebody important, like Machado, instead. N.D. wrote a very polite note, saying there was no room on the list, etc. To my amazement, Peter Davison at HmCo told me he would publish the book, complete with foreward by Robert Bly - but... I didn't hear anything more for almost a year. I was living in Boston then, where Peter's Atlantic office was, but after a few nice conversations that got my hopes way up, he wouldn't even answer the phone when I called to see what was what. Finally, I got a strange note saying it wasn't within the purview of HmCo to publish the work of "long-dead masters."
But... I'd sent the work to Bloodaxe, and the wonderful Neil Astley took it on with heartening enthusiasm, and had many great suggestions for a book that I was very proud of. It was awarded the Times Literary Supplement / UK Society of Authors / Premio Valle Inclan translation prize. Christopher Ricks threw me a party in his office that I'll always remember!
Long story, but... It was time to expand and tweak the translations, and Neil wanted to hive off the non-UK rights to the book so... Yet another terrific editor, Edwin Frank at New York Review Books, took Miguel on. So now, we have an updated, expanded version. I'm thrilled as can be. It will be available in time for the AWP conference in Boston, March 6 - 9, 2013.
What genre does your book fall under?
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
James Franco. Kidding! I have no idea who could play Miguel.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Poems treasured around the world for their courageous political stance and personal power.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
At least a year, working six hours every day.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The magic of discovering poems in the magical quiet and odd lighting of a huge library; Derek Walcott; Rosanna Warren; the spirit of the poet himself.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Hernández's amazing and poignant story. I'm going to cheat a bit by putting the bit about him that NYRB is using, but there's a more detailed introductory essay about him in the book, as well as prose about him from Lorca, Neruda, Octavio Paz, and others.
Miguel Hernández Gilabert was born into a poor family in the small city of Oriheula in south-eastern Spain in 1910. For most of his short life he was a pastor and a goatherd. His authoritarian father often beat him and discouraged his innate gift for words. Like Rimbaud, Hernández was a poet-prodigy, but unlike Rimbaud, being a poor peasant, he was largely self-educated. He eventually married the daughter of an officer of the Guardia Civil, Josefina Manresa. He fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and for a time read his poetry daily on the radio and organized poetry readings for soldiers on the front lines. After the war, Hernández was condemned to death for his poetry by Francisco Franco, who called him “an extremely dangerous” man; the sentence was later reduced so that he would not become a martyr, like Lorca. Though imprisoned, Hernández continued to write until his death from tuberculosis on March 28, 1942, at the age of thirty-one. On the wall next to his cot, he wrote his final poem: “Farewell, brothers, comrades, friends: Give my goodbyes to the sun and the wheat fields.”
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Make up a question you think is pressing in way of poetry today.
Why do we think American poetry is so important?
TAGS: I was tagged by Susana Gardner to whom I am grateful. In this post, I am tagging the poets Clarie Trévien, George Murray, Robert Archambeau, Susan Schultz, and Henry Gould - read their blogs next Wednesday to find out about their Next Big Things!