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An Interview with Clara Janés

By newdivan 14th February 2020

An Interview with Clara Janés

Clara Janés was born in Barcelona in 1940 and has published some forty volumes of poetry, several collections of essays and three novels. Among awards she has received are the Gold Medal of Merit in Fine Arts (2004), the Teresa de Ávila National Literary Prize (2007) and the Francisco Pino Prize for Experimental Poetry (2011). In 2014 she was enrolled as a Member of Honour by the International Centre for Transdisciplinary Research (CIRET) in Paris, and since 2015 she has been a member of the Spanish Royal Academy. She is also well known as translator of poetry, especially from Czech but also from French, English, Portuguese, Italian and, with other specialists, from Turkish and Iranian (both contemporary and ancient mystical poets). She has been awarded the Turkish Tutav Foundation Prize (1992), Spain’s National Translation Prize (1997), the First Category Medal of Merit from the Czech Republic (2000) and also the Sapere Aude prize (2017). Clare Roberts interviews her about her contribution to A New Divan.

Clare Roberts: How did you feel when you were first approached by Bill Swainson about writing a poem for A New Divan?

Clara Janés: I was very happy about it, as a translator of Hafiz and a lover of Goethe’s Divan.

CR: Did you have a relationship with Goethe’s original West-Eastern Divan? How well known is Goethe in Spain and do you see a place for his West-Eastern Divan in today’s Europe?

CJ: The Divan is well known in Spain between intellectuals, and owing to the relationship with Eastern countries it is important.

CR: Can you tell me about the process of your poetry-writing in general, and specifically for this project? Reading “Canto del Escanciador”, it feels like you found genuine pleasure in writing this beautiful poem. What does the poem mean to you? How has Hafiz inspired your poetry and work more generally?

CJ: I think Hafiz is one of the greatest poets in the entire world. When I translate his poems I find a creation reminiscent of the most important Spanish poets from, for instance, Jorge Manrique to Garcilaso and Quevedo and even more modern, sometimes Lorca.

CR: What is it about literature that enables it to effectively break barriers and connect? What is the best example of this, in your opinion?

CJ: It is something incredible. More than 10 years ago I had in my house together Iranian people from all political tendencies. It was a failure. I continued trying every year. Now it is a joy, already all them are friends. Of course we read our destiny in Hafiz’s poems, we sing, we eat Persian and Spanish food. It comes to be the best day of year.

CR: Here in the UK, highlighted by recent political events, we seem to be living in a time where fear of “the Other” and the unknown is worse than ever – it is hard not to feel despondent and hopeless. How does poetry bridge this gap in a meaningful way and what words of advice and caution would you give to those seeking to heal divides through literature?

CJ: Writing is a way of dialogue. The important thing is to speak with one another and to find a way to understanding. But I think where possible it is important also to be face to face.

Click here to read Clara Janés’s contribution to A New Divan, “The Song of the One who Pours the Wine”.