Interview with Françoise Roy

What is the situation of poetry in your country?

Since I go back and forth between two countries, Canada and Mexico, I will start answering with respect to my native country, that is, the French-speaking part of Canada. Literary tradition there is fairly new, and the 20th century has seen the rise of poetic endeavors based on the situation of French as a somewhat threatened language in North America and the need to separate from France, which has a long literary tradition. The important poets there date back, barely, to the last century. Poetry has benefited from government subsidies aimed at creating a national literature and publishing houses a few decades ago, through translation grants and financial help given the publishers.
In Mexico, literary tradition is much older, but apart from substantial government grants for writers (both at national and state level), publishers receive little help. There are, despite this lack of support, many poetry publishers, and eventually, a good book will find a publisher. Writers in Mexico enjoy probably the best support programs of all Latin America. There are also a great many poetry and publication awards yearly, and this constitutes an economic and professional incentive for poets. However, readership is very limited, since reading levels, nationwide, are quite low, and functional illiteracy rates are much higher than in Europe or North America.
In both cases, poetry keeps being a marginal activity, like it is in most countries worldwide.

Do you think poetry is an instrument that can bring different cultures and religions nearer?

Yes it does, but on a one-to-one level, because poems show that human condition is similar through space and time. International poetry festivals have essentially the virtue of bringing different people together. However, this communion effect acts only at an individual level, because in order for something to have an important social impact, it has to be mass-consumed, which has never been and never will be the case of poetry. Poetry is therefore unable to influence politics or shape policies aimed at heightening common understanding; neither does it have the power to prevent discrimination, but it does serve, generally speaking, as a cultural mirror.

Today, language is becoming impoverished: can poetry return value to words?

Poetry has always been about returning value to words. Of all literary genres, poetry is the one in which its makers are the most acutely conscious of the extreme precision and the scope of words. Nonetheless, impoverishment of language is unavailable because it has to do with mass culture and expedite means of communication, and it could only affect language policies or habits if most people read it and were familiar with it. The language of poetry is extraordinary, semantically speaking. Since it stands apart from daily communication - nobody asks for a pint of milk in verses and metaphorically -, it cannot change the latter.

Poetry in the world of young people. Does it have a future?

I believe poetry has neither less nor more future than it always has, regardless of age. Digital evolution and social or economic crisis will not kill it, but their reach does not go beyond reviving it. The future of poetry is insured, regardless of age groups, by the fact that it is a unique form of expression, and it responds to an innate need to push language to its ultimate boundary, a need which is found everywhere. Nevertheless, it is true that younger people do tend to approach poetry with great intent, more than other art forms, because poems allow them to express things they might not be able to express otherwise.

Poetry on social networks: quality or rubbish?

That is a huge question. It is hard to measure the impact of social networks in general because their novelty and massive use is an unprecedented phenomenon historically. It is nothing short of a revolution. It was to be expected that social networks would become a privileged means of publishing or showing one's own production; they are free and available to everyone, no matter how badly trained or talented people are. I would say social media act as a platform both for rubbish and quality, depending on the where and whom. It is a fantastic way of disseminating the poems of great poets - I have friends on Facebook who consistently publish poetry from other places, written by renowned poets - but the multiplication of networks and literary groups has allowed anything to be posted, since there is usually no selection criterion. You just have to sip through, and you will find the best and the worst.

You are basically bilingual and write your poems in both French and Spanish. How is it different for you using one language or the other?

This language transubstantiation is quite a complex phenomenon, and there is always an element of dissociation related to this double belonging. I would even call it mysterious. For instance, I dream in Spanish unless my dream has to do with my native family, whose members can only communicate in French with me. Although it is not the rule, many writers do write in a language other than their mother tongue. Among the very masters, I think of Samuel Beckett, Emil Cioran, Nancy Huston or Nabokov, to give a few examples. I was raised in French but I was trained, literarily, in Spanish, which has been for the past 35 years my language of adoption and the one in which I conduct my daily life. But above all, it has become my main reading language; reading feeds writing, needless to say, so this pouring into of a tongue that is not my own from birth is quite natural in me. I feel at ease with both languages. The language I choose for a given project has a lot to do with what I am reading at the time I undertake it, and whom I am writing to, whenever the book has a receiver (which is not always the case). Spanish has tended to take over, though, because it is much easier for me to publish in Spanish than in French, for geographical reasons, and because my professional and creative life has unfolded almost exclusively in Spanish. I do tend, however, to rewrite everything I produce in the other language; I suppose this is so because both languages act in me as twins, not as opponents, like merging rivers rather than parallel lines. They have made me richer, and have widened the scope of my expressive capacities, but I would not even say they provide me a different experience accordingly, because they have become inseparable in my mind.

Foto di Françoise Roy
Françoise Roy, poetessa, partecipante al Festival edizione 2017 © Françoise Roy