Interviewing Pedro Tamen
Arrábida, 17th January 2018
We asked Pedro Tamen if he would let us interview him, and promptly received a “yes”. With it came two options: conduct the interview in writing or have it done by someone close to him. The interview took place at his place, and in little more than 23 minutes we got to know a great deal about Pedro Tamen’s views on poetry and how to overcome the pain of talking about oneself. This interview was conducted by our collaborator, Sebastião Belfort Cerqueira.
JF: Do you like poetry?
I think I do, if the verb “to like” meant anything in this regard. To like implies an emotional relationship which is not always total. Well it so happens that my relationship with poetry is not only emotional but also total.
JF: What is the use of poetry?
It serves no use, absolutely none. I don’t know if you are mentioning poetry in general or the poetry that I make. In any case, both are completely useless because we are still going to have tragedies involving refugees in the Mediterranean.
JF: Do you use poetry on your daily life?
Not my own poetry, the one I create, no... I use the poetry of others, but I’m not sure to what end.
JF: How does one talk about a poem?
One talks about a poem exactly how one talks about rain and good weather.
JF: And how would you teach someone to read a poem?
By reading it myself.
JF: Do you often remember verses? Do you know some verses by heart?
I often remember verses, only they are verses that don’t exist.
JF: Does that still happen to you?
Yes, yes, I could almost say that it is happening right now.
JF: And do you no longer feel the urge to make poems out of those verses?
No, because the transformation of a verse into a poem is not an act of will and, therefore... the verses stand as a sort of undergrowth where nothing is tamed or embellished.
JF: What are your favourite poems?
The ones I recall at any given moment.
JF: Is there any linguistic and/or poetic word or construction that annoys you?
Yes, yes... but I only remember them when they are called for.
JF: Are there any words, poetic forms and figures of speech which you treasure?
Yes, there are, and I would even say that I do more than treasure them; I’m obsessed with them.
JF: Poetic forms as well? Sonnets, for instance?
Yes, but only when I’m in that particular mood.
JF: What do the works of the poet and the cobbler have in common?
Both are improvised endeavours that don’t entail thinking.
JF: What is the technique of a poet? In your view, what is a virtuous poet? Do you think one needs to be virtuous?
Virtuous... virtuous is the poet who doesn’t slap his mother.
JF: In an interview, you said you would rather be a realist poet than an hermetic poet. What does it mean to be a realist poet?
A realist poet is a clear poet.
JF: You started by translating poetry and went on to the translation of prose. Why did you stop translating poetry?
Because poetry is untranslatable, but it took me a while to discover that.
JF: Did you enjoy working on literary criticism? Which criteria did you use for your reviews?
I didn’t like making literary criticism. And the biggest problem I faced was the fact that I didn’t have any criteria either to make it or to not make it.
JF: Alexandre O’Neill said that he would rather shake hands with a reader than get a review by a criticaster. Do you agree with O’Neill? Why?
Absolutely, because a handshake, as long as it is not greasy, is enough to arm us against pinches.
JF: What did it mean to you to publish poets?
It was exactly the same thing as publishing my works.
JF: You once told an interviewer that you don’t look much like a poet, because you don’t get along very well with the Portuguese literary scene, and you are discreet. Do you think a poet must be an eccentric?
No, one thing has nothing to do with the other.
JF: How does it strike you the fact that there are streets with the names of poets? a poem of yours mentions one in Chelas...
Streets with names of poets are excellent to make tables of contents.
Can you describe to us a garment you always dreamt of and never had?
If it’s a garment I dreamt of, it is absolutely indescribable.
JF: Who would you like to have play your part in a movie about yourself?
JF: Was it a decision, to quit writing?
No, not in this particular case, no... but it could have been.
JF: Is there any other question you think should be made?
Yes. Does this have any significance at all?