Interviewing José Luis Martinez: A Walk Through A Poetic World

Alessandro Tessari
Updated: 5 January 2017

The meeting with José Luis Martinez was fortuitous, unexpected, yet it happened in the most probable way. Where else can a poet be found, if not in a library? How else can the attention of a poet be struck, if not while talking about poetry? José Luis Martinez introduced himself in Library Paris (Valencia) with a few words and a card: ‘I heard you conversing upon Valencian poetry; I believe you might find something interesting in here,’ handing a small business card. ‘This is my website. You can find a few extracts of my works as well as some ideas of mine about poetry in general. Hope you’ll enjoy it.’

José Luis Martinez, along with Carlos Marzal and Francisco Brines represents one of the main and most active poets from the Valencian community. Winner of many awards, included the XIX Premio Caceres: Patrimonio de la Humanidad; his poetry is well known and appreciated throughout the country. Here is what we discovered about such an ingenious poet as well as brilliant man.

On a Life Full of Words

When did you start writing?

I started when I was just 18. It was strange and unpredictable considering that my whole family was completely illiterate at the time. I was the only one who had the chance to study. However, my family had writing and narration in their veins. Notwithstanding being illiterate, many of my family shared a talent; there were people – above all my mother – who had an incredible verbal creativity. For example, she used to tell stories to the whole neighbourhood and people loved them. So, words were in our blood and I believe they are in my blood too.

What or who introduced you to poetry?

I have one precise memory about it. I was in high school and the teacher was explaining a poem which went like this: ‘…la mar como un himen inmenso…’ (the sea like an immense hymen); it was an extract from a poem of Blas de Otero. I tried to imagine such a thing when I read it, but I could not. It struck me deeply, I was bewildered by the power of words and what they could create. In that verse Blas de Otero mixed sexuality, nature and immensity; I thought it was magic. After reading that, I decided I wanted to do magic tricks with words too.

Did you realize straight away you would be a poet for the rest of your life?

I could not know when I started, but I slowly understood. No matter what happened throughout my life, writing has been the only consistent thing. Even when I had a stroke in 2008 , and pretty harsh moments came with it – I lost part of my body’s functions and doctors had to teach me again the basic things, even how to brush my teeth – even during those difficult times, poetry was the only thing I wanted to do. However if one day I will get bored – highly unlikely – I will stop.

Did poetry always have the same role in your life?

José Luis Martinez © Courtesy of José Luis Martinez

No. It has always been there, but never in the same shape. It’s like everything, it changes. For example when young, we are all poets. We think poetry to be a useful tool to charm ladies, we even use it that way, and it works, but while growing you realize that poetry is something more, you realize you want to write of universal things: you want to describe something common to everybody. So, you get out from the narcissistic period of youth and you move towards a more universal one. You start giving back what you received from your linguistic community; you try to return the gift of your language to your community.

On Astronomical Poetry and Poets like Wardrobes

So, is poetry like giving a gift back?

We poets write to give something back to our language. The language we use from our birth is not truly ours; it is something which gathers entire people, we are just users of this powerful tool. Therefore, when we use it, we take something that is not ours; we have to be respectful and thankful, and when we create we are giving something new and special to the whole community, to the language. People do not care what we do in the morning after breakfast, people want to know our works, and they want to dream with our words. Today there is Jose Luis Martinez, but tomorrow my name will be just like a brand to indicate a group of poems, or just a single one. So at that moment, if I am lucky and worth enough, I would have given something back to my linguistic community.

You have an idea of poetry on your website; you say that poetry has to shine like a star and it should have a light of its own. What do you mean exactly?

I mean that there are many works in literature which get published every year; every author wants fame and success while living, but the only judge of true beauty is time. I took the metaphor of poetry being like a star from Arthur Schopenhauer. Stars, like our sun, stand still and shine till they fade. Their light reach us slowly after some time, due to their distance, but when they reach us they keep glittering in the vault for endless time. Good poetry has to be like that. Only true beauty will stay, but it will necessitate time.

What about the poet – what are three necessary qualities for a poet?

T.S. Eliot ©Lady Ottoline Morrell/ WikiCommons

This is a difficult question. I would say a good poet has to be: Humilde (humble); like T. S. Eliot used to say: ‘The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is humility: humility is endless.’ Then I’d say, a poet has to be hondo (deep); he has to dig in the deepest matters of life. Finally osado (reckless, audacious): poets have to try for the best.
To be a good poet you have to be a mixture of these three characteristics, none of them has to overcome another, there has to be a balance among them. One has to be humble, but strive for the best at the same time; humble towards the world, yet confident of his own talent.

Humilde, Hondo and Osado

Yes, a poet has to be three-dimensional; like a wardrobe it needs to be tall (osado), wide (humilde) and thick (hondo).

About Modernity and Young People

Let’s talk a bit of our world; what do you think of all this technology and this crazy need of communication?

I use technology too, I consider myself to be modern too; at least to an extent. However, there should be a limit. People today do not understand they have too many facilitations and those distract them from their interests. For example, to become a writer one has to struggle a lot and consequently has to suffer. A writer has to fight and suffer to have something special to say. Today, the struggles are few; young people have many things and they run as fast as this society runs. That is not the right ground for poets and writers to flourish.

One last question, do you have an advice to young generations?

To fight. To fight to realize what they truly want. To fight and to smile at fortune. Remember that without a smile nothing comes. Moreover, there is no worth in living a life as an outcast; try to open yourself to the world without asking anything back, just offering. There is no gain in being unhappy, nothing really useful comes from it.

What expressed above is only a small glimpse on the world of José Luis Martinez; to have a closer look and understand fully his poetry, here are few of his most celebrated and awarded collections:

Culture Club (1986)
Pameos y meopas de Rosa Silla (1989)
Abandonadas ocupaciones (1997)
El tiempo de la vida (2000)
Florecimiento del daño (2007)
Camino de ningún final (2013)