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Interview + giveaway with María Sánchez
N.: You define yourself as a “country vet who writes”. What was the trigger that led you to publish the poetry book Cuaderno de campo?
M.S.: Yes, because I think it’s important to tell people how books are written. From which spaces, privileges, classes, gender, places, professions… In Tierra de mujeres I explained that I was always tired when I was writing, because of my profession— which is what pays my bills and puts food on the table—my work as a vet. Then comes the rest of what happens in my day-to-day life: taking care of people and things, household chores, everything involved in having a home and writing. Cuaderno de campo, my first book, is a collection of poems that took seven years to finish. The poems occurred as the book itself demanded. One day an image appeared and it could take months to express it in a poem. I very much enjoyed writing it. It’s a form of gratitude and at the same time a farewell to my origins, an homage to my geographical roots. I always knew that I didn’t want to feel embarrassed by this first book. I wanted to go back and not change a thing, to feel sure of this first book that opened the path.
N.: Was it hard to find a publisher willing to publish a book that reflects the harshness and the beauty of rural life in equal measure?
M.S.: No, because the truth is that I was very lucky. I met my editor, Elena Medel, thanks to my baccalaureate language teacher, who turned up at the La Bella Varsovia stand [at the Madrid Book Fair], saying that she had a student who wrote and that she had to read her. Elena knew to wait for the book, accompanying me in the process, in the ideas, the images and the corrections. She knew to bet on it and pamper it at a time when the countryside and the rural weren’t fashionable in poetry. It’s amazing to see how a book grows thanks to an editor’s work and in that sense I am infinitely grateful to her.
N.: You mention that if you didn’t work amidst trees and animals, you wouldn’t write and in Tierra de mujeres, you describe what your everyday life is like, combining your daily work as a vet with writing. What motivates you to keep going with everything?
M.S.: Yeah, in Tierra de mujeres I talk about the countryside as “my invisible narrative”. I stole this phrase from one of my favourite writers, the Portuguese author Maria Gabriela Llansol. She said that she spent many hours working in the garden, not writing, but taking care of it. And that this was her invisible narrative. To me, the best things I have written, the things I’m most proud of, have occurred to me driving on the way to work or in the field. To me the countryside is my invisible narrative because it’s where everything comes from. I wouldn’t be able to say whether that’s what motivates me because it’s something my body asks of me.
N.: When and why did you decide to focus on the rural woman?
M.S.: The theme has always been there. In Cuaderno de campo, you can sense the germ. The poem that opens the book marks the separation of work based on gender; it also talks of this hand that looks after everything, which later appears in Tierra de mujeres. Before the book, I wrote several articles on the subject and I began to study the genealogy of my own family. The best gift that Cuaderno de campo brought me was that, when my family saw the reception the book had and realised what moved me to write it, they began to tell me stories about home, about the women in my family. With the arrival of feminism, we searched for referential women, hidden stories, women made invisible, but we overlook our grandmothers, our mothers, our aunts. I needed to remedy the fact that I’d arrived too late, that as a teenager I hadn’t understood their circumstances, the places they came from, the baggage they struggled to carry. I needed to reclaim their stories and make my own family tree.
N.: Your latest book Almáciga is a hotbed of words. What prompted you to collect them?
M.S.: Almáciga began to simmer a year before Tierra de mujeres came out, where I already talk about the project, I begin to toy with the idea of collecting words. I had a certain fixation and obsession for the subject because, suddenly, I realised that there were certain words that people in my village—my grandparents, my parents, the farmers or the shepherds—used, but I didn’t know what they meant; I’d heard them but they hadn’t sunk in. I always knew that I didn’t want to do another dictionary of villages and regions, because there are many of those. I like the image of the almáciga [seedling] so much that I wanted to do the same with words. To give them shelter in a space where they could gather energy and grow once more in order to return to our conversations and our everyday lives. The project is still going on in a collaborative way on the website, www.almáciga.es
N.: Finally, is there a book you would recommend to learn about the countryside and change our idyllic view of it?
M.S.: Well, many come to mind but I think that Into Their Labours by John Berger is an essential trilogy, one that is very present in my work.