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Manuel Vilas: “I always have the feeling that I don’t deserve anything”

“Poetry saved my life”, says the best seller of ‘Ordesa’ and finalist of the Planet, who returns with a collection of poems written in Rome on “the loneliness of the city” and the arrival of the pandemic

Manuel Vilas went to Rome on a scholarship to write a novel and brought poems. It had been five years since he had published a book of poetry, he was somewhat disconnected from it because the gale Ordesa (Alfaguara) appeared in between and then Alegría, a finalist for the Planeta Prize. «It was very strange as if I had never written a book of poetry before. As if it were the first book of poetry that I wrote in my life. I do not get it. Why that vertigo? Life and literature are still very mysterious ”, explains the author.

Roma (Visor) is a convulsive book, which spreads around the edges, which unravels. A walk through the streets of the city and inside Manuel Vilas himself (Barbastro, Huesca, 1962). «In the candle sleeper of this Roman house where I live / I am assaulted by the demons of the present, the past and the future. / They all come with lighted candles, they come armed / with pikes, swords, and guns».

Manuel Vilas would go out to find the pulse of the day, on the street. He walked and walked. “Five and six hours, about 25,000 steps according to the pedometer app.” A little to what came out. ” I come across people who carry / in their hands, wrapped in a cone, / fried fish, / smile and eat happily, ” he writes in the poem Filetto di Baccalà. Vilas followed the trail of “those who carry the fried food / until they lead me to an almost clandestine bar. ” Manuel Vilas causes us to go with him, to follow that smiling trail. Spread your desire. We see, with him, the huge pots of boiling oil, a cook, and a waitress. It is the reader who also leaves that small and old place with the trophy of cod dripping oil. And we even rummaged in our pockets looking for the five euros and fifty cents that the cod fillet costs. “I walk through Rome with a torch in my hand. “

This poem is one of his “favorites. I discovered that bar by chance, and it seemed magical to me. I thought of my father. In what my father would have liked to be there with me, eating a beautifully fried cod a la Romana, but that couldn’t be.

Rome encompasses both the diary of his stay in the capital (with the infidelities of traveling to Florence and the south, Brindisi and Bari) as “a dialogue of the poet with what he is seeing. I had in mind the Diary of a newly married poet by Juan Ramón Jiménez. I was interested not in intensity, but in the temporal flow ».

However, the Poem of Living Beings is a frenetic, runaway (and beautiful) poem that flowed like a spring during his visit to the Animal Room of the Vatican Museum. « I will leave this world without talking to the crocodiles / I will leave this world without living next to the giraffes / I will leave this world without sleeping with the wolves in the snow, / without my tongue touching hers in the polar night ».

«I invent a lot of animals that are not in that room created by Pope Pius VI (1775-1799) where the works of Francesco Antonio Franzoni stand out. That poem speaks of the freedom of animals because they do not know time or death. The book, from that perspective, is almost a secret guide to the city of Rome, a personal guide, “says Manuel Vilas by email. And he adds that his book “can be seen as a challenge of two solitudes. The loneliness of the city of Rome and the loneliness of the man who is looking at it.

There is no lack of the coronavirus or the rats that were found on the streets. ‘My mother was terrified of rats. I thought it was an omen. In Rome, I was scared because it gave me the feeling that I did not deserve to be there. I always have the feeling that I don’t deserve anything, that’s why I get scared. I think it has to do with my genetic heritage. I come from hunger, from people who never had anything. That’s why I get scared when fate grants me anything, any luxury, even if it is normal for anyone else.

The plague caught Vilas in Rome and the emptiness of the city is reported in several poems, such as Pope Francis takes to the streets in the midst of the coronavirus crisis: «The white robe / of a Pope who speaks my language / and would understand this prayer / that I dedicate to him / -to him and to his power- / will be a memory of this martyrdom / of thousands and thousands of old men and women / devoured by the virus from the East ».

“Read Rome as the succession of shadows caused by the movements of a man who tries to reconnect with his soul in the hairdressers, shops, markets, hotels, churches, fritters, restaurants, streets and alleys of the eternal city and surrounding areas”, I will write in the back cover of the book Juan José Millás.

The other poems of Manuel Vilas (collected in Complete Poetry. 1980-2018, Visor) have some signs of identity that very soon make them recognizable. And next. «That brand called Vilas, both in prose and verse, and which is nothing more than a desire to write in the freest way that I can imagine. That Vilas brand should go public. This brand contains nothing more than a desire to unmask the political, cultural, economic, sentimental reality of these first years of the 21st century “, Vilas himself writes in one of the prologues (the one from 2010) of that volume, between jokes and you’ll see.

Rome, like Manuel Vilas himself, is a cyclothymic book. Of celebration and of refuge. Also against the current. Faced with the tourist who usually / wants to flee from where tourists go, Vilas always ended up in Piazza Navona: «there I am safe from normal life, / because in this square there are always hundreds / and hundreds of illuminated faces, / always people on vacation, / and so tourists share with me / their love of life ».

Vilas is the Walt Whitman of today. He believes that “ poetry saved my life. I would like to think of poetry as a chariot of fire that distributes beauty throughout the world.

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