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Alberto Rios: An Interview by Rachid Filali
Rachid Filali: Professor Alberto Rios, do you
think that poetry is able to detect the essential dimension of the human person.Why did you choose to write poetry instead of the novel , don’t you think that we have more room to express ourselves in prose better than poetry ?
Alberto Rios: Poetry, I think, speaks to our moments as human beings, not our more over-arching narratives. We live in the moment, while narrative sums us up and generalizes our days and years. To speak simply of a chance encounter, for example, with a red bird—without any other expectations or overlays beyond the simple encounter—this frees us. The moment does not require that we speak for all red birds, nor does it require that we know where that red bird is going next, or where it has been last. The moment is simply the moment: I see a red bird. It may remind me of other red things, or simple be beautiful or ugly, but in that moment I have authority to speak. Indeed, I am called on to speak. This is the call to poetry, which is all the call to be human.
Rachid Filali: American society money at the first rank of its interests though there are millions of people who puts are keen in literature and poetry in particular, how do you explain that paradox?
Alberto Rios: I return to the idea of the moment. We may discuss in high-minded terms all sorts of things, but in that same moment a contiguous truth may be that, while I am speaking, I may also be looking at a bowl of apricots and deciding to eat one. While the larger discourse may interest us and be vital to our longer lives, the apricot—this is not a paradox, but a simultaneity—the apricot is directly in our hands. This is a poetic moment, but the larger literary moment may be to follow the adventure of the apricot as it weaves itself into the greater fabric of the world. Which wins, one might ask, at the end of the day: the apricot or the job one has or the ideas one espouses? Perhaps they all count. But the apricot is so often overlooked that it is the fresh factor in the equation of our lives.
Rachid Filali: You edited ten books so far, do you think that you said everything you wanted to ?Is there a particular , deeper more smart and more interesting and more human topics you feel are best to write them ?
Alberto Rios: Many years ago, when I was first a student, I remember hearing what seemed like a horrible observation, but one which I nevertheless understood immediately. The observation, in the form of an insight on writing, was simple, but devastating: the worst thing for a writer is to have your parents still be alive. This, of course, speaks to the idea of conscience and of a social censor. Every writer thinks, at some point, what if my mother reads this? And later in life, what if my child reads this? This sensibility affects one’s writing. If I had a wish, it would be to have the space somewhere to say what I really think, with all the details that I really conjure, and with all the passion that I really feel. That said, I am not saying that I don’t attempt to do this in my work—I do. But I am always in a battle with my own sensibilities, with the lines I have drawn for myself inside.
Rachid Filali: You are skillful in English language.. Is that a direct reason for your choice of writing? In other words , does language mastery enables us to express all what we want at the best moment and need ?
Alberto Rios: I write almost entirely in English, but Spanish was, arguably, my first language. I am able to speak as freely as I choose in English and be as eloquent as I want. However, I think there is much to be said for roughness in language, for obvious struggle. In this moment, it often feels like we are made to take better notice of the moment—precisely because it is not well-said. At its best, this roughness begins to feel like discovery.
Rachid Filali: Who is the American poet whom you admire his fame and subtelty in writing ?
Alberto Rios: This is always a very interesting and very difficult question. I have come to understand that my loyalty is so often to the page and not to the author, so that there are many works I love, and many writers I admire, but everything and everyone is invariably imperfect. This keeps me searching for more all the time. That said, I have often been a fan of the Latin American writers, the writers from “el boom,” which speak to me in both literary and cultural ways.
Rachid Filali: You won many major awards.Does it motivates you to present the best? Do you think that lot of awards have other aims even perspectives behind literature?
Alberto Rios: My favorite awards embrace the impact of the work on whole communities as much as literary circles. I have a big interest in public art, public literature—that is, work that is actually in public places, on walls, on windows, in surprising places. I think I have found ways to speak to both writers and non-writers, to both readers and non-readers. When I can think about my work being able to travel anywhere, then I think it has done well—and any rewards feel like a reward for this ethos of never excluding anyone. I want to write, and have some effect on, the baker as much as any fellow poet.
Rachid Filali: You are successfully intermingling Latin and Anglo-Saxon cultures. How did you come to associate them though they are quite different?
Alberto Rios: I think this is a crucial question, especially with regard to my own work. Indeed, the cultures are different, but this is also what I use to make my writing successful. Being able to see everything—everything!—in more than one way and to address it all with more than one vocabulary helps me to have perspective on the world. To simply think that a pen is a pen and not also a pluma diminishes the pen. In my work, I try to bring more to the moment and to work from choice, not habit, especially when it comes to both cultural and linguistic offerings. My greater work in that moment, of course, is to always be a good translator—never to assume someone else knows what I know, but to do the work and take the time of making sure that we both understand.
Rachid Filali: do you have any idea about contemporary Arabic literature?
Alberto Rios: Arabic literature, sad to say, is not as widely represented here as it ought to be. One might say that about many other literatures as well—until quite recently, literature here in the United States has been quite stereotypically ethnocentric. I say “stereotypically”, however, with care—indeed, we have always had an Arabic population, and an Australian population, and a Norwegian population, and so on. It is folly to think in terms of numbers only. Still, Arabic literature is something I know through my encounters with Arabic-American writers, such as Naomi Shihab Nye, more than Arabic writers themselves. I expect this will change and is changing in the greater culture, and I know for certain that I myself am changing. I read the world, and am always hungry for more.
Alberto Álvaro Ríos is the author of ten books and chapbooks of poetry, three collections of short stories, and a memoir. His books of poems include, most recently, The Dangerous Shirt, along with The Theater of Night, winner of the 2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Award, The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body, finalist for the National Book Award, Teodoro Luna's Two Kisses, The Lime Orchard Woman, The Warrington Poems, Five Indiscretions, and Whispering to Fool the Wind, which won the Walt Whitman Award. His three collections of short stories are, most recently, The Curtain of Trees, along with Pig Cookies and The Iguana Killer, which won the first Western States Book Award for Fiction, judged by Robert Penn Warren. His memoir about growing up on the Mexico-Arizona border, called Capirotada, won the Latino Literary Hall of Fame Award and was designated the OneBookArizona choice for 2009.
Ríos is the recipient of the Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement Award, the Arizona Governor's Arts Award, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts,
the Walt Whitman Award, the Western States Book Award for Fiction, six Pushcart Prizes in both poetry and fiction, and inclusion in The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, as well as over 300 other national and international literary anthologies. His work is regularly taught and translated, and has been adapted to dance and both classical and popular music.
Ríos is a Regents' Professor at Arizona State University, where he has taught since 1982 and where he holds the further distinction of the Katharine C. Turner Endowed Chair in English.
Rachid Filali was born in Algeria in 1964, and has been a journalist since 1985. Filali is a reseacher in linguitics, and is fluent in a number of languages: English, Arabic, French, German, Chinese, Japanese. He expressed his view about the universe and life in his first collection of poetry published in 2007. The second book published in 2014. In addition to these, he has published two books on world literature. He is also scientifically published in his study book about bees. Currently, he is collaborating with a number of Arab and foreign magazines and works as corrector and revisor for the newspaper Elkhabar-Elriadi.