[Hutchinson’s] contacts with the Iberian world influenced his notions of identity” (2011: 136). In which ways?
MV: In many ways. I would say that his personal identity and his literary projects – in particular the poetry and the translations – were shaped by his experience of cultural and linguistic plurality in the Iberian context. I think that Hutchinson’s awareness of the value of minority cultures, which he acquired initially in Spain, also contributed to reconfiguring his understanding of his own Irish language and culture. We must remember that he was a bilingual poet, who wrote both in English and in Irish, and a very active translator into both languages from many different European languages, mainly from Galician and Catalan. Before Hutchinson died in 2012, he donated his collection of Galician books to the Irish Centre for Galician Studies, where it is presently located (the rest of his books are in Maynooth). I am glad to report that the Hutchinson Galician collection will soon become one of the special collections in the Boole Library here at UCC, thus making this material available to all researchers.
VMP: Along these lines, most Irish authors write in English instead of Irish, a fact that does not alter their sense of Irishness. Which role do you think Galician language plays in relation to identity? Do you consider that the Galician writer’s sense of identity may be affected by the usage of the Galician or the Spanish language?
MV: From a sociolinguistic point of view, the situation in Ireland is obviously very different but it is an interesting analogy. Identity in Galicia is inextricably linked to the use of the Galician language, viewed as a manifestation of our way of being in the world and interpreting reality through words. Therefore, the link between language and identity is crucial for Galician writers in the vernacular, because, through the mediation of this relationship, our work is situated in a very rich literary tradition which is defined by the use of the Galician language since the Middle Ages. I guess that Galician writers in the Spanish language, who generally play a minor role in the Galician literary field today, have to negotiate their own sense of belonging. In other words, they probably have to identify a way to position themselves and their work in relation to the continuity of the extraordinary legacy of Galician culture produced in the Galician language for centuries.
VMP: In relation to the use of vernacular languages, both Irish and Galician are progressively losing ground as a result of the prevalence of the other two more powerful languages, Spanish and English (Palacios and Lojo 2009: 17). The Galician sociolinguist Henrique Monteagudo, in a report on the sociolinguistic evolution in Galicia (1992-2003), confirms a decrease of monolingual speakers of Galician due to a lack of institutional support (2005: 94). Do you think that the decline of speakers of these two languages indicates that the linguistic policy in both countries has failed?
MV: Yes, I think that language policies in both countries have been inadequate and have failed to resolve the increasing decline in language users, particularly among the younger generations of speakers in urban environments. They have also failed to imaginatively address the diglossic status of both minority languages in their respective contexts. In Galicia, there is a tendency for young speakers to return to the use of the Galician language later in life, after years primarily speaking Castilian as their first option. Once again, the situation in this regard is extremely different in both Ireland and Galicia but there are also striking parallels. In order to transform this dynamic, we would need governments that show a commitment to the defence of their own languages and the national and international promotion of culture produced in those languages. In conclusion, they must bring to the fore the issue of language as a social and cultural priority to enable the citizens to engage more closely with their own living heritage.
VMP: Ireland frequently emerges in your poetry (e.g. “Elexía en inverno”, 2003; “A Rosa”, 1990, etc.). To which extent do you think Ireland influences your poetic production?
MV: I began reading Irish poetry towards the end of the 1980s, around the time in which I also started to write my own poems. I was immediately fascinated by the work of a very diverse range of authors such as W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, Brendan Behan and Seamus Heaney. I discovered other Irish writers a little later but, during those important formative years, Irish poetry played a crucial role in my development as a poet, particularly the work of Yeats and Heaney. I obviously continue to read them today, together with work by many contemporary poets. I think that the quality of Irish poetry today is excellent. So, to answer your question, some Irish poetry was an early influence and continues to be so. My life in Ireland has also generated an important source of experiences that have become important for my writing. On this note, I am glad to let you know that I have just published a new poetry collection in Galician, entitled Diario de Crosses Green, in which Ireland is the true protagonist. The book establishes a dialogue between my own cultural background and my perceptions of Cork as an urban space with the river Lee as a fundamental city presence.
VMP: The journal Galicia 21: Journal of Contemporary Galician Studies, created in 2007 and now jointly edited by Bangor University and UCC, aims to publish innovative research on relevant aspects of contemporary Galician culture. Where do you think Galician Studies is going? What is the present and future of Galician Studies?
MV: It is great to be involved in Galicia 21. As you know, I am the current editor, together with David Miranda-Barreiro from Bangor, and we are about to publish our first issue (Issue F), which is looking great. The previous editors have done fabulous work establishing the journal as one of the key publications in the field and David and I are very excited with the prospect of continuing this activity and bringing the journal to new places in the near future. Galician Studies as an academic discipline has grown enormously and has achieved international recognition in recent years thanks to the sustained work and dedication of many academics all over the world, with special emphasis on developments in the US, the UK and Ireland. As examples of this recognition, the MLA has recently approved a Galician Language, Literature and Culture Forum as a permanent fixture of their convention, and the annual conference of the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI) has hosted a Galician Studies panel for more than eleven consecutive years. I am the current convenor of this panel. These are very positive initiatives and I am of course delighted to be involved in some of them. However, there are also causes for concern for Galician Studies in the context of a more general crisis related to the way in which the humanities are perceived, at least in many European universities. This crisis has affected Galician as well as other minority languages and indeed many other areas in the humanities. The case of Galician at the University of Birmingham is a clear example. Hopefully this trend will reverse, common sense will prevail and we will start to grow again, because there are many young researchers in Galician Studies out there doing fantastic research who will eventually claim their chance to develop and consolidate their own professional careers. The future belongs to them but it is our responsibility to create strong foundations for these opportunities to materialise.
VMP: Tell us about your latest poetry collection.
MV: Diario de Crosses Green is my first poetry collection in ten years (the previous one was Fundaxes, published in 2006) and it is greatly indebted to my life in Ireland, my involvement in Irish life and my engagement with Irish culture, particularly through poetry. The book is a meditation on time and place. It has an unusual structural design, in that it features a poetic diary that traces the transformations perceived in the urban landscape ––more specifically in the area of Crosses Green, where I used to live in Cork city centre and where the river bends quite dramatically surrounding bridges and arches, an old brewery, traditional boat-making workshops–– and registers the emotional responses that those changes stimulate in my own imagination. Each season invites a particular tone and different imagery. Every entry of this diary is followed by poems that respond to the spirit of the seasons and expand some of the observations and findings from the diary. Thus the book is an attempt to apprehend a particular time and a very specific place through the mediation of language. The collection was launched in Galicia (Noia and Santiago de Compostela) and it has been very well received so far, with several book reviews in journals, newspapers and digital media. I have also offered some readings, both in Galicia and in Ireland. Because Irish landscape ––both natural and emotional–– is at the heart of Diario de Crosses Green, it is my intention to bring this book back to Ireland. In this regard, an English translation is being negotiated at the moment and I hope to see it published in the near future.