Elena Medel published Mi Primer Bikini in 2002 at just 17 years of age. Since then she’s published a series of works including the poetry books Vacaciones (2004) and Tara (2006), edited an anthology of erotic stories entitled Todo un placer (2005), written the epilogue for Blues Castellano by Antonio Gamoneda, runs the website for cultural collective La Bella Varsovia and writes in El Diario de Córdoba, El Correo de Andalucía and the Aula supplement in El Mundo. And she’s still got a whole life ahead of her.
Q: A desk, a rowdy classroom and a 15-year-old girl with her head in a notebook. That’s how I imagine Elena Medel writing Mi Primer Bikini (My First Bikini). How much truth is there to that image?
A: The rowdiness is spot on, but in reality I wrote Mi Primer Bikini when I got home after school. I can outline a story when there’s noise around me, I can even write in bizarre locations, but when it comes to developing an idea or correcting texts I personally need peace and quiet.
A: The Anthology of the Generation of ‘27 published by Cátedra Books. That’s where I discovered Lorca and from there I stumbled upon his Poet in New York. Even though I didn’t understand a thing (I still can’t decipher much of his code) I was fascinated by the images, with his use of the word alucinado…
Q: Your first verse?
A: A Lorca-eque imitation, I’m sure. I’m sure they’re still around on some scrap of recycled paper. The first poem I remember is the oldest one from Mi Primer Bikini entitled Irène Némirovsky from January 1998: I’d just turned ten.
Q: In Mi Primer Bikini, the images from your childhood and adolescence reflect a very mature take on life. What was going on around you that led you to have such lucid thoughts at such an early age?
A: The same as in any Spanish household at the end of the 1990s: an adolescent daughter bent on rebellion without a cause and parents armed with patience… Over time I’ve come to recognize that I’m more interested in the how than the what, but I think that this preoccupation was already brewing.
Q: There is one particular verse that moves me terribly: “Qué agradable es beberse la cuenca de los ojos, / armarse la boca de septiembre a mediodía”. You were only 16-years-old. After reading that, I think I might as well give up on writing.
A: Of course not… I’m still at it.
Q: Do you think you lost out on your childhood by growing up so fast?
A: Fortunately, my adolescence was overwhelmingly normal. I went to class, passed my exams and spent the weekends hanging around the neighbourhood with my girlfriends. I did spend time reading and writing, but my passion for books didn’t turn me into a social reject. I’ve shared feelings and experiences with most of my peers.
Q: Caballero Bonald wrote: “I write poetry to justify myself to myself. If I didn’t write poetry I’d be uncomfortable in my own skin. In discord. I wrote to get to know myself better and understand others. To explain life and the world and to defend myself from things with which I don’t agree”. Why does Elena Medel write?
A: For me writing is a precise blend between the need for self-expression and the need to imitate: the consequence of reading and of life.
Q: The Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid is synonymous with talent and maturity. It is Buñuel and Lorca. Entering those doors as a student has to be like connecting with something you can’t find anywhere else. Something inexplicable.
A: I’m sorry to say I’m not one for mythomania. When I applied for the scholarship I was excited about the chance to share a building with a faraway Lorca, but I was also excited about the chance to devote some years to literature and to dedicate myself entirely to what I love. The Silver Age is ever present there, thanks to activities and exhibitions. But the Residencia has managed to reinvent itself, to continue it’s trajectory and construct a present and a future.
Q: What did the Residencia mean to you?
A: Time. Time to read, write and work on a project that needed a lot of attention. It was also part of a learning curve. Every day I learnt something new from my class mates about all kinds of subjects very different to my own. These days the Residencia is filled with filmmakers, physicist, musicians and historians. The cultural programme and the characters staying there gave me the chance to get to know many wise people without leaving the classroom.
Q: How much discipline is needed to finish a collection of poems?
A: In my case, creating both Mi Primer Bikini and Vacaciones were very intuitive, while Tara was a conscious effort to write a book. When I set out I play around with different impulses and it’s pure chance that takes me to focus on any one of them. The rest is down to tenacity, self-critique, inspiration, fearlessness when one has to edit something out… I write very slowly and I take about five years on each project. I may be wrong and even prejudiced, but I distrust writers who are able to produce a book every year.
Q: One could label you a “multidisciplinary writer”. Poet, columnist, literary reviewer… Which of these is the real Elena?
A: It’s probably a bit of each. I think it’s impossible to be anything but myself when I write. Poetry is a more personal way of writing, writing a column is more social and narrative work combines the two. When I write in the press I love that I’m obliged to stick to a given character limit each week. I love that poetry gives me the chance to surprise myself metaphor after metaphor. I love that narrative work keeps me stuck to my seat I’ve worked out the plot. When it comes to literary critique, I’m afraid to say I don’t really do it since I limit myself to reviewing books that I like: it’s slightly different.
Q: What authors do you like to read when you need inspiration?
A: It’s impossible to choose a handful of names, because I prefer different authors at different moments in time. I always love Lorca of course, as well as Góngora, Louise Aragon and Sylvia Plath, Alejandra Pizarnik. Ginzburg, Austen and Cortázar are fundamental. I’m eagerly awaiting the next Ian McEwan and Haruki Murakami. I’ve also recently discovered three fabulous narrative writers: Annie Ernaux, Fleur Jaeggy and A.M. Homes.
Q: When do you know that the time has come to stop writing a book?
A: In poetry it’s when I’ve really squeezed a particular subject dry. When it comes to narrative work, I’m still trying to find the answer.
Q: In reference to the publication of Tara in 2006 Luis Antonio de Villena said: “immature and secure in her maturity, Elena Medel is progressing”. Have you stopped being the enfant terrible from Mi Primer Bikini?
A: Actually, I’ve never been an enfant terrible. I’ve always been a normal person with a pretty normal life. Yes, I do write. But between paragraphs, I sew on buttons and call my mother…
These books related to Elena Medel may interest you.
- • Medel, Elena. Tara. Ediciones DVD, 2006.
- • Medel, Elena. Mi primer bikini. Ediciones DVD, 2002
- • VV.AA. Todo un placer. Antología de relatos eróticos femeninos. Editorial Berenice. Córdoba, 2005
- • Official website for Elena Medel
- • Official website for La Bella Varsovia
- • Poem entitled Pez by Elena Medel