• Carmen Arribas

Nerea Rojas on the Violence of Normalizing Pain — Mapping the World with Words Interview Series

Nerea Rojas was born in Granada, Spain, in 1999 and is now majoring in Comparative Literature at the University of Granada.

In 2019 she was a runner-up in the II Gata Cattana Poetry Contest, and in 2020 she published her debut poetry book, La flor muerta del algodón (The dead cotton flower). In this first book, Nerea writes about the legacy of pain that has been carried by women forever, and she creates a poetic language to name and make this pain visible.

She can be found on Instagram at @amolosmundossutiles.

I think 2020 started out as a good year for you, since your first collection of poems, La flor muerta del algodón, was published. How was that process of publishing for the first time?

I chose Ediciones en el mar as my publisher because I knew the values they defended are the kind of values I wanted to follow, and I have to say I feel like I’m at home with them. Lara Losada, our editor, understands and supports us, and she makes everything easy and is her writers’ first fan. Regarding publishing itself, for me, it was important because I was exposing myself. It’s all very ambiguous, because on the one hand I’m grateful with my publisher and readers, but it’s difficult to be exposed like that.

I also feel like the relationship between an author and its work is a complex one. People who have suffered chronic pain know that it’s difficult to recognize your own body when it’s a body that hurts, and that happens with writing, too. The objective of my book was very clearly that of liberation. I had just finished that painful period in my life and it was a way of shedding all that pain. It was difficult to see myself in that pain afterwards.

Regarding this feeling of exposure, and the difficulty of talking about your own pain, is there something you feel you can’t openly write about yet because they’re too personal?

Not really, but I do think it happens the other way around. Not everything I write about is true. We cannot equate literature to reality. Literature goes further; it is a process of answering to a reality. So, for example, in my book, lots of things are not real: I don’t want to be a mother, but I’m very interested in the topic of maternity, so I have written about it. You may read my book and think I’ve been abused by gynecology, and that’s not the case, but this normalcy is also violent. All that bureaucracy that lasts years only to end up taking pills without a diagnosis is also violent. That’s what I wanted to reflect.

So there are situations I have written about that didn’t happen, but not the other way around, I don’t think I left anything out.

There are many things I could say about your book, but what made the biggest impact on me was your use of language. Tal vez este dolor sea un lenguaje (Maybe this pain is a language), you say. In your poetry you create a semantic field around pain, blood, disease… In which way is pain a way of communicating for you? How do pain and language hold hands?

I perceive language as political, and there’s a whole system of oppression built on this language we use every day. For example, how in Spanish we say we are “sick” when we are on our periods. I wanted to pick up that language and create my own one to respond to it. So not only the visibility of this violent language is important, but also the creation of a new one to answer back.

And do you think that, after having created and used that language, your way of feeling that pain has changed?

Yes, of course. Language is performative; it’s an element that transforms our realities. Language is something we take for granted and we shouldn’t, and obviously much less so in poetry.

I’ve been told my language is very visceral, and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to be clear and direct. I wanted anyone to be able to read it and feel it.

In what way would you be different if your language was a different one?

I would be completely different. Language changes us, transforms us and defines us. Starting with the question of popular language, family language, the language of our roots. the Andalusian language—all of that creates me. If I had a different language, if I was someone else, I wouldn’t have written what I wrote. I started off by trying to recognize myself in all of the women around me —my mother, my grandmother, and even my friends— and those languages in common that we shared, those wounds we shared, made me think and start creating.

Considering the importance that language has in your work, if La flor muerta del algodón was translated into other languages, do you think there would be something that would be inevitably lost?

Something is always lost in translation, but something is always gained, too. I don’t believe in fidelity when it comes to literature in translation. Obviously, the original text should be respected, but not subdued into absurd limits. When reading a translation, it’s always interesting to also compare with the original, but even when the translation it’s obviously not the same, it doesn’t mean it’s worse. I would love to have my book translated.

You’ve mentioned how the women around you inspired and helped you understand your own pain. In which ways?

I’ve never asked for any explanations, but I learned how to read the world around me. I mainly learned from my mother and grandmother, and also from my girlfriends, but in this case, I learned by opposition. I saw that my friends didn’t suffer the same kind of pain that had become the norm in my family. My grandmother would be cleaning, on her knees, and she would be vomiting and suffering, but she couldn’t stop working, and there weren’t any analgesics. How can it be that this kind of pain has never been important to anyone? Why do people not talk about this? What I realized is that our pain and bodies do not matter. These situations gave me a lot of inspiration and led me to the conclusion that pain is an institution, in the same way that medicine is an institution and benefits form building power relationships. That’s what I saw in my daily life.

I believe in your book, you create a net in which more women can recognize themselves. Even if it sounds selfish, do you think knowing that there are other people sharing our pain makes things easier?

On the one hand, it’s terrible not to be the only one; but on the other hand, it’s also reassuring to recognize oneself in others. The pain I talk about is not something exceptional, it’s something structural, which every woman has felt in some kind of way. So, it’s a tragedy that pain has been normalized to this extent, but I think we all find a refuge, a light, in other people who feel as we do.

To wrap this interview up, I would like you to recommend some lesser known artists and writers that form a part of who you are, and that you think we should all know.

There’s a book I feel like we should all be talking about every single day, and that’s The Eternal Feminine by Rosario Castellanos.

When it comes to music, I like very different things. For example, I love Triana, which is a 70’s Andalusian rock band; but I also love Luna Ki, who is the complete opposite, the sound of Gen Z.

And Valeria Vegas, everything she does, be it in the world of writing or journalism or TV, has a huge cultural value. She’s amazing.