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Elvira Sastre, When A Poet Goes Viral

The 25-year-old Spaniard is a millennial literary star, thanks to her deep culture, her talents and — naturally — her social media skills.

21st-century poet Elvira Sastre
21st-century poet Elvira Sastre
Walter Lezcano

How do we know that Elvira Sastre, a young voice, a self-described millennial poet, is a bona fide literary phenomenon? First, by the amount of readers she touches: People buy her books, they attend her readings (sometimes, even paying to enter) and they follow her en masse across social networks. In some way, she has created her own tribe and circulation circuit. But her being a phenomenon — and in this case, it's vital to understand this point — is also defined by the number of people who have lined up against her, and question what she writes.

In 2015, the Bogota-based newspaper El Espectador dedicated these words​ to the poet, translator, and narrator Elvira Sastre, from Segovia, Spain: "Sastre, 22 years of age, is to poetry what the Beatles are to rock. At least in the passions she ignites among her followers."

Born in 1992, she has been featured at top literary festivals across the world: Bogota Book Fair, Madrid and Soria Book Fair, Segovia Festival of Oral Narrators or Mexico City International Poetry Conference.

Sastre, who has just published her fourth book, The Solitude of a Body Accustomed to Injury, spoke about her beginnings in Spain: "I read a lot as a child, I was surrounded by books and people who read," she recalled. "I discovered other writers we weren't shown in class, like Juan Ramon Jimenez, Ruben Dario or Antonio Machado. Benjamin Prado and Luis Garcia Montero opened a whole different world to me."

Like other young poets such as Irene X and Sara Bueno, Sastre is part of a movement that some have dubbed "Follow Literature." In other words, writers that accumulate followers on social networks (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs) to build and increase the audience for their writing. This 25-year-old author was able to publish her first book, Forty-Three Ways of Letting Your Hair Down, after the publisher Lapsus Calami saw how popular she was on Twitter. As of today, Sastre has more than 84,000 followers.

She explains the importance of social networks: "They have helped me in terms of dissemination and promotion, but have also allowed me to meet both well-known authors and new ones, to create a community of support and help, and to be in contact with my readers."

Of her new book, she says, "Benjamin Prado once told me that your latest book should always be the best, and that is how I feel about this one. It was very painful to write it, it still is, but at the same time healing."

I did not invent anything.

Sastre says poems depict those moments where love is the danger of which one must beware. Double-edged sword, paradise or insurmountable condemnation, love is called into question and exposed as a minefield. She writes in "The Hole that Shelters You": I wonder if my name still hides / in your memory / the story that you will never be able to forget."

In another poem, she declares, "One takes their own lifetime to understand that they are no longer loved."

The everyday language that Sastre uses allows her to run all the filters of possible interpretation so that her readers do not encounter obstacles with the final meaning she offers. Something from that process allows an immediate connection with her Spanish and Latin American audience, and she has sold out auditoriums. "It is a responsibility. The people that go to a reading, sometimes even purchasing a ticket, go predisposed to like what they are going to hear. The poetry community is one of the best that exist because they give you their silence, which is so hard to get."

The whole impact of it all — unusual for a genre like poetry — has led some Spanish media to cast doubt, like some self-convened guardians, on the literary quality of her work. "Here in Spain, everything tends to be labeled in a very quick and undocumented way. A few times, I have read articles about me riddled with errors or empty arguments. That is irritating, but it is part of the journey." And, though she insists that she has largely been treated well, Sastre has noticed a bias that exists against "everything that comes from younger generations."

"I did not invent anything. I did not renew our language nor have I created a movement," she adds. "My way of writing is similar to that of my teachers, the poets I read. What has changed is the medium, and the new generations have understood how to take advantage of the Internet to spread their work. That really is different. Not the poetry."

Meanwhile, the millennial master is continuing to post new poems on her blog, writing for the website of El Cultural, working on her first novel world and reading to audiences around the world. There is a future.

This, from her own blog, is the poem: Lo reconozco ("I recognize")

I must recognize that maybe

you are not

in the right place that you deserve:

that one that I never vacate.

I must recognize that maybe

I do not need you in that

very violent way of animals

that pant misery

even if I am one of them.

That maybe this is something else

more peaceful typical of those that are

tired more by a smile than life itself

even if I am one of them.

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