Cesário Verde: Poppies in a Cleavage

At that bourgeois picnic,
There was something so simple and beautiful,
With neither history nor grandeur,
Yet worth a watercolour all the same.

When you dismounted the donkey,
With no foolish pretensions, you went to gather
In a blue chickpea-patterned cloth
A ruby bouquet of poppies.

Shortly after, on top of the cliffs,
we camped out with the sun still going down
and there were sliced melons and apricots
and sponge-cake soaked in malvasia.

But all crimson, emerging from the cleavage
of your two breasts like two cakes,
was the greatest charm of the meal,
the ruby-red bouquet of poppies.

Cesario Verde, O Livro de Cesário de Verde (Estante, 2010)

 

Cesario Verde

Naquele pic-nic de burguesas, houve uma coisa simplesmente bela, e que, sem ter história nem grandezas, em todo o caso dava uma aguarela.

 

Foi quando tu, descendo do burrico, foste colher, sem imposturas tolas, a um granzonal azul de grão de bico um ramalhete rubro de papoulas.

 

Pouco depois, em cima duns penhascos, nos acampámos, inda o sol de via;

e houve talhadas de melão, damascos, e pão de ló molhado em malvasia.

 

Mas, todo púrpureo, a sair da renda dos teus dois seios como duas rolas, era o supremo encanto da merenda o rmalhete rubro das papoulas.

 

I was in Porto with a group of tourists.  One part of the tour included the Lello bookshop which has a staircase that appeared in a Harry Potter film.  Now it has become a tourist attraction and you have to pay for admission to the bookshop, but the entrance ticket entitles you to 3€ from your next purchase.  I gathered all the tickets from the group and went to buy some poetry.

 

One of the books I picked out was Cesário Verde.  I had come across him before by way of Pessoa who held the author of The feelings of a westerner in high esteem.

 

The poems have clarity of structure and form.  The poet wrote most of them when he was a very young man so they have the virtues and the faults of a precocious wordsmith.  On the one side I admire his facility with rhyme and image, on the other the images and thoughts are adolescent.

 

My first readings were rather less charitable.  To be honest, I thought Cesário was a creep.  He trails around after young girls admiring them from a distance and fantasising about their clothes.  Carmen said I should remember the age he was writing in.  Laurence said it was no different to any number of contemporary pop songs.

 

The poem I have translated here is a later example of his work.

 

Is it charming or is it creepy?  I can’t make up my mind.

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By the River

Ó Longo das Ribeiras

IMG_2208

Ao longo da ribeira

Yearning along the water’s edge
I go, my girl.

Where are the boats and flowers?

The rivers head nowhere now.
Far distance and sea don’t exist.
It is all right here and clear.

The hour is anchored,
a barren stretch, no birds, no wind.

Sleep’s wellsprings
are full of dust,
and these eyes are tired and ageing.

But night must come
that went down beyond Urbazán,
with happiness in its wake of longing.

And then I will hoist all sails
of these anchored hours,
poor, dead hours with no birds and no wind.

 

 

Ó longo das ribeiras, arelante,

IMG_2208

Ao longo da ribeira


eu, meniña.
 

¿Ónde as barcas e as froles?
 

Os ríos xa non corren pra ningures.
Non esisten os lonxes nin a mar.
Todo está â beira e craro.
 

A hora, ancrada,
insua erma sin páxaros nin vento.

 

As fontelas do sono
están cheas de pô,
e os ollos están cansos e velliños.

Mais ha vir a noitiña,
que se perdéu nos montes de Urbazán,
coa alegría do seu ronsel de arelas.

I-entón eu ergueréi as velas todas
destas horas ancradas,
pobres, ermas, sin páxaros nin vento.
 

Aquilino Iglesia Alvariño, Cómaros Verdes, 1947 (Voz de Galicia, 2002)

 

Aquilino Iglesia Alvariño (Seivane, Abadín, 1909-Santiago, 1961) emerged before the Spanish Civil War publishing the collections Señardá (1930) and Corazón ao vento (1933).  These books continue the landscape poetry of Noriega Varela.  He reached his poetic maturity with Cómaros Verdes, from which this poem is taken.

 

Here he abandons rhyme and achieves a richness of poetic tone using the hendecasyllabic line as the base.  The themes of the collection are saudade, reflections on nature and the strange linking of death and longing that are such common features of Galician poetry.

 

I bought this book for myself for my fiftieth birthday.  This poem that talks about ageing seemed appropriate.  The rhythm of the day is seen reflected in the rhythm of a life.  We are taken to the hot middle of the day along the water’s edge where everything is still.  The sources, or fountains, of sleep are full of dust.  Night brings sleep and dreaming.  It has a “ronsel de arelas”, “a wake of longings”.

 

This wake of longing reminds me of Eduardo Blanco Amor’s Ronsel da Morte.

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Privacy Matters

This is a short note to let my subscribers understand my position on the new privacy law.

I am not going to be sending out one of those advice notices that you probably delete instantly without reading, just as I do.  I have read about this privacy law and what I understand is the following:

  • the law to protect people’s digital identity is a sensible move in an increasingly online world
  • it is primarily directed at people and organizations that process data and then use that data for other purposes
  • I do not process data in any way or manner.  I write a blog about poetry that I share online.
  • Sometimes people get in touch with me through the blog and we exchange email.  That is a relationship between friends.  I do not collect any kind of personal information into files or databases online, on my computer or in a filing cabinet.

I would encourage readers of blogs not to get sucked into paranoia about the internet.  It is a marvelous tool that enables us to connect across cultures and languages.  Blogs enable people to engage directly with others at the opposite ends of the planet, without the interference of editors, publishing houses, censors and correcting inspection.

 

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Ultreya: the Ten Commandments

ultreya2

The Ten Commandments of the Galician Youth Movement Ultreya

 

  • – Porque amo a Galiza con toda a miña ialma, adicareille os meus millores esforzos pra tornala eternamente feliz.
    • Since I love Galicia with all my heart, I shall dedicate my best efforts to make her eternally happy.
  • – Porque a vida está encheita de mágoas, miña mocidade será unha leda canzón que ha erguer o esprito de tódolos coitados.
    • Since life is full of tears, my youth will be a cheerful song to raise the spirits of all the down-hearted.
  • – Porque estou afincado ao chan nativo e endexamais hei crebar as ligazóns coa miña xente, manterei sempre aceso o fogo do meu lar.
    • Since I am connected to my native earth and must never break the ties with my people, I will always keep the hearth fires burning.
  • – Porque penso no que fun, no que son e no que teño de ser, respetarei aos vellos e pequenos e defendereinos de todo aldraxe e sofrimento.
    • Since I think about what I was, what I am and what I must be, I shall respect the aged and the young and defend them from all insult and suffering.
  • – Porque quero a eficacia da miña laboura, axudarei os nobres desexos dos meus compañeiros como quixera que me axudasen a min na arela dos meus limpos ensoños.
    • Since I want my work to be effective, I shall help the noble desires of my companions just as I would want them to help me in the light of my clean dreams.
  • – Porque teño de sere home útil á miña Terra, cumprirei tódalas miñas obrigas pra ire facendo a miña histórea de cidadán eisemprar.
    • Since I must be someone useful to my Land, I shall fulfil all my obligations so as to make my story one of exemplary citizenship.
  • – Porque quero limpar a miña axuda de erros, educarei meu esprito no estudo e no traballo.
    • Since I want to keep my help clean of error, I shall educate my spirit with study and work.
  • – Porque teño de sere rexo na axuda aos meus irmáns, fortalecerei meu corpo na craridade das augas e no ar das montañas.
    • Since I have to be prompt and ready to help my brothers, I shall stengthen my body in the clarity of the water and the mountain air.
  • – Porque soño nun porvir de verdadeira fraternidade, farei por que rente de min se xunten tódolos rapaces galegos pra que o día de mañán non nos afosten prexuízos de caste.
    • Since I dream of a future of true brotherhood, I shall take an interest in bringing together all Galician young people so that tomorrow they do not suffer prejudice and insults.
  • – Porque quero unha Galiza enteiramente galega en convivio con tódalas razas, en fala con tódalas culturas, abrirei meu peito a tódolos homes de boa voluntade e reita intenzón.
    • Since I want a Galicia that is totally Galician living together with all other races, conversing with all cultures, I shall open my heart to all men of good will and honest intentions.

Lesteiro,_Claudio_Losada,_Álvaro_das_Casas_e_Filgueira_Valverde_cos_Ultreya_en_Noia_1932

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Ultreya: Celtic Boy Scouts

scouting for boys.jpgI offended a friend.

“The Boy Scouts?  That’s the Hitler Youth with ginger beer, isn’t it?” I said.

“I love the Scouts,” he replied.  “Choose your weapon!” I backed off quickly because, if he had been a scout, he could probably tie me to a tree and whip me to shreds with his toggle.

I have to say this by way of introduction.  You see, I don’t love the Scouts.  I don’t love the military trappings and the gin-gan-gooley-gooley-wotsit and the military structure.  I don’t love the rituals and the uniform.  And, not loving the Scouts, puts me in a frame of mind not to like Ultreya, a Galician version of the organization that had its moment in the thirties just before the Spanish Civil War.

dofeIt might be my personality.  When I was a kid I refused to go to Scouts, even though my Dad was a veteran and my brother was going.  I can’t dress up what I say here as a reasoned argument: the Scouts never convinced me, in the same way the Duke of Edinburgh Awards seemed a tiresome waste of time.  It was, and is, a feeling.

If I step back from myself, I can see the appeal for young people: the outdoors life, robust exercise, good clean fun.  For my dad, for example, joining the Scouts was the only opportunity he had as a kid to get out of his home town- to go on excursions, to work his way up a juvenile merit system that promised to take him out of his working-class background.

I can also see the value in creating a sense of identity.  Even though I am suspicious of it, I can see that the Scouting life gave my dad a love of the countryside, the experience of discipline and the company of other kids.  I can see that they learnt how to love an idea of England.

Why the Scouts?

Today’s reading comes from an interesting book called De Camiños, Viaxeiros e Camiñantes (Santiago de Compostela: Galaxia, 2016).  Santiago Lamas and Alfonso Mata have taken a pilgrimage by Vicente Risco, Ramón Otero Pedrayo and Ben-Cho-Sey in July 1927, from Ourense to Santo André do Teixido, as the starting point for a series of essay-like chapters that go here-and-there talking about walking.  They are readers so my heart warms to them and we have many of the same points of reference.  They talk about walking and this also brings them close.

(We have come across Risco and Otero Pedrayo before.  I encourage you to read some of Risco’s short stories.  I also recommend you to read Otero Pedrayo’s verse and his novel Os camiños da vida.  Pedrayo was a figure of such authority in the mid-twentieth century Galician literary scene that there is hardly a writer who did not come into contact with him.)

As I was reading the book, I came upon a section to do with the youth group Ultreya and sirens started ringing in my head.  Ultreya was like a Galician Boy Scouts organization.  If my distaste for the Boy Scouts needed affirmation, this section gave it.  I am posting the translation of that passage below and you can make of it what you will.

I was horrified

I was horrified.  They got groups of young people together and had them sing a song that was what the Americans call “a load of cock-a-mamey”.  If you do not understand this, I will have to translate: nonsense, pure invention, bull.  The song says that Galicia is a Celtic nation on a par with Ireland.

But, but, but…

But I just don’t believe it.  Vicente Risco is an amusing writer but he would not cut the mustard as an archaeologist these days.  He is what you might call a Romantic archaeologist: he used archaeology to invent a Celtic past for his country, because it seemed to him that this would mark the separation with Castile better.  I don’t blame him.  After all, there were similar voices from the other side of the spectrum saying what it was to “be Spanish”.  Think of that charlatan Emilio Orozco who made a deal about the Spanish soul being essentially Baroque.   However, there is a great distance between presenting a position, making an argument and defending it, and gathering a group of young people around to sing songs that create a nationalist feeling.  Or am I wrong?

More bullshit

What is the Spanish soul?  How is the Spanish soul different from the Galician soul?  The Asturian soul?  The Catalan soul?  The Irish soul?  If you are a young Galician and you like American pop music are you ipso facto a traitor to your country?  Is it essential that you feel a stir in your guts when the bagpipes sound?  And what can one possibly make of all this now, when the villages are emptying out and modern archaeology pours cold water on the theory of Galician Celticism?

I would feel that I was deceived.

Lesteiro,_Claudio_Losada,_Álvaro_das_Casas_e_Filgueira_Valverde_cos_Ultreya_en_Noia_1932

The problem I have with these “intellectuals” is that they gave themselves a priest-like role to interpret the soul of the nation to a group of young people.  Swim in the sea?  Cool.  Go for hikes?  Great!  Adopt a quasi-military structure?  Whatever lights your candle.  Interpret the soul of the nation?  No, no, no, no, no!

 

 

In Galicia there was also a youth group that had a certain resemblance to the ones we talked about (the Wandervögel and the Boy Scouts): the Agrupación Xuvenil Galeguista Ultreya, founded in 1932, in Noia, by the writer Álvaro de las Casas, who at that time worked as a Geography and History teacher in the secondary school of that town in La Coruña.  These youths were organized into dúceas and liñas (twelve dúceas), led respectively by a guieiro and a maor.  They also had a council of notables, on which served amongst others, Galeguistas and members of the SEG (Seminario de Estudos Galegos) such as Filgueira Valverde, Xurxo Lourenzo, Risco,  Díaz Baliño, Castelao, Otero, Bouza Brey, a General Secretary, Francisco Fernández del Riego and a rexente, Álvaro de las Casas.

The ten commandments they were governed by centred on love for the land and Gallegos, study, work, a healthy life, and brotherhood, in order to become an exemplary citizen.  Their hymn was “Keltia” or “Celtia”, with words by Filgueira and music by Iglesias Vilarelle (“Ai Armorica, Cornwall and Cambria (Wales), Scotia (Scotland), Erin (Ireland), Galicia and the Isle of Man./  These are the seven Celtic nations/ daughters of Father Breogán…) and the simple uniform consisted of a white jersey, on which the symbol of the organization was embroidered, a yellow triskel.

There were local Ultreya groups in Noia, Pontevedra, Compostela, Vigo, Ourense, Tui, Redondela, A Estrada, Padrón and Lugo.  The work of the Ultreya groups revolved around excursions by boat, bus or on foot (Rías Baixas, Riberiro de Avia), hikes (the Barbanza mountains), educational visits (the Galician Biological Mission), training courses (such as the one in the Colexio Labor, in Vigo, in August 1933, in collaboration with the SEG), the edition and promulgation of popular songs, verse books, romances and short biographies of outstanding people from Galician history and literature.  Also, according to Fernández del Riego, they went out every Sunday to sell books in Gallego in towns and cities.  The point was for young Ultreyans to get to know Galicia fully and directly in all its aspects by means of the excursions, the visits and the courses, and for them to care for and strengthen their bodies by means of hikes, swimming in the sea, gymnastics and sports, at the same time as they learned to live together, in their own group and with the people of their country.

The Ultreya activities faded away after the creation in May 1934 of the Federación das Mocedades Galeguistas, a branch of the Partido Galeguista, since many of their most outstanding directors went on to hold positions in that organization.  Their last activity took place on the eve of the military rising in 1936: an excursion to the Aloia mountain organized by the Tui group.  Between 1932 and July 1936, the Ultreya managed to sign up into its ranks more than one thousand five hundred youngsters.

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Lorca and Dalí: the Unfaithful Wife

The Unfaithful Wife

And so, I took her to the river
Thinking she was a maiden,
But she had a husband.
It was the night of Santiago
And almost like a date.
The streetlights went out
And the crickets came on.
On the last of the corners
I touched her sleeping breasts,
And they opened up for me sharpish
Like branches of hyacinths.
The starch of her petticoat
Sounded in my ears
Like a piece of silk
Scratched by ten knives.
With no silver light on their trunks
The trees have grown,
And a horizon of dogs
Barks far distant from the river.
Having gone past the brambles,
The rushes and the thorns,
Under that thicket of hair
I made a dip in the earth.
I took off my tie.
She took off her dress.
I took off my belt and gun.
She her four underskirts.
No tuberose or seashell
Has skin as fine,
Windowpanes in moonlight
Don’t shine with that glow.
Her thighs escape me
Like surprised fish,
Half full of light,
Half full of cold.
That night I ran
The best of races,
Mounting a mother-of-pearl filly
Without bridle or stirrups.
As a man, I won’t say
The things she told me.
The light of understanding
Makes me hold back.
Dirty with kisses and sand,
I took her to the river.
In the breeze the backs
Of the irises were beating.
I behaved like what I am,
Like a true gypsy.
I gave her a gift of a big
Sewing kit of yellowy satin,
And I didn’t want to fall in love
Because, having a husband,
She told me she was a maiden
When I took her to the river.

 

A few years ago, in a cold theatre in Salas, Asturias, a Mallorquín friend and actor, Amand, performed this poem on a winter night of readings and short plays.  It demands to be read with an actor’s modulation of voice: the changes from past to present call out for performance; the telling pause, the gesture that will bring to life the meaning in the words.

The Poet

Lorca_(1914)Federico García Lorca is one of the most famous poets in the world and this poem, from Romancero Gitano (1929) is one of his most famous poems.  It was certainly the most popular of his poems when he went to Cuba and he triumphed with it again in Argentina, where it fit with the image he projected of himself as the poet of duende, the spirit of flamenco inspiration which he invoked in conferences that he also gave around the country.  In Argentina Lorca was a superstar.

Today’s post is about the paradox of fame and the difficulties of reading it.  This poem, for all its instant recognition and world-wide fame, was heavily criticized by Lorca’s close friend Salvador Dalí (1904-1989).  Dalí, like Lorca, hardly needs introduction.  He is the Surrealist painter from Spain who wowed the Parisian scene when he descended in all his eccentric extravagance in 1926.  His most famous painting is The Persistence of Memory with its soft clocks, although he is well-known for his obsessive painting of his wife Gala, his visual tricks where the shadows of a figure appear to make a different figure, for example, and his reworkings of scenes around his home town of Cadaqués on the Costa Brava in Catalonia.clocks

When Lorca published the Romancero Gitano Dalí sent him a long letter of critique and praise (translated at the end of this post).  The poem he singles out as the worst poem in the whole collection is The Unfaithful Wife.  He criticizes its costumbrismo: anecdotal, prettified paintings showing regional costumes and typical scenes from history; literal story-telling and close attention to detail; a tugging at the sentimental heart-strings.   Costumbrismo comes from the word costumbres, or customs, and in this context, calls to mind paintings of gypsy types in traditional outfits hanging around outside windows where sloe-eyed maidens flutter their eyelashes behind fans and tasselled scarves.  It is the irruption of sentimentalized folk elements into art.

It is worth reading Dalí’s critique thoroughly.  It is not easy because his writing has many “errors” in spelling and the punctuation is erratic.  gibsonHowever, as Ian Gibson says, he reveals himself to be a sharp reader and critic.  You may not agree with his position but it is a real one.  Dalí suggests that Lorca is dancing with the old poetry but that the old is spent and the new breaks forth in ways that make the old irrelevant.  The old is “incapable of giving us emotional reactions now or satisfying our present-day desire.”

Words and Pictures

Think of the traditional poetry and painting of Europe as an exercise in producing technically-competent renderings of scenes and stories.  Look backwards from Dalí and you see a succession of pictures going back into history.  Look forward from Dalí and you see a bewildering breaking of the concept of what art is to modern people: paintings that cease to tell stories, becoming ever more abstract, eventually breaking with painting itself; fewer and fewer pictures; a different vision of what art is.  Poetry that sheds the old poetic language like dead skin.

flamencoDalí rejects Federico’s word pictures.  He has clear ideas about the kind of images that make sense in the new world:

You maybe will think that some images are daring, but I can tell you that your poetry moves within the illustration of the most stereotyped and conformist commonplaces-  o great Federico, you – precisely I am convinced that the effort of working in poetry today only makes sense by evading the ideas that our intelligence has gone about artificially forging.

He seems to be saying that it doesn’t matter if you do it well if it is flawed in conception by being stereotyped and conformist.  He wants the artist to free himself from the grasp of the past and strike out in a new direction.  He wants artistic intelligence to break with the old.

Fathers

I can’t help thinking about my father.  He is a traditional artist who has worked his life carving figures, often for churches.  His artwork grows from roots in traditional practice.  Not only that, but it is well-crafted: when he carves a hand, it is a good hand.  Yet, under Dalí’s gaze that work would not be good enough because it is not sufficiently modern.  He seems to want to throw the past away and replace it with a newer, sharper world: he repeatedly uses the word “precisely” as a kind of mantra.

tpreater

Tom Preater Sculpture

My father never liked Dalí.  When I was seventeen I had a book of Dalí on loan from the library and remember his dismissive comments.  Dalí saying that he could have been a minor Venetian painter of the fifteenth-century: “Oh no, I don’t think so.  Look at that technique.  The hands are all wrong and the figures don’t stand properly on their feet.”  You may not agree with this.  In fact, people who like Dalí often find that it is the “perfection” that they like the most, meaning that they like that basket of bread that looks like a basket of bread and they like blue skies with carefully graded skies that go down to a rippling sea.  This would sicken Dalí himself and he might even have called such fans “putrefactos”- one of his favourite words.

Surrealist Psychology

If you like Dalí without thinking about it, if you swallow the whole genius crap, you are dancing with the devil.  Dalí, after all, fell out with his own father after saying to a Parisian newspaper that he regularly spat on the portrait of his mother.  When his father demanded he apologize he presented him with a used condom, giving back what he owed him, as he thought.  What do you think of this?  Is it really so wonderful?

Dalí aligned himself with the Surrealists.  He read psychology.  His rebellion against his father almost reads like a script invented after reading about the Oedipus complex in Freud.  In this light Dalí’s critique of Federico seems to be a rejection of the poet because Lorca aligns himself with this father.  Lorca was an obedient son.  He was a mummy’s boy who admitted that he belonged to his mother and would never “grow up” and leave her.  So Dalí’s condescending worldliness with relation to Lorca almost seems to be a kind of envy.

However, when you come back to the words of that letter, you see how deeply he has got inside Lorca’s head:

I have seen you, the beastie that you are, erotic beastie with your eyes and your little eyes of your body, and your hair and your fear of death and your desire that if you die the gentlemen should know of it, your mysterious spirit made of little, stupid enigmas of a tight horoscopic correspondence and your big toe in tight relation to your cock and the dampnesses of the lakes of spittle of some species of hairy planets there are.

Lorca the homosexual is a peculiar vehicle for a poem that is about a macho gypsy.  Dalí goes straight for the hidden side of the poet and conjures up his fear of death in strange prophetic words, considering Lorca’s death at the hands of the fascists in 1936.

Duende

Lorca Duende

Lorca talking about duende

Let’s return to duende, the feeling that imbues flamenco cante.   In his presentation Teoría y juego del duende, Lorca says that Germany may have its Muses and Italy may have its Angels but Spain has its duende, which reflects the touch of Death:

In all countries Death is the end.  It comes and the curtains are closed.  Not in Spain.  In Spain they are raised.  Many people live walled in there until the day they die and they are taken out into the sun.  A dead person in Spain is more alive when dead than in any other place in the world.

Romancero-gitanoHe tells the story of La Niña del Peine who, singing with all her art and mastery, has to take a chug of spirits to make her voice raw before she can sing with duende:

The arrival of duende always presupposes a radical change in all the forms made on old plans, it gives completely unheard-of sensations of freshness, with a quality of a recently created rose, of a miracle, which succeeds in creating an almost religious enthusiasm.

This is not what Dalí was talking about, even though it seems to echo what he said.  Even though he says that faculties and technique and mastery do not matter here.  It is not a question of faculties but of a real, living style; “that is to say of a very old culture, of creation in the act.”  The hidden spirit of suffering Spain.

You would have difficulty making pronouncements like this today.  Who believes in the souls of peoples?  We will return to this when we come to consider the Celticism of Galicia in my next post.  No, today’s Spain is not a country in love with Death, but struggling to be a modern economy in a modern Europe.

Make Up Your Own Mind

So where does that leave Lorca and Dalí?  You have to make your own mind up.  You have to go and see The House of Bernarda Alba, or read it if you cannot see it performed.  You have to struggle with this idea of duende.  It is still there in the flamenco culture of Jerez de la Frontera or Cádiz, but will it survive mass tourism?  Will it survive being turned into a commodity to sell modern Spain.

I am not smart enough to say.

Read this website for more information about García Lorca: Centro Federico García Lorca

 Dalí’s Letter

Dear Federico:  I have read your book calmly and cannot resist making comments on a few things.  Naturally, I find it impossible to go along in any way with the opinion of those great putrefying pigs who have commented on it.  Andrenio (Eduardo Gómez de Baquero in La Vanguardia, Barcelona 12 Aug 1928) , etc, etc but I believe that my opinions, which every day are getting clearer with regards to poetry, might be of some interest to you.

I The best of the book seems to me to be the last, the martyrdom of St Olalla, bits of incest-  Rumour of enclosed rose–  these things already lose a good part of costumbrismo (picture of quaint manners and styles), and are much less anecdotal than the others etc.  The worst seems to me to be the one about that man who takes her to the river.   Grace resulting from a state of spirit based on appreciation sentimentally by anachronism.  All that about the petticoats of the little saint in his niche (San Gabriel) for me today it is that in any production I only allow rage in its making, a kind of immorality-  that is what has been used by the French by the- French- spirit- of the disgusting and inadmissible – Cocteau etc and by whom we have all been contaminated.

II  Your current poetry falls completely within the traditional, in it I notice the thickest poetic substance that has ever existed: but! not at all tied to the norms of old poetry, which is incapable of giving us emotional reactions now or satisfying our present-day desires-  Your poetry is tied feet and arms to the art of old poetry-  You maybe will think that some images are daring, but I can tell you that your poetry moves within the illustration of the most stereotyped and conformist commonplaces-  o great Federico, you – precisely I am convinced that the effort of working in poetry today only makes sense by evading the ideas that our intelligence has gone about artificially forging [about reality [being?] unreality], to the point of giving these its exact real sense.

In Reality, there is no relation between two dancers and a honeycomb of bees, unless it be the relation there is between Saturn and the little worm that sleeps in the chrysalid or unless in reality there exists no difference between the dancing pair and a honeycomb of bees.

The minute hands of a clock (don’t look at my examples which I do not try to make, precisely, poetic) begin to have a real value in the moment they stop telling the time on the clock and lose their circular rhythm and the arbitrary mission to which our intelligence has put them (to tell the time), they evade that clock to articulate themselves on the site that would correspond with the sex of breadcrumbs.

You move around within accepted and anti-poetic notions- you talk of a rider and you suppose that he goes on a horse and that the horse gallops, this is saying a lot, because in reality it would be good to determine whether it really is the rider who goes above, whether the reins are not an organic continuation of his very hands, if in reality the little hairs on the rider’s bollocks turn out to be faster than the horse and whether the horse is precisely something immobile stuck in the ground with vigorous roots… etc, etc.  Consider then what it means to come, as you do, to the concept of a Civil Guard-  Poetically, a Civil Guard in reality does not exist… unless it be a happy and pretty silhouette alive and shining precisely because of its qualities and its little peaks that emerge on all sides and its little leads which are a visceral part of the same little beastie etc etc.

But you…  putrefyingly- the civil guard- what is he doing?  So, so- so, so.  Unreality, unreality.  – Anti poetry-  formation of arbitrary notions of things: one has to leave the little things free of conventional ideas to which intelligence has wanted to submit them-  Then these pretty little things they alone work in agreement with their real and consubstantial way of being-  Let them decide for themselves the direction of the course of the projection of their shadows! And maybe what we believed would cast a thicker shadow will not cast a shadow at all-  Ugly.  Pretty? Words that have stopped making any sense – Horror, that is something else, that which gives us, far from all style, the poetic knowledge of reality, since lyricism is only possible within more-or-less approximate notions our intelligence can perceive of reality.

And a rose is a beast etc etc] an article dedicated to you will come out in the Gazette in which I talk about these things, and beyond the importance of the strictly objective fact obtained anti-artistically by a rigorous analytical method.

But let’s leave it, every day that goes by I am able to write this kind of letter less, whereas I write long and substantial articles full of ideas.

Little Federico, in your book which I have taken with me to these mineral places around here to read, I have seen you, the beastie that you are, erotic beastie with your eyes and your little eyes of your body, and your hair and your fear of death and your desire that if you die the gentlemen should know of it,  your mysterious spirit made of little, stupid enigmas of a tight horoscopic correspondence and your big toe in tight relation to your cock and the dampnesses of the lakes of spittle of some species of hairy planets there are.

-I love you for what your book reveals you to be, which is completely the opposite of what the putrefied have made of you, a dark gypsy with black hair and a child’s heart etc etc all that Nestorian Lorca [alluding to the painter Néstor Martín Fernández de la Torre, a friend of Lorca’s] decorative anti-real, non-existent, only possible that it was created by the pig artists who were far from the fishies and the little bears and blond, hard and liquid silhouettes that surround us etc etc.

You beast with your little nails- you whom Death grabs at times by half of your body, or climbs up your arm to the little nails to the shoulder in sterile effort; I have experienced Death on your back in those moments when you went away from your great arms which were nothing more than two pillow covers curled up in the unconscious and the useless fold of the ironing of the soft furnishing of the halls of residence… I love and admire you, the Flatfish seen in your book, that fat flatfish who, on the day he loses his fear, you shit yourself with the Salinas, give up rhyming, in sum art as it is understood amongst the swine- you will do things that are fun, horrifying, sharp, poetic- things like no other poet has ever done.

Farewell, I believe in your inspiration, your sweat, in your astronomic fate

This winter I invite you to throw yourself into the void with me.  I have been there for a few days already, I never had such security now I know something of Statuary and of real clarity now far from all Aesthetics

Hugs Dali

Surrealism is one of the means of Evasion

It is that Evasion that is important

I go along with my own ways at the edge of surrealism, but that is something real-  You can see that I do not talk about it like before, I have the happiness of thinking very differently to the way I did last summer, how fine, eh?

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Ammiel in the Mountains

Ammiel and the Mountains

Ammiel-Alcalay

Ammiel Alcalay

In the early eighties a friend went to Greenham Common to protest against the cruise missiles. When she got home, Mel told me about the mixture of experience: serious women sharing ideas and feelings in a community of tents outside the missile base.  She was alive with contemporary readings.  She read feminist discourse going back to Simone de Beauvoir and coming up through Sylvia Plath, Greer, Dworkin, Paglia and a host of pamphlet-writers, independent voices from around the country and the world.

Next to her I felt provincial, with my nose stuck in the seventeenth-century.  I spent my summer walking the Quantock hills and sniffing out the trail of Coleridge, who appealed to me more than Wordsworth as a teenager.  A hick, yes, stuck in the past, turning away from the big things happening in the present.  The sensation that I am somewhere up a by-water feeling the lapping wavelets of major explosions in the distance has stayed with me into the present.  Not only am I far from the city in the village, but the local city is a provincial one and the province itself is hidden behind mountains.  I can imagine Mel asking, “Whatever can you possibly achieve there?”

What can you achieve in the mountains?

IMG_2846

That is me in the trees

I don’t want to come to a quick conclusion to that question.  It seems to me that there are so many dimensions to it that it splinters in my head: achieve what and for whom and in what context and why?  Me?  What can I achieve without plumbing the roots of what I am, which may be essentially provincial?  And the mountains themselves, don’t they give themselves up to reading?

If you have been following the blog you will know that I have been wandering mountains in my reading, from the Galician poet Novoneyra to the saudade of Galician tradition, and other poets that seem to me to strike up resonances:  Wordsworth, Basho, R.S. Thomas and Edward Thomas, amongst others.  Although John Clare never got to the mountains, he joined us too.  If reading has to have a point, then I would say that the range and variety of what I am reading reflects a lifelong linking of reading and life, experience and text.   I am still a geeky provincial kid who sticks his nose into books.  The question, “What can you achieve?” almost shrinks to irrelevance.  I do what I must.

When I was a teenager, writing long letters to Mel, who lived in the north of England, I put on a provincial pose.  The fall of the Berlin Wall?  No, I was not there and I did not watch it on the TV either.  I fantasised about Stoic indifference when, I guess, the reality was that I was trapped by my environment, my upbringing and my own native diffidence.  Right now, I am scared for the world.  It really is screwed by our technological/scientific/political culture.  Perhaps reading helps.  But it doesn’t achieve anything, does it?  Unless it helps us to think.  And I really do not know what to think about the warm winters and dying trees, except to watch as things change- there will be spectacular sunsets at the end of the world.

a little history

a little historyToday I want to consider the American writer Ammiel Alcalay.  It was Alcalay who brought to mind my Greenham Common friend, Mel.  In his book a little history, he unpicks with the dedication of a true reader threads of thought and feeling that go back through the twentieth-century.  He grabs you by the collar and gives you a good shake:

I think reading is an encounter that can be life changing, consciousness changing.  It is absolutely necessary for sustenance… The key is not to make the separations that society wants us to make.  Books are real, books are part of the world.  Un-branded, unexpected, non-commodified experience is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.  Books and poems may serve as some of the surest and last pathways back into experience, back into the values of experience, and so back into the world we actually live in.

This is exactly what I mean when I say that I make no separation between reading and life, between my reading of poetry- or any other text- and the world in which I find myself.  It seems to me that to do otherwise is to commodify yourself.  Ammiel, however, is much closer to Mel than he is to me: he writhes with contemporary understanding.

warring factionsAlacaly is a poet and a translator.  He spent six years in Jerusalem where he translated Syrian poets and has written his own poetry reflecting the experience of living through the first intifada in the eighties:  from the warring factionsDiane de Prima in her introduction to the book tells how it forced her to redefine her life by bringing the intimate and the political into a single arena where neither could be defined as itself.  The willingness to approach the world comes from a life of reading in the tradition of Charles Olson: that powerful affirmation of the poetic mind as being capable of seeing connections in a unique and convincing way; the writing of a reader who is aware of the deletions, the subtractions and the substitutions that political life effects.

No One Cares If You Are Good Or Bad

vietnam protestI have read a little history twice now.  I come back to the sections that deal specifically with the relationship between history and reading with a quiet frisson.  It is as though I had Mel with me again, showing me how flawed the canon is and encouraging me to loosen up and spread out.  Alcalay comes back and back to Olson, challenging me to think what it might mean to be here, now, with everything that is going on around me.   For example, in the seventies and eighties there were countless Vietnam movies.  How sick we got of the constant reworking of those themes!  And we never got to read the poem The Gift by Timothy Clover, a soldier who died in the war, containing these powerful words:

No one cares if you are good or bad
When you’re a gook and I’m a white man
Who preaches ideals and takes what he can.

 

Detroitposter2-206x300The blockbuster narratives of the Vietnam war, with their loathsome colonialist objectification of the gook and their sentimentalization of every maudlin feeling of whatever American soldier was “brutalised” by the experience, ought to have challenged me to find more authentic texts.  But they didn’t.  They induced a kind of stupor.  Perhaps that is the unwitting intention of imposed narratives.  Read the cracking good review of the phony shock movie Detroit by Kathryn Bigelow in the Baffler to get a much more elegantly expressed articulation of these ideas than mine.  You realize that poets don’t just fall through the cracks, but are busily shuffled off behind the scenes.

The “public” only gets to read the “geniuses”, who are not allowed to be relevant.  (I am going to come back to this in a post about Lorca and Dalí.)

Corruption and Pollution Shall Drag Us to the End

Ammiel knows this.  He writes about Vincent Ferrini, whose nephew Henry made a documentary about Olson you can see on Youtube, with loving affection.  Ferrini fell through the cracks like others due to “suppression and imposed narratives”.  Yes, I think.  And, yes, to Ferrini who says this:

Gloucester is catering to the tourists, all the big guns are going full blast, a sickening sign.  A backlash against the conservation ‘obstructionists’, especially by one Mueller who hates us for defeating his dream of a mammoth condominium on the Back Shore.  Corruption and pollution shall drag us to the End, but we’ll give them a headache on the way, and perhaps take away all their power, that, or humanity will have to start from scratch again.

Yes, I think, in Spain where the numbers of tourists do nothing but increase, the government puts its greasy fingers in, invests in more of the same, and the small people gape at the destruction: new roads, hotels and cheesy businesses selling Spain in the regions.  Flamenco in Asturias- why not?  It’s all Spain, isn’t it?  The village filling up with functionaries while the old farmers die off, their fields turn to bramble patches and, late in the day, a project for rural regeneration that won’t work, but will give another functionary enough money for a foreign holiday, screwing up another corner of the world with his trash and bucks.

Corruption and pollution: two words that describe modern Spain in a nutshell.

Some Kind of Nuisance

Reading seems an ineffectual response to the sheer awfulness of what is happening in the world.  And, no, for all his stature and claims, Olson did not stop the godawfulness happening.  Nor did Mel and her friends turn the cruise missiles around.  Nor will I, puffing about the environment, make a difference to the migration of people to the cities, their unhappy people, their sadness.  Yet, there is something uplifting in reading Ammiel that gives me a kind of hope.  “School was just a nuisance of some kind,” he says of himself age 13, “a backdrop to the things that really mattered.”  And I think that I can take that message forward and pass it on to others:

You can read.  And, when you do, the rest seems to fall away as some kind of nuisance.

If you want to read some more, try out the CUNY Lost&Found page.

 

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