Letter to my wife
My love, don’t forget it, there are words
that are sinful to say these days.
Words that you shouldn’t pronounce
nor even think them, stutter them
ponder and praise them, write them…
Much less scream them.
My wife, take note and don’t forget:
do not say, “Freedom”- a sad word
with the threat of death and skulls.
If it is true you love me, you’ll never say
this stupid word
that has teeth and bites like a wolf.
Don’t even say the verbs that derive from it,
however distant and vague
their etymological derivation may be,
such as, for example, free spirit,
free and easy, freed, free change.
Instead, say often, “Viva, viva,
yes sir, many thanks, God be with you.”
Then you will see how happy we will be.
Celso Emilio Ferreiro
Larga Noite de Pedra (1962)
(Xerais: Madrid, 1990)
When the Nationalists under General Franco won the Spanish Civil War, Galicia went under a drak cloud. Up until that point there had been a dynamic culture in Gallego, the language of Galicia. The Nationalists were only interested in cultivating a greater Spain and had no interest in what they saw as regional nationalisms: publishing in Gallego came to a standstill; it seemed that the language would return to the villages where it had been dormant for centuries up until the rexurdimento, or renaissance of Gallego in the later nineteenth century.
Many intellectuals and poets were ideologically compromised and fled the country. Castelao, who held office in the Republican government, went into exile in Buenos Aires and became the focus of the Galician intellectual resistance, which included a publishing industry that eventually saw the emergence of Galaxia, the number one publishing house for writing in the language.
Celso Emilio Ferreiro changed the course of writing in Galician. The irony of this poem is that the poet is writing precisely the words that he is forbidding his wife to speak. Neither the nature poetry of poets such as Noriega Varela, nor the sub-Surrealist poets such as Álvaro Cunqueiro, addressed their existential situation with the same force as Ferreiro and once Long Night of Stone, the collection from which this poem is taken, was published, it began to seem like an impardonable avoidance not to have mentioned the word freedom.
What is the role of art and poetry after all? Can you go about your business producing bucolic visions of the countryside ignoring the electricity pylons that stretch across your view in order to focus on the pretty old house behind them?
I am thinking about this today because I went to see an exhibition in Avilés by a young painter who calls herself Bitxo: Carne, Pelo y Polvo (Flesh, Skin and Dust). Avilés is a steel city. You can ignore this fact and pootle around the historic town centre visiting the chichi shops and drinking coffee at a terrace cafe by the town hall. If your taste is for the modern you can go across the estuary to the Niemeyer Centre and engage in more modernist reveries about formal values and international art.
What the exhibition of Bitxo shows, however, is something different: ugly little paintings of deformed entities that are affected by the pollution of the environment. In the accompanying flier it says that she is:
“On a constant search that comes from the need to promote and generate our own means of resistence and attack. In this case, Creativity as a tool for social transformation.”
In this case, “the monstuous represents the consequences, the beings that are born of that industrialised, abandoned and grey setting. Wood symbolises the cleanliness of the air inside that bubble of dust and red clouds. A purifying channel from a sky saturated with dirt that is fed by political and economic interests.”
If in 1962 resistance was expressed against the monolithic state of Franco, today there is a resistance to a different kind of big state that is making profits for a few whilst polluting the environment for the rest of us. I find it interesting that the resistance is expressed in Asturianu: if the exhibition guide is in castellano the title, at least, is not!