Catalan Poetry Since 1975

Catalan Poetry Since 1975
Sala valldaura jm
Josep Maria Sala-Valldaura
Brossa - la clau (catalan)11
by Josep Maria Sala-Valldaura.
The year 1975 is the year Franco died. An important historical date does not necessarily imply the start of a new literary period, but, in this case, the passing of the dictator made it possible for our political system to resemble that of Western Europe, for Catalan to be taught in schools and used in universities, and for the Catalan-speaking areas to enjoy a freedom of behaviour and speech which is perfectly comparable with the changes which took place during the French May of 1968.

The process which accompanied the birth of democracy in the Spanish state, and the integration of the latter into the European Union, resulted in a gradual change in the social function of poetry, and even more in the case of Catalan poetry, because the language managed to achieve a level of cultural and institutional normalisation which it hadn't enjoyed for centuries. Nonetheless, the ideological consequences of the arrival of democracy in the Spanish state cannot be considered separately from the moral, or even from the aesthetic ones; the year 1975 affects political practice, but also creativity. It marks the start, for example, of a transformation of the social and moral role of literature, a transformation which changes the role of poetry by giving more priority to the novel.

So it is that poetry no longer has to meet the demand for patriotic representation and political denunciation, which is what it had done during the previous period, in which political compromise, the engagement of the poet with the unjust situation his society found itself in, were uppermost. We are referring here to the way in which special attention was paid, in the 1960s, to the civil aspect of the work of Salvador Espriu (1913-1985), a poet who is best loved today for his metaphysical dimension; or how, in the 1970s, Joan Oliver, aka "Pere Quart" (1899-1986), took on the mantle of satirical and moral poet in the face of the powers that be. At the same time, poetry of a Symbolist nature - such as that of Carles Riba (1893-1959)- or which was more existentialist and personal -Joan Vinyoli (1914-1984)- was not rated so highly or liked so much by the intelligentsia. Little by little, on a more popular level, the success of the singer-songwriters of the "nova cançó" movement - (Raimon, Lluís Llach, Maria del Mar Bonet...)- gradually gave way to a new literary consumption, which included everything from political essays (a short-lived publishing phenomenon) and genre novels (erotic fiction, for example), to the emergence of a certain amount of print journalism in Catalan and an increase in theatrical events and spaces, the street included.

The changes involved, as we have said, were aesthetic as well as ideological and moral. Indeed, the Europe of May 1968 crossed the frontier and the poets of the Generation of the 1970s, born around the middle of the century, showed a clear determination to bring together, politically and culturally, the different areas in which Catalan was spoken (The Balearic Islands, Valencia, Catalonia); they also clearly showed a wish to recuperate the literary tradition and the poetic language of the classics and of the avant-garde (from Ausiàs March to Surrealism); moreover they wanted to broaden their subject matter, as a result of moral liberation, to include feminist identity, and by making eroticism and homosexuality, etc. explicit.

Opposing themselves to either historical or social realism, which was too concerned with making itself understood, the poets who half-renewed the panorama of the 1970s and 1980s defended the value per se et in se of poetic language, the autonomy of the poetic sign, often without realising that with their conduct and their thought, they were linking the latter up with a style that derived as much from enthusiasm for the discovered language as from the need to establish a difference with the conservative nature of the country.

Not enough emphasis has been laid, I believe, on the break which all this represented with the dominant trend of contemporary Catalan literature, the 'noucentista': since 1975, the Catalonia described by the new poets did not look towards an ideal City, and so their Mediterraneaness had very little to do with the Classicism of the Majorcan school, with that of Eugeni d'Ors or with that of Josep Carner, because a new spin was put upon Greek myths and characters and because some preferred the more Arab tradition (Josep Piera, Jaume Pont, Salvador Jàfer, Manuel Forcano,...) and a different vision was held of life, a more hedonistic and passionate one (with models as different as Joan Salvat-Papasseit and Vicent Andrés Estellés).

It is easy to understand later developments, because Catalan culture at the end of the 20th century was not so very different fortunately, to that which, in the rest of Europe, was metonymised and symbolised by the fall of the Berlin wall. The youngest poets, in general, take on board freedom and the Catalan language not as milestones which have to be reached, but rather write in a register which is not so different from that in which they speak and which they have heard, as alive as could be, at home - as Enric Sòria (1958) affirms, in his introduction to Varia et memorabilia.

The treatment of initial motifs taken from real life has favoured the autobiographical, lyrical and narrative nature of a fair number of poets, who we have sometimes gathered together under the name of poets of experience, and who have taken a particular interest in distinguishing the self from the poetic subject, using reconvention or ironic reflection. However, as happened in all the different trends of a period which was, not in vain, qualified as post-modern, the poetry of experience was cultivated by people of all ages, who can be clearly differentiated: Gabriel Ferrater (1922-1972), Jordi Sarsanedas (1924), Francesc Parcerisas (1944), Marc Granell (1953), Enric Sòria himself, etc.

It would appear that, in recent years, there has once again been a strengthening of the subversive and transgressor role played by poetry, but it is also true that this had never ceased to be the case. We could list a good number of examples: for example, without moving from Majorca, Blai Bonet (1926-1997), Miquel Bauçà (1940), Andreu Vidal (1959-1998) and Arnau Pons (1965), all four of whom are so interesting because of the worlds - so singular, so unique - which they express through the language they use (an interest not only due to their vocabulary, but also due to their rhythm and syntax).
A look at the various tendencies which cohabit or coexist within the current poetic panorama will confirm this impression of more or less post-modern aesthetic plurality. The trends which have marked the last decade bring together poets who deny the validity and the usefulness of the generational method. Brossa is followed by Carles H. Mor, Carles H. Mor by Víctor Sunyol..., in a chain full of links of all ages and all materials. Textualism, if I might name it as such, ratified the same thing as did the poetry of experience; other trends which are very much present and thriving simply make it possible to add more examples: the creators of a poetry of silence or of a poetry with metapoetic themes, poets influenced by Expressionism, those who incorporate a critique of the urban world, as well as the languages of music or film, those who take metaphysical paths as they reflect on the human condition, etc., all are integrated into a firmly encrusted mosaic.

Out of all these authors and tendencies, some poets (men and women) as well as some theories of poetry may be used to reaffirm these considerations, even though they may be too general, and, therefore, a touch simplistic. All the traditions - Romantic, Symbolist, Avant-garde - are present in recently produced Catalan poetry and all of them are served by authors who come from generations separated considerably by date of birth: that is all there is to it. Despite this, and, sheltered from social, linguistic and moral necessities, an evolution is discernible, which bring the figure of the poet and the object of the poem closer to a reality which is not as ideologised as before, and which is taken more for granted as a starting point... and, pretty often, as a finishing line.

If we take as an example the authors born just before the 1950s and compare them to the writings of authors who are now forty or thirty years old, we may observe that the poetic ambitions of the older writers had, as their maximum objective, the singularisation of the poetic voice and almost excluded emotion as a proposal, whereas the younger poets are not put off by the latter and approach poetry by being careful not to write Poetry with a capital P. Although there are precedents (Gabriel Ferrater), the new position of the poet has breathed new life into the ironic side of poetry, not always with a moral aim, but rather as a defence of a conduct which wishes to be communicable and which is based on a lucid individualism. Hence the tremendous differences between the poetic theories of Pere Gimferrer (1945) and of Maria-Mercè Marçal (1952-1998),on the one hand, and of the poetic theories of Jordi Cornudella (1962) and Txema Martínez Inglés (1972), on the other.

Gimferrer's "Art poètica" [Poetic Art] refers to the tradition of the suggestion of transreality, to the cognoscitive value of polysemy, and, bluntly put, harks of Symbolism: "Something more than the gift of synthesis to see in light the passage of light."

Maria-Mercè Marçal explains the ideological source of her poetry and the water with which she nurtures it: "I am grateful to fate for three gifts: having been born a woman, of lower class and of an oppressed nation. And the misty azure of being a rebel three times over. [...] And it is now, with the name of fairy or witch, that I wish to invite to the marketplace the verses of Foix and of Ausiàs, of Brossa and of Rosselló, of Salvat, of Carner, of Lorca and Rosalia, of Plath and of Arderiu, of the trees, of the leaves, of the moon, of the earth, of love and struggle and salt and water. Of roots, of boats. And of solitude without shoes."

Beneath this poetic theory lurks the desire to write while bearing in mind a language which belongs to the common imagination (the mythemes of the tree, the moon, the earth, etc.) and which makes it possible for us to throw ourselves into concern for our being and our existence, as people, lovers, women, mothers...

What we have here is a conception of poetry with a capital P, which sees language as an agent provocateur - as Jean Baudrillard would say - which searches the "secret fate of the world" or the deepest ontic reality. Also, however, we can find in the more veteran poets an ironic relativisation of the profession, closer to a sector of the younger poets. This is the case of Narcís Comadira (1942), or of Francesc Parcerisas, who, in L'edat d'or [The Golden Age] (1983), imagined how, years later, after his death, his library would be sold and split up, before concluding: "I would never have thought that it's memory
would have eventually spread so far."

It is, however, in more recent generations of poets that it is easier to find a conception of poetry with a small P, which does not imply a lack of artistic ambition. Let's give a couple of examples. Jordi Cornudella affirms, in a "Prosètica": "I trust that the verses which I write do not manifest - aside from a firm intent at pulchritude as regards ideas, rhythms and words - any singular poetic theory which should lead people to confuse me with those who do have one flying from the flagpole. I merely write verses because I have fun imitating the poets I love because, among other things, they accompany me, in the season, when I go looking for wild asparagus."

As far as Txema Martínez Inglés is concerned, he notes down, by way of reply: "The senses of poetry make sense; the emotion which we feel, which we discover, which we rescue, is completely right. This is why I find it strange when someone comes along and reveals to me that poetry is not myself, but rather the things which talk through me, and that my voice is a spokesperson for people, and, in the best of cases, of the gods. That I am an emissary or, in the best of cases, a prophet, which is always an attractive profession to have. I, in my tender innocence, had always believed that things didn't talk, at least not in real life, that they were simply there."

Altogether, it is extremely difficult to choose a few authors who can represent such a wide range of poets. I have made a selection of five, because they at least show different efforts being made to arrive at poetic truth: Josep Maria Llompart (1925-1993) and Feliu Formosa (1934), as well as Francesc Parcerisas, Pere Gimferrer i Maria-Mercè Marçal, all of whom have already been mentioned.

Josep Maria Llompart, "the needy pilgrim of the shadows", has a talent for converting objects and landscapes of day to day life into an interrogation concerning life and death. He describes everything from childhood through to the threshold of the vacuum in a strange, worrying combination of elegiac tones and ironic distancing, alternating or mixing colloquialisms and more classical rhythmic forms. In one of his greatest books, Mandràgola (1980) - if I may transcribe what I wrote in an earlier article - the circular nature of each of the three series underlines an obsession with the passing of time - which affects memories of childhood - and with death, in a sensation of absurdity which is intensified by the brief verses, the phonic effects, the absence of nexae, the syncopated presentation, a certain semantic incompatibility, enumeration and repetition, the personalisation of childhood, as in "Antònia" and of death, as in "Agnès", the breaking up of the lexical level, the symbols and the images which come from an ideolect which is both his own (the significance and value of the 'scissors', for example) and yet common to all (those of the 'clock', 'night', 'angel'...), etc.

The poetry of Formosa, who is also a translator and a man of the theatre, makes clear to what extent meditation is related to doubt: as he himself pointed out in an interview, the struggle for truth has been of necessity titanic for those who, like him, have had to fight against so many moral and political lies. Perhaps that would account for the formal austerity and the desire to communicate which permeate his verses, written with the conciseness and toughness that he has learnt from translating Trakl or Brecht or from talking to Vinyoli. Semblança [Similarity] (1986) reflects the interdependent duality of Formosa's poetry: lived experience and literary experience, in the shadow of a concept of love similar to that of Pedro Salinas; so it is, then, that "dreaming", "longing", "having", "seeking" or "looking" come together and blend together on the same level of reality in one of his poems. His later trajectory has taken him to Immediacions (2000), a hundred and twenty-five single verse poems, a masterpiece of ars brevis: living and philosophising in a single flash.

Especially in its later phase, the work of Francesc Parcerisas is usually based on an initial motif which comes from the highly varied stimuli of everyday life, be it professional, sentimental, cultural... The task of the poem or the poet, in this case, consists in knowing how to strengthen the virtuality of the pre-text, because it is necessary for the anecdote - sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit in the first verses - to lead us to the category. The themes are of broad general interest (the chronicle of a man of our era, who grows from the Latituds dels cavalls [Latitudes of Horses] up until L'edat d'or), and although there is a certain stress on the idea of loss, the poet believes in the carpe diem, in love - no matter how fleeting - or in the pleasure of literature. His work is in effect a photograph album, a collection of moments which allow one to see life and think about it.

So as to continue with the same image, the illumination behind Pere Gimferrer's poetry is somewhat different, as is his poetic development. Although he began writing in Castilian, he soon switched to Catalan and has si

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