Contemporary Spanish poetry often appears to live very much in the shadow of its immediate predecessors in many senses, none more so than in the way critics and poets themselves constantly pigeonhole work in a “school” or “movement”. There seems to be some sort of belief than this is the only way to emulate the 98 Generation (1898) or 27 Generation (1927) in their originality.
The idiosyncrasy of Angel Gonzalez, a poet from Asturias in northern Spain, stands out even more in this context. His death last year drew a definitive line under my vain and vague hope that I might one day attend a reading by him. This hope had always been kept on hold by his exile in Alburquerque, New Mexico, where he’d taught and then retired, meaning that readings in Spain became few and far between.
Gonzalez fought against being pigeonholed throughout his poetic life, realising that the battle lines drawn up by others were in fact limits instead of marks of identity. His work varies greatly in metrics, aesthetics and semantics, from pithy pieces that provide tremendous poetic sound bites to lengthy humanistic landscapes. I have to admit that I fell in love with the former, as few other contemporary Spanish poets hit the spot as concisely as Angel Gonzalez. Here’s a renowned extract from Glosas a Heraclito, a great example of how to grab the beat-up old myth kitty by its short and curlies…
Nada es lo mismo, nada
la Historia y la morcilla de mi tierra:
se hacen las dos con sangre, se repiten.
An impossible translation might fail along these lines…
Nothing’s the same, nothing
History and my homeland’s black pudding:
both are made from blood, both repeat.
Great (and brave) stuff when you bear in mind that this poem was written in the context of the Civil War and its aftermath.
I recently went to my first Poetry Translation Centre workshop in a while, where we translated a couple of poems by the Persian poet Iraj Ziayi (using a...