Thursday, 28 January 2010

Jaime Gil de Biedma

"I dress and drink like an Englishman".

This quote is from Jaime Gil de Biedma, a key figure in 20th Century Spanish poetry. It hints at many of the paradoxes and layers to be found in his character. An upper-class Marxist who had to hide his bisexuality in Francoist Spain, his writing is often labelled "Poesía de la Experiencia". In fact, Gil de Biedma's poems play with the notion of experience and identity, drawing on the hypocrisy that necessarily formed part of his life.

Gil de Biedma's wealthy family enabled him to travel widely. He spoke excellent English and spent time in the U.K., where he read avidly and came under the influence of Auden's poetry. It's important to bear in mind that Gil de Biedma has been a crucial point of reference for many contemporary Spanish poets, so he has also been one of the few conduits between the two countries' poetic aesthetics. Just as many Latin words come to English through French, so I would argue that certain momentary nods towards Auden in Garcia Montero often reach us through Gil de Biedma.

His life and work are currently in the media spotlight over here in Spain, as a controversial biopic has just come out, titled "El Cónsul de Sodoma". Beyond the arguments about its veracity or focus on sexual escapades, I just hope it generates more readers for Jaime Gil de Biedma. Here's a terrific example of his own self-awareness from his poem "Después de la muerte de Jaime Gil de Biedma", "After Jaime Gil de Biedma's Death", in which he addresses his other self and ends with these lines...

"Aunque acaso fui yo quien te enseñó.
Quien te enseñó a vengarte de mis sueños,
por cobardía, corrompiéndolos."

"Although it might have been me who taught you.
Who taught you to take revenge on my dreams,
out of cowardice, corrupting them."

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