Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Review: La Cuadratura del Plato, by Mónica Doña

I do feel I have to start the review of this excellent collection, titled La Cuadratura del Plato (El Páramo, 2011), with a spot of background information that should serve as a practical illustration of the points I made in my post a couple of weeks ago about poetry funding in Spain, all this without wanting to knock the book in question in any way.

Mónica Doña's manuscript won Córdoba County Council's annual poetry prize, for which she was awarded 6000€ of public money. This is far from being one of the largest prize funds in Iberia. Her book was then (eventually) published by the officially backed regional publishing house with beautiful production values and not a price to be seen on it. In other words, there's no real target commercial audience at all or any promotional marketing.

There are definitely better ways of using public funding to support poetry and help it reach more people. However, in this case I'm delighted that at least the cash has given Mónica Doña's poetry a chance to find a readership. I was drawn to Doña's work because it refuses to be pigeonholed into typical Spanish "schools". What's more, she approaches life so as to understand it, rather than being drawn into esoteric codes. The first section in the book, titled Objetos, draws on everyday items, concentrating on their implicit emotional content, as in Navaja:

"Corta el hombre su pan a rebanadas
y luego las reparte.
Rebanadas de pan, todas iguales.
El hombre y su navaja
saben medir el hambre."

"The man cuts his bread into slices
and then hands them out.
Slices of bread, all the same.
The man and his knife
can measure hunger."

The second section of the book, meanwhile, titled La Cuadratura del Plato, is charged with the bottled-up emotion of a repressed childhood in Francoist Spain, homing in on the humdrum once more in order to accentuate its impact. Doña evokes a double life: the social containts of the family are contrasted with the world of her imagination, ending up in a reconciliation of the two selves in adulthood:

"Se cuadra ante la luna del armario
y le dice a su doble:
No te duermas, hermana,
que otra vez empezamos desde cero."

She squares up to the mirror on the wardrobe
and says to her double:
"Don't fall asleep, sister,
we're starting again from scratch.""

The collection's third and final section, Cine en Casa, moves on to the difficulties of adult life and offers us cinematographic vignettes of troubled contemporary family relationships (more troubles!). Despite the delicate nature of her material, Dona actually manages to bring a wry smile to this reader's lips on a regular basis, as in Dígaselo con Flores (Say it with Flowers):

"...encargaste en la tienda de flores
dos decenas de rosas.
Como si fueran huevos
para nutrir desprisa a una familia
desganada y perpleja..."

" ordered at the florist's
two dozen roses.
As if they were eggs
to nourish a family
that's off its food and perplexed..."

The aesthetics of this verse might not seem so unexpected to a British reader. Nevertheless, they are unusual in the context of contemporary Spanish poetry. Mónica Doña's La Cuadratura del Plato is fierecly ambitious without feeling the need for obstrusive posturing. It's been a pleasant surprise for me and I applaud it.


  1. It was the theatre that benefitted from public money in this way in the UK. When the government cut Arts Council funding a couple of years ago we were hysterical about it but art should have a target audience.
    Given the collapse of the Spanish economy, will county councils be offering prize money for many more poetry competitions, do you think?

  2. Hi John,

    Prize funds will be lower, but I'm afraid that these competitions are endemic in Spanish poetry. In fact, they are one of the few ways for a new poet to publish.

    One of the possible good things to come out of the Spanish collapse "might" be more initiative to go about things outside the ambit of state backing (in general terms, not just literary publishing), but that's a big "might".