Adam in Barca

More on Valente
July 28, 2009, 2:27 pm
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Following Dan’s lead on his blog, I thought it would make sense to say a bit more about the poet I’ve been studying and translating since the Spring and while I’ve been here.

José Ángel Valente was a Spanish poet, essayist, and translator born in 1929 in Ourense, Spain. He died in 2000 in Geneva. Though he’s been translated very infrequently into English, many Spanish critics have called him the greatest of the post-Civil War poets.

Valente was very prolific during his lifetime, writing and translating dozens of books, but he is most known for his distinctive style and strong beliefs on language and poetry. As his career progressed, his poems became less representational and more abstract, through Valente’s belief that poetry should be about pushing language “to its limits.”

I was first drawn to Valente because of his passion for painting and sculpture, after studying visual art/poetry in a seminar with Bonnie Costello (at BU). Valente was active in the Spanish art scene, becoming close friends with major Spanish artists like Eduardo Chillida or Antoni Tapies; he often included their work and other’s in his poems and essays.

I just finished writing an essay on Valente’s book “Interior con Figuras” (Interior with Figures), one of his first books to deal extensively with visual art. Picasso’s famous “Guernica” is one of the paintings included in the book, and I was fortunate enough to see it on my short trip to Madrid last week (more on that soon!)


July 27, 2009, 12:32 pm
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For a change of pace, I thought it would be nice to leave the city. I took a day trip to Montserrat (“Serrated Mountain”). The image of the mountain is very distinctive and well known in Catalonia; you can see it in the distance on the northern side of the city, with massive wind- and rain-worn stones across the top. Catalonians have such affection for it that, apparently, “Montse” is a common name for girls.

It takes about an hour by train to get to the base of the mountain, and then another 30 or so to get to the top. The main feature, once you get there, is a Benedictine monastery, founded in 1025 after a vision of the Virgin Mary. It’s one of the more amazing places I’ve seen; I hope the photos I’m posting do it some justice. The monastery, which has been tended to by monks for centuries, looks like any of the great churches of Europe… except for the fact that it’s perched on the edge of a cliff, thousands of feet above sea-level. You can see Barcelona, the ocean, and even the Pyrenees in the distance. I was there at a quiet time of day, so you could walk around the perimeter of the complex in calming solitude.

More Gaudi — at La Pedrera
July 27, 2009, 12:05 pm
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July 23, 2009, 12:59 pm
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I’ve gotten a bit backed up in my blog postings, busy traveling near Barcelona and getting immersed in the sensory overload that is Spain. But I’ll catch up soon.

Otherwise, I’ve been spending a lot of my time reading/writing in cafes, practicing Spanish, exploring the different barrios and parks that Barcelona has to offer, and doing some translating/research for Jose Ángel Valente. He was good friends with a few Catalan artists, like Antoni Tapies, an abstract painter who lived in Barcelona. They have a museum devoted to him here.

I found “A Moveable Feast” — Hemingway’s semi-fictionalized essays on his time as a young, poor writer in Paris — in a second-hand bookshop, and devoured that pretty quickly and enjoyed it (even though, as my fellow traveler Dan pointed out, many of the stories are of dubious factuality). Last week, I stumbled upon a series of small, mostly free, contemporary art museums near my neighborhood. There’s a new 3-floor modern art museum that rotates exhibitions (and is basically free for students). And then there is a small museum for Joan Brossa, the Catalan poet and artist. He’s well known for his “visual poems” which, after seeing them in person, I would say aren’t really “poems”—they’re just works of visual art that occasionally use language. That being said, they’re very playful and enjoyable. Some are mini-sculptures, and others are extended series of art prints.

Here’s one example, that I liked:

Lorca on Barcelona
July 14, 2009, 11:37 am
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Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, in a letter about visiting his friend Salvador Dalí in Barcelona, wrote: “Barcelona is very different, isn’t it?…”

There one finds the Mediterranean, the spirit, the adventure, the elevated dream of perfect love. There are palms, people from every country, surprising advertisements, gothic towers, and the rich urban high tide created by typewriters. How I enjoy being there, with that air and that passion. (“Sebastian’s Arrows,” 6)

Some Miró and Gaudi
July 13, 2009, 9:37 am
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Art i poesia.
July 10, 2009, 6:44 pm
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poesiaA lucky coincidence. Yesterday I made a trip to the museum devoted to the work of Spanish artist Joan Miró, who was born in Barcelona and spent much of his life here. As I approached the museum, I was surprised to read the posters around the entrance: “Miró-Dupin. Art i poesia.”m

As it turns out, the current exhibition is devoted to Miró’s life-long interest in poetry and literature, with a particular focus on collaborations with French poet Jacques Dupin. Since this topic is part of what I’m here to study, the timing feels quite auspicious. Although I knew Miró’s work, I wasn’t aware of his interest in poetry. Like so many Spanish artists of his generation, Miró spent time in Paris, and while he was there, fell in love with the work of the French symbolist poets, including Apollinaire and Mallermé. Later, he became friends with French poets of his own generation, including Dupin, and his painting and sculpture was influenced by their work.

An excerpt from the exhibit: “In their shared belief that the purpose of art and poetry is not simply representation, they collaborated together on numerous projects during the nearly three decades of their friendship… Joan Miró’s interest in literature can be seen in the books from his private library that are on display along with a selection of paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints from the Foundation’s collections. Parallel to this, a selection of books and poems by Jacques Dupin, illustrated by different contemporary artists, guide us through his world of poetry.”

It’s a fascinating and beautiful exhibit, and I’m looking forward to returning to it again after I have read more of Dupin’s poetry.