It is a curious fact that talented groups of writers and artists will cluster during specific historical periods. Their proximity to each other, both temporal and often geographical, works like yeast in bread. The result is a fulfilling and nourishing work. This happened during the nineteenth century, when the West European Romantic movement spread Eastward, leading to what has become known as the Golden Age of Russian literature – Pushkin, Lermontov and Gogol stand out as main exponents of this period. At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, a group of writers came together to experiment with Symbolist devices, leading to works such as Belyi’s Peterburgand Blok’s “Verses to the Beautiful Lady.” Another group arose shortly after them which strove to counteract their reliance on dense symbolic devices, creating a more naturalist school of literature known as Acmeism, which gave the world the amazing verses of Anna Akhmatova. In the United States, it would seem like somebody tossed something in the water of Walden Pond, since that small town served as the epicenter of the American Transcendentalist movement, which featured Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, to name some of the best known members of the movement. If you have had the pleasure of walking around Concord Massachusetts in the fall, you will be amaze at just how close to each other all of these authors lived. In the twentieth century, Upper West Harlem became the fertile ground from which the Harlem Renaissance arose, featuring such innovative literary figures as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and way too many influential musicians to even listing. Literary and cultural critics salivate (OK, mostly figuratively, though sometimes also physically) when they encounter such literary movements. They are convenient because they provide them with ready-made boundaries for their work. A movement generally takes place over a limited period of time and involves a definable group of individuals.This is the case with the movement called “la poesía de la experiencia” in Spain. The movement emerged during the late part of the twentieth century. It arose in response to the passing of Francisco Franco y Bahamonde, el Generalísimo, who ruled Spain from 1936 to 1975. Franco ran a dictatorial regime that derived many of its practices from Hitler’s German regime. Even though it technically does not qualify as a totalitarian regime – he never strove to take over the world with his ideology – he did use totalitarian derived practices to keep control of Spain. His regime censured literature heavily and energetically.
When Franco died, many critics waited to see what wonderful works would jump “out of the drawers.” These metaphorical “drawers” were the places where scholars expected that works long held back due to the fear of censorship resided. However, something very interesting happened after Franco’s death. Instead of a great volume of classically inspired works of literature, a new generation of poets emerged that strove to explore new narrative techniques. The movement has become known as “la poesía de la experiencia.” Even more interesting is the fact that this is one fairly well documented movement. Already in the middle to late 1980s, anthologies had emerged to present the work of these new, and relatively young poets, to the public. Luis Antonio de Villena stands out among the writers/editors who have worked to promote the cause of this group of writers through his anthologies: Postnovísimos from 1986, Fin de siglo (El sesgo clásico en al última poesía española): antología from 1992, and 10 menos 30: la ruptura interior de La poesía de la experiencia, from 1997. Another anthology that helped to define the group was La generación de los ochenta, by José Luis García Martín, from 1988. If la poesía de la experiencia came to define the kind of poetry that emerged from this time period, la generación de los ochenta, “the eighties generation,” became the label that unified all of these writers together.
HOW ISOLATION PLAYS INTO PART OF THE GROWTH OF LITERARY MOVEMENTS…
One interesting feature that seems common to a lot – not all, by any means, but a lot – of these literary movements, is that the writers come together through some shared cultural experience, a cultural experience that in one way or another is made stronger due to isolation that is imposed upon these writers. This is the case with the Transcendentalist movement in Concord in the early nineteenth century, when a group of smart writers found themselves in what was then considered the cultural backwaters of the American colonies, and even worse, away from Boston, the local urban center. In the case of Soviet bard poetry, which flourished following the Second World War, the poets knew each other due to the tight circles through which literature flowed during the late Soviet period. These circles found themselves incapable of publishing their works in the open, so they recorded their poetry set to guitar music and circulated it through pirated Maxell audio tapes.
The Spanish group of young writers that came of age following Franco’s death emerged in part because they had grown up in the highly censored environment following World War II in Spain. Actually, as the title 10 menos 30, 10 under 30 (meaning ten writers under the age of 30 at the time of the anthology’s publication) they grew up during the second half of the Franco regime, so any reference to the Spain prior to Franco existed only as oral tradition or faded history. These writers wrote at the same time that the Spanish scene was undergoing the period known as “la movida,” a movement known mostly for its hedonistic approach to art, as represented by Pedro Almodóvar’s first film, “Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón.” The scene was wild and raunchy, as if the cultural media of Spain was flying about as a balloon that has been filled up by a small child and let off to fly until it deflates itself.
This finally brings me to one of my favorite poems from this generation of writers. Luis García Montero was born in Granada in 1958, and is currently on the faculty at the University of Granada, Spain. He writes a lot, including a really nifty Euro-centric blog on the intellectual and political changes of this period: http://www.luisgarciamontero.com/. He also has kept writing poetry fairly consistently since the early nineteen-eighties. One of my favorite poems comes from the collection Fin de siglo(El sesgo clásico en al última poesía española): antología, edited by Luis Antonio de Villena, from 1992.
Luis García Montero, Fin de siglo(El sesgo clásico en al última poesía española): antología. Colección Visor de poesía. Luis Antonio de Villena, ed. (Visor: Madrid, 1992) 71-72
INTENTO, SIN COMPAÑÍA,
DE REHABITAR UNA CIUDAD
Pienso en la solución confusa de este cielo,
la lluvia casi a punto de la mirada
débil que las muchachas me dirigen
acelerando el paso, solitarias,
en medio del acento que se escapa
como un gato pacífico
de las conversaciones.
Y también pienso en ti. Es la exigencia
de cruzar esta plaza, la tarde, Buenos Aires
con nubes y mil cables en el cielo,
cinco años después
de que lo conociéramos nosotros.
Los que vienen de fuera siguen viendo
ese resumen ancho de todas las ciudades,
ríos que tan grandes
ya no esperan el mar para sentir la muerte,
cafés que han encerrado
la imitación nostálgica del mundo,
con mesas de billar y habitantes que viven
hablando de sus pérdidas en alto.
Mientras corre la gente a refugiarse
de la lluvia, empujándome,
en el dolor de este país incomprensible
y recuerdo la nube
de tus preguntas y tus profecías,
selladas con un beso,
en al plaza de Mayo,
camino del hotel.
Testigos invisibles para un sueño,
hicimos la promesa
de regresar al cabo de los años.
eterna y escogida,
como cualquier destino inevitable,
y apuntabas el número de nuestra habitación.
cuando pido la llave de la mía
y el alga de la luz en el vestíbulo
es lluvia rencorosa,
vivo confusamente el desembarco
de la melancolía,
mitad por ti, mitad porque es el tiempo
agua que nos fabrica y nos deshace.
(De Las flores del frío)
I ATTEMPT, WITHOUT ANY COMPANY,
TO REPOPULATE A CITY
I think about the confused solution for this sky,
The rain almost at the point of the weak
glance that the girls direct at me
as they step up their pace, alone,
in the midst of the accent that escapes
like a peaceful cat
from their conversations.
I also think about you. It is the demand
to cross this square, the afternoon, Buenos Aires
with clouds and a thousand cables in the sky
five years after
we got to know it.
Those who come from outside keep seeing
that wide summary of all the cities,
rivers so large
that they do not wait for the sea to feel their death,
coffee shops that have encased
that nostalgic imitation of the world,
with pool tables and residents that live
speaking about their losses out loud.
While the people run to take refuge
from the rain, pushing me,
I think, disoriented,
of the pain of this incomprehensible country
and I remember the cloud
of your questions and prophecies,
sealed with your kiss,
in Plaza de Mayo
on the way to the hotel.
Invisible witnesses of a dream,
we made the promise
to return after the years.
You seemed them
eternal and chosen,
like any inevitable destiny,
and you wrote down our room’s number.
when I asked for the key to mine
and the alga of the light in the vestibule
is a spiteful rain,
I live confusedly melancholy’s landing,
half for you, half because it is time
that is the water that makes and unmakes us.
(From The Flowers from the Cold)
This poem stands out for how ordinary the setting is, and how interesting the narrator is. It is very typical of the work of this particular movement in that it gives you the picture of a personal experience, in this case a man remembering his encounter with a woman. There is a distinct separation between the inside, where space and memory is understood, and the outside, where strangers cannot interpret the world around them. I especially like the closing lines conceit of our reality being malleable, like water that shapes a shoreline or a river bank. The intimacy of the memory lives in the three dimensional surroundings – the town square, the room, even the room key. This is a nice contrast from the more historically charged poetry that I usually study in the field of Slavic studies, such as Akhmatova’s exquisite, yet heavy, Requiem.