Learning to Love Lorca…or Any Poet

December 22, 2021

Wherever you step into the poetry tradition, you soon hear the names of various poets who are important for one reason another, masters of the craft, important historically, the ones who matter to your teachers, the ones who loom large and medium and small. When I started to study, the modernists were mountains in the landscape: Eliot, Pound, Moore, Stevens, and many others. They were the revered ancestors, and I read them with respect and often pleasure–but sometimes with bafflement or irritation or anger and resistance. I just didn’t get why they mattered so much. I tried for years to read Rilke (in translation, since I have no German), but couldn’t until David Young published his version of the Duino Elegies. I was put off by all the Greek and Latin in Pound, but then Hugh Selwyn Mauberly drew me in, and most of all the beautiful Pisan Cantos. It was Whitman’s Civil War poems that finally got me past his ego. Stevens was beautiful, but I was clueless. I carried The Palm at the End of the Mind with me everywhere for years, until it fell apart, before the poems emerged from the fog–or before I did. But nothing ever connected me to Federico Garcia Lorca–I read bits and pieces early, some poems, some plays–but I never quite cared enough to try to make more of a connection. Until recently, when one person in my terrific poetry reading group suggested we read Lorca, and we settled on excerpts from Poet in New York. And as I read, and listened to the poems in Spanish and English, and read a little about the poems (especially an essay by Levine, “Poet in New York in Detroit,” collected in his book The Bread of Time, in which he describes how discovering Lorca’s work “sponsored” his own poetry), I began to connect with the poems, and to read them with pleasure. This process of finally hearing a poet you’ve tuned out or just couldn’t tune in for years is woven through our reading and writing lives. I’d love to hear who some of those poets are for you.

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  • Reply Fredric Koeppel December 23, 2021 at 10:50 am

    Have you read Sarah Arvio’s Lorca translations called “Poet in Spain”? Published in 2018. I thought they were marvelous, very fluid yet precise.

  • Reply Sharon December 23, 2021 at 12:28 pm

    I haven’t, but I’ll look for them. The ones I read are by Pablo Medina and Mark Statman. Thanks for the tip.

  • Reply Kathy Wagner February 14, 2022 at 7:42 pm

    I can’t believe I didn’t see this when you first posted it. Lorca was one of my early discoveries, along with Juan Ramon Jimenez, Denise Levertov, John L’Heureux, Kenneth Patchen, Frank O’Hara, Octavio Paz… I was a senior in high school, and often I would break up my hour-long bus ride with a stop at the downtown library where I would scour the shelves for poetry books, both American and European. I wasn’t a critical reader, but I was eager. I picked poems I liked for no particular reason other than that they might appeal to my 17-year-old angst. I copied them into a small three-ring binder next to lyrics by Joni Mitchell or Paul Simon. Strangely enough, I came across this notebook just the other day. The front cover is gone, and lots of pages are faded or missing, including a Lorca poem about bull fighting. I think the time may be right to study this again. Thanks for the memory.

    • Reply Sharon February 15, 2022 at 7:32 pm

      You’re welcome! And what a great flashback hearing all those names How did you even know about them when you were in high school? They were much later discoveries for me.

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