By Matthew Stewart, UK/Spain (Published in Issue 11)
Luis Garcia Montero is a terrific poet and a real force in Spanish poetry. Whereas much contemporary Iberian verse moves back from life in an attempt to understand it, any steps away by García Montero are only a prelude to homing back in with fresh eyes.
This is largly thanks to his idiosyncratic blend of influences, ranging from Larra and Lorca to Auden (via Gil de Biedma, who has been a crucial point of reference for García Montero as a conduit between Anglo-Saxon and Iberian poetic aesthetics), all topped off with his personal and literary experience of having reached adulthood just as the dictatorship was imploding and liberty exploding. One of the most accessible poets to be writing in Spain, his realist poetry is also unafraid of the lyric and the esoteric.
The above-mentioned combination brings about a poetry that captivates, drawing the reader in, working at umpteen levels. Garcia Montero might have brought together something of a group around him in Granada (poets such as Javier Egea and Alvaro Salvador), but there isn't a school as such - his voice is inimitable. I do enjoy his erotic work and political pieces, but perhaps he's at his best when writing about his daughter, Irene, as in the following snippet:
cobran todas las cosas
un impreciso afan por empezar de nuevo"
everything takes on
an imprecise urge to begin again"
Over the last few years, the direct. experience-led facet of Garcia Montero’s work has grown. His latest book, Un invierno propio, very much confirms that impression.
García Montero has always been associated with the so-called "poesía de la experiencia", yet his previous work was still littered with overt allusions to the Spanish literary canon, as if he felt obliged to prove his erudition in the face of accusations by his contemporaries of being overly "facile".
In Un invierno propio, however, García Montero seems to be ever more comfortable with his personal, intimate yet direct voice. Many Spanish poets seem to disappear into their own esoteric ambitions with age, but García Montero is taking a far more exciting, opposite route: ignoring many critics' sniffiness, his poetic project is now unique in Spain in the depth that he achieves without a shred of pretentiousness.
One example of this new-found extra confidence can be found in the opening lines of Hay aviones que despegan desde ningún lugar y que aterrizan en ninguna parte:
"Nadie puede bañarse en lágrimas dos veces
en el mismo aeropuerto..."
"Nobody can bathe in tears twice
at the same airport..."
Both this begininng and the poem that follows stand alone as excellent verse. García Montero finds no need for overt allusion or quotation. Nevertheless, there are implicit nods to Ängel González and his Glosas a Heráclito, which contains my favourite lines in 20th Century Spanish poetry:
Nada es los mismo, nada
la Historia y la morcilla de mi tierra:
se hacen las dos con sangre, se repiten.
Nothing is the same, nothing
the History and black pudding of my homeland:
both are made with blood, they repeat.
González’s poem provides a great example of how to grab the beat-up old myth kitty by its short and curlies, underlining its relevance to contemporary events. This is great (and brave) stuff especially when you bear in mind that this poem was written in the context of the Civil War and its aftermath, when censorship and repression were rife.
In his poem, meanwhile, García Montero provides the reader with two equally valid routes. The allusion's there but it isn't rubbed in our faces: unlike with much contemporary Spanish poetry, we aren't being made to feel we have to pass a test of our erudition before the poet grants us access to his work. What’s more, Angel González himself also represents an avoidance of pigeonholing that is similar in the realization that the all-too-common battle lines drawn up by many other Spanish poets and critics were in fact limits instead of marks of identity.
Another example of García Montero's growing surefootedness, meanwhile, is in my favourite piece from the collection, titled La tristeza del mar cabe en un vaso de agua, in which his eschewing of fireworks brings with it a gorgeous, direct lyricism that I won't quote, because its simplicity would render it ridiculous in a limited quote. I recommend getting hold of the book, downing the poem in one and then going back to savour it, sip by sip.
In conclusion, Luis Garcia Montero’s verse is an excellent point of departure for readers who wish to start exploring contemporary Spanish poetry. What’s more, his development gives the impression he’ll soon be cropping up on shortlists for major international literary prizes, deservingly so. Why not discover him beforehand?!
Read more of Matthew's work at Rogue Strands: http://roguestrands.blogspot.com/