Posted on: Tuesday 9th June, 2015
The following is the text of a paper delivered by Anglo-American poet Jane Duran on behalf of the Lorca Foundation at the Bucharest interim conference in May 2015:
When Federico García Lorca was assassinated in 1936 at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, he was already world famous as a poet and playwright. He was only 38 years old when he died, but left behind him a rich and varied legacy of poetry, plays, lectures and letters. His letters alone are works of art. Lorca was also a classical pianist – his first vocation – and he composed arrangements for Spanish folksongs. He was also a wonderful artist and the beautiful drawings and paintings he left behind form part of his legacy.
After his death the Lorca family went into voluntary exile in the United States. My own father was also in exile, a refugee from the Spanish Civil War. I have known the Lorca family all my life, and growing up in New York, our two families were very close. Federico’s younger brother Francisco taught Spanish literature at Colombia University; he wrote critical texts on the work of Federico and encouraged translations.
The Lorca family eventually returned to Spain and in 1984 established The Federico García Lorca Foundation. The whole family donated the Lorca documents they possessed to this foundation. Its aim is to promote the study and dissemination not only of the poet’s work, but also of all artistic and cultural manifestations related to him. Among the Foundation’s many activities and initiatives, encouraging and promoting translation has been key.
In this very competitive world, it is understandable that many schools concentrate on curricula geared to doing well in exams, and less on creativity. I hope this meeting can think about ways of encouraging poetry writing in schools and also a broader knowledge of poets from the countries represented by Kindred Spirits. We all know, and certainly all poets know, how enriching the poetry of other cultures can be to our own culture and poetry.
A key to this is also translation and translation projects. Lorca wrote his Romancero Gitano between 1924 and 1927, he was a young man still in his twenties. The book was published in 1928 and immediately brought him fame. The book is a sequence of 18 ballads rooted in the traditional Spanish ballad form. Lorca described it as A book that hardly expresses visible Andalucía at all, but where hidden Andalucía trembles. The book has been translated into hundreds of languages and there are already countless translations of it into English.
Each of Lorca’s poems is dedicated to someone different, and Manuel Fernandez-Montesinos, Lorca’s nephew, has written notes on these dedications. Our book also has an essay on the Gypsy Ballads and their roots in the Spanish ballad form, by the Spanish scholar Andrés Soria Olmedo from the University of Granada. There is an essay by the Lorca scholar Christopher Maurer who surveys previous translations of the Gypsy Ballads, and considers the problems and challenges faced by translators of these ballads over the years ; finally we have Lorca’s own talk on the ballads. We hope all these elements will help to illuminate the poems for the reader.
But also the book itself, the physical book, is a coherent and resonant artefact, designed by John Morgan. The drawing on the cover of the book is by Lorca, it was Lorca’s first draft for the cover of his Romancero Gitano, though he didn’t use it. Although this drawing has been reproduced in other books, this is the first time that it has been used as a book cover. What is also fascinating is that the drawing has been de-bossed, (opposite of embossed!), that is - sunken into the cover, so you can run your finger along it and feel Lorca’s script. The book cover and the edges of all the pages are the green of a ripening lemon. There is a copy of a manuscript page of Lorca’s poem San Miguel from 1926 with his crossings out. All these elements we hope, including our near-literal translation of the poems and even the use of some Spanish words in the English text, will bring the reader closer to the world and imagery of Lorca’s Romancero.