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Guerrilla war within contemporary Spanish poetry studied
30 March 2009
An analysis of militant poetry from 1980 up until the present day has focused for the first time on the polemic between the so-called ‘poetry of experience’ and ‘metaphysical poetry’. According to the study, the antagonistic positions taken by the poets are part of a highly fragmented pattern, which reflects the – sometimes inharmonious – ways in which the different aesthetic branches within contemporary Spanish poetry co-exist.
Spanish poetry over the past 30 years has not only reflected the changes that have taken place in the country’s society, but also certain currents that authors have used as a weapon against parallel forms of poetry. This is the overarching idea of the essay Poetry in the footsteps of peace (methods of commitment towards the third millennium) written by Luis Bagué Quílez and reviewed by Ángel Luis Prieto de Paula, a professor at the University of Alicante (UA) and a literary critic for publications such as ABCD and Babelia.
As the researcher tells SINC: “understanding militant poetry requires one to take a broad view that goes beyond strictly literary limits. Militancy does not mean one has carte blanche to create a literature of barricades based on party politics or demagogy, as was done by the weakest of the socially-aware poets of the post-war period”.
Prieto de Paula’s work analyses books that “contain a range of psychological attitudes and formal processes that represent a new way of dealing with social conflicts”, such as El día que dejé de leer EL PAÍS (by Jorge Riechmann, 1997); Cinco años de cama (Roger Wolfe, 1998); La semana fantástica (Fernando Beltrán, 1999) and La intimidad de la serpiente (Luis García Montero, 2003).
The UA chair says the poems of Riechmann are “a form of critical hyperrealism that comes down to us from the testimonialism of the 1950s, but which adds a personal and ironic viewpoint”. Wolfe, however, adopts “a dirty realism which alternates spiritual malaise with ethical concerns”, while Beltrán creates a kind of “meddling poetry that integrates the present day’s crisis of values into his own family”.
The poetry of Luis García Montero, meanwhile, who is possibly the most well known of the writers analysed by Prieto de Paula, is “a distillation of the motives of a different kind of sentimentality, which is created by merging the public and private history of a self facing the decadence of Enlightenment ideas and a philosophical vacuum.
“New Spanish poetry feeds off postmodernism”, a broad concept that brings together a range of critical precepts, from linguistic metaphysics to the first manifestations of négritude or feminism within the so-called concept of ‘otherness’.”
The researcher explains that these collections of poems are representative of poetic creation over recent years in Spain, and “embody the logic of a society that has deactivated counter-culture mythology by raising it to the status of acceptability, and converting it into a mask of conformism”.
The historical changes that took place throughout the 1980s (the failure of idealistic expectations, political disenchantment and the fall of the last Communist governments) uphold a theoretical discourse in which the practical application of aesthetics connects with the neoconservative theses of the “end of history” proposed by theorists such as Francis Fukuyama.
Poets of experience versus metaphysical poets
Although the cultural pathway took shape with the appearance of a significant nucleus of young authors from the end of the 1970s, by the start of the following decade it was still not possible to clearly make out the change of direction that Spanish poetry was taking.
According to the UA researcher, “the two poetic tendencies that came to define the field of developments of the time crystallised around 1985 – the so-called poetry of experience and metaphysical poetry, both of which were badly named. These two currents brought the quarrel between a figuratively rooted art form and an abstractly rooted art form into the world of letters”.
In the face of avant-garde truth and demiurgic ambition, poetry of experience defended verisimilitude as a source of complicity with, and an individually-tailored re-reading of, tradition. Metaphysical poetry took the other viewpoint, encompassing a greater conceptual and stylistic diversity, which took form in a radical rhetorical purification process, following in the footsteps of Juan Ramón Jiménez, Rainer María Rilke and Paul Valéry.
By the 1990s, these two competing trends had been joined by the belligerent poetry of difference, which represented revulsion with the literary scene of the time rather than any new aesthetic development with specific characteristics. Prieto de Paula says “the writers of this movement thought the success of figurative poetry was a symptom of the moral selling out of the post modern era”.
There were many areas for argument between the various forms of poetry, although the foremost among them were Spain and the civil war, with writers of recent years having taken a more historical view of the country, unlike the post-war writers. These subjects are connected to other phenomena, which did not exist either in the immediate post-war period – urban development, the anti-NATO protests of the mid-1980s, and the current ant-globalisation movements.
According to Prieto de Paula, “contemporary writers draw up thematic maps that include the chronicling of marginalisation – the bankruptcy of democratic hopes, criticism of the militarism of the United States, the remodelling of the political map of Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and vindication of the environment in the face of technocracy”.
The expert’s study shows that “militant poetry today is multi-faceted”, although all the various forms of this poetry “refuse to allow their success to be subordinated to any extra-literary ends, instead remaining true to their own ideologies”.
The author of this essay, paraphrasing Fernando Pessoa, says: “The poet of today is still a faker, but he knows that his aesthetic fiction is fed by the stuff of existence: indispensable doses of pain, desire for change and justice, revelation and death”.