Influence as Afterlife/Lorca as Gay Earth Mother: Part 2

by on Jul.10, 2011

I’d like to continue my thinking about the anti-elegiac nature of influence by turning to Lorca as a mythified poet whose death, far from sealing and securing his legacy along tidy, monocultural, patrilineal lines, instead continues to birth art beyond the strictures of genre, gender, nation, and linear temporality.  For me, Lorca resurrects and redefines the figure of the Gay Earth Mother I touched on months ago in previous posts–a figure whose queer totalization and fecundity Dalí depicts in his tribute to Lorca:  Invisible Afghan with the Apparition on the Beach of the Face of García Lorca in the Form of a Fruit Dish with Three Figs.

Countless poets have written elegies for Lorca since his shooting by Franco’s Nationalist militia in 1936.  A very incomplete list ranging from Greece to Turkey to the US to Brazil to Russia to El Salvador to Chile and finally Lorca’s native Spain includes Nikos Kavvadias, Turgut Uyar, Kenneth Rexroth, Vinicius de Moraes, Yevgeni Yevtushenko, Claudia Lars, and prose tributes from William Carlos Williams, Pablo Neruda, and Vincente Aleixandre.  Poems by a constellation of Polish poets, from Stanislaw Skonezny to Jan Winczekiwicz, likewise register the resonance of Lorca’s death in Eastern Europe.  As Cary Nelson mentions in The Wound and Dream:  Sixty Years of American Poems About the Spanish Civil War, such elegies tend to reiterate recurrent themes and tropes in Lorca’s oeuvre.  Nelson cuts and pastes from the aforementioned poems as well as others to suggest their harmonization as a “choral response”:

The Crime Took Place in Granada (Machado)

You watched the monster, Federico,
That Yeats saw stirring in the desert. (Rexroth)

from the choked south, from your buried city (Rolfe)

They killed Federico
when first light appeared. (Machado)

He did not die like a gypsy:
he was not stabbed to death.
Five rifles went searching,
by five roads, for his soul (Castro Z.)

And he stopped and turned and faced them, standing still;
He stared at their aiming eyes, his imminent murder;
He was one with the people of Spain and the stood as they
stand. (Parsons)

and they split wide his heart
the same as a pomegranate,
and the fountain of his blood
shot up to stain the stars! (Castro Z.)

the way you died, with surprise in your eyes,
as you recognized your assasins (Rolfe)

Why is Federico not here?
I have wonderful news for Federico!–
news for his private ear […]
Federico!  Federico!  Too soon! […]
Federico, wait for me!  Wait!
I must talk with you!  Look!  […]
I have so much to tell you, Federico! (Prados)

I cry in pain, “Oh, Federico!  Federico!”
where does a gypsy go to die?
Where do his eyes change to silver frost? […]
Where will Federico be,
where will he be that he won’t be back? (Guillén)


If Jack Spicer’s fake translations of and letters from Lorca blur the two poets’ writing in a kitschy imitation of the latter’s style, Nelson’s collage suggests a suspension of originality among poets across borders.  Or, in other words, a boundless and perhaps unwitting infection of “Lorcaness” through the elegy.  By emulating Lorca’s sensuous imagery, childlikeness, and plaintive modes of address over a span of 60 years, these poems work against their implicit gesture to address and isolate the dead in memoriam.  Like the mass graves that still obscure the site of Lorca’s burial and continue to preoccupy Spain, elegies to the Andalusian poet consistently defy his containment in death and history, instead absorbing and reanimating his presence in afterlife to the extent that poets as diverse as Machado, Rexroth, and Neruda bleed into each other.  Their voices overlap in an inexact reiteration of Lorca; they act like children trying to match mother’s speech.

The reverberation hardly limits itself to poetry.  After Leonard Cohen translated and set to music “Pequeño vals vienés” as “Take This Waltz,” the flamenco artist Enrique Morente went on to record Lorca’s original words over Cohen’s music in a reverse translation that epitomizes influence’s constantly mutating, nonlinear trajectory.  As if to signal his intercourse and marriage with an assassinated gay poet, meanwhile, Cohen named his daughter Lorca Cohen.  As a wildly promiscuous and maternal force, Lorca’s influence thus lives on precisely because his premature death disperses it.  To give into that influence is to channel some kind of vulnerability and risk nonidentity under a state of endless birth or birthing.  It is to assume a queer plasticity or fertility that Lorca himself had to avow after his classmates called him “Federica” in school.

5 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes Göransson

    Great post. You might find Jonathan Mayhew’s book “Apocryphal Lorca” insteresting. It’s a book about the various translations of Lorca into US poetry. It’s a very interesting book but it’s interesting that Mayhew criticizes most of the translations as inauthentic, as indeed kitsch, without actually defining the “true” Lorca; that is he defines Lorca through his translations, creating a kind of dynamic like the one you describe.


  2. Lucas de Lima

    Oh yeah, I’ve read parts of that book. I remember it being interesting and giving me a new perspective of “deep image” poetry, making me realize why I wasn’t ever that into it despite my obsession with Hispanic strains of surrealism. Like this quote from Mayhew, too, which I just found online: “The duende, shocking to say, is the form taken by Lorquian kitsch.”

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