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Catalan poetry

Poems from Light Off Water : XXV Catalan Poems 1978-2002

edited by Iolanda Pelegrí with Anna Crowe,

translated by Anna Crowe

"Insoles" by Anna Aguilar-Amat

These are already too small for you now. I slip

my fingers in and feel the soles

of your feet, the negative both of a time in which

we were always together and also of the days you

will live through when I disappear. A future

modelled for us by orthopaedics, the heaviness

that's made you walk as a stranger to my

footsteps. Tread my failures underfoot

as though they were steps of an ancient 

wisdom, because they are the cabin trunk you can

always sell to a passing carrier.

Tell him you've lost the key, that

they can pay you according to the weight; if they think

that it's too light, say there are maps inside; if they think

it's heavy, precious stones. And afterwards

travel as far as you can, climb right up to the summits. Drop

a coin or two in the forgiveness box. Every bit you give

will carry you that much further. 

Excerpt from "Anna Sleeps" by Agustí Bartra

Sleep, my Anna, go on sleeping, head bowed

as though in reverence to the night.

Queen of peace, for in wild or in fine weather

your steer with just one finger.

In my distress, I say the epiphanies:

first there rises from your brow the light

of the rising sun, the star of all our days:

                                   corona, world and flight.

Then after comes the moon, of all things bridal

                   that entered the house at Roissy

and was a witness of the first grapplings

                   of a naked you and me.

From your right hand rises, love, the fire- 

                    bird that dispels all ice

and coiled about you in the shade, like some device,

                    the serpent made of stars.

Hush-a-bye, Anna, hush-a-bye -- I say with a voice of wool.

                    The cock crows as it must.

Ding-dong, my long, ding-dang -I say with the voice of a bell

                    that is tattooed with rust.

Hush-a-bye, Anna, hush-a-bye -- I say in the voice of a pistil,

ding-dong, Anna, ding-dang -- I say, desperate for shelter.

wanted to say in a low voice your high praises

and barely discern the song which never wearies.

But I said love to you. And that is everything, everything, everything. 

Out of my hope I ask you, shall we make sorrow flower? 

    The privilege of embarking to Barcelona in late October results in the duty of keeping up with the Catalan Independence Movement — something that actually came to an apex on the day after I departed. The politics around Barcelona prompted me to find something more culturally specific, which turned out to be a much more difficult task than I expected. Online resources and my university library both failed me (and I thought the internet was quite all-encompassing too). It wasn’t until I went to the Scottish Poetry Library that I found anthologies on Catalan Poetry, and was able to read Light Off Water.

    In the introduction of that text, the editors described how the Catalan language was suppressed after the Spanish Civil War. For over forty years, Francisco Franco revoked recognition of all languages other than Spanish — making it illegal for fiction and poetry to be written in Catalan. This resulted in the self-exile of many writers — including Agustí Bartra and his wife, Anna María. While this history could seem dull, it was made extremely vivid to me in the simple, touching poem written by Bartra in dedication to his wife after they were exiled to France. “Anna Sleep” (or “Anna Dorm”) is a love poem written in aftermath of Franco’s cultural suppression  and their national disownment of Spain. There is something striking and courageous when something beautiful is made out of turmoil — in a life filled with displacement and noise, there can be quiet. 

    I can’t help but let the history of a work of art change my interpretation of the piece — but that’s how I ended up loving this simple poem. Maybe a love poem can become an act of protest when it is made in spite oppression. This poem teaches me that there are things that fascism cannot take away. There might be things that war cannot touch.

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