Les veus de l'obsessió

Joan Margarit, poet

If we had to designate an heir to the clear but difficult poetry of Salvador Espriu and the kindly, intense poetry of Miquel Martí i Pol, it would undoubtedly have to be Joan Margarit.

Joan Margarit (© A. Schwartz)
Joan Margarit (© A. Schwartz)

His extensive and celebrated poetic output is a shelter from the storm, harsh and tender at one and the same time, and has made both critics and readers appreciate him more than virtually any other poet.

Joan Margarit (Sanaüja, 1938) is the most widely read living Catalan poet. He has written all his works directly in two languages, Catalan and Spanish, and has won several awards, foremost among them the Catalan government's Premi Nacional de Literatura (2008), the Spanish government's Premio Nacional de Poesía (2008), the Premio Iberoamericano de Poesía Pablo Neruda (2017), the Premio Reina Sofía de Poesía Iberoamericana (2019) and the Premio Cervantes (2019).

Margarit singles out two key moments in poetry: one is when the poem is born inside the poet and the other when it arrives inside an unknown reader. He has said that he realized very young that he would never find a poem by looking outside himself and maintains that the reason an artist can awaken emotion in some distant person he or she does not know is because people are very alike. When some event occurs, some personal misfortune for instance, what makes us different is not what happens but the different ways we tell ourselves and others about it, our different abilities to do so.

Margarit thinks that being a poet means first and foremost being able to find something capable of arousing emotion among all the things we all have inside us, which are invariably mixed up with thousands of other things that are worthless or even untrue.

A poem can be compared to a musical score written by a poet to tell us what he or she has found. The reader is like someone who has an instrument on which the score can be played, while the score is what enables the reader to read and feel what the poem was like when it left the poet and what it is like now that it has reached the reader. Thus when we read a poem, we are searching it for our own truth, and this act, mysteriously, brings consolation. The process is very similar to listening to music. Margarit has always said that poetry is very unlike other forms of literature and closely akin to music. Poetry and music are perhaps the only tools that are of immediate use at the worst moments in our lives. A painting might be of use if we had the original within reach. Or a novel, if we could wait to read it.

Do you see poetry as a self-portrait?
Artists practise self-portraiture though it's only obvious in the case of painting or sculpture. In poetry, the distance between the portrait that is projected outwards and the poet himself can be greater or lesser but it's not easy for readers to measure it and I don't think it's of much interest to them either. I think people have exaggerated the importance of this distance between poet and poem or, more precisely, between emotion and awareness. If the distance were as short as is sometimes claimed, poetry would overlap with confession, and if the distance was as great, poem and novels would be more interchangeable. I'd say that good poems achieve just the right distance in each case.

Does your poetry reflect your state of mind, is your innermost "self" present in it?
Always. Subject and object have coexisted in poetry since Romanticism and I don't think poetry will ever renounce that coexistence again. There may be a few experimental works which try to exclude emotion but even that arises more from lack of ability than from some deep-seated wish. They're usual bad poems wearing an avant-garde disguise. A different issue is how to deal with this coexistence by making either the object or the subject predominate. Even in my most subjective poems, I tend to strip feeling bare so that for the reader a certain sense of objectivity is uppermost.

Does the endless roaming that is part of writing afford certain resources which inevitably belong to poetry?
Those are precisely the elements which run the greatest danger of becoming sterile because they've been used so often that they've become clichés. One of the most difficult things in poetry is to re-use them successfully without resorting to irony or sarcasm. Music is hardly ever anecdotic. It seems like an excuse for finding oneself again.

Is it a mirror that restores balance?
After the people I love, nothing helps me more than music and poetry to maintain an inner balance. Since my daughter died, for instance, nothing has brought me closer to her invisible presence than certain pieces of music by Bach: his Suites for cello solo, especially when played by Lluís Claret, and his Goldberg Variations and his English Suites, notably in the version by Glenn Gould.

Do the spaces for reflection your poems open up aim at some existential reassertion, do they issue a note of warning to awareness about the accommodating nature of reality?
I think one of the ways art enters our awareness is by slightly lifting the veil that daily life lays over everything, even feelings, and by pointing things out to us as if we had never perceived them before. That's what is sometimes called the surprise factor in a poem. It always has to be present, to a greater or lesser degree.

Is writing an exercise in clarification?
Writing poems, as I get older, has become an obsession with stripping them of everything that is not essential, whether it be lines, words or narrative. One of the signs which showed me I had reached maturity as a poet was the ability to reject lines which, however brilliant, were not indispensable.


January 17, 2021
Main Auditorium
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