April 2011


Dear Federico
I start this letter again anew
various things have befallen me
wounds to heart and body
you know how it is
and how easily we fall
from life’s strange tight-rope
months ago I had some idea
of what I might write
hundreds of words later
and having written them
I’m not at all sure where I am
or what that idea was

I’ve been saying your poems out loud
with a movie camera aimed at me
a man is making a film about them
he is hitching them to Goya’s etchings
of horrific wounds to heart and body
how will this film turn out?
oh how can you ask?
both of us must believe
in our tender hearts
that all will be well
I’m saying your poems in English
I’ve read them many times now
each time I read I learn something more
and more and more and more
Federico I’m pleased to read them
even when they concern ugly events
why am I pleased?
I say again and again and again
because reading is knowing
and I will not relent

but what do I know?
I’m reading translations
only scholars of Spanish
read your lines in your tongue
I studied Spanish for a year
years ago I fear
when I was thirteen
my teacher was a Falangist
and a paltry poseur
maybe a fantasist
I didn’t like him

he wore a camel overcoat
slung over his stooped shoulders
he had a walking cane with an ivory knob
an abrasive affected voice
a watch on a fob
he never read us your poems
we sang Amapola and La Cucuracha
like you he liked popular song
and so did I
and so I do

he taught us well
the failing was mine I know
I remember words an occasional phrase
I have some sense of how to pronounce
but I don’t understand your poems
I understand other’s poems
derived from yours
a mystery this business of translation
but now as you know
your words are widely read and fêted
your plays are films –
do you have television? –
they are performed all the time
somewhere at this very moment
an actor declaims a shot is fired
your words it seems
like Shakespeare’s survive
more or less
come what may
so what does this say
about poetry philosophy politics
would that I knew
what I do know and for sure
is that the voice I hear in my head
is you

I speak your words into an empty room
I mouth the stories songs
laments and chants
you wrote over eighty years ago
you are speaking to me in these poems
I am your echo – yes?
your English echo
when I speak them

I too am speaking I hope
for you and to you Federico
I’m trying to tell you something I can’t tell

I don’t even know what I’m trying to tell
does it matter I try ? – yes it does
it’s important to have a conversation
how’s your English Federico?
ah as bad as my Spanish
perhaps worse?
so get a friend
to make a translation
you will understand I know
your business is words anyway
you might roll your eyes to heaven
at my clumsy speech
the lack of music in this letter
but you’ll understand somehow
what I have to say
though when the so-English poet Auden
wrote to the so-Byronic Lord Byron
his letter said it better
and will do
for me too:

But here I end my conversational song.
I hope you dont think mail from strangers is wrong.
As to its length, I tell myself youll need it.
Youve all eternity in which to read it.

I know you’ve read Bad Lord Byron
failed-liberator of Republican Greece
and Auden who left England too
to be a Poet in New York
Federico! how can you resist his talk?
as for me my letter ends with today
as I put out the light
so far as I’m able
I’ve written as I intended
in a spirit of sweet delight
I’ve nothing more to say
save I pray not to suffer
a night of loveless sleep
and tomorrow?
tomorrow I will look for your moon
at noon
at noon
for ever at noon …

un abrazo





Lorca must have passed through Stroud
we feel it in every bone
he didn’t change at Swindon
but took the train alone

then as the valley spread below
the Great Western loco’ flew
past the sheep and dry-stone walls
till steep Stroud came to view

and on its vacant platform
stood a man in felted hat
with shoulder-bag and violin
and notebook in his pack

they fleeting caught each other’s eye
across the up-train line
the whistle shrieked the down-train fled
the parted poets sang in time

the parted poets sang in time



una aventura

Lorca is walking to Whiteway
he is charmed by all he sees
his chanced-upon companion
lives there it turns out
young and sunburned – she is
if you believe local lore
committed to free-love
nudism and vegetarian picnics
is a witch very likely

fortune favours Federico
¡es un milagro! 25
she speaks Spanish
and looks lovely as a lark
he is ready to fall in love
with Whiteway
with her
with all the young men
he is yet to meet

Stroud’s hills are green and lush
not scraped and sparse
olive trees are unknown
she tells him tales
of Tolstoy and peaceful Christianity
they plod like pilgrims
forever uphill
Lorca is on his way
to visit compadres
in another county
but he’s been waylaid
and led astray
he has wandered
from his path
or has he found it?
what happens at Whiteway
is a closed book
what will happen later
is forever unknown

days later still dreaming
Lorca crosses the Atlantic
aboard a Lorca liner deluxe
the Statue of Liberty beckons
he is in for
one helluva shock



exilio y santuario

Andrés Ordoñez has a safe bed
in a homely chalet among many
bright moonlight from a starless sky
falls through the casement
he lives in a frugal place

I weep for every spent person
in the morning I listen
to a lark sing its technicolour song
above my realm of dreams
in green Gloucestershire

every day he asks his fellows
¿que pasa?
every day he asks himself
¿que pasa?

the exiles have lived here
for a long and lonely year
¡No pasarán! has a bitter ring
Franco sits astride his innocent horse

our compadres die in prison
Church and State continue
in unholy union
red and black the colours once
of anarchy and liberation
are now the raggy dress
of blood and death
¡ay! ¡ay!

the familiar moon beams down
on his unfamiliar bed
the toy boat he made
when a child
floats bravely on the night
his mother and father at the helm
Spain is the hole
in his heart

anarchist longings fill my head
my friends and guardians here
watch over me and share my grief
it helps it helps but thats the limit
I’m down on love and down on spirit

his joy has gone –
left on a scorched hillside

festering in the pollution of war
a war not civil at all
but desperate and bitter
did it demean
all who fought there?
he wonders

the sun went down on us
and when the moon came up
the songs of land and freedom
died on our chapped lips

not quite asleep he drifts
for a thousand miles or more
he hears castanets and guitars
goats and sheep
he sees olive groves
lemon trees
grape vines
a favourite bodega
he remembers a Lorca song
yelled by untrained soldiers
he hears the cicadas of dusk
there are none in Gloucestershire
he hears them nonetheless
he always will
¡ay! ¡ay!



Jeff Cloves
Illustration Rupert Loydell

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