Who I Am and Why I Write

Carles Duarte

The little I know has plenty to do with what I've read and what I've written. Mediterranean as I am, I understand life, above all, as the joy of existing and the desire to know. The Mediterranean is olive oil and wine and it's where the bluest horizons fuse, but it's also Egypt and Israel, and Homer and Virgil. Yes, like the Phoenicians who sailed all the way to the Atlantic, we are Ulysses because we refuse to stop discovering. It is from this gaze that I feel part of the world.


Barcelona, 1959. Poet, linguist and politician.

Poetry is a moving way of looking at the world and expressing it. It's also a form of knowledge, the construction of a mirror made of words with which we ask ourselves about the breath that moves the world, the last throb of the universe, and by means of which we attempt to understand and interpret what we have experienced, the present, and the impulse to persist.

It is difficult to pinpoint the moment when I became interested in poetry but I have been a great enthusiast since 1971, the year in which Pablo Neruda was named Nobel laureate for Literature and of the publication of his book Aún [published in English as Still Another Day], where I found an exuberant passion for life, compelling language, and joyful, telluric, cosmic poetry. At home we spoke Catalan, although my father, Àngel, has his roots in Carcelén, a village in the La Manchuela region of Albacete.

The first poets I came to love in Catalan were Salvador Espriu and Ausiàs March and, certainly, hearing how Raimon sang them helped a lot in this. But I was also interested in Vicent Andrés Estellés and Miquel Martí i Pol, about whom I published articles in neighbourhood magazines when I was young.

I started writing poetry in Spanish at the time of the coup d'état in Chile and the death of Pablo Neruda. I kept writing in Spanish for a couple of years but, after winning a neighbourhood literary prize, I began to think about the possibilities of publishing a first book and it was then that I saw clearly that, despite the difficulties arising from my deficiencies in written Catalan, I'd have to change my literary language in my attempt to construct a literary oeuvre in my mother tongue. Time has confirmed that it was the only coherent solution possible and it has permitted me to persist with the ceaseless apprenticeship required by poetic writing, always seeking new ways of expressing light and wound, even daring to create new words, such as "atardorar" (autumning) in poems like "Les fulles atardoren" [The Leaves Are Autumning] in Primavera d'hivern [Winter's Spring].

When I was at university I worked with a group of friends to launch the literary review Maig in 1979. We published seven issues with quite a lot of contributions amongst which were my first poems in Catalan, some of which came to be included in Vida endins [Life Within], the book with which, strictly speaking, I was launched as a poet, this being published in 1984 by Editorial Moll, thanks to the decision of Josep Maria Llompart who, with his letters and his encouragement, was determinant in the taking-off of my literary career.

After a certain hiatus I published Paisatges efímers [Fleeting Landscapes] with Editorial Columna in 1989, thanks to the support I was given by the excellent writer and, at the time, publisher as well, Àlex Susanna, with whom I continued to publish on a regular basis until he left Columna.

I then started working with Carles-Jordi Guardiola, this materialising with the publication by La Magrana of the books El somni [The Dream], El silenci [Silence], the second edition of Tríptic hebreu [Hebrew Triptych] and my translation (Retrats de mars) of Hélène Dorion's book Portraits de mers [Sea Portraits]. I've subsequently published with houses such as Empúries-Ed.62 (El centre del temps [The Centre of Time]), Pagès (Vesteix la mirada [Clothe the Gaze]), and 3i4 (Els immortals [The Immortals], the collection of my poetic works, S'acosta el mar [The Sea Draws Nigh], and the book of short stories Ulls encendrats [Ash-covered Eyes]).

My poetry seeks the breathing of a naked music, inclining to the clear rhythm of what is essential, to a purifying of expression. Constantly present are the landscape and cultural references to the Mediterranean, with central themes such as tenderness (skin, desire, knowledge through touch...), the dream (as motor of existence, as the subjective, personal reading of what is happening, as territory in which creativity moves with most freedom...) and oblivion (as extinction of memory, as a never-ending horizon devouring all that exists...). My work is constructed along three different paths: a) the poetry of the self, intimate and personal, taking off from my own experience (La pluja del temps [The Rain of Time], El somni, and El dolor de la tarda [Pain of the Afternoon], et cetera); b) poetry that takes as its departure point a work, a culture, a character of the ancient Mediterranean civilisations (Tríptic hebreu, on the Biblical world, of the Essenes and the caves of Qmran; Ha-Cohen, on the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, a fascinating, surprising character, whom I find totally contemporary; Khepri, on the ancient wisdom of the Egyptians; El silenci, with interpretations of fragments from The Enneads by Plotinus; Arvad, which evokes the world of the Phoenicians, and so on; and c) poetry arising from confluence with the work of a plastic artist (Primavera d'hivern, D'una terra blava [From a Blue Land], Miratges [Mirages], Vesteix la mirada, Ens mou la llum [Light Moves Us], etc.).

I have been working this three-way route as a manner of enriching my work and steering clear of the palling of the ego that frequently puts in jeopardy the construction of a personal poetic oeuvre. For the same reason, I have often engaged in translating other poets because it's a way of expanding my literary gaze and because, when I translate a poet I admire, he or she becomes even more part of myself.

I shall close now by reiterating a commitment that I think is essential: a substantial part of the renovation and thrust of my poetry is related with projects I've carried out jointly with artists who create with languages that are in tune with my own: Guido Dettoni, Manuel Cusachs, Antonio Hervás Amezcua, Francesc Guitart... I believe that the 21st century will be marked precisely by a creative re-launching that is fruit of exchanges between writers, sculptors, painters, musicians, and photographers. And I propose for myself, from what I am, and from what I write to probe more deeply into this.

  • Poetry As Drawing
  • Massa mare
  • Música de poetes
  • Premi LletrA