Eva Baltasar

The first book by Eva Baltasar, Laia, appeared in 2008 thanks to the Miquel de Palol Poetry Prize. Since then, she has published nine more books, notable amongst which are Poemes d’una embarassada (Poems of a Pregnant Woman – Pagès, 2012) and Animals d’hivern (Winter Animals – Edicions 62, 2015). “I’ve always said that I do poetry, not write it,” Baltasar said at the Llibreria Calders in the Sant Antoni neighbourhood. Now, about to turn forty, Baltasar is presenting her first novel Permagel (Permafrost), published by Club Editor. The first surprising aspect of this book is the title and its appeal to geology. “Permafrost is an insulating layer of earth below the freezing point of water, protection from a too-warm exterior. The main character in this story is a woman who is like a wall of ice.” This said, it might seem that the reader will find a cold, aseptic, lifeless block of text, but it is the opposite of that. Baltasar’s debut novel successfully combines pitiless, gruff humour with the disturbing details that slowly take over the storyline.

Whether it is true or not that Baltasar studied Art, worked as an au pair in Scotland, or tried to kill herself in a bathtub—in one of the book’s most comical and also disturbing scenes—there is a close link between the ways in which both narrator and author see the world. “I had no specific aim while I was writing. I set loose my way of feeling, which is very tactile and corporeal,” Baltasar explains.

Laia (2008) was a love book, an amatory book, if it is possible to distinguish between the two. “I am in you like the name of things / just as there lives / the place looked for in the spread / of a map”. Atàviques feres (Atavistic Beasts, 2009) offered thoughts on personal identity, one of this writer’s favourite subjects in her poetry: the “journey to the centre of ourselves”. And there were also some illuminating verses on time.

Baltasar’s books include cultural references—mainly literary and, more specifically, twentieth-century Anglo-Saxon and German lyrical poetry—and fix a highly personal gaze on reality. “Poetry”—as Auden said, and as Baltasar recalls, citing him—“makes nothing happen”. Yet it still survives. Reclam (Claim, 2010) held out some clues as to Baltasar’s personal work ethic: “Poetry, I excavate in a mine named like me / and I give it to you.”

Dotze treballs (Twelve Works, 2011) is very different from the three earlier books. The intimate realism of the earlier works disengages here and takes flight in different directions. Structured into twelve poems, each of which is written in blank verse couplets, this book seems to opt for surrealism: “the television tap is filling my living room / with fish still flapping their tails / the carpet is so wet / my legs swell like those of the furniture.” Ingeborg Bachmann is summoned, this time, in the epigraph: “Ever since names have weighed on us in things,” as an unfinished poem says. In fact, Dotze treballs, using a backdrop of prodigious images, sometimes mind-blowing or else hazily oneiric, probes the question of personal identity once again. “We are dense and magnificent,” the first poem “Sotabosc” (Undergrowth) says, and the ground-level view characterises these poems, as well as frequent objectifying of what is tiny. No, Bachmann’s mot de passe does not predispose us, as one might suppose, to start reading a bitter book. Personal identity—first name and surname—is specified in splendid verses. “I am named like a woman, like a king, like an island.” But then, there is the coda: “So many lands to baptise me / and so much distance to take on board.” It is not bitter, this poetry of Baltasar. And still less is it smug.

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