J.V. Foix

Manuel Guerrero

The poetry of J. V. Foix is, in his own words, that of "a researcher into poetry". His verse, as a consequence, is highly experimental. His work is a subtle combination of ancient and modern values, from both conceptual and formal perspectives. Thus, he ends one of his best-known poems with the words, "I'm enthralled by the new and am in love with the old". From this fusion arises his metaphysical poetry with its avant-garde elements. His verse stands solidly within the Mediterranean tradition, but at the same time is permeated with magical and dream-like moments, and with contrasts and paradoxes.

Barcelona, 1893-1987. Poet, journalist and essayist

Exiled in Ancestral Territory

J.V. Foix (Barcelona 1893-1987), decided to remain in Catalonia after the Civil War and to take over the family cake-shop business in Sarrià. Once an old town, but by then absorbed into Barcelona, the Sarrià district, where the poet was born and would spend the rest of his life, is, like Pessoa's Lisbon, or Borges' Buenos Aires, the mythical setting of many of his poems. Foix, exiled in his ancestral territory - as he would state in the first poem of Les irreals omegues (The Unreal Omegas, 1949) - had been a well-known journalist and, from 1922 to 1936, head of the culture section in the newspaper La Publicitat. Now faced with the impossibility of working as a journalist in Catalan, he put his energies into a particular internal exile in which he rewrote and published his work. As one familiar with the avant-garde tradition, true to his Catalan nationalist convictions, and wishing to contribute towards his country's cultural recovery, he wrote for the most prestigious reviews of the immediate post-war period: Poesia, Ariel and Dau al Set. For the new more inquiring and original groups of young poets such as Josep Palau i Fabre, Joan Brossa and Joan Perucho, and also for the emerging artists who most represented a rupture with the more conventional forms of art, for example Joan Ponç and Antoni Tàpies, J.V. Foix, like Joan Miró, would become an essential reference in the 1940s and 1950s. And he would continue to be so for generations to come, until the very end of his life.

Investigator in Poetry

After publishing Gertrudis (1927) and KRTU (1932), poetic essays in prose influenced by futurism, cubism, Dadaism and surrealism, Foix, the prestigious intellectual and journalist of the Second Republic, moved towards an aesthetic position that would distance him from avant-garde orthodoxy although without abandoning his commitment to the investigative spirit of modernity. Even before the Civil War, in an article entitled "En versos ben tallats i arrodonida estrofa..." (In Well-sculpted Lines and Rounded Stanzas...), which was published in Quaderns de poesia (Number 6, January 1936), Foix, adopting a somewhat eclectic literary position, stated, "I cannot hide the fact that, in poetry, I love all the tendencies. Perhaps it is by inclination, but for years I have been regarding literary schools not as such but rather as genres. [...]. A poet can, without being abominated by anyone, transcribe or describe in classical, academic, naturalist, realist and "cubist", or whatever style." And he declared, "It is very true that, as much as anyone else, I employ free verse in automatic rhythm. But it is also true, because I confessed some time ago, and maybe always, that I write my poems without hiding the fact that I do so as an investigator. (Which has nothing to do with Maragall's spontaneity!) I am not satisfied to call myself a poet, but prefer investigator in poetry."

In 1972, demonstrating the validity throughout his work of these essential ideas that are embodied in his poetry, J.V. Foix once again printed this text, with some variations, as the prologue to his book of poetic prose Tocant a mà (At Hand). Until the very end of his long literary career, J.V. Foix, in a singular gesture, and using a term that is more common in the world of science than the literary world, defined himself not as a poet but as an investigator in poetry.

Sol, i de dol

The appearance of the work Sol, i de dol (Alone, and in Mourning) in 1947 was a benchmark for the reception of the work of the poet of Sarrià, who then began to be regarded, in very minority circles, as being of the same order as Carner, Riba and Sagarra and as one of the great voices of twentieth-century Catalan poetry. The book, divided into six sections, includes seventy exemplary sonnets. Striving to perfect the formal rigour of the poems, J.V. Foix creates a traditional structure in which the Italian sonnet and the Catalan decasyllable converge. With a style that is at once original and unmistakable, incorporating both medieval and modern language (taking as his paragons the medieval Provençal poets - Bernat de Ventadorn, Raimbaut de Vaqueiras... - the Italians, Petrarch, Dante and Cavalcanti... and the Catalans, Llull, Jordi de Sant Jordi, Ausiàs Marc..., in a literary operation that is comparable with what Ezra Pound achieved in English, J.V. Foix completely renewed Catalan poetic language with his prodigious verbal richness. A unique synthesis of classicism and the avant-garde, Sol, i de dol brings together sonnets written by the author between 1913 and 1936, revised and with the addition of some new material before their publication in 1947.

Throughout the sonnets of Sol, i de dol, J.V. Foix reflects, often metaphysically but always from an original and personal standpoint, on different key issues of modernity, for example the crisis of individual and collective identity in an increasingly technology-dependent world that drives contemporary man into solitude; the need for reason to prevail over madness without, however, abandoning imagination; the difficulties in satisfying desire and hence to enjoy love in all its fullness; and the spiritual impossibility of attaining the absolute. In all of Foix's diverse and complex oeuvre Sol, i de dol was to become the centrepiece book wherein the poet expressed his deepest existential conflicts and doubts.

Les irreals omegues

Resisting any kind of pigeonholing of his work, Foix published Les irreals omegues in 1949, this book being a total departure from the classicism that predominated in Sol, i de dol. In the tradition of the trobar clus (closed) style of the troubadours and hermetic poetry throughout history, the poems of Les irreals omegues exemplify the most baroque and dense form of Foix's poetry. Written in free verse, in decasyllabic or alexandrine form, the book's thirteen poems, which are distinctive for their long titles, are the re-creation, with precise oneiric imagery, of the poet's experiences in his youth before the Civil War, and of his reflections on the collective moral defeat of society during and after the war.

The Myth of 1918

Three years after publishing a new book On he deixat les claus... (Where Have I Left the Keys..., 1953), where he works with short and traditional forms to produce twenty-eight poems (among them the famous "És quan dormo que hi veig clar" (When I Sleep, Then I See Clearly) and the Christmas carol "Ho sap tothom i és profecia" (Everyone Knows and It's a Prophecy), Foix undertook, with the collection entitled "Diari 1918" (Diary 1918) - which was published in 1956 - the work of revising his mythical Diari de 1918 (Diary of 1918), a project that was never finished and that, in its ideal form, was to have been comprised of 365 poetic prose pieces. His Diari de 1918, which was work-in-progress in every sense, the rewriting of a personal diary, brings together fragments of Gertrudis (1927) and KRTU (1932), and takes shape, over more than five decades, on the basis of the books, "Diari 1918" (1956), L'estrella d'En Perris (The Star of Mr. Perris, 1963), Darrer comunicat (Last Communiqué, 1970) and Tocant a mà... (1972). The work Diari 1918 constructs an imaginative, dream-like and singular literary universe in which the poet's desires and obsessions appear once again and he also details trades, traditions, and the ancestral customs and rites of an ideal Catalonia that have almost died out today. The mythical reference to 1918 remains, too, in his autobiographical volume Catalans de 1918 (Catalans of 1918) - published in 1965 - an account of his intellectual formation along with reworked fragments from the diary of his youth. The poet highlights in this work his experiences with Pompeu Fabra and Josep Carner - his teachers - and Joaquim Folguera, Salvat-Papasseit and Carles Riba - the members of his peer group.

From Onze Nadals i un Cap d'Any to L'estació

Little by little, the appearance of volumes like Onze Nadals i un Cap d'Any (Eleven Christmases and One New Year, 1960) and Obres poètiques (Poetry, 1964) - which includes a new book Desa aquests llibres al calaix de baix (Put These Books in the Bottom Drawer) - the support of figures like Gabriel Ferrater and the recognition of new generations of poets consolidated the poet's prestige beyond the minority circles in which he had been admired. "The poet, magician, speculator of the word, pilgrim of the invisible, unsatisfied, adventurer or investigator at the verge of sleep does not expect anything for himself", Foix wrote in "Lletra a Clara Sobirós" (Letter to Clara Sobirós, 1964), a true synthesis of his mature poetry, which again confirms his condition as an investigator in poetry.

Early in the 1970s, after having brought together his poetic work at a time that was marked by the recovery of collective memory in Catalonia, the poet selected some of his best journalistic articles from before the Civil War to be published in the volumes Els lloms transparents (Transparent Loins, 1969), where he expounds on his ethical Catalan nationalism, and Mots i maons o a cascú el seu (Words and Bricks or to Each His Own, 1971), where he selects texts on architecture and poetry that are related with the concerns of GATCPAC (Grup d'Artistes i Tècnics Catalans per al Progrés de l'Arquitectura Contemporània - Group of Catalan Artists and Specialists for Progress in Conemporary Architecture). Among his last projects, Foix enjoyed his joint endeavours with artist friends like Miró, with whom he published the poetic prose pieces Quatre colors aparien el món (Four Colours Mend the World, 1975), or Joan Ponç, for whom he wrote 97 notes sobre ficcions poncianes (97 Notes on Ponç's Fictions, 1974). In a final creative explosion, Foix, who was by now blind, dictated the long prose poem L'estació (The Station), the first edition of which, with engravings by Tàpies, appeared in 1984. This would become his true poetic testament. It was published the following year, in 1985, two years before his death, with the addition of new poetic prose pieces that were entitled Cròniques de l'ultrason (Chronicles from Beyond Dreams).

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