Josep Palau i Fabre

(Nou diccionari 62 de la literatura catalana)

Josep Palau i Fabre is one of the last representatives of a generation that includes such writers as Joan Brossa and Joan Perucho. Poetry is at the core of Palau's work although he moves beyond it as a writer and cultural activist. He fought with the Republicans in the Civil War and would later become deeply involved with the reviews Poesia and Ariel. After this he lived in Paris for sixteen years during which time he was in frequent contact with Antonin Artaud, Octavio Paz and Pablo Picasso. Besides his work as a translator and essayist, Palau has also written theatre. He is considered to be one of the world's leading experts on Picasso.

Josep Palau i Fabre was born in Barcelona in 1917 into a family that moved in the art milieu (his father was a painter and decorator). Besides being a poet, playwright, short-story writer and essayist, he has written a great deal about painting and, in particular about Pablo Picasso with more than fifteen books analysing and commenting on the painter's work (some translated into more than ten languages). Notable among them are Doble assaig sobre Picasso (Double Essay on Picasso - 1964), El Guernika de Picasso (Picasso's Guernica - 1979) and Picasso cubisme (Picasso Cubism: 1907 - 1917 - 1990).

It was towards the end of the nineteen thirties that Palau i Fabre began his literary career by writing poetry. During the difficult years of the Civil War he felt the need to consolidate, through writing, an inner space that would be capable of providing composure, understanding and protection against the events of the outside world. He studied Arts in the early 1940s and was a committed activist in the recovery of literary and cultural activities under the Franco regime. He was director of the clandestine review Poesia (1944-45) and was the driving force behind the publishing house "La sirena", which brought out, among other works, books by Salvador Espriu. He was subsequently one of the founders of the literary review Ariel (1946-1951). In 1945 a French Government scholarship enabled Palau i Fabre to move to Paris. The stay, which was to have been for two years, extended until the 1960s. Once the scholarship period had expired, he voluntarily gave up his Spanish citizenship in order to be classified as a political refugee. Paris would become the true university of the poet-alchemist and there he would be in contact with a wide range of artists and writers, from Artaud to Octavio Paz and from Camus to Picasso.

Publication of his poetry began in 1943 with Balades amargues (Bitter Ballads) and, one year later, under a false imprint, L'aprenent de poeta (The Poet's Apprentice). These two books would be followed by Imitació de Rosselló-Pòrcel (Imitation of Rosselló-Porcel - 1945) and Càncer (Cancer - 1946). In a reworked form and with the addition of other unpublished texts, all of these works would later be brought together in the volume Poemes de l'Alquimista (Poems of the Alchemist - 1952). In its subsequent editions this book would have an Introduction and some final comments at the end where Palau i Fabre elaborates on the texts, explaining their origins and discussing the particularities of their literary stimuli. The final result is a remarkable, singular book, fruit of an integration of poems with their particular exegeses along with prose passages that are decidedly poetic.

After the poetry came the plays: La tragèdia de Don Joan (The Tragedy of Don Juan - 1951), Don Joan als inferns (Don Juan in Hell ` 1952), Esquelet de Don Joan (Don Juan's Skeleton - 1954) are some of the titles of the "Don Juan" cycle. Through this literary character, Palau i Fabre airs his rejoinder to a puritanical and repressive society while also dealing directly with amorous matters. With titles such as Mots de ritual per a Electra (Ritual Words for Electra - 1958), La caverna (The Cave - 1969), Homenatge a Picasso (In Homage to Picasso - 1971) -all of them published in one volume, Teatre (Theatre - 1976)- he continued writing for the theatre, completing the array of plays with Avui Romeo i Julieta (Today, Romeo and Juliet - 1986) and L'Alfa Romeo i Julieta i altres obres (Alfa Romeo and Juliet and Other Works - 1991). Palau i Fabre also wrote books of theoretical reflections on the theatre: La tragèdia o el llenguatge de la llibertat (Tragedy or the Language of Freedom - 1961) and El mirall embruixat (The Enchanted Mirror - 1962), two small studies of the genre in which he reveals his preference for modern theatre and especially a dramatic tempo that is marked by synthesis and brevity ("spasm-theatre"). Some years later he published Antonin Artaud i la revolta del teatre modern (Antonin Artaud and the Revolt of Modern Theatre - 1976), an approximation to one of the key figures among his intellectual and artistic references.

He has also written short stories and published the collections Contes despullats (Bare Tales - 1982), La tesi doctoral del diable (The Devil's Doctoral Thesis - 1983), Amb noms de dona (With the Names of a Woman - 1988), Un saló que camina (A Walking Show - 1991) all of which, with a number of unpublished stories, were published together in the volume Contes de capçalera (Bedside Stories - 1993). After this came La metamorfosi d'Ovídia i altres contes (The Metamorphosis of Ovidia and Other Stories - 1996). His fictional universe draws on eroticism, revealing a standpoint that takes into account dimensions other than those of the standard perception of reality and quite harshly criticising the precepts of self-satisfied, mediocre society.

Apart from his research on Picasso, he has published several other collections of essays, which were subsequently collected in one volume under the title of Quaderns de l'alquimista (The Alchemist's Notebooks - 1997), the first group of which had appeared in 1976. The alchemist's essay explores paths related with the word, modern art, the intellectual and his or her country, while also celebrating along the way different figures -from Ramon Llull to Picasso- in a universe that he would wish was in tune with the assumptions of the "alchemist's" viewpoint, which is to say beyond the bounds and rules of conventional thinking and where attention to the irrational side of the individual and the chanciness of existence is essential. "Alchemy" is a "method" that unifies all Palau i Fabre's poetic and ideological suppositions throughout the entirety of his work. He has also translated Rimbaud's Les Illuminations (Illuminations) and Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell), published as one volume in 1966, as well as writings of Artaud in Versions d'Antonin Artaud (Versions of Antonin Artaud - 1977), both poets having had a crucial influence in Palau i Fabre's world view. Among the prose works he translated are Cartes d'amor de Marianna Alcoforado (la monja portuguesa)( Letters of a Portuguese Nun - 1986) and Balzac's Le chef-d'oevre inconnu (The Unknown Masterpiece - 1986). Besides the precision and poetic feel of his translations, Palau i Fabre also offers small essays (in prologues and notes) on the works and authors he has translated.

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