Miquel Martí i Pol

Pere Farrés (University of Barcelona)

The biography of Miquel Martí i Pol (Roda de Ter, 1929 - Vic, 2003) has been marked by a number of defining features, amongst which the following are the most outstanding: a) his bond with his home town, where he has always lived; b) his condition as a worker and clerk at the La Blava textile factory in Roda de Ter where he was employed from the age of fourteen until he was forty-three; c) the consequences of the multiple sclerosis he contracted in about 1970, which has impeded normal movement and speech; d) his commitment to his social class and country; e) his willingness, since he was young, to question himself, to make an effort to know himself and the world around him. And, naturally, there is his work as a poet, which began to bear fruit in about 1948.

Roda de Ter, 1929 – Vic, 2003. Catalan poet and translator

Since then, Miquel Martí i Pol's best biographical reference has been his work. He has not only written poetry. Even though he considers that he still has to try his hand at prose writing, he has published a volume of short stories Contes de la vila de R... i altres narracions (Stories from the Town of R? and Other Fiction - 1978), two volumes of memoirs and another of journalistic articles and a number of translations. He has written for several reviews, notable among which are Inquietud (1955-1966) and Reduccions (after 1977), of which he was a member of the editorial board.

From Existentialism to Historical Realism

With an education dominated by the prevailing Catholicism of the years that followed the Civil War, in a milieu perfectly described in El poble (The Town - 1966), the young Martí i Pol presents himself as questioning his being and destiny. He asserts his "I" as distinct from "you" (plural), which includes all other human beings but also focuses on the people around him, most of them workers, whose condition he admires, while also evincing his confusion ` which in poems like El fugitiu (The Fugitive) becomes distress -caused by his gradual process of getting to know (or his discovery of) his own personality. A crisis of religious values that occurred some time between 1952 and 1957 ended up by accentuating the intimate isolation in which the poet dwelled until the crisis was finally resolved through his opening up -let us say socially- to the reality of his surroundings. This was initially focussed within two immediate frameworks, his town and the factory where he worked, from whence were born the poems of El poble and the two collections La fàbrica (The Factory - 1959) and another work of the same title La fàbrica (1972).

With the poems of El poble and La fàbrica, Martí i Pol fully embraces the movement known as historical realism inasmuch as he translates into this framework a world -that of the people among whom he lives- which he knows very well as an insider, describing it by means of such realist procedures as the inventory or the chronicle. The workers who go to work every day, in the factory or climbing scaffolding, women who do the housework and retired people are his main characters in these poems, his "heroes" in that he elevates them to this status because he considers their work and their lives are, in fact, nothing less than an almost epic deed. The contrast between his descriptions of the life of a worker, which runs its course in very harsh conditions, and the human treatment, of great tenderness with which he refers to specific people, sometimes with their full names -"his people"- is one of the most original features of his poetry. In brief, Martí i Pol is committed to the people of his town and factory and, by extension, to the social class to which they belong, going so far as to put his voice and gesture -discourse and action- in their service. "I want to speak of them, in speaking of people today. / I want to speak of them. Without them, I do not exist." Evidently, poetry like this is expressed in direct and accessible language but, far from falling into the trap of pamphleteering, Martí i Pol manages to sustain the poetic value of his texts through painstaking choice of words and recurring simple metaphors and images that evoke situations and states of mind that permit the reader to feel familiar with the social context and to enter the personal worlds of the men and women that move within it.

From Withdrawal to a New Opening

The effects of the multiple sclerosis that Martí i Pol contracted in about 1970, are already visible from Vint-i-set poemes en tres temps (Twenty-seven Poems in Three Tempos - 1972) onwards. Until 1975, the object of his poetry was interiorised, but now solitude, anguish, and a certain presence of death prevail and the poet describes a diminished, closed world, the only one he sees as possible in the new circumstances with which he must cope. In this context, the senses take on a major role -sight and touch, in particular- since they are the instruments that enable him to fix the limits of his reality. The poems of Cinc esgrafiats a la mateixa paret (Five Graffiti on One Wall - 1975), which are loaded with imagery, synthesise in a masterly fashion the poet's changed world and the way he goes about confronting it, with an attitude that never falls into despair but rather always strives to cling to life with whatever limitations there may be, but still living.

In Quadern de vacances (Holiday Notebooks - 1976), Martí i Pol has already shown that he has overcome his previous state, and the books that follow manifest an evermore vibrant song to life that climaxes with volumes like Estimada Marta (1978) and L'àmbit de tots els àmbits (The Ambit of All Ambits - 1981). Now the poet is clearly looking to the future, with optimism, with a huge zest for life and renewed hope in man. He once again writes amorous and even erotically-nuanced poetry. And he invites the reader to engage in civic reflection on the need for everyone to give his or her best in constructing a country for everyone. There are three strands -faith in the future, eroticism, and civic reflection- that define this new key moment in Martí i Pol's work and that come to fruition in some of his most mature texts.

It is in this process of new opening that Martí i Pol starts to go deeper in his own reflections about poetry and his activity as a poet and this will continue and accentuate throughout the 1980s and 1990s. This reflection is to become the object of some of his poems, for example several in the section "Capfoguer" (Andiron) of Estimada Marta and some other more theoretical texts, like the article of 1987 "Algunes consideracions sobre experiència i poesia" (Some Considerations on Experience and Poetry), which was published in Reduccions, (Nº. 34). Poetry is understood as the poet's quest for inner knowledge, as self-analysis, which is thus linked to personal experience, although this experience can have many nuances. Martí i Pol understands that poetry tends to express what is essential in personal and collective life and to express it in simple terms. Again, the material with which the poet works, the word, is the object of priority attention: it cannot be used gratuitously but it is required to give density, precision and capacity for suggestion.

From Serenity to Bewilderment

In his period of full maturity, Martí i Pol's poetry exudes an undeniable sensation of serenity, which one finds in Primer llibre de Bloomsbury (First Bloomsbury Book - 1982) and is confirmed in Els bells camins (The Beautiful Paths - 1987). Not even the pain of the death of his first wife, which is expressed in Llibre d'absències (Book of Absences - 1985), breaks this mood. This is a serenity that consists of wisdom in living, in experience and in observation of the world that surrounds the poet, from a certain "autumnal" position and, in particular, wisdom that comes with a desire for knowledge that is especially applied to the poet's own "I". This process of experience, of observation and of knowledge, associated with a progressively heightened expression of the absolute value of love, is what enables the poet to keep growing, to keep maturing and to affirm himself with ever-greater plenitude.

However, in the books that Martí i Pol published in the 1990s - including texts written after 1986 that appear in the first of these works -his poetry takes a new turn characterised by bewilderment, disenchantment and insecurity. These are personal and even intimate sensations that are aggravated with the weight of the years. He recognises that he is growing old and one might also surmise that he has discovered new aspects of his own personality that were unknown to him, or at least hidden hitherto and these now impose themselves and disturb the relative placidity with which he had previously tended to confront himself. These upsetting sensations lead to many long silences, long periods of being unable to write, which are rare in the totality of his work. The feeling of bewilderment is not only personal. Both Un hivern plàcid (A Placid Winter - 1994) and Llibre de les solituds (1997) derive from his thoughts on the collective life of the country and the events of the social and political order of the day. And it is here that Martí i Pol's disenchantment becomes critical once again, revealing that he is a long way from giving in to resignation or passivity. In his final volume, Llibre de les solituds, Martí i Pol recovers the irony of some of his earlier books as a means of saving himself from bewilderment and resignation, thereby introducing an element that makes one think that he might have been emerging from this final stage.

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