Narcís Comadira

(Nou diccionari 62 de la literatura catalana)

Girona, 1942. Poet, playwright, translator, publicist and music lover

Narcís Comadira studied Humanities and Philosophy at the Seminary of his home city of Girona and at the Monastery of Montserrat, after which he began to study Architecture and Romance Philology, to end up with a degree in History of Art. From 1971 to 1973 he was a language tutor at the University of London. Apart from poetry and painting, he has also worked in other disciplines, for example as a playwright, translator, newspaper commentator, literary critic and author of studies in the fields of art, architecture and advertising. Some of his articles that have appeared in the “Quadern” – culture supplement of the newspaper El País – have been collected in the book Sense escut (With No Shield - 1998).

A multi-faceted artist, Narcís Comadira studied at the Girona Seminary, the Monastery of Montserrat and the Architecture and Arts faculties of the University of Barcelona.

He published his first poetic ventures (La febre freda (Cold Fever) and Papers privats (Private Papers)) in the 1960s. Then, with the title La llibertat i el terror. Poesia 1970-1980 (Freedom and Terror. Poetry 1970 ` 1980), which was published in 1981, he brought together the seven books he had written in the decade of the 1970s: Amich de plor...(Weeping's Friend ` 1970), El verd jardí (The Green Garden ` 1972), Les ciutats (Cities ` 1976), Un passeig pels bulevards ardents (A Walk Down Burning Boulevards ` 1974), Desdesig (Undesire ` 1976), Terra natal (Land of My Birth ` 1978), Àlbum de família (Family Album ` 1980), in which some of the constant themes of his poetry appear: the decadence of an ideal of the country (the Catalonia of the noucentista movement) transformed into a metaphor for human loss in general (almost all the poems of Terra natal and other texts devoted to Girona, for example); the self-portraits in which, playing with the name-myth "Narcís" (Narcissus), Comadira confronts his subject with social and family morals (especially in Àlbum de família, whose starting point is a set of family photos, but also in Amich de plor...); the passing of time (seasons and months, with "Meditació de novembre" (November Meditation) in El verd jardí) and nostalgia (especially in El verd jardí and the poem "Roma" (Rome) in Les ciutats); the complementary relationship between life and death (death feeding life, as in "Serra de cavalls" (Sierra of Horses) and "Iris blaus" (Blue Irises) in Terra natal); the role of art in individual and collective life; the relationship between death and art (the poem-poetics "Les ciutats") and the awesome terror of beauty in relation with love ("Desdesig") and art.

With Enigma (1985) ` his great symphony ` Comadira makes a qualitative leap in writing a book of powerful metaphysical tension. En quarantena (In Quarantine ` 1990) is a dense, bitter sonata that is structured into two parts, the first consisting of 26 often very short independent poems, and the second of the long poem "En quarantena", which gives overall sense to the book, condensing all the poet's doubts about his vital space (Catalonia, Girona), time, love, sex, flesh and physical beauty, words, God and poetry. In Usdefruit (Usufruct ` 1995), a series of impromptu poems of enigmatic density, syntactic freedom and a music that resembles the first part of En quarantena, he probes the memory of different moments shared by humankind.

Among his plays are Neva: un te (It's Snowing: A Cup of Tea ` 1992), La vida perdurable: un dinar (Perdurable Life: a Lunch ` 1992), L'hora dels adéus (1996), which have generally drawn on the world of Àlbum de família, along with a work devoted to Josep Pla, El dia dels morts. Un oratori per a Josep Pla (All Souls' Day. An Oratorio for Josep Pla ` 1997). His prose writings also signal his many intellectual interests: Girona. Matèria i memòria (Girona. Material and Memory ` 1992) and Girona. Retrat sentimental d'una ciutat (Girona. Sentimental Portrait of a City ` 1998), where he stresses the great importance of the theme of the city of his birth in his poetry; the cookery book Fórmules magistrals (Formulas of the Masters ` 1997); Sense escut (With No Shield ` 1998), a core collection of quite controversial and highly lucid articles; and Guia de l'arquitectura dels segles XIX i XX (A Guide to 19th and 20th Century Architecture ` 1978) and Rafael Masó, arquitecte noucentista (Rafael Masó, Architect of the "Noucentist" Movement ` 1996).

Noteworthy among his translations are his versions of authors ranging from Auden, Pavese, Bassani, Leopardi, Lowell to Montale, and an anthology of Italian poetry, all of which testify to his extraordinary abilities.

The Artist Who Signs as Narcís Comadira

Jaume Subirana

These times of having mobile phones for saying nothing and of big banking alliances for dismissing people and saying there'll be more to come, would not seem to be a very propitious backdrop for utopias. One period of utopia was, for example, the Renaixement and from this (after Greece, of course) we have learned that the individual endowed himself with the most ambitious frontiers: it was in these times that being an artist meant being musician, poet and painter, and having submitted the Fathers of the Church to critical reading, understanding geometry and being able to recite the classics, all at once.

Narcís Comadira was born in Girona in 1942, spent some time in the seminary and the monastery of Montserrat, started to study Architecture, got a degree on History of Art, went to London to teach and ended up living in a steep Barcelona street ? But, for a number of reasons, one might have the impression that when he entered the world he was mistaken in the place of his arrival and, in particular, the century: a painter and poet and traveller and gastronome, he paints Morandi-like objects of suspended spirit, writes verses with the ear and skill of a Provençal troubadour, produces the plays of an intelligent member of the bourgeoisie and tastes dishes and looks at places with a palate and eyes that may not very sociable but that are much more amorous than those of Pla. Now tell me if he wasn't wrong in landing in this country of romantics in these times of theme parks. But the fact is that in his mistakenness, throughout this rather long erring, Narcís Comadira has written and published a dozen books of poems that have made him one of the unquestionable names in whatever journey one cares to take through the best Catalan poetry of today: from the very early La febre freda (1966) to the last book Usdefruit (1995), by way of Enigma (1985) and En quarantena (1990), two essential titles that were awarded several prizes, or by way of an early collection of the complete works (La llibertat i el terror, 1981) and an anthology (Somni i runa (Dream and Rubble ` 1992), edited by Rossend Arqués). In his erring he has also translated quite a lot, especially from Italian and especially poetry, and some of us have been waiting quite a long time for his promised version of Leopardi's Cants (Songs). In his erring he wrote a magnificent text on the city of his birth, Girona. Matèria i memòria (1989). And in his erring he began relatively late to write for the theatre with the result that La vida perdurable (1992) received the critics' prize for the best play of the season.

Comadira, who has sometimes described himself as lazy, continues to construct, tirelessly and without much public fanfare, a complex and coherent oeuvre where, as the years go by, one can see how the different parts of his writing articulate and enrich each other. If his poetry is impressive when one sees it as a whole in its continual process of refinement and enrichment, it also happens that his translations of anthologies of Italian poetry for MOLU or of ancient Christian hymns from the Latin resound magnificently in their contemporary renderings, and that his pictorial work of recent years cries out for an exhibition that is sufficiently representative to show to what point, far from this being the hobby of a dilettante, his plastic art shares with his verses the power of contrasts and the beauty of the mental equilibrium of a Mediterranean utopia illuminated with basic colours, just as it happens that the collection of articles that he has contributed in different areas of the mass media on Catalan culture and what we could come to be as a country, now published under the title Sense escut (1998), has turned out to be one of the most suggestive books of essays we have seen in recent years. It cannot be a coincidence that this book that has been so discretely despatched to the listless life of bibliographies should have been started precisely under the first of the arches of the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence and evoking the shades of Michelangelo and Cellini. I have already hinted enough: I see Narcís Comadira more as a knight of the Renaixement than as a "Catalan poet", this greatly-loved label with so much pedigree and so little exchange value.

In the "Nota de l'autor" (Author's Note) to La llibertat i el terror, a text that is repeatedly cited because of its significance, Comadira wrote, "The only thing that matters to me is life, and a certain life that is increasingly difficult to achieve. The happiness that comes from one's own identity with oneself and with this life is the only thing I seek". A few lines below he adds, "Between freedom and terror runs my poetry, almost always helped by the inspiration or by the endeavour itself. Hardly ever by a willed decision." The years have gone by and the passage along the chasm separating (or joining, depending how we see it) freedom and terror has been lengthening: the fragile, the small possible happiness, the utterly human shudder at the sense, the mirage of cities and the bramble of the emotions are all present here (as they were before) in these unpublished poems that Comadira has offered us: the verses maintain the lucidity of the old principles but also incorporate ` as his recent books have also done ` some element of the will that at once gives them density and fine-tunes them. The writer becomes an artist and advances backwards through the fields of time.

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