José Agustín Goytisolo, between the hardness of the stone and the trembling of the branches

Jose Agustin Goytisolo (Barcelona, ​​1928-1999), member of the Barcelona school (a term coined by Carlos Bousoño) and the poetic group of the 50s, consul of Spanish poetry in the Catalan capital, brother of the novelists Luis Goytisolo and Juan Goytisolo, translator of Pavese, Robert Lowell and Pasolini, he is a versatile poet influenced by Blas de Otero, epicurean and cyclothymic, who uses irony to avoid Franco’s censorship and turns it into his mode of diction, making use of tenderness and satire throughout his work as distinctive features and shows his aptitude for parody, as we can verify in the poem The Disciple, and for the achievement of euphony, musicality and rhythm in his verses.

The Lumen publishing house has published the complete Poetry of Goytisolo, nineteen collections of poems exempt from prologues and introductions that make up a work in constant revision like a palimpsest, for which reason we are facing an edition that includes the two poems published in anthologies and not in an independent book (In times of ignorance and The voice and the word), but which does not include the two unpublished poems discovered by Francisco Javier Ayala Gallardo and published in the magazine Ínsula in October 2022. However, the critical apparatus included at the end of the article is of great interest. volume by the editors Carme Riera and Ramón García Mateos in order to verify some textual variants, which show the tireless perfectionist desire of the poet. Goytisolo declares himself a poet irreconcilable with the “privileged, conformist or cretins”, he assumes that he will be judged by his poetic language, he shows a concave mirror look a la Valle-Inclán that reflects everything he refracts, as well as echoes of Machado, Lorca and Alberti (especially in Los pasos del cazador) and considers that the poets, those “old prostitutes of History”, are “like rolling songs: / free before the force / hard and stubborn” and not celestial poets, “people of order of course.

His entrance in the 1945-46 academic year at the Faculty of Law of the University of Barcelona was key, because it was there that he met Gil de Biedma and Carlos Barral. His first book, second prize for the Adonais prize in 1953, is El retorno, structured in six parts and published in 1955 with the endorsement of José María Castellet, its central theme is death, hatred of war, and exudes a tense serenity as a result of of his critical realism. In 1956, the book Psalms to the Wind wins the Boscán Prize and is published two years later, a volume that is a collection of twelve satirical poems (each one with a biblical quote) without falling into pamphleteering, “deformation of life to provoke a an authentic vision of this as a picture of customs» according to the poet himself, a reproach to the bourgeois splendor alien to the prevailing misery, a criticism of the evasive attitudes that in the poem Los celestiales follows a Nerudian line. In this book, in which, as in the previous one, the verses of high art predominate, the poem Autobiography exemplifies the bankruptcy of the usual author/poem subject unit, perhaps due to the narrative aspect of the poem that dissolves said unit, a usual unit until then and that poets like Ángel González and Fernando Quiñones begin to disassociate. The use of irony is necessary to circumvent Franco’s censorship, satire and parody are resources that allow us to show a distorted reality from the prism of the poet, led by the bureaucrat, the banker, the official poets… in a hypocritical environment where the Church is at the service of General Franco. Goytisolo criticizes the discourse made up of falsehoods and in that rejection shows a human form of truth.

A reader of Eliot, Aleixandre and Salinas, between 1957 and 1958 he wrote Claridad (1960), where he captures “the desire to testify to the society that surrounds me and of which I am a part” according to Goytisolo, as we can see with the protest poems that exude indistinctly resignation, hope and disappointment, although the book also includes verses about childhood, some clearly influenced by Queveda (such as La guerra), Lorca (A song, With us, East Wind) and Machado (I invoke, Against your chest), the loss of faith and a metapoetic statement as closure. The assumption of popular lyric verse as his own brings him closer to all types of readers, gives him a distinctive personality and brings him closer to a tradition that was reviled at the time. Divided into three parts in the first edition, it became four parts in its 1998 edition by incorporating nine poems and changing titles and verses.

The inexorable passage of time and the elegy are some of the constants in his work, as well as the death of his mother, Julia Gay, when the writer was only ten years old, an endless lament, a traumatic loss (“my mother was for me a fortunate kingdom, a paradise where, without her, it was not possible to be absolutely nothing”), which gives a nostalgic tone to the first poems of El retorno and which is repeated in Las horas quemadas and in Elegías a Julia Gay (1993), where the impossibility of reacting to her sudden absence is evident and where the mother symbolizes the lost paradise of childhood.

From Something Happens (1968), a book divided into four parts that opens with the poem Oficio de poeta with Pavesian echoes, Goytisolo begins to suppress commas, as we can see, for example, in his best-known poem, Palabras para Julia, written for his daughter when she was seven years old in enneasyllabic triplets and with a psalmody rhythm, some verses through which the father makes his little daughter aware of his experiential legacy. In this collection of poems, Goytisolo distances poetry from the ivory towers of writers and links it to customary reality, as we read in The Difficult Poem: «The poem is inside / and it doesn’t want to come out. // It hits my head / and doesn’t want to come out. // I scream, I shudder, / and he doesn’t want to come out. // I call him by her name / and he doesn’t want to come out. // I go down to the street, then,/ and I find him before me».

His work in Ricardo Bofill’s architecture workshop makes possible Architecture Workshop (1977), where the city acquires prominence as a space for coexistence but from a critical point of view between submission to the machine and fear of lawless cities. The book, which includes thirty-four poems from previous books with their variants and eleven unpublished ones, begins with a long introductory poem, with statements such as “utopia does not exist except when it is tried / and it fails / and we haven’t even started here” . The same year Del tiempo y del olvido was published, a heterogeneous book that shows that poetic creation is a personal balm for the author. Words for Julia (1980) is initially titled Words for Julia and other songs, since the book houses a compilation of published poems close to the concept of singing due to its metrical and lyrical parameters and its simple melodic adaptation; It is his most successful book to the point that some later anthologies also use Words for Julia as their title. The volume Los pasos del cazador (1980) contains steps that lead to the woman (36 of the 85 poems contain the presence of the woman), the recurring theme is the medieval topic of the hunt for love, for which Goytisolo recreates rituals of seduction of the traditional song.

José Agustín Goytisolo Complete poetry Lumen 1,104 pages, 30.90 euros


From 1988 is The Beggar King, where he offers the reader thirty unpublished poems with an elegiac and somewhat somber tone, structured in two sections: one dedicated to historical figures such as Absalon, Democritus, Lucrezia Borgia, Epicurus, Marco Valerio Marcial, Publio Rutilio Rufus, Alfonso X, Ezra Pound, Salvador Allende and Alejo Carpentier, among others; and another with compositions that versify the reflections of the poetic subject (Goytisolo himself).

La noche es propicia (1992) is an erotic collection of poems with thirty-eight poems, dedicated to Pedro Salinas, which deals with a casual night of love between two strangers, which marks them for the rest of their lives, and which wins the prestigious Premio of the Critic; According to Goytisolo, it is an “albada song in the style of the Provençal troubadours, it seemed very appropriate to use that formula in the third person to let the protagonists speak without interfering” and that discards women as an object. The latest ode to Barcelona (1993) is the story of the city told in different stages by six characters in love with the ducal city, the last of whom is the author’s grandson, Víctor Aleixandre. Poetry “has helped me to know myself,” Goytisolo assures, “you write it out of the abundance of your own heart”, although “it is very difficult for me to write”, which does not mean that “in all editions of my books there are revisions »and in this 1993 book he pays homage to his beloved Barcelona.

If in Cuadernos de El Escorial (1995) he versifies Marcial, Juvenal and other satirists through epigrams divided into ten parts, in Las horas quemadas (1996), his latest book, he evokes childhood and student youth in Madrid, but with serene despair, in forty poems divided into four parts and is that “the past time is recovered through the word that glosses images of memory.” José Agustín Goytisolo, when poetry is life.

José Agustín Goytisolo, between the hardness of the stone and the trembling of the branches