Monday, June 11, 2007

A kind of literary sanctity

A poet can endure anything. Which amounts to saying that a human being can endure anything. Except that it's not true: there are obviously limits to what a human being can endure. Really endure. A poet, on the other hand can endure anything. We grew up with this conviction. The opening assertion is true, but that way lie ruin, madness, and death.

I met Enrique Martin a few months after arriving in Barcelona. He was born in 1953, like me, and he was a poet. He wrote in Castilian and Catalan with results that were fundamentally similar, though formally different. His Castilian poetry was well meaning, affected, and quite often clumsy, without the slightest glimmer of originality. His model (in Castilian) was Miguel Hernandez, a good poet whom, for some reason, bad poets seem to adore (my explanation, though it's probably simplistic, is that Hernandez writes about pain, impelled by pain, and bad poets generally suffer like laboratory animals, especially during their protracted youths.) Enrique's Catalan poetry, by contrast, was about real things and daily life, and only his friends ever read or heard it (although to be perfectly frank, the same is probably true of what he wrote in Castilian; the only difference, in terms of audience, was that he published the Castilian poems in magazines with tiny circulations, seen only, I suspect, by his friends, if at all, while he read the Catalan poems to us in bars or when he came round to visit). Enrique's Catalan, however, was bad (how he managed to write better poems in a language he hadn't mastered than he did in his mother tongue must, I suppose, be numbered among the mysteries of youth). In any case Enrique had a very shaky grasp of the rudiments of Catalan grammar and it has to be said that he wrote badly, whether in Castilian or in Catalan, but I still remember some of his poems with a certain emotion, coloured no doubt by nostalgia for my own youth. Enrique wanted to be a poet, and he threw himself into this endeavour with all his energy and willpower. He was tenacious in a blind, uncritical way, like the bad guys in westerns, falling like flies but persevering, determined to take the hero's bullets, and in the end there was something likable about this tenacity; it gave him an aura, a kind of literary sanctity that only young poets and old whores can appreciate.


— from "Enrique Martin," in Last Evenings on Earth, by Roberto Bolano.
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