A review of Castilian Blues by Antonio Gamoneda 

Reviewed by Giancarla Di Laura

Castilian Blues
by Antonio Gamoneda
Quantum Prose
Paperback, ISBN: 9780997301458, July 2021, 112 pages

Castilian Blues by Antonio Gamoneda is the new bilingual edition by Quantum Prose. Translated by the academics and poets Benito del Pliego and Andrés Fisher, the text is comprised of three sections and an introductory note that positions the Spanish poet Antonio Gamoneda’s literary work in direct and deep analysis. Recipient, amongst others, of the Premio Reina Sofía de Poesía Iberoamericana and Premio Cervantes, Gamoneda is, according to Raúl Zurita, “the best the poet in Spanish language”.

Castilian Blues, originally written in the 1960s and unpublished for political reasons until 1982, confronts the reader with the position of Gamoneda’s personal and intimate experience as a worker during the Franco dictatorship. The suffering of the people is the leitmotif of the whole book, revived with literary images that evoke spiritual and musical effects. As the translators mention in the foreword: “Blues castellano was not an ideological pose, but the poetic manifestation of his personal, intimate experience as a worker and a member of a lower social class suffering the particular oppressive conditions under a fascist dictatorship”.  Therefore, the reader will know the impact that experience had on Gamoneda’s life.  Living in a world instigated by violence and censorship, Gamoneda is a voice for empowerment of those that have been silenced and victimized. Led by an epigraph from the political activist and philosopher Simone Weil,  “Other’s misfortune entered my flesh”, Castilian Blues is a text that reveals empathetic attitudes and reflects the feelings of others.

The first set of poems expresses Gamoneda’s ideology and feelings towards Spanish working-class people: twelve poems reveal the attitude that the poetic voice has and projects in the form of love for humanity, written with musicality and vivid sensations of life experiences. Another relevant aspect in the first part of the book is the appearance of Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963), the great Turkish poet that has influenced Gamoneda.  The I in the poem says:

Pero si lo que ocurre, doctor,
es que tengo algún mal que se produce
a causa del amor
y el pensamiento de la resistencia,
entonces, déjelo: esto no es 
más que nuestro sonido natural.
Yo viviré
mejor con este ruido en la cabeza. (30)
But if what’s going on, doctor
is I’ve got an illness produced
by love
and the thought of resistance,
then leave it; this is nothing
but our natural sound.
I’ll live
better with this noise in my head. (31)

Not only does the poetic voice feel the suffering outside, but it does also not want to run away from “that noise”: “I’ll live better with this noise in my head.” In both languages, one can accept and feel the images and the sensations that the rhetoric shows. 

The second group has a total of eight poems that deal with topics such as music, nature, topographical places, and people. Here, the reader witnesses the love of nature that Gamoneda’s poems are able to communicate even in a time of danger and despair; the ecological system is portrayed in Gamoneda’s texts as a place that could become extinct. Also in this section, the reader can notice the parallelism of the African American people and the Spanish working class already established in the title through the metaphor of the blues. The attitude of those in power and the dynamics of political slavery are ever present in these poems, as one can see in “Blues del amo”/ “Master’s Blues”:

Cuando esté un día delante de mi amo, 
veré su rostro, miraré en su rostro 
hasta borrarlo de él y de mí mismo. (60)
Someday, standing before my master, 
I’ll see his face, I’ll look into his face 
erasing it from him and from myself. (61)

The third group, composed of fifteen poems, deals with intimate relationships such as the figure of the mother (which already appeared in the first piece of the book), and the leitmotif of Time; his poems “Winter” and “Summer 1966” are evidence of the magnitude of these two great seasons.

Hoy, domingo, la vegetación del invierno,
la nieve tierna y la luz liberada,
se parecen a una realidad, aún sin nombre, que estoy esperando,
que necesito y que amo. (76)
Today, Sunday, the winter vegetation,
the tender snow, and the free land,
seem a reality, still nameless, that I’m awaiting,
that I need, and I love. (77)

A vast array of feelings and emotions that we as humanity can express are realized in Castilian Blues. Gamoneda’s both raw yet magical voice is revived through the English version through the excellent work of the poets and translators Benito del Pliego and Andrés Fisher. Every single verse, every word, offers a similar attitude and flavor as Gamoneda expressed in his own poetry while still committed to keeping the foreignness of the original, which is conveyed mostly through the rhythm and musicality of the blues.

This book is an excellent contribution to the humanities and a wonderful edition by QUANTUM PROSE.  More than ever, we need poetry in translation to be read and also taught in schools. Only this way can poetry be part of our world heritage.