Why don’t we rename this week dead gay poets week? Or maybe just gay poets week, since we don’t call that silly holiday between George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays “Dead President’s Day.”* Walt Whitman, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Allen Ginsberg were all born in the same week at the beginning of June. Whitman influenced Lorca, Lorca and Whitman influenced Ginsberg, and all three of them influenced me. I was born at the end of April and I’m nowhere near as talented as those three, but I’m still happy to claim that lineage.
Lorca stands out among this lucky Pierre of poetic genius as the lone playwright and painter. Lorca’s plays are surreal, strange, and at least in my experiences, hard to track down in print.** His paintings and drawings are mostly of and influenced by his friend, Salvador Dali. Dali and Lorca had an incredibly intimate friendship and Lorca was very much in love with Dali. It’s not entirely clear whether they had sex or not, as the official narrative has the super-straight Dali rejecting every single one of Lorca’s advances. Reading between the lines of their letter to each other, understanding that people aren’t bound by the gay-straight binary, and an actively dirty imagination have all lead me to speculate that they probably did it a few times. The only two people who know for sure are dead and it’s possible that one of them was lying about it while he was alive, so who knows?
Lorca’s poems are a convergence of bullet-short lines and flowing mythological dreams. Forests, fauns, fountains, and fires populate compact stanzas as tensions between abstract and concrete images bubble to the surface in parentheticals. Poems like “Dream” written in 1919 and “Mirror” from Suites are perfect examples. Enjambments and indents like the ones in “Disquiet and Night” and “Leave-taking” are ambitious in free verse even by today’s standards. Echoes of this style are easy to see in the works of Galway Kinnell, W.S. Merwin, and Gary Snyder as well as Allen Ginsberg. Lorca pushed the limits of form and content by incorporating sing-song refrains and day to day banter into stanzas that coil around the page.
Lorca was 38 when he died and I don’t think he’d even reached his peak. He was killed by a far-right Nationalist firing squad during the Spanish Civil War, most likely for being gay and anti-fascist. There’s some dispute to that, though, as Franco’s official dossier on Lorca has never been released. The Clash immortalized him in the song, “Spanish Bombs” with the line, “Federico Lorca’s dead and gone.” Without The Clash, I doubt I’d even know who Lorca was, much less understand the political implications of his death. His work is absolutely mystifying and I wish we got a longer time with him on the Earth. It’s important, especially now, that we as artists and writers remain vigilantly anti-fascist and remember Lorca as a brilliant man who made a tremendous sacrifice. I love you, Lorca. Happy birthday!
*Dead Prez totally deserves a national holiday.
**If anyone knows of a solid English translation of Lorca’s plays, please send a link.
P.S. My friend Sallie Eskins is in a play based on Lorca’s poems in NYC. Go see that if you can!