Author of the Week / 19 January 2024

There’s no end to poetic Barcelona

Author of the Week: Spain – Barcelona


‘Hi dear. I need 2000 words on the poetic life of Barcelona. Would you like to write them?’ I read the WhatsApp message while walking to the poetry event of the day – a recital at the Horiginal – as I have every Wednesday evening since 25 years ago. Am I able to write so many words about the poetic life of the city in a few days? My first thought is that it seems like a lot of words. I’m pressed for time, but it will be fun to write it as a kind of diary. I take a quick look at my agenda. There are poetry events each day of the week, I just have to get there, talk with people and write the tale. So I text a rapid answer: ‘Alright, you can count on it.’ The week is packed with events I don’t want to miss. On my way to El Raval I think more about it and the Curtis-i-Krònia recital at the siApoe just over a year ago comes to mind. Organised by our friends of the Ateneu Llibertari in Gràcia, it’s an exceptional example of the climate in the city’s poetic life. I take out my notebook. 

Is it possible to come up with a definition of poetry in the city? You could come up with many. One for each day, for each gig. If it has to contain an adjective, perhaps the most obvious one is ‘diverse’, but also ‘open’ and ‘volatile’. Strolling around any neighbourhood, it’s not hard to remember the times I went there to listen to poetry or attend workshops, impro-shows, open-mics or readings. The poetic life of this city runs on word of mouth. 

A random, polymorphous, word-of-mouth diary

Wednesday

‘Good evening, Ferran!’ We are at the Horiginal. At the classics table, like every Wednesday, I meet friends who haven’t missed a recital since the start. ‘Dead right it’s different, and that’s good. Poetry changes and mutates with each generation, and it’s good that, after more than 20 years, we still find the old and the new. It’s not that people are younger now, it’s that they always have been’, says Ferran Garcia. We stop talking, like everyone else, to listen to the poets.

After the applause, I go up to Maria Sevilla, one of the three poets who make up the team that organise and co-ordinate the recitals at this bar-theatre which was, for example, the birthplace of the poetry publishing house LaBreu. I ask Maria to define the poetic life of Barcelona in one word: ‘Blimey, one word? To borrow Nura Nieto’s words, I’d say the poetry we present is polymorphous. The pitches we receive are hybrid in terms of language, as well as the mix of genres, the tradition they stem from and the staging. They are performed through voice but also dance, theatre, electronics, image...’

Thursday

At mid-day, in the Aula Magna at the University of Barcelona, two Cervantes’ laureates will be speaking: the Venezuelan Rafael Cadenas and the Asturian Antonio Gamoneda. There I meet Tita Berasategui, the patron of Nudo, the Poetry Unleashed Festival set to join the Barcelona International Poetry Festival, and Jaime D. Parra, anthologist, poet, essayist and the driving force behind all kinds of poetry events, such as the Radical3 series of readings. ‘While I was preparing the anthologies of women poets,’ Jaime explains to me and Tita before the act begins, ‘I found myself going “fishing”, looking for new voices, at Horiginal, Animal Sospechoso – the only bookshop in the city, and probably in Spain, devoted exclusively to poetry – and the Inusual Project, which holds the 7 Characters open mic every Tuesday, at the Poetry Corner (Racó Poètic) in Hospitalet, which shows that Barcelona’s poetry doesn’t end at the municipal boundary. I wanted to encourage them to stage the Radical3 readings that blended genres and traditions and paid special attention to women poets’. Jaime also jotted down one of the things that Rafael Cadenas will say later in his speech: ‘Poetry is in the spoken word more than the written word. The city’s poetry is in the voices which every day turn a thousand spots into spaces of living, vibrant poetry’, says Jaime. 

I bid Jaime and Tita a quick farewell. This afternoon I want to go to see the exhibition-performance-recital-presentation of Nathalie Karagiannis’ collection of poems at the inauguration of the Fahrenheit 451 bookshop in the Ribera neighbourhood. Still recovering from the shock of the amazing show that Nathalie put on with other poets, musicians and video artists, I talk to Maite, one of the most active explorers on the city’s poetry scene. ‘Yes, there’s an ephemeral side that makes it difficult to keep up to date with all that’s happening’, says Maite after the show, over a beer. ‘Some places close, but others open, poetic activity doesn’t stop. I get the feeling it doesn’t stop growing. People stick with it. The evening sessions they used to have at the old Caffé San Marco didn’t stop when it changed hands.’ Maite says she’ll get in touch so we can go together to L’Estranger, a new place in the city that puts on poetry performances, for the next Greenwich Village session: jazz, poetry, dance and songs. 

Friday

In the end, Maite’s had a difficult day, and she’ll miss the recital at La Conxita de Sans, a new-and-used bookshop that also sells vinyl records, which opened this year and is firmly committed to poetry. The Barcelonian poet, photographer, painter and translator Jaume Muñoz is presenting a book there. A few hours after the presentation – an ‘after’ beer, wine or tea is essential for understanding Barcelona poetry – I remember we won’t get much sleep: we’ll meet up tomorrow. 

Saturday

The presentation of the third collection of poems by Ale Oseguera, a Barcelonian poet, performer and journalist born in Mexico, at Lata Peinada – a bookshop specialising in Latin American literature in the former premises of El arco de la Virgen, a stronghold of Barcelona poetry – had a traditional format: a dialogue with another poet, and some poetry readings. Usually, though, Ale’s poetry is presented in an expanded format, like the poetic shows she does with Las Hermanas del Desorden (Sisters of Disorder). The queue for the book is a long and lively one. While queueing, I meet Isabel Llanos, a member of the Prostíbulo Poético (Poetic Brothel) collective which organises risky, intimate, whispery readings that have been sold out for years. ‘Prostíbulo’s last event was at Tinta Roja’, Isabel tells me. ‘It’s the bar where we organise PoENtry Slam with poets who recite in English, but I don’t know where we’ll do the next Prostíbulo yet. I’ll let you know.’ At last, it’s my turn for the signing. While Jaume writes his funny dedication with his golden pencil in the book I’ve just bought, Ale continues: ‘For me, this characteristic hybrid we see in Barcelona, and which I think is common to many other cities, is natural. I grew up performing in theatre plays and reading and writing poetry. Poetry is born from the spoken word, and from this orality it goes further, involving the body in all its capacities, expanding itself.’

On my way home, I pass by Casa Astor, a cocktail bar that has just started to include poetry in its live programme. I’ve arranged to meet Pabl Owski, the winner of the 2022 European Slam Championship and one of the organisers of the Santa Coloma chapter of the Slam which brings the outlying areas of Barcelona back to the city’s poetic life. The Slam, halfway between stage art and literature, with a competition-entertainment format where the audience is the jury, has been filling almost 400 seats at the CCCB (Contemporary Culture Centre of Barcelona) for years. ‘It’s significant that of the 12 editions of the all-Spain slam competitions, more than half have been won by the Barcelona finalist’, says Pabl Owski, who organises recitals here at the cocktail bar. He thinks the slam, like many other open mic events held around the city, is a good place for training people. And as for the initiative of taking poetry to a cocktail bar, his view coincides exactly with what Manu Arpé, who organises the Musical-Poetic Jam at the ‘Sinestesia’ (a local a few numbers further down the same street), would tell me a while later. ‘Bringing poetry to a bar is a passion. Compared to music, poetry has a minority audience, and it requires full attention to enjoy it. But when people experience it, some get hooked, and that’s what makes them the most loyal audience’, says Manu.

Sunday

Poetry doesn’t rest. Weekends are the time for poetic vermuts (aperitifs), another format that is exploding in Barcelona. Yesterday in the Nollegiu bookshop they read the original English version of The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot. I’m on my way there today to speak to Xavier Vidal, the bookseller who has just opened another bookshop in Palafrugell. You have to leave Barcelona to understand the capacity of its poetic life for expansion and, at the same time, what it feeds on. Examples include DO Poesia in the Empordà, Vespres Malgastats in Osona, Re-vers in Arenys de Munt, Poesia i + in the Maresme, Trobada Poemus in Penelles, the Poetic-Natural Route in Tarragona, etc. ‘The vice of poetry is passed on by listening to it’, says Xavier. ‘And is it worth it? Does it attract people to the bookshop?’ I ask. ‘I have always wanted to give space to poetry since I opened my first bookstore, not only because it’s a matter of personal preference, but also because it has worked. In the reading club that Laura Granell (a poet and a teacher at the writing school of the Ateneu Barcelonès) and I have been running for three years, thirty people attend, and it’s curious that, overall, we have had fewer missteps programming poetry than narrative.’

Although I’ll catch him busy at the stall in Sant Antoni Market, the city’s old book market, and at poetry readings one Sunday a month, Pablo Fernández, from La Fictícia books stand returns my call. ‘Yes, as a market, we're a bit of a rarity, as ours is the literature circuit’, he says. Pablo’s devotion to poetry is also somewhat unique: ‘I’ve always been a fan of poetry, you can see that in the selection, and a lot of people ask me if poetry sells, but poetry is a matter of passion.’ Passion again! ‘Thanks to Montse Ordoñez’s involvement, we have consolidated the Sunday readings. She’s managed to bring along some important, well-established people, as well as up-and-coming talents. We are very happy. For the next one, we’ve bought more chairs because people were standing at the last few readings!’

Monday

Another Monday and the inner room at Cronopios, another poetry club in the city, is packed. The evening opens with Romeo, the Barcelonian poet from Mexico who draws on the tradition of the Sabines generation, doing a duet with Al-Victor, one of the old hands. I’ve met up with Marisol Villaroya, who arrived in Barcelona a few months ago from Rosario, Argentina, and is shooting a documentary about women writers. On her discovery of poetry in the city, she says, ‘I haven’t been able to find a specific place where everything converges. I’ve been finding poetry here and there. Thanks to my character, I’ve easily connected with the underground circuit, the poetry that runs through the city’s sewers, and the discovery has been marvellous.’

Tuesday

In the early morning I got a message on WhatsApp: ‘Shall we see each other this evening at the Festival opening speech?’ Today starts the Barcelona Poesia festival.

A provisional, disoriented and personal directory 

To tackle the challenge of producing a guide to the contemporary poetry scene in Barcelona, I must first renounce any claim to it being exhaustive and also accept its unforeseeable obsolescence. To establish a criterion, I will include all the places where I have seen and listened to poetry in the last year. Perhaps a way of concluding the article and making one essential trait of Barcelona poetry clear: it thrives anywhere. 

Natural spaces: the literary places with their addresses

Animal Sospechoso. Ventalló, 9
Ateneu Barcelonés. Canuda, 6
Aula Poètica at the UB. Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 585
Barra Llibre. Riego, 13
Gabriel García Márquez Library. Treball, 219
Mercè Rodoreda Library. Camèlies, 76
Crisis Floridablanca, 90
Divendres Candaya. Bòbila, 4
Fahrenheit 451. Ribera, 8
Finestres. Diputació, 249
La Bonne Sant Pere Més Baix, 7
La Central del Raval. Elisabets, 6
La Conxita de Sans. Vallespir, 59
Lata Peinada. Verge, 10
Llibreria de la Imatge. Sepúlveda, 87
NoLlegiu Clot. Valencia, 588
NoLlegiu Poblenou. Pons i Subirà, 3
Ona Llibres Gràcia. Pau Claris, 94

Neighbourhood venues: ateneus, associations and culture centres

Ateneu del Clot. Muntanya, 16
Ateneu Llibertari de Gràcia. Alzina, 5
Can Deu Plaça de la Concòrdia, 16
Casa Amèrica. Còrsega, 299
Casa Golferichs. Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 491
Casal de barri de Prosperitat. Plaça Àngel Pestaña
Centre Cívic El Sortidor. Plaça del Sortidor, 12
El taller 131. Santa Elena, 8
Espai Veinal Calàbria 66. Calàbria, 66
Inusual Project. Paloma, 5
Lleieltat Sanseca. Olzinelles, 31
Mercat Dominical de Sant Antoni. Compte Urgell, 1
Nau Bostik. Ferran Turné, 1
Pati Llimona. Regomir, 3
Rai. Carders, 12

Poetry fest: bars

Candy Darling. Gran Via, 586
Casa Astor. Santa Caterina, 6
Club Cronopios. Ferlandina, 16
Konve Bar. Déu i Mata, 136
La cereria. Baixada de Sant Miquel, 3
L’Estranger. Olivera, 55
L’Horiginal – La descomunal. Tenor Masini, 5
New Fizz. Balmes, 83
Sinestesia. Santa Caterina, 52
Siroko Café. Girona, 94
Tinta Roja. Creu dels Molers, 17
Vivari (Antic Caffè San Marco). Major de Sarrià, 60

Art in expansion: theatres, museums and galleries

Antic Teatre. Verdaguer i Callís, 12
CaixaForum. Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, 6
CCCB. Montalegre, 5
Centre de les Arts Lliures – Fundació Joan Brossa. Flassaders, 40
Chiquita Room. Villarroel, 25
Espai Ku. Canvis Nous, 1
Sala Beckett. Pere IV, 228–232

Special thanks to: Manu Arpé, Jaime D. Parra, Pablo Fernández, Ferran Garcia, Maite Jou, Periklis Kordolaimis, Isabel Llanos, Ale Oseguera, Pabl Owski, Josep Pedrals, Maria Sevilla, Xavier Vidal, Marisol Villarroya.

Author

Myriam Soteras

Myriam Soteras (Barcelona, 1977) is editor with more than 20 years of experience at Edicions 62, Ara Llibres and Edicions Tremendes.

Author of the books of poems Papel de lija [Sandpaper] (Ed. Tremendes, 2022) and Espera instrumental [holding procedure] (next publication, 2024), of the collection of poetic plaquettes Rue Vaneu and of the transdisciplinary project Recode. A la Recerca del llenguatge universal [Recode. Searching of universal language] (Espai de les Arts LliuresFundació Brossa, 2022; IV Mostra Sonora i Visual [sound and visual art exhibition] – Convent de Sant Agustí 2023, El Taller 131 Art Foundation, 2023). She is also a collaborator at literary publications such as Zenda, Kopek and La Charca Literaria.

Acting at Barcelona International Poetry Festival 2022, Nudo Festival of Unleashed Poetry

Barcelona 2022, DO Poesia Empordà 2023, Expoesía Soria 2023.

IV Poetic Rhapsody Prize ‘CC Segrià’, XXI ‘Dionisia García Poetry Prize’ of the University

of Murcia, Second Prize at IX ‘Yolanda Sáenz de Tejada Poetry Contest’, finalist of the IV

Live Poetry Prize ‘L de Lírica’.

Teacher and trainer at 80g Writing School, AELC [Writters in Catalan Language Association], La Prole library and La Gaia Books library.

Graduate in Journalism (UAB), Master in Publishing (UAL), Master in Interactive Digital Communication (UVic), Postgraduate in Literary Review (UPF).

 

Photo by Laureà Coll

 

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