When acclaimed Canadian writer Brian Dedora travelled to Spain in 2012 to explore “Lorca’s Granada,” he experienced an unexpected transformation that set him on a path of understanding—of the life and work of Federico Garcia Lorca, of the basic elements in common between the Spanish writer’s life and his own, and of the tragic grandeur of Lorca’s death in Granada in 1936.
Lorcation progresses transformationally from prose poem to informal essay, sustained by its three vital metaphors of journey, suitcase, and crossroads. The book, presented as a bilingual English and Spanish edition, follows Dedora’s reading and re-enactment of Lorca’s life and writing, especially the Spanish author’s emergent awareness of his homosexuality, culminating, for Dedora, in a new understanding of Lorca’s call to attend to the living within the enigma of death.
Translator Martín Rodríguez-Gaona sat down with Brian Dedora to discuss Lorcation.
Martín Rodríguez-Gaona: Brian, how does an experimental Canadian writer like you get interested in the work of Garcia Lorca?
Brian Dedora: First, my introduction to Lorca was quite gradual, although I had visited Spain many times, read the earlier book by Ian Gibson about Lorca’s murder and visited the church where Bodas de Sangre originally took place. Actually, it was not until 2011, when visiting Granada for ten days, with other Canadian writers, that I realized there were some similarities or “crossroads”, as I call them. One of them being that he was born into a family that was connected to agriculture and the land, as parts of my family were farmers. Understanding that kind of life, being close to the cycles of growth, harvest, winter, spring, crops, the birth of animals, the slaughtering, etc. All this somehow related to me, and made me realize that in his work there will always be a time when you connect with nature. The second crossroad was discovered when I found out that he was gay. Obviously I knew it from Gibson’s biography, but somehow this fact disappeared from my mind. I did not pay attention to it until it was reintroduced again in my reading. And the third is, of course, the writing itself. I do not ever want or pretend to write like Lorca, with his metaphorical fullness, but one of the things that he has taught me is compression. The ability to collide words, images, even sentences, very close together, ignoring obvious connections but leaving stones to mark the road.
His plays also -although I had to read them in translations- were so economical and direct, with no curlicues, and in every sense very loaded, each sentence in itself but also connected one to the other, word after word, scene after scene in compression.
MRG: Lorcation explores childhood and aggression, oppression and missed opportunities. How do you face a literary rewriting from personal memory?
BD: In some sense through a kind of identification. Those days in Granada were incredibly intense as were the following weeks back in Canada. The piece was written at that moment when what I knew and what I had read converged, crystallized in the salient points of his biography: the childhood, the growing up, the writing, the theatre, and ultimately his murder, reprehensible for any sensible person … Memory is a strange thing, it is a gathering but it’s also loss. And memory is also regret, failed or missed opportunities. I did not want to write that all possibilities are gone, but I wanted to crystallize the intensity of my discovery of Lorca in those ten days and in the following time when I returned to Canada.
MRG: The mingling of genres in your writing is very interesting. How does this relate to your concepts of Fictional Veritas and Sexual Confections?
BD: In one of our previous conversations, we talked about the bringing together of narrative and poetry. I think, although they are not the same, both are vitally linked. From a story, with a beginning, middle and end, the poetry begins to arise out of that narrative, from that veritas. One of the things I’ve managed to capture in my recent books is this Fictional Veritas, where although I may be writing something that is completely fictional, I’m able to capture a genuine poetic feeling and I’m able to follow it up, see where it leads. If prose is an extended expression of poetry, and poetry is an essential form of narrative, one is the extended portion and the other the compressed portion, and both are complementary, echoing one another. Poetry and prose are the continuum of words that an author has, and you may rely on either pole. For me they interact, play and speak to each other.
MRG: All of your writing takes many risks, both formal or conceptual, but Lorcation also dares to talk about Spanish history. How did you decide to do this?
BD: When I left Granada, with the first pieces of Lorcation written, including “The First Part of the Journey” and the poem located in the Huerta de San Vicente, I felt I needed to know more about the Spanish Civil war. At that time I still confused the names of its protagonists. At home I went to my favorite bookstore, and I got The Spanish Holocaust by Paul Preston. I spent an entire summer reading this book. It left me overwhelmed, full of pain and grief; I discovered the slow way in which Franco waged the war to secure the extermination of all opponents, clean up all the boogie men (according to his view), the socialists, and the freemasons. It was a tough read. From this, then, I wanted to show not only the anguish of the Civil War, this moment that catches Lorca in its net, but also from a historical, religious perspective, what had happened at that time with homosexuals. This becomes an element of Lorcation, how this net is drawn, how this network of prejudice and hatred is woven. Then I also read another book by Paul Preston, the biography of Franco. It is a very rigorous book, accurate, but even at the end of it I felt that Franco was a stranger. The one clue in Preston’s book is how Franco died, what he died of. Thinking about it, its Old Testament quality slowly came to my mind. What you put out is what you get back. All these atrocities he put out, allowed, all this lack of understanding about the humanity of Spain, this rigid and profound fear, returned to Franco as diseases. I felt that this should be part of my project. I could explain these to myself in order to understand why this tragedy happened. It was obviously much more than Lorca, thousands of people suffered, but the drama crystallized in him, for me, during my stay in Granada.
MRG: Do you think this drama is present in Lorca’s language?
BD: The presentiment of death is stunning in the writings of Lorca. I, personally, have thought about my own death for about five or ten minutes throughout my life. The presentiment of death, however, is continuous and constant in the work of Lorca. I understand this, not in a morbid way, but it seemed odd to me. I wondered why Lorca was this way; when you are young you’re full of life, living, and enjoying while death is some long distant thing. This was until I fell seriously ill, which made me afraid and later, recently, my friend and editor, Richard Truhlar, who was of my generation, died. I began to feel the sharp stick of fear, which gives you a viewpoint, or it should. I understood the burden that Lorca had throughout his life, this presentiment of death, whether by accident or illness or by what he’d seen or heard in the way of jealous love, political expediency and all other senseless and natural deaths. That same feeling is linked with life on the farm, in nature, because death is very present in the countryside: a farmer gets hurt, many animals are killed for food, etc. Lorca actually speaks about those landless people who are more known in death than in life. Similarly, that clue you mentioned to me about Andalusia’s connection with superstition and myth, the angels, the old gods … Andalusia, I think, is very connected to the precariousness of life. Everything I learned confirmed that García Lorca was a funnel, a catalyst, in order to be able to gather it and put it out: he deeply absorbed the way of life of those around him. I have to be very clear that Lorca’s writing of death does not in any way presage his own violent death, which would be a grievous misreading. We live with a veneer that diverts us from the fundamental and irrefutable event that we are all going to die and, therefore, should assume death and direct our steps with dignity toward it.
MRG: Your professional activity has been in the art world, but from an artisan approach. How do you relate your work as a gilder to creative writing?
BD: When I go to a museum or gallery, I’ve been accused of noticing picture frames before works of art. I must admit that it’s true, not that paintings don’t have skill, but gilding is the one thing I know by hand, is the closest to me. One of the things I’ve learned from craftsmanship, from working as a gilder, is the attention to detail. Skill is the key to success in craftsmanship. Many people think that this has to do with slowness, but no, what matters is to follow the rules, the recipes, the procedures, to get the work out quickly and perfectly to get paid. The essence is discipline, having in mind the rules, following a set of standards. The process in gilding is crucial. When you realize that something is wrong, it’s too late, because gold has already been laid. Being focused and paying attention to details are absolutely of prime importance.
When I come to the writing, it is the same, the same interest in process and details. I always work in longhand first; this gives a sense of intimacy that the keyboard cannot give you. It makes the speech rhythms of the writing more understandable, more legible. Putting it into the computer is the first revision. That’s when I pay attention to word choice, to the repetitiveness I want or don’t want. Again, coming back to Lorca, the compression, learning that I don’t need all those connectives, that I could put the sentences one by one and they would create their own rhythm. In conclusion, in my two trades, writing and gilding, the key is to pay attention to details.
MRG: Does this method respond to an experimentalist impulse or an expressive need?
BD: There is a bit of both here. In my attempts to write in a more direct style, I was coming to a dead end. I was not accomplishing anything that others had not done before and done better. When I started to discover the experimental tradition, the concrete poetry, sound work, etc., I realized that there were ways for me that allowed me to express what I wanted to say, or keep silent, if necessary, because silence is a huge part of what defines me as a person. Then, in my first works I found myself manipulating words, images and sound, because of the silence. The only way I could do this was in the experimental avenue, there was no subject, verb, object writing that would have allowed me to play this way, or to feel that I got closer to that silence, that I could have found a voice from that silence. Recently a few of my close readers have begun to understand my use of the incomplete sentence. When the silence is broken the thoughts come quickly and urgently without time for grammar and its codification. Later, it’s to be true to the first impulse and that, I think, is what I learned from Lorca, especially in POET IN NEW YORK: The first beating uncontrollable impulse.
MRG: Silence must be something definite in your evolution as an author, since you spent twenty years without publishing anything.
BD: After bpNichol died, I spent twenty years without writing, apart from some minor and unrelated pieces. It was a difficult period. I was part of the poetry scene, and listened to the work of others, knowing I could do better, but no way, I was blocked. That silence ended when the editor Richard Truhlar asked me for a contribution to an anthology of short stories, and so the dam was broken. In those twenty years I realized -I used to joke with bp: “How deep is deep”- a deeper voice was growing in me: a wider, fuller, more confident voice was speaking within me. Out of that, from this voice, I have written my last books. This silence contributed to my work as a gilder, to the art collection I gathered and the art criticism I wrote because they filled, for a time, that quiet. I do not regret that silence. Silence has always been an important issue for me.
British Columbia-born Brian Dedora is a writer and performance artist whose work has been anthologized and widely published in special and limited editions. His books include Eye Where: A Book of Visuals (2014), A Few Sharp Sticks (2011), A Slice of Voice at the Edge of Hearing (2008), which was shortlisted for the ReLit and George Ryga Awards, With WK in the Workshop (1989), as well as White Light (1987). His latest book is Lorcation (BookThug, 2015). Dedora lives in Toronto, Canada and Granada, Spain.
Martín Rodríguez-Gaona (Lima, 1969) has published several books of poetry, including Efectos personales (Personal Effects) (1993), Pista de baile (Dance Track) (1997), Parque infantil (Playground) (2005), Codex de los poderes y los encantos (A Codex of Powers and Spells) (2011), and Madrid, línea circular (Madrid, circular line) (2013, winner of the City of Cáceres Poetry Prize), and the essay “Mejorando lo presente. Poesía española última: posmodernidad, humanismo y redes” (Improving the present. Latest Spanish poetry: postmodernism, humanism and networks) (2010). He was a fellow at the Foundation Residencia de Estudiantes from 1999–2001, and worked as literary advisor for this institution until 2005. He also won the International Fellowship of Poetry Antonio Machadode Soria in 2010. His translations of poetry include La sabiduría de las brujas de John Giorno (2008) and Pirografía (Pyrography: Poems 1957–1985) (2003), a selection of ten books by John Ashbery.