December 3, 2010

J. V. Foix

J.[osep] [Arseni] V.[icenç] Foix [Spain/writes in Catalan]

Born in Barcelona in 1893, Foix grew up the son of a businessman who ran two bakery shops. He attended grade school in Sarrià and high school at the Colegi Ibéric in Barcelona. At the University of Barcelona, he studied law, but dropped out to help with the family business and─keeping it fact from his conservative parents─to write.

His early influences included the major Catalonian poets, Mossèn Jacint Verdaguer, Joan Maragall, and Miguel Costa i Llobera, as well as the contemporay French and Spanish-language poets such as Rubén Dario, Charles Riba, and Gabriel Ferrater. And the influence of these poets is revealed in his early works of the 1930s such as Gertrudis, KRTU, and Sol, i de dol.

But already this early work was closely involved with visual images, and by the time of his publication of Les Irreals Omegues in 1949 Foix reveals the influences of modernism shared by his artist friends Joan Miró and Salvado Dalí, as well as his colleague Josep Junoy, with whom he experimented with visual poetry, and his poet friend Paul Eluard. And throughout his long career, Foix would combine surrealist-like images and radical visual and lingusitic experimentations. Despite his attraction to the avant-garde, however, Foix preferred to be free of labels, describing hismself as an "investigator in poetry."

Foix continued to write up until the time of his death, assuring his centrality in the tradition of Catalan literature throughout the century.


Gertrudis (Barcelona: L'Amic de les Arts, 1927); KRTU (Barcelona: L'Amic de les Arts, 1932); Sol, i de dol (Barcelona: L'Amic de les Arts, 1936); Les Irreals Omegues (Barcelona: L'Amic de les Arts, 1949); Còpia d'un lletra tramesa a na Madrona Puignau, de Palau Ça Verdera (Barcelona: Dau al Set, 1951); On He Deixat les Claus... (Barcelona: L'Amic de les Arts, 1953); Del "Diari 1918" (Baracelona: Horta, 1956); Onze Nadas i un Cap d'Any (Barcelona: L'Amic de les Arts, 1960); Antología lírica, edited by Enrique Badosa (Madrid: Rialp, 1963); L'Estrella d'en Perris (Barcelona: Fontanella, 1963); Obres poètiques de J. V. Foix (Barcelona: Nauta, 1964); Escenificació de cinc poemes (Barcelona: Rocas, 1965); Els llooms transparents (Baracelona: Edicions 62, 1969); Antología de J. V. Foix (bilingual edition in Catalan and Astilian), edited by Enrique Badosa (Barcelona: Plaza & Janés, 1969); Darrer comunicat (Barcelona: Edicions62, 1970); Allò que no diu La Vanguardia (Barcelona: Proa, 1970); Mots i maons; o, A cascú el seu (Barcelona: L'Amic de les Arts, 1971); Tocant a mà (Barcelona: Edicions 62, 1972); Desa aquests llibres al calaix de baix (Barcelona: Natua, 1972); Antología poètica (Barcelona: Proa, 1973); Obres completes, 3 volumes (Barcelona: Edicions 52, 1974, 1979, 1985); Una Lleu sorra (Barcelona: Edicions 62, 1975); Set sonets (Barcelona: Ferrer, 1984); Poemes i dibuixos (Barcelona: Taller de Picasso, 1984); XL sonets (Barcelona: Asociacion de Bibliofilos de Barcelona, 1986); Album Foix (Barcelona: Quaderns Crema, 1990).


As for Love, trans. by M. L Rosenthal (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); When I Sleep, Then I See Clearly, trans. by David H. Rosenthal (New York: Persea, 1988)

Bring on the Oars...

Bring on the oars, my family's always been wanderers,
The sun hangs on my chest amid coral beads
And I say, on board, that I long for peaks and valleys,
For cows milked in a barn while snow falls outside.

Wolves have never scared me; at home
I chase warlocks by torchlight
And, covered with sacks, I sleep beside horses
Or knead, with dead arms, unleavenable bread.

It is I who trod the young vine and stared at that old lady,
And I dive into cold gorges if the lad splits asunder
Or embrace the moon in its difficult meanderings.

One must take risks on land and sea, and in new art,
Kiss a soaked body beneath cinnamon trees
And drop dead at thirty-threee, just like Alexander!

Translated from the Catalan by David H. Rosenthal

When I spied my rival in the distance, motionlessly awaiting me on the beach, I wondered if it was him, my horse, or Gertrude. As I approached, I realized it was a stone phallus, gigantic, erected in the far-off past. Its shadow covered half the sea and an indecipherable legend was inscribed at the base. I went closer so I could copy it, but before me, lying open on the burning sand, was only my umbrella. Upon the sea, without shadow of ships or clouds, floated those enormous gloves worn by the mysterious monster who chased you toward evening beneath the Ribera's plane trees.

Translated from the Catalan by David H. Rosenthal


It's absurd: they said I had to address you, and that at the very hour when sun, sea, and flesh weave dense arborescences and our ghosts wander through this miraculous jungle, I had to deliver a monologue without noticing that there were just a few dozen mummies before me, tragically sentenced to withstand the termite forever. You are by no means unknown to me. I've seen you in funeral processions at the parish storm door and within your moldy chambers, lying on mysterious slipcovered sofas. But I can imitate your faces, if need be, and like yours, my tight-stretched skin is a mask that allows me to behave with the idiocy of one who speaks because his fellow listens. It's absurd, it's absurd. No matter what I might useleslsy seek to tell you, a flash of eyes across the sky makes it intelligible to our joyous shadow, which it guides through the jungle our carnal figurations have deserted. My pedantry, then, will humbly recite another's texts. In the jagged blanks between paragraph and paragraph, between author and author, o sister mummies, perhaps you will find those footprints revealing which way my Philips went.


An outside spool unwinds thousands and thousands of yards of black gauze before my eyes. The portrait on the wall I'll never get to hang straight again: Is it Blake? Is it Lenin? Is it my father at thirty-five?


After passing through a dense forest of deflated tires, I finally got to touch his shoulder. He has glass eyes and a curly beard like the one on that giant at Poldo's house in Solsona.


A sofa on a riverbank is truly a marvel. A man bowed beneath the weight of a huge R slowly advances. He places the initial on the sofa, which teeters and falls into the river. But the river's made of glass and splits in a jagged crack from one bank to the other. If I lie down to touch it and see how thick it is, my hand will start bleeding. A voice makes the poplars tremble deep inside like theater props, and it calls out: MARTA! I simultaneously repeat the name (Could I be the only one who shouted it?): That R must have been an M; it is an M; no, it's an R. If only the man who brought it would return! But he's ashamed to be seen in shirtsleeves now that the curtain's risen.


If it weren't in such bad shape, we'd take the Ford out of its corner and go for a spin. But it doesn't have wheels! Nevertheless, Ernest Maragall hangs a clay angel above the radiator, clutching a piece of paper in its oustretched hands: Gloria in excelsis Deo. That's no Ford, it's a Mathis 717171. If it runs smoothly we'll go pick up Feliça (?), Maria Pepa and Niup (?). There's a dance at the Sant Gervasi Atheneium. But we're all naked and Maragall, jerking my head as though he wanted to strangle me, keeps repeating: "I never wear sport jackets! I never wear sport jackets!"


"It's not a horse. Among the grapevines, you say? But with a sea this hairy, the moon's whinnies are only audible at midnight, beneath Garraf's tunnels."


The coconut-vendor put on a false mustache so big it made me weep with fear. He took my hand and led me to the back of the stable where the horses slept. To keep me quiet, he showed me, through a cobwebbed crack, the vague landscape where a thousand silver rivers die in the sea,and he filled my hands with olives.

─Translated from the Catalan by David H. Rosenthal

Beyond the Centuries, Immobile

Walls of lime, inaccessible,
The insistent sea, inexorable turquoise
Filling the docile beach with day and night,
With setting suns and tree-trimmed moons;
And you, and I, immobile throught the centuries
At the shadowy foot of an eternal column.
We no longer gaze at each other with fiery pupils,
Nor do we, absent, peer into others' eyes
─Permanent transients
Amind white adverse walls
And the nets that conceal abysses behind doors─.
They bear in their hands the most useless of tools,
And pass by, and return,
And strew black feathers upon the sand.
The aroma of fresh-baked bread drifts through caverns,
Our bodies' pink marble,
Far-off latent snow-capped peaks,
Tar's high-billowing fragrant smoke,
And sleepwalkers, present in their timeless passing,
Are the breath of all:
A school of fish bursts into sparks,
Then thrashes in the hollow left by receding waves
Or echoless pulsing in the One Supreme Beat,
Tossing our nets from the tip of the Cape.

El Port de la Selva, August 1931

Translated from the Catalan by David H. Rosenthal


"Bring on the Oars...," "[When I spied my rival]," "Practice," and "Beyond the Centuries, Immobile"
Reprinted from When I Sleep, Then I See Clearly, trans. by David H. Rosenthal (New York: Persea, 1988). Copyright ©1985 by J. V. Foix. English language copyright ©1988 by David Rosenthal. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc.

Four short poems by J. V. Foix translated by Susan Lantz, click below:

Some prose poems translated from J. V. Foix's Catalan by Johannes Beilharz:

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