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Crossed gazes: Miquel Martí i Pol and Antoni Miró

Carles Cortés

I don’t use my suffering as an excuse
to desert a too sinister time,
of desolate contours, so unpropitious
that nobody knows what to hold on to any more.
Who does not suffer? In the distance I gaze at the sad
solemnity of the sea and tears come
of yearning to my eyes, of yearning and melancholy.
Who does not suffer? I try to understand
what that space of mine I’m missing wants of me,
the specific space of extreme clearness
in which oblivion and rhythm and distance
shall give me back the lost solitude,
the dust of years settled with care
on the skin, perhaps hope,
possibly a love, like a cry in the dark,
water and wind and the shadow of the shadows,
nothing and everything, so I don’t lose myself for ever.
(Miquel Martí і Pol, 03.07.92)

Crossed gazes

Who are Miquel Martí і Pol and Antoni Miró? A writer and poet, an artist and painter. Can only two words define each of them? It hardly seems adequate. Martí і Pol and Miró, Miquel and Toni were once friends1. Two restless persons, each of them interested in artistic creation —I hope Toni pardons me for using the word creation which he dislikes so much— in their respective discipline, who coincided one day, back in the nineties and who were able to exchange their work and have a series of conversations, both oral and written, about their artistic and life concerns. A fortuitous connexion that offers us, more than fifteen years later, an important basis for reflection so as to understand the connection between two artistic languages as distant as poetry and painting.

Their biographical profiles are very different. Although their epistolary relationship began in 1992 they didn’t meet in person until a year later, during the poet’s stay at the Sopalmo farmhouse in the town of Ibi, near Alcoi. At that moment Miquel Martí і Pol (Roda de Ter, Tarragona, March 19, 1929 - November 11, 2003) was experiencing one of the culminating moments in his literary career2. He had become known after being awarded the Óssa Menor prize for poetry in Catalan in 1954 for Paraules al vent (Words to the Wind). He married Dolors Freixas two years later, and had a daughter (1958) and a son (1965). It was at that time when he began his artistic work, translated, and participated in movie debates at the same time that he wrote music for his poems and performed them onstage alongside members of the Nova Cançó, the Catalan musical movement of singer-songwriters. This is an activity that he took up again in the nineties, when he met Antoni Miró, alongside one of the youngest members of this musical protest movement: Lluís Llach. From 1970 on, multiple sclerosis begins to make the poet’s mobility more difficult. This is also when he begins his dedication to poetry: Vint-i-set poemes en tres temps (Twenty-seven Poems in Three Tempos, 1972), La pell del violí (The Skin of the Violin, 1974), Llibre dels sis sentits (Book of the Six Senses, 1974), Cinc esgrafiats a la mateixa paret (Five Engravings on the Same Wall, 1975), Quadern de vacances (Holiday Notebook, 1976). The fact that he was confined to his home from 1973 on, due to his illness, did not prevent public recognition, such as the publication by Llibres del Mall of three volumes of his poems: L’arrel і l’escorça (The Root and the Bark), El llarg viatge (The Long Voyage) and Amb vidres a la sang (With Glass in the Blood). Not much later, with the book of poems Estimada Marta (Dear Marta) Martí і Pol started appearing at public functions and came into contact with a public that highly regarded his work. His wife Dolors Freixas passed away in 1984 after a long illness. Two years later he married Montserrat Sans.

He translated works by authors as different as Saint-Exupéry, Simone de Beauvoir, Apollinaire, Flaubert, Zola, Racine, Huysmans and Gianni Rodari, among others. Martí і Pol is also the author of a book in prose, Contes de la Vila de R. і altres narracions (Tales of the Town of R. and Other Stories), two volumes of “memoirs in the form of a novel” and one of correspondence with Catalan poet Joan Vinyoli. But apart from the poetry, what is most interesting in his work is the fact that many well-known Catalan singers, such as Maria del Mar Bonet, Ramon Muntaner, Lluís Llach, Celdoni Fonoll or Rafael Subirachs set music to it and that it was recited by performer Ovidi Montllor. International recognition arrived with the translation of his poetry into Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Flemish, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Russian and Japanese. He was awarded several prizes in Catalonia, besides the Óssa Menor in 1954: the Fastenrath prize, the Critics’ Prize (1978), the Salvador Espriu, the City of Barcelona Prize (for both translation and poetry), plus the recognition of the Award of Honour in Catalan Letters (1991), the St. George Cross, the Gold Medal for Merit in the Fine Arts (1992), the Catalan National Prize for Literature (1998) and the Gold Medal of the Generalitat of Catalonia. Val d’Aosta awarded him the Nosside International Poetry Prize. In 1999 a civic movement was set up to submit his candidacy for the Nobel Prize in Literature awarded by the Swedish Academy.

As to his poetry, in our aim to synthesize, we can conceive an evolution from existential approaches to historical realism. As Pere Farrés writes in the anthology of the author’s poems published in 2003, after suffering a crisis in his religious beliefs in the fifties, the author solved his conflict by opening himself to the reality of his surroundings, specifically in his two most immediate spatial frames: the town where he lived and the factory where he worked. This is how the poems in his books El poble (The Town), La fàbrica (The factory, 1959) and La fàbrica (The factory, 1972) were born. This is the way he is originally integrated into the literary current known as historical realism. Martí і Pol uses realistic techniques to describe an environment he knows well; at the same time that he praises the situation of the workers, their wives and the retirees.

On a formal level, what should be noted is the poet’s choice of a direct and accessible language —with a careful selection of words and the use of metaphors and images evoking the character’s feelings and states of mind— that enhances the poetic value of his work. The onset of his illness will increase the interiorisation of his poetry. In books like Vint-i-set poemes en tres temps (1972) or Cinc esgrafiats a la mateixa paret (1975), feelings such as anguish or loneliness are used to discover intimate and reduced spaces. With Quadern de vacances (1976) he will timidly overcome the former situation, although it will be through Estimada Marta (1978) and L’àmbit de tots els àmbits (The Sphere of all Spheres, 1981) when his poetic voice will recover its optimism and its thirst for life. The topics of love and eroticism will reappear with force: this is an interest that he shares with Antoni Miró, as we can see in some of the crossed letters that we will talk about later on. In the same way, he will consolidate a preoccupation with the reader’s civic conscience, wishing to push him towards reflection. As Pere Farrés stresses in the article quoted before, “the poet [...] invites the reader to a civic reflection on the need for everybody to contribute as much as they can to building a common country. There are three channels —faith in the future, eroticism and civic reflection— that define a new moment [...] and that some of his more mature texts provide.”

In later publications, such as Primer llibre de Bloomsbury (First Book of Bloomsbury, 1982), Llibre d’absències (Book of absences, 1985) or Els bells camins (Beautiful Roads, 1987), the author maintains his reflective direction, at the same time that he places a high value on the experience that the passage of time gives him. In the next decade the poet provides a more intimate world where he accentuates the expression of the burden of time. In this way he brings up topics such as insecurity and the disappointment of personal feelings at the same time as reflections on the collective evolution of the country. In books such as Un hivern plàcid (A placid winter, 1994) or Llibre de les solituds (Book of Solitudes, 1997) we find a Martí і Pol who is critical of the external sociopolitical evolution, with an ironic counterpoint that will preside over his next works. A critical and satirical point of view produced by his concern over his country, shared on both the personal and the artistic levels with Antoni Miró’s work. These are the years of Vivace, the series of pictures where Miró searches for the most heartrending vision of our country’s environmental disasters at the same time that he continues to defend a Catalan national space. This is the decade when they both meet.

On the other hand, Antoni Miró (Alcoi, 1944) begins his artistic career in 1960 with the award of the City of Alcoi’s first prize in painting. He holds his first individual show five years later and founds the artistic group Grup Alcoiart (1965-72). In 1972 he establishes the Gruppo Denunzia in Brescia (Italy) with other artists. Thanks to his national and international recognition he has held hundreds of shows and been awarded a varied array of prizes, such as the Culture Ministry of Cuba’s distinction for “National Culture” and the tribute included in the Premis Octubre literary prizes organized by ЗІ4, a publishing house in Valencia supporting Catalan culture, in 2008. Miró’s artistic career has included diverse disciplines such as painting, sculpture and drawing, at the same time that he has developed other social initiatives in defence of human rights and the recognition of oppressed people. With a considerable civic sense and solidarity, along almost fifty years of his career we are able to find Antoni Miró in most cultural and political proposals characterized by progressive values.

As to his work, grouped in various series such as "Les Nues” (Nudes, 1964), “La Fam” (Hunger, 1966), “Els Bojos” (Crazy people, 1967), “Experimentacions і Vietnam” (Experiments and Vietnam, 1968), “L’Home” (Man, 1970), “Amèrica Negra” (Black America, 1972), “L’Home Avui” (Man Today, 1973), “El Dòlar” (The Dollar, 1973- 80), “Pinteu pintura” (Paint painting, 1980-90), “Vivace” (Vivace, 1991) and “Sense Títol” (Untitled, 2001), it can be placed within social realism, even though at the beginning it is marked by the expressive figurative style. His growing interest in social themes will take him in the sixties to neofigurativism, with a message of criticism and denunciation that, in the seventies, fully identifies with the artistic movement called “Crònica de la realitat” (Chronicle of reality), inserted in international pop-art and realistic currents. One of the characteristic elements in his work is the use of propaganda images from industrial society and of the linguistic codes used by the media.

It must be stressed that on a formal level his critical intention is reflected by the experimental use of different pictorial techniques that shape a particular plastic language in which the great quality of the chromatic application clearly stands out in his paintings. This is a continuous vision throughout his work that will be a point of personal connection with the poet from Roda de Ter. It is difficult to assess how much of a mark meeting him left on the painters work. In any case, one should keep in mind that Miró’s biography shows a special interest in Catalan authors who have supported their own culture. Ever since adolescence the painter has read the works of writers who will help him to get to know his country better: Joan Valls, Salvador Espriu, Vicent Andrés Estellés, Joan Fuster, Ausiàs March or Miquel Martí і Pol, among others. Helped by his reading he will come to terms with a critical reflection on a reality that will not always be pleasant to him. Contact with Miquel Martí і Pol will evidently afford him a series of gratifications, both personal and to his state of mind that go further than only the formative element. The painter tells him so in the last letter that he sends him at the end of 1994, when he refers to the difficulties the poet finds in making progress in his work:

I doubted if I should do it [write to you] so as not to distract you, to give you time to pick up again that magical little notebook with your poems in it, which becomes a miraculous source of knowledge for everybody, from which we would all like to drink so we could feel more person-like, and closer to your secret
(CT Miró, 12.12.94)

Miró is conscious, from the moment when he first reads his works, of the importance of this figure as a point of reference for the culture they share: “I profoundly admire your poetic work, which makes me feel ever closer to you and to that monumental task of yours that dignifies us all.” (CT Miró, 08.09.92). He will stress this point in a later letter: “I hope and wish that with the start of the New Year (...) your work continues to be as fruitful as always, something that all of us Catalans should feel grateful for.” (CT Miró, 12.01.93)

They can both be considered art workers, since both of them have devoted their entire life to creation through their own personal code. One of them uses words, the other one uses images. The magic of art makes them coincide, during a couple of years, so as to make both languages compatible. On a personal level they are both living very active years: Antoni Miró is beginning his new “Vivace” pictorial series, which will mean a new step in his evolution as an artist; Miquel Martí і Pol will publish his new book of poems, Un hivern plàcid and is working meticulously alongside musician Lluís Llach in the composition of the musical work Un pont de mar blava. Even so, the writer has a different perception of this moment and understands that it is his friend who has known how to take advantage of it:

I’ve seen that you have worked hard this year, as usual. I have not done a thing; or rather, yes, I’ve done all kinds of things that I’ve been asked to do, but real work, what one would call work in earnest that I haven’t done. The middle of November has come and gone and the notebook which I use to write poems in remains virginal since last December. This has been a lost year, at least in this sense, because I haven’t been able to take advantage of it to read, either. When I ask myself -something I do frequently- what I’ve done for the last twelve months, my face reddens. I change the subject.
(CT Martí, 18.11.94)

This is because the degree of sincerity and affection that has grown between the two artists is considerable if we take into account the confidences made by the writer, who is overwhelmed by the success of his latest book, Un hivern plàcid:

It’s success has been a scandal that has surprised and embarrassed me: the first edition of three thousand (that’s it, 3) copies sold out in less than three weeks and the second one, three thousand more, will be published before the end of the month. Faced with these things and similar ones that are happening to me these days, I prefer to talk about them only with the old man who stares at me from the mirror3 every morning for over three hours. Sometimes I fear that I will fall into schizophrenia, a benign form maybe, but schizophrenia nonetheless. The world is evidently not a fair place.
(CT Martí, 18.11.94)

Both of them analyse life with humour and irony and their work reflects it. Additionally, in his answer to the above letter, Antoni Miró makes the following reference to the success and the scope of Martí і Pol’s latest published work: “This has been the most peaceful winter since we’ve been living at the Sopalmo farmhouse, it may be that your book has favoured it. I would almost take it as a fact if miracles were possible” (CT Miró, 12.12.94)

The epistolary relationship between them, during the years 1992 to 1994, is an excellent testimony to the interest in each other’s work. A good example of the possibilities of interference between artistic codes, that are distant but that coincide, when they provide a critical view of the world as in the case of both trajectories. It is evident that, as Áron Kibédi Varga warned4, the possible comparison and analogy between two categories of objects, such as words and images, is marred from the beginning of its interpretation, since the sensory perception of both languages is not the same in all of its aspects. This is why the interrelations that we may observe between the two artistic trajectories are influenced by the subjective reception that we could have of each of them. We are interested; it could not be otherwise, in the personal and intellectual ties created between both creators, two key figures in the cultural history of our country.

Crossed letters

Let us focus, then, on the epistolary exchange between the two5. After Miró sent him La otra mirada (The other gaze, 1992), the monographic book on his work, the poet sent him the first letter in their brief but intense epistolary relationship. It was May, 1992, and Martí і Pol wrote “we don’t know each other personally, and this is why it has surprised me to see myself, let’s say, sharing a book and a dedication with people I love and admire” (CT Martí, 29.05.92)6. The poet was surprised by Miró’s dedication at the beginning of the book, which provoked the following question: “I would like to know what has driven you to count on me in such an intimate and pleasant manner. You’ve made me very happy.” (CT Martí, 29.05.92). The painters answer arrived in the second letter of this collection: “the reason why I have dedicated the book to you is simply the admiration I have held for you during many years. I have always been interested in your poetry and in your personal spirit” (CT Miró, 06.92). In this letter Miró let him know that he would shortly be sending him a painting, as the poet had asked him to previously:

I had seen some —a few— reproductions of your paintings, which had aroused my thirst; this book has made it almost unbearable. Listen, couldn’t I have one of your paintings to hang on the wall of my home? I’ll be honest, the funds I have available are meagre, but if you should offer me a friend’s price I would exhaust them.
(CT Martí, 29.05.92)

The painting arrived two months later, but before that Martí і Pol showed his impatience to receive it: “I await it on tenterhooks because I would like to be able to set aside a special, warm place for it, so it is a constant referent for me.” (CT Martí, 29.06.92). The poet pointed out a possible confluence of codes emanating from the observation of the desired painting. We enter the sphere of interrelation that Daniel Bergez points out in his study on literature and painting:

L’activité picturale peut constituer un sujet de réflexion pour l’écrivain. II se produit alors implicitement une mise en abyme symétrique á celle du peintre représentant l’homme de lettres au travail, puisque ce sont souvent ses propres interrogations que l’écrivain prête au peintre
(2004,163)

The painting finally arrived in the poet’s hands with a note by the artist: “I’ve chosen it, precisely, because I consider its theme to be more poetic and warm than many of my pictures”. This is a very explicit criterion that, in the voice of the painter, assumes a special interpretation, since it interrelates the piece he has sent with the characteristics that he himself sees in Martí і Pol’s poetry. Roig nuet (Little red nude) is the title of the picture in question. It had been painted a year earlier, in 1991, and it offers a feminine nude of great sensuality and passion, a meaning which is reinforced by the red tone that occupies the whole image, both of them characteristics that Miró observes in Marti і Pol’s verses.

A variation on the same nude feminine figure gave rise to a new work by Miró dedicated to the memory of another poet, in this case the medieval Catalan poet Ausiàs March. It is the engraving “Així com cell qui en lo somni es delita” (As he who delights in the dream), included in the collection edited by the savings bank Bancaixa “9 gravadors interpreten Ausiàs March” (9 engravers interpret Ausiàs March) in 1997. The interest of the painter in poetry with amorous or erotic content, in poets like March or Martí і Pol, is expressed through works with similar content that attempt to express similar feelings.

If his knowledge of March’s work is earlier -and, in some way, due to the musician Raimon’s works based on the poet from Gandia— it is at the end of the eighties when he comes into contact with Martí і Pol’s poetry, as the painter recalls: “Ovidi [Montllor, a singer and actor from Alcoi] used to talk to me about him; among the poets he used to read, Miquel Martí і Pol was one of his points of reference”. By reading him, Miró found new ways of approaching feminine eroticism and the sensuality of the poetic gaze on life. The writer confirmed the good decision made in the selection of the picture:7

You have made a very good choice. The seduction and the mystery in this range of reds have an impressive strength and a shocking beauty. But there is also the theme, the nude torso of a woman that, submerged in the red, acquires a very peculiar nuance and is shockingly beautiful. I have always been attracted to the feminine nude, and I don’t think I shall ever tire of gazing at this one.
(CT Martí, 15.07.92)

In a later letter he also points out some of the characteristics of Miró’s work, as he talks about his observation of the images of the painter’s house in the catalogues he has received:

Each time I look at photographs my mouth waters at the beauty of the rooms and, above all, at the cleanliness, the organization and the conscientiousness that one guesses at and that, in my opinion, also shows through in your work, as intense and clear in its lines as it is perfect in its execution.
(CT Martí, 13.08.92)

 In previous letters Martí і Pol has posed a series of questions about the materials used by the painter in his compositions, a pretext that helps the poet to show the limitations of his knowledge of pictorial art, even though he presents himself, as in so many letters sent to Miró, as a kind of captatio benevolentiae, a rhetorical strategy of securing the addressee’s goodwill: “pardon my ignorance and my poor skill at asking questions. I don’t ask you this to admire the picture more, but to acquire knowledge. [...] If you don’t feel like answering the questions I’ve asked you, forget them.” (CT Martí, 29.06.92)8. Miró will answer that very summer, explaining that “the procedure is laborious and demands a certain amount of technical dexterity from the preliminary drawing on” (CT Miró, 06.08.92). The writer is attracted to pictorial language, at the same time that he is conscious of his limitations: “it must be enthralling to paint, I think, and to dominate so many resources to create beauty.” (CT Martí, 13.08.92). 

From the painter to the poet

On his part, the poet, attracted to the pictorial work he is familiar with through the catalogues he has received, promises to write “a poetic reflection, in verse or in prose” (CT Martí, 29.06.92) for one of the painter’s soon-tobe-published books. He himself sketched out the nature of the text he would write for the occasion: “I don’t think I’ll dare to write a text that would be, let’s say, theoretical. I will probably decide on a poetic reflection; whether in verse or in prose, I still don’t know” (CT Martí, 29.06.92). The result would be “Esbós de lletra a Antoni Miró” (Sketch of a note to Antoni Miró), more than fifty verses —most of them, decasyllabic— that the painter will receive on November 6th of that year. In the letter that accompanies the text, the writer defines the thematic basis on which he has built his composition: “it is not a theoretical text, but a poetic interpretation —absolutely free, of course— of your painting and, daringly, a little of the impression I have formed of you, from your pictures, from your books and from your letters.” (CT Martí, 21.10.92)

Sketch of a note to Antoni Miró (October, 1992)

Toni Miró, I say, listen to this:
time’s impertinent verbosity
is an obscene and devastating trap
and you who know this go straight on and write,
lucidly, on the other side of the mirror.
Meticulous, you draw chiaroscuros
on the tired and vehement skin,
so light penetrates the uncertain
texture of the years and scatters clearness
much further than the fallacious horizon
of these ups and downs of a vibrating life
always headed towards annihilation.
From which secret well do you draw
the luminous and perennial meaning
of each gesture, of each movement?
Shrewd and solemn, do you leave
the commotion
to turn each stroke into fire
and become more tender and challenging,
or do you trace parables of wind
to incite the rain and the worry
of defining the course correctly?
Symbols and space combine desire,
the explosion of red and the feeling of blue
that only you know how to master, discreet,
to unveil the devious enigma
of any mysterious gaze,
and so, undo, without even moving your fingers
the whole string of adverse solitudes,
that like a yoke binds and subjugates us.
I ask a lot and you always reply
and it is seductive to talk to the emptiness
in myself to which you attract me, stubborn
like a solemn and independent child.
I ask a lot and the nudity of body and mind
act for me like a sounding board
that no mirror happens to reflect
apart from the one you offer me.
I think of you far away, Toni Miró, and I write
unaccustomed to all, closing my eyes
often so as to not break the spell
and learning more about myself, as one who retraces his steps
to rethink the nuisance of the future
without fear of the clichéd fright.
I think of you often, distant friend, and I enjoy
conversing with you in silence
to transform stillness into song
and win spaces of subtle music.
Everything happens by squeezing solitude,
shaping words trickily,
giving up tinsel and pomp
to achieve the essential explosion;
everything becomes bright inside
and the challenge, the shout, the turpitude and the pleasure
are only the aureole of the lightning
with which we can, maybe, fight the old
trap of time, verbose, impertinent
and, at the end, obscene and devastating. 

It is interesting to observe how the writer deals with the origin of his composition: “I began the poem with the intention of talking, as subjectively as you wish, only about your painting; but it was the poem itself that went on to impose a dynamic that it would have been counterproductive and grotesque to contradict. This was how I found that, for me, the last part turned out to be intimate and committed, but since it was so shockingly sincere I let it dictate the verses.” (CT Martí, 21.10.92). An attempt, thus, at pictorial criticism,9 that will end up being a pretext to build a literary text from the impressions that the poet receives from the painter and from his work. The poems spontaneity is favoured by the formal liberty of the original composition, marked only by the regularity of the decasyllabic verse —the most traditional metre in Catalan poetry— which shows the poet’s esteem for the painter.

It could also be interesting to observe the explanation that the poet gives of the creative process and of its expression in writing:

I have to write poems by hand; I wouldn’t know how to do it otherwise. The typewriter is too distant, too cold, and, for the poems, I need more warmth. Yours has been in the drawer for weeks; I would take it up and leave it depending on the mood and on my work.
(CT Martí, 21.10.92).

When he explains the creative process of “Esbós de lletra...”, he adds that “working on your poem has been an effective and gratifying exercise” (CT MARTI, 20.11.92). This is because during the previous years the publication of Martí і Pol’s poetry has slowed down, although two years later Un hivern plàcid (1994) will see the light.

The painter greatly appreciates the poetic composition, he expresses it in the diary he keeps at the time.10 In subsequent letters he refers to it: “I find it magnificent, a masterpiece as a poem and I feel very fortunate to have inspired so much beauty. I am very impressed and eternally grateful; it is an immense work that has a complete depth, impossible to define.” (CT Miró, 10.11.92). “The sketch...is so beautiful that I hope to publish it in various places” (CT Miró, 10.11.93). It is from this interest that Miró’s project of including it in a presentation folder with two etchings about the writer is born: “La pipa, la paleta” (The pipe, the palette). News that will surprise Martí і Pol again and that will provoke a long series of questions: “please pardon me if I’m going too far. I’m asking you all this to learn or, if you prefer it, for pure gossip. But, I would like, if you don’t mind, to know it.” (CT Martí, 20.01.93) As Miró announces in a later letter, the incorporation of the poem to the presentation folder of graphic works, “is a complement to my painting, it makes it more accessible to people and permits it to be disseminated more widely in society” (CT Miró, 17.02.93). In this way, the painter makes the interaction of both artistic codes —the linguistic one and the poetic one— compatible, as he writes to the poet, when approaching the same reality. Martí і Pol, at the same time he warns that “my judgment, evidently, is of no critical value” (CT Martí, 24.02.93), offers the following assessment: “your engravings, to my mind, are splendid; their drafting is justly detailed, their colour suggestive and clear and, above all, full of connotations, references and meanings, as is all of your work. [...] what makes me feel pleasantly close to your work is the absence of arbitrariness that is evident in it, and also the rhythm and order that preside over it.” (CT Martí, 24.02.93).

This whole interrelationship is accomplished without any kind of direct personal contact, only through the crossed letters. But one thing is certain: from the beginning of the relationship, the poet wishes to visit the painter: “If Alcoi wasn’t so far from Roda, or if I had a more acceptable autonomy of movements, I assure you that I would be delighted to visit you at the Sopalmo farmhouse.” (CT Martí, 13.08.92). Six months later the author suggests a possible visit: “We have a car —an R-5, they call it— and Montserrat knows how to drive it, but I suspect she wouldn’t dare to go on such a long trip, she and I alone, taking into account that if there should be any problem, breakdown, etc., I, unfortunately, not only am unable to be of use but, in a certain way, am a nuisance. Taking all of this into account, what we are going to do is to talk to a good friend of ours that you must know, at least in name: Lluís Llach, to see if he could organize it, if he is interested, which I’m sure he is, and if he could take us in his car, which is big and powerful. We would like very much to go, and even more so with Lluís, whom we see frequently and of whom we are very fond.” (CT Martí, 24.02.93). Martí і Pol and Llach’s work on the record Un pont de mar blava (A bridge of blue sea) —where, according to the poet “I have collaborated intensely (CT Martí, 13.04.93) — delayed the trip south until October 29th, 1993.

A firsthand account of that moment is described in the painter’s diary, where he pours out the feeling that impregnates his home on account of the illustrious visitor: “Miquel is a great lesson in humanity and resignation, of joie de vivre” (AG Miró, 31.10.93). The few shared days affected the mood of Miró and of his family. Sofia and Ausiàs (Miró’s partner and his son) still remember Lluis Llach’s words on that occasion: “wherever Martí і Pol goes, everybody becomes good”. Antoni Miró still remembers, from that stay, the poet’s physical limitations in moving around the rooms in The Sopalmo farmhouse: “It was astounding how philosophically he accepted his terrible Situation. While we were eating, if he wanted to go to the bathroom, it could well take him half an hour to go from the dining room to the bathroom. He wanted to be independent. Not to be a nuisance. And Montse, his wife, it’s true, she was used to it”. The writer, resigned to the progress of the degenerative illness he suffered, explained to the Miró family how he willed himself do things: “if one day I don’t do something, I will never do it again”. Antoni still remembers his smile, especially when they talked about two subjects that both of them were interested in: feminine beauty and their love of their culture. When they talked about the Valencian reality they both coincided on the important lessons given by great Valencian poets in classical times and in the contemporary world: Ausiàs March and Vicent Andrés Estellés, two voices that both friends were equally interested in.

Martí і Pol and Llach worked very hard during the months after meeting in the Alcoi area. The poet tells the painter so, after taking a couple of months to thank him for the courtesy of his invitation: “I have been very busy with the Barcelona premiere of Un pont de mar blava and with all the engagements that have followed. What’s to be done! These things are frequently as agreeable as they are exhausting.” (CT Martí, 12.12.93). In this letter, Martí і Pol makes an announcement: “I will write more about your painting and about you, but I don’t know what or where”, even though, unfortunately, this wish never came true.

A year later the poet will again remember the meeting at Miró’s house, at the same time that he points out how difficult it is for him to repeat such a trip: “It was a year ago that we went to the Sopalmo farmhouse. Montserrat, Lluís and I remember it with happiness. Those were two very agreeable days, even though the weather wasn’t too good, and very intense. But I think it will be difficult to repeat the trip under similar circumstances, at the very least because I get lazier every day.” (CT Martí, 18.11.94). 

From the poet to the painter

As to the mark left by Martí і Pol’s work on Miró’s artistic career, it should be emphasized that the painter had always been interested in books like the Suite de Parlavà. He talked about it in a letter to the poet, after he had suggested sending a copy to the painter: “I already own the Suite de Parlavà and I like it a lot, as I do all your work” (CT MIRÓ, 10.11.92). This interest was given expression to in 1994 through the collage collection put together by the artist, based on verses from the Suite de Parlavà. This creative impulse was parallel to the one applied to Salvador Espriu’s poems included in La pell de brau (The bullskin) at the Can Rajoler study in Pals where Miró worked during the summers of 1993 and 1994. As the artist explained to us, the preparation process for the thirty-eight collages is generated with the fixation of a verse or an expression from Martí і Pol’s poems that has interested him, serving as a title for the composition. This group of works is situated at the end of “Pinteu Pintura”, the pictorial series developed during the eighties. Miró is fully immersed in the next series, “Vivace”, where women’s eroticism, a critical interpretation of society, his reflection on nationalism and his concern over the destruction of the environment are presented through a consecutive discourse that reflects his concerns at that moment.

There could be a second reason for the painter’s impulse to work on this book of poems. The collages were assembled in the town of Pals, in Girona, very close to Parlavà, the place used by the poet as a frame of reference because Lluís Llach owned a house there, and well known by both of them. Miró was conscious of the proximity of the space that both of them, the musician and the poet, shared. This is why, as he himself recalls; he was attracted to “a close and real space that became mythical in Martí і Pol’s work”. With the collages or papiers collés, as professor Joan Àngel Blasco Carrascosa calls them, Miró searches for a fusion between drawing, painting and poetry:

this iconographic fitting together, which emerges —according to a previously decided concept and purpose— from a process of selection of images that will be dislocated and then reorganized, at the same time that they are used to stimulate the visual effect, reveals the cathartic action experienced by the author.
(Blasco Carrascosa 1998, 5)

“I would escape from myself”
 “Return to the past”
 “It is perhaps the place” 
“Eye always open” 
“Secret cadence” 
"I only play at living” 
“Veil of mystery” 
“Always comes with me” 
“This spell” 
“The absence of desire” 
“Remote symphony” 
“From your memory”
 “Unusual gesture” 
“Gestures and gazes” 
“Maybe a hand” 
“Solitary gains” 
“Discrete stillness” 
“Opaque mirror”
 “Determination to persist” 

“Gazing at the West”
“Warmly naive”
“I turn back”
“Hazardous future”
“River of uncertain waters”
“A different skin”
“Maybe someone”
“Sitting in the shade”
“Figures and presences”
“You will be far away”
“For saying love”
“Silence is the shelter”
“Far-away storm”
“Implacable”
“Docile branch”
“I will already be far away”
“Closing the eyes”
“Far-away bark”
“Left-over dream”

Antoni Miró takes fragments from Martí і Pol’s book, published three years earlier. The selection of pairs of words made apparently at random only confirms the reception that the poet’s verses provoke in the painter. We are thus able to observe a reference to the feelings present in the poetic voice, such as: “I would escape from myself”, “I only play at living”, “the absence of desire”, “secret cadence”, “discrete quietness”, “I turn back” or “silence is the shelter”. The artist also selects the poet’s affective references: “always comes with me”, “this spell”, “from the memory of you”, “gestures and looks”, “gazing at the West”.

Memories, the yearning for time gone by and that cannot be recovered, interest both the poet and the painter, as we can see in “return to the past”, “I turn back” or “from the memory of you”. Feelings that find their concrete recreation, of great interest to the spectator-reader of Miró’s collages11, in the visualization of objects from the past. 

Closing the crossing

I leave you. I promise not to be so disorganized on the next occasions, even though I feel heavier and more disoriented every time. It must be age!
(CT MARTÍ, 11.18.94)

This farewell is included in the last letter received by Antoni Miró from his correspondent at the end of the two years of their epistolary relationship. The friendship and esteem between both of them did nothing but grow. But the poet’s growing occupations —as a result of the success of Un pont de mar blava and his latest books he initiated a phase of great recognition and many public activities — and the endless progress of his illness prevented him from answering the last letter that Miró sent him at the end of 1994. As if it were some kind of omen, the painter wrote about the illness of another good friend: “give my regards to Montserrat [Sans] and to Lluis [Llach], who wrote a beautiful letter for the tribute to Ovidi who, as you know, is very ill.” (CT Miró, 12.12.94). 1994 is a difficult year for the artist12: his singer friend’s health has gotten worse. In July he dedicates a photomontage to him with a very meaningful title: “...I jugo a viure només per no perdre’t” (... And I play at living so as not to lose you), a work that he alternates with the previously mentioned collages based on Martí і Pol’s verses. When Miró writes the letter quoted above to Martí і Pol, two weeks have gone by since he organized the tribute “La Cançó amb Ovidi” where various artists who once belonged to “La Nova Cançó” performed in Alcoi before the ill singer, who will die in the painter’s presence the following 10th of March.13

When one talks to Antoni about his friends and about his favourite poets one notices how his blue eyes shine. He is moved. The person talking to him gets drunk on his explanations —this is someone who doesn’t use many words— of which poetic voices have helped him understand the world. “Espriu is our national poet, Mari і Pol is his heir”, is his concise conclusion. When he learned of the death of the poet, in November 2003, he sent a telegram to Montserrat Sans, his widow. As a tribute to him he organized a collective exhibition in his memory at the UNESCO hall in Alcoi.

Miró always appreciated the work of the poet from Roda de Ter, perhaps ever since he learned that his poetry had a working-class origin, that is, it was written by a simple, humble person, who had worked in factories, as had his beloved Joan Valls in post-war Alcoi. Antoni has always seen himself in this way, as a painter-proletarian, a tireless art worker. It is an image that he shares with Vicent Andrés Estellés, the greatest 20,h century Valencian poet. Apart from feeling a possible mythomania toward the great figures of Catalan literature, Miró learns about the seduction of feelings, the expression of people, through poetry written to search for beauty that does not exist without justice, to condense the content. Meeting Martí і Pol in person only confirmed and reinforced the painter’s attraction to his figure. Antoni the master painter becomes a student of the great poetic figures that he has met during his lifetime. This is where his veneration springs from, the great amount of initiatives in defence of their memory, of their work; the tributes to Salvador Espriu and his Pell de Brau (bullskin), Ausiäs March’s eroticism and his llir entre cards (lily amongst thistles), Vicent Andrés Estellés’ feeling and his no hi havia a València dos amants com nosaltres (there were no two lovers like us in Valencia), and, from Alcoi, Joan Valls, Jordi Botella, Ovidi Montllor, Isabel-Clara Simó —who has dedicated her only poems to him— and, finally, Miquel Martí і Pol’s loving and erotic vision and his Parlavà... Two distant worlds, painting and poetry that, through Miró’s work, move closer to and complement each other. They reduce the distance to offer a joint, unique discourse. The expression of feelings of a critical vision of an unaccepted reality. This is what art is like, this is what Miquel Martí і Pol’s poetry is like, and this is what Antoni Miró’s painting is like. Crossed gazes: a common reality. Forever.

 

1. Even though at the beginning they used the more formal vós, as we can see in the first letters they crossed, it is in December 1993 when the poet asks his correspondent to use the more familiar tu: “I would like it if from now on we used tu; do you mind?” (CT Martí, 12.12.93)

2. You can consult Pere Farrés’ excellent introductory study in the anthology edition of his poems published in 2003.

3. We can find a similar image that deals with the effect of the passage of time on the poet in a poem of that same period, “L’andana” (The platform, Martí i Pol, 2004, 49): “I’ve grown old waiting, and I didn’t realize it” (02.03.91)

4. We refer to the article “Criterios para describir las relaciones entre palabra e imagen”, in Literatura y pintura (2000, 110).

5. We must thank Antoni Miró for allowing us to consult the correspondence he received as well as the copies that he made of his answering letters before mailing them to the poet. In this way we have been able to compare both directions of the epistolary relationship.

6. We use this notation to indicate the date (the order used is day/month/year) and authorship of the letters, be it Miquel Martí і Pol or Antoni Miró. Besides Martí і Pol, Miró had dedicated the book to Salvador Espriu, Vicent Andrés Estellés, Joan Fuster, Josep M. Llompart, Isabel-Clara Simó and Enric Valor, all of them writers in Catalan.

7. There is an anecdote about the interest of both of them in the feminine body in Martí і Pol’s reference to what he read during the days they shared at the Sopalmo farmhouse:” Anyway, the good memories are there and accompany us. I still miss the young ladies in Playboy that I looked at while having breakfast in bed.” (CT Martí, 18.11.94)

8. We can find this kind of call to the interest of the reader, the painter, at the beginning of most of Martí і Pol’s letters, due to the regularity of the letters sent. Titus, for example, we may read in one of the last ones: “I’ve owed you a letter for so long that I don’t even know how to start writing to you. I could, of course, find an excuse in engagements, requests, visits, obligations and all these silly things, but I’m not going to do it because I’m ashamed of myself; I think it’s more reasonable to intone a solemn mea culpa, and this is what I’m doing: please absolve me.” (CT Martí, 11.18.94)

9. As Daniel Bergez points out, these spaces of code interference are very interesting to be able to understand the points of balance between both languages: “la critique picturale pratiquée par les écrivains représente sans doute le meilleur point d’équilibre dans le dialogue entre littérature et peinture. L’écrivain vise en effet le tableau à travers le texte, mats il soumet aussi son texte à des impératifs esthétiques qui l’autonomisent par rapport à sa source.” (Bergez 2004,196).

10. Thanks to the artist we have also been able to consult this document. We refer to the notes made in his notebook on November 10th of that year.

11. Gathered by Editorial Marfil in the book Antoni Miró and the poetics of collage dedicated “To the much loved Ovidi Montllor” and with an introductory poem by Jordi Botella, “Trencaclosca” (Puzzle).

12. The operation on his mother’s stomach cancer should be added, as he writes in his diary: “between my mother, Ovidi and so many other things, I feel sad. It is difficult to live, knowing how to live is a miracle, but there is so much injustice, so much suffering, that it becomes oppressive, even though one is, in a certain way, a privileged person” (AG Miró, 16.10.94).

13. Antoni’s diary from those months is an excellent testimony of his suffering over his friend’s illness and of the state of mind caused by his absence: “OVIDI. Won’t we be able to talk ever again?” (AG Miró, 05.03.95), Ovidi leaves me with an emptiness that is impossible to fill” (AG Miró, 16.03.95).

MIRADES CREUADES: MIQUEL MARTÍ I POL ANTONI MIRÓ

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