Timothy J. Rogers (essay date 1981)
SOURCE: "The Comic Spirit in the Poetry of Gloria Fuertes," in Perspectives on Contemporary Literature, Vol. 7, 1981, pp. 88-97.
[Rogers discusses ways in which Fuertes deals with social issues in her work through the use of comedie elements.]
If there is a tenor which seems to run as a pervasive undercurrent to contemporary Spanish poetry, especially since the Civil War, it probably can be summarized as man's existential dilemma vis-à-vis what Camus hailed as the absurdity of life.1 Indeed, perhaps instead of calling modern man's plight the "tragic sense of life" one might rightfully proclaim it as the "comic sense of life." Wylie Sypher in his essay, "The Meanings of Comedy," observes:
… since ours is a century of disorder and irrationalism, is it any wonder that along with our wars, our machines and our neuroses we should find new meaning in comedy or that comedy should represent our plight better than tragedy? For tragedy needs the "noble" and nowadays we seldom can assign any usable meaning to "nobility." The comic now is more relevant, or at least more accessible than the tragic.2
In light of Sypher's cogent statement, I would like to draw our attention to one of Spain's contemporary though lesser known poets, Gloria Fuertes (1918- ),3 and examine in an overview just how her poetry may well serve as a reflection of this "comic" spirit, not only for the humor that one may perceive in it from time to time, but also as a statement of the poet's attempt to confront and in some way diminish the seeming disparity, improbability, and absurdity of life. The comic voice of Gloria Fuertes, as we shall note, at times derives from this basic underlying spirit, and more often than not, becomes its very poetic expression. While it may serve to mask the absurdities of the human condition, it does at the same time become one of the effective techniques by which the poet manages to cope with her own sense of the comic.
It has been well noted by a number of critics that the poetry of Gloria Fuertes is, by and large, steeped in social consciousness and that her verses echo the concerns relative to the human condition similarly raised by her contemporaries of "la poesía comprometida." As Joaquín González Muela has observed, Gloria Fuertes' poetry may very well be summarized as "Soledad, sufrimiento, tristeza, incomprensión, contradicción … éstas son las tintas filosóficas con que escribe este poeta 'jocoso.'"4 Her poetic language, at the same time, is direct, blunt, unobtrusive, unrhetorical, for the most part, and as José Luis Cano has noted, patently prosaic.5 Nonetheless, as pertinent as these observations may be, it is in my opinion the manner in which Fuertes expresses those "tintas filosóficas," i.e., how her technique involves us as readers in her comic sense of life, which, in the end, gives her poetry its singular hallmark. Antithesis, ironic twists, unexpected and startling irrational resolutions which border on the absurd abound through a good number of her poems and thoroughly permeate them.
I believe we can see this poetic technique quite readily in her poem "Aviso a los gobernantes del mundo":
What intrigues us from the very opening verses of the poem is the pretentious but welcome naive poetic voice calling attention to the world leaders of a local problem—the peste—now somewhat rampant in its barrio. The very image of the peste suggests plague, a pestilence, and calls to mind what Wheelwright has identified as "tensive language"7 whereby through the literal interpretation of the sign we are caught envisioning a physical disease while in the following verse we discover that it is in fact a social, economic, and political disease. The beggars in the ensuing verses seek only refuge, warmth, and the fulfillment of their needs, not the least of which is the attainment of human understanding. Rejected by the local alcalde they are ready to rise up not only against him but also against all authority. The curious allusion to the "tumba" of the world leaders causes a shifting in our expectations, for now we discover that they are dead and hence we are left with a conceptual interplay of words and ideas. On the rational level we expected an exhortative address to living leaders but in fact we must now entertain the "irrational conceit" (as Carlos Bousoño would suggest) insofar as the moribund state of the leaders is concerned. This conceit, undoubtedly fully intended by the poet, accures a sense of irony since the concept of dead world leaders certainly plays off the idea of contemporary leaders as being quite "dead" to the needs and the plight of the beggars, and on a larger scale to all the destitute and the unwanted.
Irony is carried even further when the poetic voice asserts that the beggars driven by the circumstances of their situation are indeed going to rise up and visit the leaders' tomb but surprisingly and unexpectedly not to raise havoc but to place "flores." This tongue-in-cheek humor unsettles us because the paradoxical nature of a revolution borne by flower-bearing militant beggars is, at least at first glance, the last thing we would have expected. Fuertes further sustains the parodic humor of the image by the intrusion of the poetic voice as a self-proclaimed "pacifista." The mock seriousness is embellished and enhanced by the voice's declared sense of moral responsibility to forewarn the "Ilustrísimas" of such dire and audacious action on the part of the peste even though the voice is fully in accord with the justice of its cause, and slyly forces us again to recognize the pseudo-gravity of the action, i.e., the placing of flowers on their tomb.
In the second strophe, the poetic voice reiterating the urgency of the situation calls the leaders' attention through the ensuing series of anaphoral enjoinders to the fact that all the rules, regulations, prohibitions, and bans against the beggars really have no fruitful value. Indeed, the resolution is quite simple if one were to consider it with reasonable cogency. Rather than promulgate unnecessary and perhaps unenforceable laws, why not simply exterminate the root and cause of the problem? Why not simply eradicate the beggars? "es mejor que suspendan los mendigos." The absurdity of the resolution of the social problem is, of course, what makes us susceptible to the wry smile that crosses our face. It's only a joke and we are relieved—but only momentarily. The absurdity forces us to reflect upon the poem for its more serious tone and inescapable theme. And in doing so, we are stripped of our self-assured smugness and we are thrust into the sensation of what Pirandello has called the "feeling or sensing of the opposite"8 in the seriousness and the pathos of the apparent comic situation.
Certainly, the horror of Spain's destitute as reflected in Gloria Fuertes' sensitivity toward poverty, solitude, and injustice rings out clearly in the brief poem "Ficha Ingreso Hospital General" wherein she at first disorients us as she constructs the poem in the manner of a threeby-five notecard and in clinically precise but insouciant statements describes the pathos of human life:
Nombre: Antonio Martin Cruz.
Domicilio: Vivía en una alcantarilla.
Profesión: Obrero sin trabajo.
OBSERVACIONES: Le encontraron moribundo.
The poem surprises us since at first glance it appears to be a humorous and disinterested anecdote, but actually turns out to be a very serious indictment against social injustice on the one hand, and on the other, a restatement of the pathetic plight of man's existentialist displacement. The sum total of a man's life is reduced to the dehumanization of a cryptic notation on a hospital file card. One is not very far removed from the plaintive cries of Fuertes' contemporary, Bias de Otero, who vented his anger against social injustices by shouting out against God and country while inwardly he wept for the barefoot impoverished child (as Gabriela Mistral had done in Chile) and moaned the haplessness of the peasant servant girls forever destined to poverty and petrified in their "sayitas deshilachadas."
At other times the comic spirit of Gloria Fuertes, seen through the intermixing of the absurd with the rational, startles us even more when the poetic voice purports to proffer sentiments of metaphysical proportions. The poet hides behind the mask of dissimulation whereby the comic spirit is again steeped in pathos and we as readers are once more required to respond to a higher meaning of her poetry. In the poem, "A veces me sucede," a poignant statement of the loneliness of man confronted by the reality of his essence is enmeshed in the almost imponderable depths of spiritual malaise:
A veces me sucede que no me pasa nada,
ni sangre ni saliva se mueve en mis canutos;
la mente se me para y el beso se me enquista
y a siglos con pelusa me saben los minutos.
El río es un idiota, un terrible obediente,
el mar sigue Ilamándole como a can hechizado
el mal esclavo húmedo, se arrastra por los suelos;
—ya se me están quedando los pies fríos—
¡ Qué voz triste el trapero! ¿ qué tiene por su saco?
El día se despeina, la Rufa esta preñada,
la vaca de Pedrito me sigue haciendo señas,
a veces me sucede que no pasa nada …
The opening four lines set the tone and theme of the poem. Life, spiritual and physical, has...
(The entire section is 4057 words.)