05 June 2013

Lorca in New York

Last night I attended a poetry reading titled "Celebrating Federico García Lorca" at the New York Public Library. Federico García Lorca was an early 20th-century Spanish poet and playwright who I was obsessed with in my earlier years who was killed by fascists during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

The event is tied to a Lorca in NYC festival going on this year, commemorating the year the poet spent studying at Columbia and immersing himself in American life. Out of it came his book POET IN NEW YORK, bearing witness to events as big as the stock market crash and as small as witnessing a family he was staying with in grief when their daughter fell down a well and drowned. Most of the readings from last night's event were from that book, as well as a few snippets from Lorca's essay "Theory and Play of the Duende" and letters he wrote describing his experiences at the time.

The library also has an exhibit titled "Back Tomorrow" of part of the original manuscript of POET IN NEW YORK, as well as ephemera like Lorca's drawings and his passport (see the photo I stealthed inside the exhibition room on Saturday when I visited). "Back Tomorrow" is so named because of a note Lorca left his editor in 1936 when he dropped off the manuscript of POET IN NEW YORK, promising he would be "back tomorrow." He never returned and was killed a few weeks later; his editor took the manuscript with him into exile and published it in Mexico.

I had never been to one of the library's "Live at the NYPL" events, mostly because they are relatively pricey ($25, $15 for students) and usually weren't such a burning interest that I was willing to pay the price. I wasn't overly familiar with any of the poets reading (including former U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine, to my shame) but was hooked by the opportunity to hear Lorca's poetry aloud; in fact the evening began with an audio recording from 1930 of Lorca accompanying a Spanish singer in New York on the piano, spooky and magic. My favorite reading came from Tracy K. Smith including her poem "Duende," based on her experiences traveling in southern Spain near where Lorca grew up. My least favorite section was a performance art piece in which an actor conveyed parts of Lorca's work, but did a lot of looming over the audience and bugging his eyes out theatrically to emphasize certain lines. If he wanted unsettling, he definitely got that! But from all accounts Lorca was very shy about performing in public and was not at all a hammy mchamville. This is why we do research, yes?

I feel lucky that I was able to catch this show before I go. The exhibit at the library runs through July 20, and even if you have little knowledge of Lorca, I highly suggest you check it out! You can also buy the new translation of POET IN NEW YORK at the NYPL store afterward if your interest is piqued.

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