The other night I was at the Lorca Centre to attend the prize-giving ceremony for the City of Granada-Federico García Lorca International Prize for Poetry, to give it its full title. The winner was a Uruguayan poet called Ida Vitale, at 93 the oldest award winner yet, a close contemporary of Mario Benedetti (1920-2009).
Choosing such an old woman might have seemed
like a bit of a risk if it were not for the obvious vitality of the prize-winner.
For the Prize organisers consider it absolutely crucial that the poet selected
for the award be present at the official ceremony. This is because the whole
occasion is set up to promote the city culturally, so when Blanca Varela
(winner in 2006) was too unwell to attend, they decided henceforth to withhold
the quite considerable prize money in the case of the winner not coming to
collect it. Indeed, in 2011, the Cuban poet Fina García Marruz, aged 88 at the
time, was also not well enough to attend, so I wonder if she had to forgo the
cash prize? Sounds a bit hard, doesn’t it?
The average age of the prize-winning poets is now well over 80. This is because the Lorca Prize is expressly awarded in recognition of a poet’s entire life’s work. The idea is that the occasion will be of mutual benefit to both city and poet, in that on the one hand the poet’s established reputation is further enhanced by being associated with the city that was home to Andalusia’s greatest twentieth century poet (?), while the city is allowed to bask for a while in the fame and glory of that particular year’s prize-winner.
The City of Granada-Federico García Lorca International Prize for Poetry is a subject I have blogged on on a number of occasions previously, though not since September 2015. I have commented primarily on the advanced age of the award winners and secondly on the delicately maintained balance between Spanish and Latin American poets. Indeed, if we count Tomas Segovia as half Mexican and half Spanish (he was born in Valencia), six-and-a-half of the winners have been from the Iberian peninsula and six-and-a-half from America.
Another common denominator is winning the Reina Sofia before or after the Lorca. I think nine of the thirteen Lorcas have won both. While not wanting to talk of a ‘copycat’ syndrome, there is no doubt that the two prizes are fishing in the same waters.
And lastly, before Ida Vitale, only three of the winners had been lady poets. Member of council for culture Rosa Aguilar made use of her place on the podium to criticise this fact. The award going to Vitale is recognition of the value of poetry made by women, something said counsellor is keen to promote.
While not denying the great contribution made by these prestigious winners of a prestigious prize, I have to express some regret that the Lorca Prize is not granted in a rather more adventurous spirit. Thinking of the struggle it took Lorca to establish himself as a poet and win economic independence to pursue his chosen vocation, the idea of a Poetry Prize named after him seems like a good one. Lorca came close at one time to giving up and knuckling under, tempted to apply for a proper job to please his exasperated father, who saw no future in his son’s poetic bent and lack of conventional professional ambition. (See my following post.) A little formal recognition at the beginning of his literary career in the form of a cash award would have helped him on his way and relieved him of some years’ anxiety and freed him from an at times humiliating dependence on his father.
The City of Granada International Poetry Prize, however, is not that kind of award. Worth 30,000 Euros (reduced from 50,000 when times got hard and money short during the Crisis), the city is not interested in taking risks and seeks its winners exclusively among well established poets who in return for the dosh can lend the city something of their achieved acclaim and glory.