I have posted seven times on the Lorca Poetry Prize and I must say I’m getting a little bit bored with the subject. I last wrote about it in June 2017, but before that I had omitted to mention Rafael Cadenas, the 2015 winner, and indeed this year’s prize-giving, to the Catalan poet, Pere Gimferrer, took place several months ago. Isabel Vargas reported in Granada Hoy (15 Mayo, 2018 https://www.granadahoy.com/ocio/Granada-BPere-GimferrerB-Lorca-erudito_0_1245475487.html) that Gimferrer made his first of a number of public appearances in Granada as 2017 prize-winner on 14 May 2018. He proved to be one of the winners with the funniest sense of humour, she said. Not sure if that was a swipe at the rest or not.
The main problem with the prize is that it is not very exciting: no risks are taken when choosing the poet to be honoured; there can really be no surprises.
From its initial concept, the purpose of the Prize, The International City of Granada-García Lorca Poetry Prize to give it its full-blown official title, has been to allow the city of Granada to bask in the aura contributed by its annual prize-winner, courtesy in turn of the status of its greatest son. In this way, prize-giver and prize-winner will be mutually benefitted, as the glory of the winning poet is reflected in and enhanced by the glory of our city of dreams and poetry, and vice versa.
The physical presence of the prize-winning poet to bestow his or her aura on the city is so essential that when the third winner, the Peruvian Blanca Varela, was too unwell to attend the function, with the consequent loss of much of her cultural magnetic pull, the organisers decided henceforth to withhold the then quite considerable prize money in the case of the winner not being present to collect it.
Over the years, the value of the award has been reduced from 50,000 to 20.000 euros. That’s austerity - and the law of diminishing returns - at work.
The Lorca Prize is awarded in recognition of a poet’s life’s work, and although Lorca himself produced his extraordinary life’s work in a period of some twenty years, a consequence of that stipulation is that the fourteen prize winners to date have an average age of 81 years and between them had clocked up well over 1000 years by the time of their award.
Age is the first factor that contributes to the predictability of the award. One has to be sure they have accrued sufficient kudos in their field. A second factor is the careful cautious distribution of the prize between Iberian and Latin American writers. Seven have been from Spain; and seven from the Americas.
Another factor is that any poet worthy of the Lorca will almost certainly hold other important awards. No poet will ever be ‘discovered’ by the Lorca Prize selection process. The majority of the winners also won the Reina Sofia; either before or afterwards.
The conservative nature of the selection process also gives rise to a gender bias that reflects recent and contemporary society. Just four of the fourteen winners have been lady poets: three Latinas and one Andaluza.
So this time it was Pere Gimferrer’s turn to come out on top of the formulaic approval process. Born in Barcelona, Gimferrer is a many-faceted man of letters who writes in Castilian and Catalan. His birth date shows that he is just twenty days younger than me (b.2.6.1945), so at 72 rather on the young side to be a Lorca winner. On the other hand, he’s been winning national and international poetry prizes since 1966, among them the Reina Sofía (in 2000), and this compensates for his relative ‘youth’.
Predictably, Mayor Francisco Cuenca underlined the edge his city gained by being able to include in its honours list such a paramount figure of contemporary Spanish poetry; and, what’s more, one with a demonstrated familiarity with and commitment to the work of Granada’s great poet-playwright, having overseen, in 1978, the first issues of the previously unpublished plays El público y Comedia sin título.
All this makes Gimferrer an ideal and well-deserved recipient of Granada’s prestigious poetry prize.
Nevertheless, as hinted at above and without wanting to detract from the achievements and the talents of any of the prize-winners, I find the annual rigmarole a bit on the dull side.
The greatest poets are by their nature non-conformists, anti-establishment, even dissidents. Are they not? They do not go with the flow; on the contrary they swim against the current. Think of Lorca in the first decade of his literary life, struggling to establish himself as a creative writer and win economic independence to pursue his chosen vocation. A little formal recognition in the form of an even modest pecuniary reward then would have helped him on his way and relieved him of some years’ anxiety. A more modest Poetry Prize awarded in this spirit would be more fitting for the memory of our highly venerated local-universal poet is what I think.
The City of Granada International Poetry Prize is of course not that kind of award. More’s the pity. Only well established poets who already have a long list of published and recognised works to their name can come into consideration for it. Thus poets who may have forged their way against the established grain are harnessed to what are basically conservative and manifestly un-poetic ends. That’s what I think.