Federico García Lorca: Poet in New York

Federico García Lorca: Poet in New York

Federico García Lorca's passport. Spain, June 1929

Perhaps most people in the United States are familiar with Lorca because of his classic play, The House of Bernarda Alba, but it's his friendship with Luis Buñuel and passionate involvement with Salvador Dali and the subsequent output of Lorca's avant-garde poetry that have remained vivid for generations since his murder during the Spanish Civil War (including a recent movie, Little Ashes, starring Robert Pattinson as Dalí in which he kisses the actor who plays Lorca).

Now those familiar with the poet and playwright—or just curious to understand more about one of the most important openly gay poets of the 20th century—have the opportunity to see many of his works up close and discover why he continues to inspire adulation among contemporary audiences. Since April 5, the largest-ever festival in North America celebrating the life and work of Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, Lorca in NY, has been taking place. It continues through July 21, with an exhibition at the New York Public Library, Back Tomorrow: Federico García Lorca/ Poet in New York, that includes artwork, archival materials, and photographs and focuses on Lorca's brief but productive stint after his estrangement from Dalí.

Struggling to live both as a public figure and a homosexual, he he came to New York City to write. He wrote about his first impressions—a boat trip to Coney Island on the 4th of July, his first encounter with a huge urban crowd—Harlem, even an ode to Walt Whitman after meeting with fellow poet Hart Crane. He also witnessed the Wall Street crash of 1929 and wrote about that as well. Ultimately, he produced one of his most provocative collections, Poet in New York, far different from his earlier work, putting aside the "riddle of metaphor," that was finally published posthumously in 1942 and is currently available in a new, expanded bilingual edition.

As Laura García Lorca, his niece and president of the Federico García Lorca Foundation, which is organizing this festival, explained when we talked with her, this is a very personal project for her as well. "I'm quite happy that New York is the first place for this exhibit, apart from personal reasons like because I was born here," she said, with obvious emotion, as tears welled up in her eyes. "He came here, the book started here, so it makes sense that he would return here in some significant way."

This festival was meant to be the first event for the Lorca Center in Granada, Spain, which is nearly finished but needs to raise funds to finish the final bits of construction, and Laura Lorca is still optimistic will open soon (currently, the only space dedicated to Lorca in Granada is the Huerta de San Vicente). 

In the coming weeks, including a June 4 Live from the NYPL with appearances by John Giorno, Will Keen, Philip Levine, Paul Muldoon, and Patti Smith. The following day Patti Smith performs a concert with guests artists in honor of the poet's birthday. Then on June 10 Paul Auster, Aracelis Girmay, John Giorno, Wayne Koestenbaum, and others will read from Poet in New York at Saint Mark's Church. 

For complete information on the exhibit and a list of activities and events visit LorcaNYC.com

See images, artwork, and materials on view on the following pages.

Lorca Portrait 1932 Granada

Portrait, 1932, Granada

The crash of the stock market and the beginning of the Great Depression clouded Lorca's initial admiration for "the boldest, most modern city in the world." On Black Thursday, he hurried to Wall Street: "I was lucky enough to see it with my own eyes," he wrote. "Several billion dollars were lost: a rabble of dead money that went sliding into the sea."

Lorca Self Portrait Fabulous Beast

Self-portrait with fabulous beast in black

"To me Lorca's drawings seem the work of a poet," the artist Joan Miró once wrote. "And that is the highest praise I can give to any plastic expression."

Lorca Fabolous

Fabulous beast approaching a house (1929-30)

Two years before the trip to New York, encouraged by his friend the painter Salvador Dalí, Lorca exhibited a dozen of these "poems," executed in colored pencil and India ink, at a prestigious gallery in Barcelona. 

Lorca Self Portrait Flag

Self-portrait with flag and fabulous beast

The drawings done in New York, four of which appeared in the first edition of Poet in New York, are somber, sometimes deathly in tone. In a series of self-portraits, a stylized figure is surrounded by horses or beasts suggestive of medieval illuminated commentaries on the Book of Revelation.

Federico García Lorca at Columbia University in 1929

In June 1929, Lorca enrolled in "English for Beginners" at Columbia University summer session. A magazine article captured the moment: "The students at Columbia University, the Negro elevator attendants of Furnald Hall, the telephone  operator downstairs, are all familiar with the deep bows, the peculiar walk, the pirouettes, the exaggerations, and the charm of Federico Lorca." 

Lorca FirstPageofPoetinNewYork

The first page of 'Poet in New York'

By summer 1936, Lorca had prepared a typewritten manuscript of Poet in New York and divided it into chapters. Not all were complete. The poet often gifted friends with his handwritten drafts, and he now found himself without copies of some poems. In July, he left the unfinished manuscript on the desk of his friend and publisher José Bergamín, together with a note: "Pepe, I was here to see you and I believe I will be back tomorrow." Before he could return he was murdered in Granada.

Lorca Madrid

Federico García Lorca in Madrid

Bergamín took the Lorca manuscript with him into exile—a relic of the Spain defeated by Franco—and published it in Mexico. An American edition, with translations by Rolfe Humphries, appeared almost simultaneously. Mysteriously lost for decades and since recovered by the Fundación Federico García Lorca in Madrid, the manuscript is exhibited in the United States for the first time.

For more information on the exhibit and events, visit LorcaNYC.com

Tags: Art & Books