Foreword by Sharon Olds
Joan Margarit (1938-2021) was one of Spain’s major modern writers. He worked as an architect and first published his work in Spanish, but over the past four decades became known for his mastery of the Catalan language, and was Spain’s most widely acclaimed contemporary poet. The melancholy and candour of his poetry show his affinity with Thomas Hardy, whose work he translated. He was awarded both the 2019 Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's highest literary honour, and the Reina Sofía Prize for Ibero-American Poetry 2019, the most important poetry award in for Spain, Portugal and Latin America.
In the much praised Tugs in the Fog: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2006), Joan Margarit evoked the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath, the harshness of life in Barcelona under Franco, and grief at the death of a beloved handicapped daughter, reminding us that it is not death we have to understand but life. In his later collection, Strangely Happy (2011), he builds an architecture of the human spirit out of the unpromising materials of self-doubt, despair and death.
In Love Is a Place, which brings together the poems of three recent collections, he finds himself face to face with the prospect of his own death, while rediscovering love. 'Death is the final solitude,' he writes in 'On the ground', but the image at the end of the poem is one of hope, of love, and of home, not 'the skeleton with the scythe that Dürer engraved' but 'a brightly-lit window in a dark street.' The three collections see him moving from despair to self-knowledge, confronting his old demons with honesty and courage. Love, it seems, is not after all 'hard or far away', nor was the signal lost, because, in the poet's words,
Love is a place.
It endures beyond everything: from there we come.
And it's the place where life remains.
'I love these poems for many reasons. When I first read Joan Margarit, I heard a powerfully distinctive voice, a spirit of great freedom and energy, humaneness, mischief, and depth. In these naked, subtle, clear poems, surprise and wisdom are often right next to each other… Each of Margarit’s poems is its own being, like a living creature with its own body-shape and voice, its own breath and heart-beat. His poems live and breathe in their natural habitat. They are elegant and shapely. And sometimes they seem almost overheard, as if they are singing in the voice the mind uses when talking with itself or with its close close other. It is common enough speech, and it is brilliant, too, sensually beautiful (but not too beautiful) and with a genuine, just-conceived feeling.' – Sharon Olds
'He deploys his central themes – the prospect of death and rediscovery of love – with a compelling freshness, wisdom, dignity and enveloping tenderness. Time and again I find myself gasping in admiration, or fighting back tears. And the cover image must be one of the most beautiful of the year.' – Stewart Conn, The Herald, Books of the Year [on Love Is a Place]
‘Joan Margarit is one of the great poets of his generation, and is venerated not only in his home region of Catalonia, but also everywhere else in Spain… These pages are filled with love, music, nature and numerous sources of light. Love Is a Place was one of the best collections of translated poems I read last year.’ – Trevor Barnett, The Poetry Review
Joan Margarit reads with Anna Crowe
Joan Margarit talks about his poem 'The eyes in the rear-view mirror' with his translator Anna Crowe, before she reads her English translation and he reads the original poem in Catalan. The poem is from Tugs in the Fog: Selected Poems. This film is from the DVD-book In Person: 30 Poets filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce, edited by Neil Astley, which includes three poems from Tugs in the Fog read by Joan Margarit with Anna Crowe.