Joan Margarit receives the Cervantes Prize from King Felipe VI

Joan Margarit receives the Cervantes Prize from King Felipe VI

Catalan poet Joan Margarit was presented with the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's highest literary honour, by the King of Spain at a special ceremony in Barcelona on Monday 21 December.

Unusually, this unscheduled event – held at the Palauet Albéniz – was not on the royal calendar. King Felipe VI and Queen Letícia travelled to Barcelona especially to honour Joan Margarit, 82, who has been seriously ill. They returned to Madrid immediately afterwards. Spain’s Minister of Culture and Sport, the philosopher José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes, was also present at what was described as an ‘intimate and personal’ event, as were Margarit’s wife Mariona and their children and grandchildren. After accepting the award, Margarit read one of his poems in Catalan and another in Spanish.

The original announcement of the award, which generally alternates between Spanish and Latin American writers, was made by the Spanish government in November 2019. The €125,000 Cervantes Prize recognises the lifetime achievement of an outstanding writer, and the 2019 award should have been presented to Margarit by the King on 23 April 2020, the anniversary of the death in 1616 of Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes. That announcement came just months after Margarit was awarded the Reina Sofía Prize for Ibero-American Poetry 2019, the most important poetry award for Spain, Portugal and Latin America.

Joan Margarit is also an architect, and from 1968 until his retirement was Professor of Structural Calculations at Barcelona’s Technical School of Architecture, working for part of that time on Gaudí’s Sagrada Família cathedral.

He has published 25 volumes of poetry — mainly in Catalan but also in Spanish, and has won several other awards for his poetry, including the Premio Nacional de Poesía del Estado Español in 2008. American poet Sharon Olds, who introduced his recent Bloodaxe title Love Is a Place, calls his work 'brilliant...sensually beautiful (but not too beautiful) and with a genuine, just-conceived feeling'.

Joan Margarit is Spain's most widely acclaimed contemporary poet. His work has been published in Britain by Bloodaxe Books since 2006, all of his books translated from the Catalan by Anna Crowe.  His earlier work is gathered together in Tugs in the Fog: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2006), the first English translation of his Catalan poetry and a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation, and Strangely Happy (Bloodaxe Books, 2011).  His recent English translation Love Is a Place (2016) includes all the poems from three Catalan collections published between 2010 and 2014, and his forthcoming collection Wild Creature (Bloodaxe Books, 2021) brings together the poems from his two latest collections, Un hivern fascinant (An amazing winter, 2017) and Animal de bosc (Wild creature, 2020).

"If a poem cannot console a person in a difficult situation then it is not worth anything," Margarit told Spanish news agency Europa Press after hearing he had won the Cervantes Prize.

The jury said Margarit "has enriched both the Spanish and the Catalan language and represents the plurality of our culture." 

Art expert José Guirao – then Spain’s Minister of Culture and Sport – said that the award was 'for his poetic work of deep transcendence and lucid language, always innovative’.

Trafika Europe online magazine featured Joan Margarit's essay 'On Life and Poetry' from Love Is a Place, along with four poems from the book.

Here 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.

[26 December 2020]

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