Brossa, Joan

Brossa, Joan
b. 1919, Barcelona
   Poet, playwight and artist
   Brossa's most significant contribution to poetry lies in his ability to convey ordinary everyday events in a pleasing and challenging manner. Born into a modest family in Barcelona, Brossa fought on the Republican side in the Civil War, and then had to endure Nationalist military service in Salamanca. On his return to Barcelona he became a committed defender of Catalan culture. He was fascinated by surrealism, the only avant-garde art form tolerated by the Franco regime, and produced two important artistic magazines, Algol and Dau al Set (The Seventh Side of the Die). Together with Tàpies he explored notions of transformation and change: they both admired the Italian magician, Fregoli, and they both had Buddhist leanings, rejecting Catholic absolutism. After visiting Paris in 1956, Brossa developed a lifelong passion for cinema. Brossa's poetic output can be divided into four phases. The first (1941–9) is markedly surrealistic, exploring aspects of the unconscious, in free verse, as evidenced in Poesia Rasa (Plain Poetry). The second phase (1950–4) is characterized by an antipoetic stance, the use of prose and a seminovelistic form, as in U no es ningú (One is Noone).
   In his third phase (1955–9), Brossa developed social and Catalan themes expressed in odes and sonnets, often epic in tone. His fourth phase, starting in 1960, is typified by picture poems, because of his experimentation with words, letters and mixed media. He collaborated with Tàpies on El pa a la barca (Bread on the Boat) and with Miró on Cop de poma (Apple Blow). Together with Tàpies he produced Novel-la, an ironic collection of certificates (birth, medical, military service, marriage and death) pointing to the dehumanizing effects of bureaucracy. In Brossa's early plays we encounter figures from the Commedia dell'Arte, but we are also shown how capitalist society affects its citizens. In Quiriquibu women are unhappy and oppressed in marriage, and servants are treated with contempt. In the next phase of his Poesia escènica (Theatre Poetry), Brossa demystifies religion and shows how it is used to keep the masses under control, as in Or i sal (Gold and Salt). From his final phase, El gran Fracaroli treats us to a spectacle of magic tricks, ventriloquism and card games. Within his heartfelt belief that life is constantly changing, Brossa is also a humorist. Brossa only became truly popular in the 1970s with the decline of Francoism. He is without doubt Catalonia's greatest living poet, having published 61 books of poetry and nearly 300 plays. In 1994 he was commissioned to make a sculpture for the Cathedral square in Barcelona, describing the original Latin name for the city: Barcino.
   Further reading
   - Bordons, G. (1988) Introducció a la poesia de Joan Brossa, Barcelona: Edicions 62 (a thorough account of Brossa's poetry).
   - Coca, J. (1992) Joan Brossa, oblidar i caminar, Barcelona: Magrana (interviews with Brossa and commentary of his work).
   - Fuster, J. (1979) Literatura catalana contemporánea, Barcelona: Curial (an introduction to modern Catalan literature).
   HELEN OPPENHEIMER

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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