Valente, José Ángel

Valente, José Ángel
b. 1929, Orense
   Poet and critic
   Like other poets who emerged in the mid-1950s, Valente began by reacting against the false attitudes and tired rhetoric which were common features of Spanish poetry in the years immediately following the Civil War. In retrospect, his early poems, from the collections A modo de esperanza (By Way of Hope) (1955) to La memoria y los signos (Memory and Signs) (1966), can be seen as a necessary preparation for the later work. Even at this stage, however, Valente's originality comes out in his use of language as a moral instrument; the best poems of these years have an austerity of diction and an intensity of verbal concentration which reflect the refusal to compromise with a society whose corruption has infected the roots of language itself. Where Valente goes further than any of his Spanish contemporaries is in the degree of selfcriticism he is prepared to apply to his own activity as a poet. From about 1970 on, this amounts to a re-thinking of his whole way of writing: the poems become deliberately fragmentary, and Valente speaks of the need to avoid the manipulation of language, which for him is an abuse of authority, and to allow poetry to speak through the poet. Hence his association of poetry with mysticism: both are forms of heterodoxy, modes of experience which continually challenge existing dogmas, whether religious or linguistic, and which come to share the same kind of alternative language. Moreover, both poetry and mysticism-about which he has written at length in La piedra y el centro (The Stone and the Centre) (1982) and Variaciones sobre el pájaro y la red (Variations on the Bird and the Net) (1991)—operate on the borders of silence, the silence before language in which the word is "infinitely available".
   All this is brilliantly summed-up in Tres lecciones de tinieblas (Three Lessons of Tenebrae), published in 1980, a meditation on the first fourteen letters of the Hebrew alphabet in which the stress on the material nature of the letter or syllable is associated with birth and gestation, and ultimately with the nature of creation itself. In all this, the erotic is crucial: in his next collections, Mandorla (1982) and El fulgor (The Gleam) (1984), Valente engages not so much in a meditation on the body as in an attempt to break down the kind of detachment this might imply and to create a situation in which the body may "speak". At the very least, Valente offers a myth of origins which, whatever its religious precedents, places poetic creation at the limits of what language can convey and implies that language itself will bear traces of the body. No other contemporary Spanish poet has continued to investigate so seriously the possibilities and limitations of poetic language, nor has so consistently produced poems which successfully embody these preoccupations. Most of Valente's poems are collected in two volumes, Punto cero: poesí 1953-79) (Zero Point) (1980) and Material memoria (1989). El fin de la Edad de la Plata (The End of the Silver Age), a remarkable collection of prose poems and fables, was published in 1973.
   Further reading
   - Polo, M. (1983) José Ángel Valente. Poesía y poemas, Madrid: Narcea.
   - Valcárcel, E. (1989) El fulgor o la palabra encarnada, Barcelona: PPU.
   - Rodríguez Fer, C. (ed.) (1994) Material Valente, Madrid: Ediciones Júcar.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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