There are bars, cafés and bookstores in Barcelona that have weekly poetry recitals throughout the year, allowing lovers of this minority art the option of sharing in its dissemination on a regular basis. Rarely does a week go by when there are not recitals somewhere in the city. One of my favourite places to go for poetry is the Horiginal, in Ciutat Vella, where they have been offering poetry readings each Wednesday for more than 10 years. Such bars constitute the centre of the social life for many poets such as myself. They are modern public spaces, the Greek agoras of our time. Here is where one can go to discover new voices in poetry; here is where the old and new are discussed; here are the places where numerous favours are exchanged and, mostly, here is where the public comes to hear poetry, talk of poetry and drink… certainly to drink.
There are times when I have the sensation of living rare, singular moments, just as Picasso, Apollinaire, Modigliani, Max Jacob and Juan Gris did in the all-night bars of Montparnasse. But only at times. Other times I think that the whole thing is a great waste of time, that I should have stayed at home to write, just to write, but I can’t. I am always drawn back to the agora because there is nothing that compares to human contact and because art, in the end, is a festival with all its virtues and defects; a great binge of the senses that needs to be shared with friends and the rest of humanity.
And in this way, Barcelona’s poets spend the year, until the arrival of spring which brings with it our festa major, our semana grande, the week that the city calls forth its best poets and invites to our streets the finest poets from around the world.
Barcelona’s international poetry week, Barcelona Poesia, is a major cultural event that has been hosted each spring in the city for the past 28 years. Set in numerous venues throughout Barcelona, the festival makes it possible to attend a large and varied number of free poetry readings and related activities for a full week each May.
The festival was introduced in 1985, when the poet Àlex Susanna and the editor Mario Muchnik created the Festival Internacional de Poesia. The popularity of the festival was immediate and it grew in each successive year. In 1997, the Ajuntament de Barcelona became involved with the event, coordinating it with the existing Jocs Florals (a historic Catalan poetry writing competition) and creating a week of public readings, called Barcelona Poesia. Since 2011, the three events have been unified to collectively be known as Barcelona Poesia.
It is worth noting that this is one of the oldest poetry festivals in Europe. In previous editions, the week has kicked off with the Nit de Poesia al Palau, at the Palau de la Música Catalana. This is a solemn act and one of the festival’s most beautiful. At the building’s entrance, the organisers hand out gifts to participants, a book containing the poetry that will be read and a small light with which to read, as the lights of the Palau are turned down while each poet takes to the stage to recite. The magic of the Palau’s Modernista architecture along with the thousands of small lights add a rare and powerful poetic image to the scene. The poets invited to read come from around the world and have included names of such stature as Patti Smith.
Another special moment is the ceremony presenting the winner of the annual Jocs Florals. With nearly 700 years of history behind it (the first Jocs Florals took place in 1323), it is considered to be the oldest poetry competition in the western world. The winner is honoured with the illustrious title, Poeta de la ciutat—Poet of the city of Barcelona. The ceremony takes place in the Saló de Cent of the Ajuntament, a jewel of Catalan Gothic architecture. Attendance is free and highly recommended as it offers an opportunity to visit the magnificent Saló.
Plaça del Rei, the Palau de la Virreina and the Museu Marès are some of the historical settings where, for seven days, it is possible to hear recitals, lectures, conferences and debates, and see exhibitions, each conceived to awaken the heart of poetry in the city.
Barcelona Poesia, May 8th to 14th. Various venues
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