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Wednesday September 1, 2010

Poets’ Corner in Majorca

An odd thing happened the other day. My local builder stopped me in the street and with pride declared that he’d just been awarded a poetry prize. I glimpsed the bristling muscles, the macho torso and almost giggled. Somehow it seemed hugely incongruous that this swarthy hulk of a man should be dallying with poetry at all. I wondered how his chums at the nearby builder’s yard might react to the news.

But of course this is stereotyping of the worst kind. Why shouldn’t my builder be a budding Wordsworth? After all, poetry is an important part of Spain’s cultural heritage and poetry readings and competitions are regularly held in towns and villages across the country. Here in Majorca the works of Catalan poets such as Miquel Costa I Llobera, are diligently studied in local schools and there surely cannot be a child on the island unable to quote verbatim Llobera’s famed Pi de Formentor, meaning the pine tree at Formentor, a lengthy and lyrical ditty penned in 1875. There were many female scribes in Majorca too, one of the most revered being the rather pious seventeenth century poet, Margalida Baneta mas Pujol.

There is also the tradition of gloses, bawdy and humorous verse accompanied to the music of a ximbomba, a crude instrument constructed from animal hide and wood which makes a sound similar to that of a distressed wart hog. Historically, roving glosadors, musical minstrels, would recite their Chaucerian tales at fiestas and public events on the island, and to this day still attract significant crowds of admirers.

I was thinking about this most celebrated of cultural traditions when invited to form part of a jury for a poetry competition in the municipality of Calvia in the south west of Majorca. Mercifully the entries allotted to me were in English rather than Catalan and so the task in hand wasn’t too arduous. Reading the sterling efforts of English residents made me realise with a touch of poignancy how seldom I read poetry and yet at university I did little else. What happened?

Last night I attended the glittering award ceremony. Prizes were awarded not just to the winning poets in the different categories but also to artists, illustrators and historic researchers in the municipality. It was a jolly affair and I was genuinely moved to witness the pride and delight on the faces of the winners.

Today I discovered lurking on a bookshelf a dog eared copy of the works of John Donne and other metaphysical poets. I intend to revisit it at bedtime. Whether it will budge the muse I cannot say but it might at least prompt a limerick.

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