The title of the first book of poetry by Constantino Bertolo advances his intentions: O great poem. “As fruits of time lives are ruined in houses and hamlets villages places and twenty and seven parishes thirty-two churches and chapels thirty cemeteries seven palaces a castle and three strongholds [Como frutos del tiempo las vidas se esparcen en casas y caseríos aldeas lugares y veintisiete parroquias treinta y dos iglesias y capillas treinta cementerios siete pazos un castillo y tres casas fuertes]”, he writes with alert breathing. Epic of origin, practically cosmic song, omnivorous, the work, made by the author between his 71 and 73 years, is the return of one of the most significant editors of recent Spanish literature, now retired , to the native country: Los Ancares, in eastern Galicia.
“I identify Navia de Suarna with a dimension of collective memory”, explains Bértolo to elDiario.es. He was born in that mountain town in 1946, although he grew up halfway between Navia and Lugo. At the age of nine he emigrated with his family to Madrid. The spoken language, and the hearing, were left behind. But not the written one, at least in print. “I always say that I discovered that I was Galician when I arrived in Madrid. I continued reading in Galician all my life. Until my encounter with Ferrín’s work changed everything, including the way I saw poetry,” he adds. Behold the prehistory of The great poem (Chan da Pólvora, 2020), signed with the family name Tino de Féliz, and whose air verse between biblical and beat he drinks mainly – he confesses – from two sources: Lineageby Méndez Ferrín himself, and the political, psalmistic poetry of the Chilean Raúl Zurita.
These are some of the wickers of a poem, divided into six songs, that inaugurates the world. “Everything awaits the arrival of words. // And they arrive // The words that give name and life come through Abrente // They cross the white mountains and the drunken rivers They walked by thousands of ways they jumped a thousand streams they scratched a thousand mountains slept a thousand moons [Todo espera la llegada de las palabras // Y llegan // Las palabras que dan nombre y vida llegan por Abrente // Cruzan las montañas blancas los ríos ebrios / Caminaron por miles de caminos saltaron mil surcos arañaron mil montañas durmieron mil lunas]”, he says in the first. Because in The great poem there is, after all, a program, that of “writing poetry out loud.”
“The dominant tone of complicity in Spanish poetry from the State irritates me a lot. Intimate lives, winks at friends …”, he theorizes about one of the nuclei of his proposal, “I was looking for a loud voice. Like Whitman, like Neruda. And that loud voice exists in Galician poetry. In Chus Pato, in María del Cebreiro, of course in Ferrín, there is an epic breath. Perhaps because behind it a political will, a collective push, acts behind it. In addition, whoever speaks in a voice high assumes a responsibility. I wanted that responsibility to be there. ” This search and his partial but increasingly habitual return to his native Navia –after a heart attack and his retirement as director of the publishing house Caballo de Troya– led him to writing. And to various origins: the communal family and that of poetry.
Bértolo, graduated in Hispanic Philology in Madrid in the 1960s, entered literature through verse. Two of his poems appeared, alongside Vázquez Montalbán or Félix Grande, in the Anthology of young Spanish poetry, published in 1967. “I suppose I stopped writing because I did not find enough echo. Also because I began to military in communism and in its cultural policy,” he recalls. Where it continues. His recent works include selections from texts by Lenin -The revolutionary who did not know too much (2012) – and from Marx – Knocking on the doors of the revolution (2017) -, both with extensive, documented and useful forewords.
Although he continued to be an assiduous and attentive reader of poems, it was not until 2016 that he gave birth to his practice again, with the four compositions of the plaquette In summary, in Spanish and dated between 1972 and 2013. His professional work had previously taken him through the publishing territory, for which he directed Debate between 1991 and 2003 and later Caballo de Troya, in his day home of some of the most interesting narrative in Spanish and advanced, that of Marta Sanz, Elvira Navarro, Damián Tabarovsky or Mario Levrero or, translated from Galician, Manuel Darriba, Alberto Lema or Xurxo Borrazás
His reunion with Navia de Suarna was, however, the key. The need to write poetry from a communal perspective was born again. “I come to hear your voice the language that the thieves of the long night stole from me I come to be born in the language of Curros Rosalía Pondal Ferrín María do Cebreiro Chus Pato Manuel María Alberto Lema Cordal Ánxel Johán Olga Novo Cáccamo Celso Emilio Pallarés ou Forcadela [Vengo a escuchar vuestra voz a lengua que me robaron los ladrones de la larga noche Vengo a nacer en la lengua de Curros Rosalía Pondal Ferrín María do Cebreiro Chus Pato Manuel María Alberto Lema Cordal Ánxel Johán Olga Novo Cáccamo Celso Emilio Pallarés o Forcadela]”, he writes as a self-framing in a tradition. They are not the only proper names of The great poem, full of place names and anthroponyms. “Yes, I give myself the pleasure of naming the mountains, the people, the places, almost like a baptism,” he clarifies.
The book, also full of humor and tragedy, of astonishment and sensuality, like a materialist litany, finally celebrates common belonging, subalternity. Politician in the strong sense, just as Heaney dug with the pen, The great poem “is the iron that I heat and hit in the forge It is the sack with which I dig The sickle with which I reap The grate in the plow irrigation The table where I sit to share bread and wine The poem is what you are what you were and what we will be [es el hierro que caliento y bato en la forja Es la azada con la que excavo La hoz con la que siego La reja en el arado El palo con el que vareo El canal con la que riego La mesa donde me siento a compartir el pan y el vino El poema es lo que sois lo que fuisteis y lo que seremos]”. The poem as a tool, also to force reality.” In Spain the future disappeared. The triumph of postmodernity is evident in that only the present exists, and the loud voice disappeared from poetry. It hardly occurs in advertising. The language in Spain does not create community “, he considers. Against this spirit of the times is that he wrote his first book in Galician.
Confined to his home in Madrid, his new job is about to come off the press, Who we are: 55 books in Spanish from the 20th century. He will do it at the Periférica publishing house. “It was commissioned by Julián Rodríguez, its founder, shortly before he died [lo hizo en junio de 2019]. The challenge was also not to go beyond the two pages on each title, “he recalls,” which allowed me to re-read the 20th century. Confinement even helped me achieve it. “Once on the street, Bértolo will concentrate on his next project: thinking about Stalin.” I think that, as a communist, one is obliged to try to explain what that was. It is not enough to escape. ” Humanism and terror, a Merleau-Ponty classic subtitled Essay on the Communist Problem. “Maybe that’s the right angle of entry into the question,” he says. But it will take at least two years.