Book Review: Gypsy Ballads by Federico Garcia Lorca, Jane Duran and Gloria Garcia LorcaWhen I read most reviews or articles about Federico Garcia Lorca, most like to start with the manner of his murder and how that came about, or about his famous plays, but today, I would like to stay clear and rather talk about the life of the great Spanish poet in celebration of his his master work Gypsy Ballads (for an in-depth look at his life open this page here for further reading).

Lorca’s famous Gypsy Ballads (Romancero Gitano) were written during the 1920’s and published to great acclaim in 1928, going on the sell hundreds of thousands is Spain before becoming a worldwide hit and still as popular today. These poems have been translated by many from Langston Hughes to Stephen Spender and J.L. Gili, and though highly criticized, the 1953 first edition of Rolfe Humphries I have in my possession is still my favourite poetry book I own.

Now we have a brand new translation published in February 2012 by Jane Duran and Gloria Garcia Lorca. Duran is the daughter of the famous composer Gustavo Duran, friend of Lorcas and Gloria is Lorca’s niece. I have read nearly every translation of the poems in Gypsy Ballads that I can find, so it was exciting to once again have in my possession some new translations.

Lorca’s ballads are probably some of the most famous poems ever written and this is especially in the Spanish world, if you have never read the poetry, in Spanish or in English you really are in for a treat upon discovery of such poetry as I was when I first discovered them around 10 years ago.

The poems are written in the form of the Spanish Ballad, a genre that was popular and strong during the 20’s in Spain and a form the famous poet Juan Ramon Jimenez like to call ‘the river of Spanish Language’. Lorca dove head deep in to this form and drove himself to perfecting it.

These 18 poems represent Lorca’s native Andalusia in a dreamlike world, intently musical, full of mystery, with protagonists such as the moon, river and wind helping to reflect human dramas, moving along at a fast pace and engaging narrative. Lorca’s intentions were to show the complexity of his native Andalusia and the tragedy surrounding it’s landscapes.

The poems are astonishing, overwhelmingly beautiful in language, leave you breathless and constantly draw on the five senses. The imagery is striking and surreal and the strength of the ballads lies in their ability to adapt and absorb emotions and diverse themes from nature, beauty, yearning, murder, intense psychology, eroticism and extreme violence and keep them shrouded in mystery and suspense.

And now we have new translations to read and enjoy, to compare or criticize. Now, because my Spanish is horrendously embarrassing and very miniscule, I can only compare the English translations I have read and re-read, which is quite a lot.

Jane Duran is a well known Camden Poet and speaks Spanish while Gloria is totally bilingual and both have spent the best of 10 years editing and translation this book. Upon reading it, their is no doubting their hard word and careful interpretation as the book is an absolute must for any fan of poetry, the translations are quite astonishing and you will find it impossible to put down and like myself, come back to read again and again.

If you are going to purchase any poetry book, actually any book this year, go now to your local bookstore or Amazon and add this to your collection, trust me, well worth the investment. Not only for the poems, but there are other factors that make this book stand out from a lot of other poetry books.

Included here is a brilliant essay by Andres Soria Olmedo on the poems. Also, as each poem in the originals by Lorca had a dedication, one of the only poetry books in the world to dedicate each poem to my knowledge, these are explained and each dedicated poem and honoured individual is brought to life here with biographical information, a lovely touch.

We also have a very interesting essay by the great Christopher Maurer on one of Lorcas most famous lines from my favourite poem Romance Sonambulo (Sleepwalking Ballad)  ‘Verde que te quiero verde‘  Green I love you green or Green how I want you green and the whole debate about the real interpretation of this line and the many many different interpretations in English there are surrounding the mystery of the line, very interesting and insightful.

We also get notes on each poem aswell as a brilliant lecture Lorca gave himself in 1935 on the poems, a brilliant read and insight in to the genius that Lorca was. What more do you want from a poetry book. Yes, of course I am going to say all this for if you personally know me, you will know the big bad beast of biased that will come from me when I speak of Lorca and my love for all his work, but, seriously, this is quite an amazing read, and a book I highly recommend you to read and have in your collection.

Where To Find It?

Be sure to check out your local book store  and add your support, and if you can not find it check out the books available at Amazon.  Or if you know me, feel free to borrow.

About The Author:

Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) is one of the most popular of modern European poets and playwrights. His poems and plays about creation, desire and death have been translated into dozens of languages and transformed into song, ballet, opera and painting. Fascinated by the folk music of his native Spain, Lorca wrote two books inspired by gypsy rhythms: Poem of the Deep Song (on the world of flamenco and cante jondo) and the best-selling Gypsy Ballads. In Poet in New York (written 1929-1930) he turns the American city into an image of universal loneliness, and in tragedies like Yerma, Blood Wedding, and The House of Bernarda Alba he takes the measure of human longing and of the social repression that would contribute to his early death (he was shot by right-wing forces at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War). With this collection of ballads, carefully translated by Jane Duran and Gloria Garcia Lorca, the poet transforms into metaphor and myth the fantasy and reality of a marginalized people.