- Where is Spain? The rappel à l'ordre and The Poetry of Lucía Sánchez Saornil
Lucía Sánchez Saornil was the only female poet of Spanish ultraísmo. Like many of her fellow avant-gardists she first wrote in a modernista style, populating her rhythmically regular poems with melancholy gardens, silken roses, furtive kisses, and ominous moons. Also like many of her fellows in ultraísmo, the movement lasting from 1918 to 1925, she turned at first unevenly to the free verse and cosmopolitan themes of the avant-garde, though she would finally embrace even the most aggressive avant-garde stances against tradition in at least some poems. After the avant-garde's most heady early days Sánchez Saornil takes up traditional forms, publishing her Romancero de Mujeres Libres during the Spanish Civil War, in 1937.
Sánchez Saornil's move towards traditional rhyme and meter accords with the changing aesthetic predilections of her poetic peers throughout Europe. This generalized recuperation of traditional poetic models is an important episode in the history of the European avant-garde. Called le rappel a l'ordre following the title of Jean Cocteau's 1923 lecture and 1926 book, the phenomenon was key to the poetics of those who would later become the canonical poets of Spain's "Generation of 1927." For José-Carlos Mainer, the interest in tradition in these poets can be traced to a 'double attitude' of "scholar" and "avant-gardist" shared by many, especially the "poetas profesores" of the group (210-15). Gerardo Diego, a member and anthologizer of the 1927 group and one of the foremost proponents and practitioners of Hispanic creacionismo, wrote on the imperative to return to the communal poetic memory of traditional verse in his 1927 article, "La vuelta a la estrofa." Here Diego writes that, following the productive destruction of the avant-garde, "renace la calma, y decimos: hay que crear. O lo que es lo mismo, hay que poseer, domeñar, tener conciencia." Against the early avant-garde's aesthetics of obliteration, the rappel a l'ordre calls for artists to exercise control over their work and over tradition. A strong [End Page 91] masculine bias underlies Diego's remarks as well as Cocteau's comparison of the composition of poetry to building a 'house of cards' with the soul (255). The heroism of dominion, knowledge, and steady-handed control over tradition apparent in Diego's choice of verbs is limited, in Cocteau's metaphoric deck of cards, to the male-dominated space of artistic experimentation, the café. Accompanying the widespread return of tradition advocated for by Cocteau and Diego was also the complicated mix of surrealist art's spread in Spain and a growing political consciousness among poets as they witnessed economic crisis and the advent of a new Spanish Republic in 1931 (Cernuda 420-30; Debicki 40-41).1
This essay will examine Lucía Sánchez Saornil's poetics in the context of this male-dominated rappel a l'ordre. Sánchez Saornil follows the same trajectory as the avant-garde generally, from giddily modern free-verse compositions to a recuperation of aesthetic memory in traditional forms like sonnets and the romance. Though generalized throughout the avant-garde, the aesthetic shift towards tradition and away from iconoclastic experimentation was not a simple and unambiguous process. An analysis of Sánchez Saornil's ultraísta poetry along with her Civil War romances can help us to see how complicated this shift was for a working-class lesbian poet; Sánchez Saornil's speaker takes a much more ambiguous position with regard to tradition than that adopted by many of her male counterparts, whose return to traditional poetic modes reflected a desire to find a lost sense of confidence and sure footing in art.
More wary and more wily in her approach to aesthetic memory than many of these male poets, Sánchez Saornil wrote poems which questioned the ostensibly solid foundations upon which the new poetics of tradition rested. In Sánchez Saornil's shift from avant-garde free verse to politically accented popular rhyming verse, we can see that losing and recuperating aesthetic...