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  • This Ghostly Poetry: History and Memory of Exiled Spanish Republican Poets by Daniel Aguirre Oteiza
  • Leslie J. Harkema
Aguirre Oteiza, Daniel. This Ghostly Poetry: History and Memory of Exiled Spanish Republican Poets. U of Toronto P, 2020. 392 pp.

In this illuminating book, Daniel Aguirre Oteiza makes a compelling case for the power of poetic texts written by Spanish Republican exiles to unsettle the narrative of national literary history into which they have been incorporated—under the guise of recovery—since shortly after the end of the Spanish Civil War. This Ghostly Poetry offers a much-needed redress of the effort to recuperate several well-known poets and canonize them within a Spanish literary tradition centered firmly in the Iberian Peninsula and in the Castilian language, with little acknowledgment of the spatiotemporal discontinuities that accompany geographical displacement and define exilic writing. The book builds productively on the work of Hispanic Studies scholars who have attended to the Republican exile, as well as on the well-developed critical discourse on hauntology and ghostliness in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Spanish cultural production. Drawing insights from recent interventions on the nature of lyric poetry (Culler) and on cosmopolitanism (Appiah), this study makes a highly valuable contribution to the ongoing debate on historical memory in Spain and Spanish studies, and it does so by focusing on a group of poems that, though predominantly read through a historicizing lens as biographical documents attesting to an unbroken connection to Spain and its tradition, also subvert and even actively resist this type of reading.

To make this important argument, Aguirre Oteiza chooses to limit the scope of his study to “canonical, or potentially canonical” poets; that is, in Brad Epps’s and Luis Fernández-Cifuentes’s phrase (quoted by the author), “Spanish men who write in Castilian” (8). The writers Aguirre Oteiza studies—Max Aub, Luis Cernuda, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Antonio Machado, and Tomás Segovia—lend themselves to his analysis precisely because their place in the history of Spanish literature is unquestioned, despite the fact that all of them left Spain in the 1930s, some never to return. Their canonicity is also ensured by their gender and the fact that they wrote in the dominant language of the Spanish state. With this group, Aguirre Oteiza removes all hypothetical objections to argue that even the most “canonical” of the Republican exile writers produced texts that resist their incorporation into the narrowly nation-based version of Spanish literary history.

In the introductory first chapter of the book, “On Forewords and Historical Ghosts,” Aguirre Oteiza proposes that this resistance arises from what he calls “poetic memory”: a “verbal fabric” reanimated upon every successive reading that requires attention to “the various threads of deictic, tonal, prosodic, rhetorical, topical, translational, and intertextual repertoires available in (and around) the poem” (7). As the description suggests, the readings carried out in this book are thorough and extensive, deep readings more than merely close readings, made up of multiple layers of critical reflection. Indeed, the text that generates these comments in the introduction (and the book’s title) is a single sentence from Max Aub’s foreword to [End Page 169] Diario de Djelfa (1944), where the writer deictically invokes “[e]sta poesía . . .” (4). The second chapter links the notion of ghostliness to the study of poetry, indicating especially how the retrieval of exiled poets from the time of the Second Republic has been a central component of the “narrativization of collective memory” for the Spanish nation deployed by contemporary novelists like Javier Cercas or Almudena Grandes (41). The third chapter further interrogates the notion that exilic poems embody a stable and unifying “voice of the people.” Rereading León Felipe’s poem “Reparto,” Aguirre Oteiza calls attention to a Whitmanesque plurality within Felipe’s own poetic memory (as translator of Leaves of Grass) that disturbs the assumed referentiality of the text.

Chapters four through seven apply the methodology sketched out in the earlier chapters of the book to the cases of Jiménez, Cernuda, Aub, and Segovia. Studying Jiménez’s Guerra en España, a collage-like compendium of texts reflecting on lived experience (biograf...


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pp. 169-171
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