In mid-September, the Espasa publishing house had to deny that Rafel Cabaliere, the winner of the III EspasaEsPoesía Prize, was actually a robot. Neither the publishing world nor his more than 700,000 followers on Instagram knew this 34-year-old Venezuelan poet. The video published by Espasa on Twitter showed that Cabaliere is a person of flesh and blood, although who have analyzed their social networks they speculate on the possibility that the winner of the contest, endowed with 20,000 euros, may have bought thousands of followers.
Beyond great prizes and controversies, there are many proposals that do not enjoy much media attention, but that seek to revitalize the poetic scene and establish themselves as meeting places for new voices. Despite the uncertainty that the pandemic implies, this month of October three poetry festivals are held in different cities of the Spanish geography: Erató Fest (Toledo), Irreconcilable (Malaga) and the Alcalá Young Poetry Festival (Alcalá de Henares).
“It is true that in the first two editions we were more mainstream to attract attention, but now we are trying to discover authors who have a proposal beyond the commercial “, explains to elDiario.es José Julián Uceta, director of Erató Fest, whose third edition ended on October 11. The face-to-face activities , which included recitals and concerts in historical enclaves such as the Castillo de San Servando and the Sephardic Museum, have been able to proceed without incident and “in a totally safe way”.
From Irreconciliables, whose third edition has just been held between October 15 and 18, they have also made a commitment to the face-to-face format, since there is “an exhaustion of the virtual,” says one of its managers, Angelo Néstore, who co-directs with Violeta Niebla. On the other hand, almost all the activities of the Alcalá Young Poetry Festival, whose second edition had to be postponed due to the outbreak of Covid-19 in March, will be carried out online between October 23 and 25. “It is also an opportunity so that it is not limited geographically or by capacity”, defend Andrea Abreu and Luis Díaz, directors and creators of the event.
Celebrate and decentralize poetry
These three festivals seek to get away from the elitism and solemnity that often surround poetry. “It is an oral baggage and cultural heritage for anyone, regardless of their social class,” says Abreu. “It is about proposing art in a celebratory way, as something with which to interact and not just contemplate, that leaves a residue and is not just a consumable product that ends at that very moment,” says Uceta, for whom “it is very important the term party, celebration or meeting at the time of conceiving poetry “.
Néstore goes a step further: “We laugh a lot at poetry and the dignity with which it is placed on a pedestal, we want to break it so that it becomes something closer.” Irreconcilables has the most playful bet, based on an experiential poetics and the performance, with initiatives such as a freak show poetic and a show drag. “We do it from self-irony, I think it is something that has had an impact on the public, the traditional public that attends recitals we wanted to add a new public that comes to see a different experience”.
Another link between the three festivals is the vindication of cultural life outside of “the great metropolises”, as Abreu defines Madrid and Barcelona. “The decentralization of discourse is important, that we hear voices that do not come from the big cities,” says Uceta. “On the other hand, cities like Malaga, Alcalá and Toledo are incredible scenarios and have many possibilities beyond the capital.”
Néstore points out that Irreconciliables started from a series of Malaga authors, who nine years ago proposed to local institutions the creation of an independent festival. “The fact that it is not born from the institutions but from the poets themselves has allowed us to manage it more freely, even if it involves little funding.”
Reflect on young poetry
The Alcalá Young Poetry Festival arose with the idea of ”creating a space for dialogue between more or less well-known young poets, both with each other and with the public,” explains Abreu, for whom young poets are often invited to great festivals like “geniuses or fairground monkeys”.
“We wanted to reappropriate the word young because many times youth is emphasized to warn of the place where you belong,” he adds, something with which Néstore agrees: “To speak of young poetry as poetry that needs approval seems wrong to me.” In Alcalá, not only those who stand out for being precocious or enjoying recognition on the national scene participate. The idea is to conceive a place where more peripheral writings have room, “outside of what the canon defines as perfect and adequate”.
Abreu and Díaz at the age of 24 presented a detailed project to the Alcalá City Council. “Many people think that there is a cat locked up, but we only worked on it, we ourselves thought that it was very difficult for an institution to host such an activity,” Abreu emphasizes.
“We use young poetry as a name for the festival, although it is not delimited, it is both what people with many followers write in networks and those who do not, although they only talk about the former”, says Díaz, alluding to the debate on quality, networks social and virality. Abreu delves into the problem of criticizing poetry for the simple fact of being gestated in the networks: “They are simply a tool, it seems that there is fear that we will lose respect for the canonical.”
The truth is that most of the poets participating in the three events are under 35 years old, and there are faces that are repeated in the different programs. “Young poetry does not mean homogeneous poetry, much less good or bad poetry. Creators under 35, the age at which youth ends according to the sacred rules of poetry contests, are tremendously diverse”, says Rocío Acebal, winner of the XXXV Hiperión Prize and participant in Erató and Alcalá.
“Few labels would serve to define such a heterogeneous and changing group beyond youth or geography, and it is good that it is so.”
On the other hand, Rodrigo García Marina, winner of the I Irreconciliables Award in 2017 and of other competitions, affirms that the publishing market takes advantage of the inexperience of new writers, which is why many times the system of awards and festivals becomes ” a tremendously insecure place where unequal relationships operate that young poets dare not denounce. ” “It is a symbolic payment through status on the scene, and reporting it many times implies putting that status in jeopardy,” he asserts.
Looking ahead to 2021, the organizers of Irreconciliables, Erató and Alcalá continue with the intention of generating meeting points for poets who have just burst onto the scene and for the public that wants to approach less commercial proposals. They even propose to go one step further and create a dialogue between the festivals themselves. Andreu values the solidarity that is breathed in these kinds of events: “I feel that they do not compete with each other, but that each festival is a celebration that does not exclude the others.”