Joan Brossa

El saltamartí / The Tumbler

Joan Brossa creates distilled excitement. He is both wise and wild. His poems are surreal and matter-of-fact, playful and minimalist and utterly original. In his ability to make it new, Brossa is an essential modern poet.

       Colm Tóibín

Following the publication of the first release from Tenement Press—a new publisher formed by the team behind the literary journal Hotel—see below for six poems from Joan Brossa’s El saltamartí / The Tumbler; the first English language translation of a full collection of Brossa’s verse, translated from the Catalan by Cameron Griffiths.

Written in 1963 (and first published in Catalan in 1969)—BROSSA’s EL SALTAMARTÍ / THE TUMBLER presents a convergence of BROSSA’s critical and cultural concerns. With his growing sense of social commitment and support of Catalan independence, freedom stands as both Brossa’s primary subject and conceptual framework in this collection. THE TUMBLER is an anti-clerical and anti-authoritarian work that brings together verse vignettes and visual poems to revivify the proverbial, often with comic and subversive effect. 

Joan Brossa (1919–1998) was born in Barcelona into a family of artisans. He began writing when he was mobilised in the Spanish Civil War and, following an introduction to surrealism by way of the friendship and influence of Joan Miró and Joan Prats, would fuse political engagement and aesthetic experiment through sonnets, odes, theatre, sculpture and screenplay within a neo-surrealist framework. Brossa founded the magazine Dau al Set in 1948 and, during the fifties and sixties, his poetry was increasingly informed by collectivist concerns. His collection El saltamartí (1963) presented a synthesis of themes both political and social, and the subsequent publication of Poesia Rasa (1970), Poemes de seny i cabell (1977), Rua de llibres (1980)—and the six volumes of Poesia escénica (published between 1973 and 1983)—saw Brossa stake his place as a central figure in contemporary Catalan literature. 

Cameron Griffiths studied History and English Literature at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. His poetry has appeared in journals in New Zealand, Australia and the United States. He lives with his family in Spain. 

Joan Brossa, ‘Poema objecte’ (1967); © Fundació Joan Brossa, VEGAP, Barcelona



I lift my head
and I see the immensity
scattered with suns and planets.
Spring arrives and I see
the trunks of the trees overflowing
with sap, the branches thick
with leaves and shoots,
the shoots loaded with flowers,
the flowers hung with fruits,
and the fruits with seeds
that will give life
to other trees.



The living voice

Gramophone records
keep the poetry recited
by the poets themselves
in circulation. Also it seems to me,
of course, that poetry must be
read out loud, or at least
read in a low voice: I mean, it is better
to unpack it from books, right?



I see myself
in the hand mirror
where some whiskers are drawn,
and I try to position
the lines on
my top lip.



Coincidences really do happen,
but you write them in a book and nobody
believes them. And so it is that life
is full of things that go beyond the imagination
at random and by surprise.



The table
is set as it should be
until the end of the banquet. In the centre
is a bunch of flowers. Either side, candelabras
with screens, the dessert bowls and the plates
in front of the cutlery. The glasses are
placed according to size. The silver
cutlery shines, and the dinnerware is
antique porcelain.

Enough! The poet, in a fury, pulls the tablecloth out
and upends the table while screaming,

To Manolo Millares



If we did not know what is
and what is not; if we only
paid attention to certain reasons      
and certain colours; if the roots
of existence were found in
another life; if hope was
small and poorly drawn and if
the word was not an act,
neither would these lines
be a poem.

Summer 1963

Joan Brossa, ‘Homage to the Book’ / ‘Homenatge al Llibre’ (1994); a public sculpture that sits at the intersection of Bercelona’s Paseo de Gracia and Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, and commissioned by the city’s Guild of Booksellers; © Mireia Miranda, 1994; reproduced by arrangement with the Fundació Joan Brossa.


To buy a copy of EL SALTAMARTÍ / THE TUMBLER by Joan Brossa (translated by Cameron Griffiths), visit Tenement Press.





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