Brossa, Joan 1919-1998

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BROSSA, Joan 1919-1998

PERSONAL: Born January 19, 1919, in Barri Sant Gervasi, Barcelona, Spain; died as the result of an accident, December 30, 1998, in Barcelona, Spain; son of an engraver.

CAREER: Poet, dramatist, and visual artist. Worked briefly as an engraver and bookseller.


El crim (poetic theater; produced in Barcelona, Spain, 1948), published in Dau al Set, 1948.

Sonets de Caruixa, Cobalto (Barcelona, Spain), 1949.

U no és ningú (prose), illustrated by Antoni Tàpies, privately published, 1950, Polígrafa (Barcelona, Spain), 1979.

(With Joan Ponç) Parafaragamus, privately printed (Barcelona, Spain), 1950.

Romance del Dragolí, illustrated by Joan Ponç, Dau al Set (Barcelona, Spain), 1950.

Em va fer Joan Brossa (poems), prologue by João Cabral de Melo, Cobalto (Barcelona, Spain), 1951.

Nocturns encontres (poetic theater), published in Dau al Set, 1952.

Esquerdes, parracs i enderrocs esberlant figura i La mare màscara (poetic theater), published in Dau al Set, 1952.

Poemes civils, Editions R. M. (Barcelona, Spain), 1961.

El bell lloc (poetic theater), Escola d'Art Dramàtic Adrià Gual (Barcelona, Spain), 1962.

Or i sal (poetic theater), prologue by Arnau Puig, Joaquim Horta (Barcelona, Spain), 1963.

El pa a la barca, lithographs by Antoni Tàpies, Sala Gaspar (Barcelona, Spain), 1963.

Cop de poma (performance piece), illustrations by Joan Miró, score by Josep M. Mestres Quadreny, Editions R. M. (Barcelona, Spain), 1963.

Teatre de Joan Brossa (includes La xarxa, La jugada,Aquí al bosc, Gran guinyol, and El bell lloc), Editions R. M. (Barcelona, Spain), 1964. (poetry), lithographs by Antoni Tàpies, Sala Gaspar (Barcelona, Spain), 1965.

Quadern de poemes, drawing by Antoni Tàpies, Ariel (Barcelona, Spain), 1969.

El saltamartí, Ocnos (Barcelona, Spain), 1969.

Frègoli, lithographs by Antoni Tàpies, Sala Gaspar (Barcelona, Spain), 1969.

Poesia Rasa, prologue by Manuel Sacristán, Ariel (Barcelona, Spain), 1970.

Poemes per a una oda, Montse Ester, Saltar i Parar (Barcelona, Spain), 1970.

Nocturn matinal (poems), illustrated by Antoni Tàpies, Polígrafa (Barcelona, Spain), 1970.

Calç i rajoles (poetic theater), prologue by Pere Gimferrer, Editions 62 (Barcelona, Spain), 1971.

Des d'un got d'aigua fins al petroli, Edició clandestina P.S.U.C. (Mataró, Spain), 1971.

Càntir de càntics, Editions 62 (Barcelona, Spain), 1972.

Vivàrium (prose), Editions 62 (Barcelona, Spain), 1972.

Ahmosis, Amenofis IV, Tutenkhamon; Sord-mut; El gran Francaroli (poetic theater), Estudios escénicos, (Barcelona, Spain), 1972.

Pluja, edited by C. Ameller and others, [Barcelona, Spain], 1973.

Oda a Joan Miró, lithographs by Miró, Polígrafa (Barcelona, Spain), 1973.

Poems from the Catalan (bilingual Catalan/English), introduction by Arthur Terry, Polígrafa (Barcelona, Spain), 1973.

Cinc poemes, etchings by Antoni Tàpies, Filògraf (Barcelona, Spain), 1973.

Cappare (includes Model de fruita, Dotze sonets aVictòria, and Vint-i-set poemes), Proa (Barcelona, Spain), 1973.

Poesia escènica, four volumes, Editions 62 (Barcelona, Spain), 1973-1980.

La barba del cranc (includes La porta, Coresforç, and Quatre sonets), Editions 62 (Barcelona, Spain), 1974.

(With Moisès Villèlia) Cartipàs, Sala Gaspar (Barcelona, Spain), 1974.

(Translator) Arthur Rimbaud, Les ungles del guant, Llibres del Mall (Barcelona, Spain), 1974.

Poemes visuals, Editions 62 (Barcelona, Spain), 1975.

Poemes objecte (postcards), Llibres del Mall (Barcelona, Spain), 1975.

Accions musicals (poetic theater), Llibres del Mall (Barcelona, Spain), 1975.

Oda a Macià i Oda al president Companys, lithographs by Antoni Tàpies, Sala Gaspar (Barcelona, Spain), 1975.

Oda al president Companys, La Humanitat (Barcelona, Spain), 1976.

Maneres, Urgell (Lleida, Spain), 1976.

Oda a Lluís M. Xirinacs, lithographs by Antoni Tàpies, Comissió Lluís Xirinacs (Barcelona, Spain), 1976.

Sextines 76, prologue by Joaquin Molas, Llibres del Mall (Barcelona, Spain), 1977.

Poemes de seny i cabell, prologue by Arthur Terry, Ariel (Barcelona, Spain), 1977.

Striptease català, photography by Ferran Freixa, Mil 69 (Barcelona, Spain), 1977.

(With Joan Miró) Tres Joans, Polígrafa (Barcelona, Spain), 1978.

(And photographer) Poemes objecte, prologue by Roland Penrose, Servicios Editoriales (Barcelona, Spain), 1978.

(Lyricist) L'armari en el mar (score; performed at Festival Internacional de música, 1978), Forum Musical, Teatre Lliure (Barcelona, Spain), 1978.

Cinc poemes visuals, Galeria 491 (Barcelona, Spain), 1979.

Antologia de poemes de revolta, Editions 62 (Barcelona, Spain), 1979.

(With Frederic Amat) Llibre de la pluja, Taller Vallirana (Barcelona, Spain), 1979.

Rua de llibres, Ariel (Barcelona, Spain), 1980.

Also author of books La bola i l'escarbat, La sal i el drac, Catalunya i selva, Trangol, Malviatge, Els entrai-surts del poeta, Roda de llibres, Striptease, and Fogall de sonets. Contributor to periodicals, including Tarot, Dau al Set, and Els Marges.

SIDELIGHTS: Considered among the avant-garde throughout his long artistic life, Joan Brossa distinguished himself not only in poetry but in theater and visual arts as well. Brossa's written explorations were conducted in his native language of Catalan and include the stage plays Nocturn encontres as well as numerous poems and prose monologues.

Brossa was born in the Barcelona neighborhood of Sant Gervasi, the son of an engraver. At the age of seventeen he enlisted in the Republican Army and fought in the Spanish Civil War, reportedly with a book of Federico García Llorca's poetry in his pocket. Brossa's works from this period were addressed to his companions-in-arms against fascism. They were "half way between a chronicle and apologia," explained Glòria Bordons on the Web site Lletra.

While the civil war left its mark on the young Brossa, his work was even more profoundly influenced by two avant-garde Catalan artists whom he met following General Francisco Franco's conquest of Spain. Poet J. V. Foix and painter Joan Miró inspired his interest in both poetry and the surrealist movement then in full bloom. Under the guidance of Foix and Joan Prats, another great Catalan artist of the period, Brossa combined surrealistic imagery with the sonnet form in his first books, La bola i l'escarbat and Fogall de sonets. The poems in these volumes are "full of dream images, connected one to the other through unconscious associations," commented Bordons. However, Albert Forcadas noted in World Literature Today that "the impact of [Brossa's] early readings of Verdaguer, Guimerà and Ignasi Iglèsies and others oozes here and there" within the pages of these first published works.

With his widening circle of avant-gardist Catalan friends, Brossa helped found the influential literary review Dau al Set in 1947. About that time, he also began working with new forms, such as prose and theater. In keeping with his surrealistic bent at the time, Brossa's two 1949 "pseudonovels" are nonnarrative, and contain odd digressions and leaps into nowhere. One of his first plays, Sord-mut, has a similar sardonic obscureness; the play consists entirely of a stage curtain being raised and lowered.

In yet another experiment during the Dau al Set period, Brossa began applying surrealist techniques to folk poetic forms like the ode and romancet, and by 1950 he had begun moving in a more political and realistic direction. In the collection Des d'un got d'aigua fins al petroli he fashions a clearly patriotic work calling for a Catalonia free of political and religious oppression. The decisive influence in this direction was Brazilian poet João Cabral de Melo, then in Barcelona. Cabral introduced Brossa and his circle to the ideas of Karl Marx. It was shortly after this introduction that Brossa published his landmark Em va fer Joan Brossa, in which he abandons the phantasmagoric and absurd to focus entirely upon the ordinary, albeit through a humorous and political lens. The poems were not well received by a Catalan literary establishment which in the 1950s was focused on a more erudite post-symbolism. Critics saw Brossa's new work as less poetic than photographic in its intense ordinariness and simplicity.

Ignoring such criticism, Brossa proceeded in an increasingly political vein. His Catalunya i selva, a collection of sonnets, explicitly addresses the plight of Spanish society under the Franco dictatorship, while in Romancets del Dragolí he employs mythical subjects appropriate to the medieval poetic form to introduce his political ideas. World Literature Today contributor Janet Pérez noted that the poem "Xauxa," with its description of a fantastic land of eternal summer and fruits that tend themselves, "slowly becomes a sociopolitical statement that such countries are worth fighting for."

During the 1960s Brossa became fascinated with the idea of transcending the technical borders of his art. In two books of poetry from the early 1950s, Trangol and Malviatge, Brossa had experimented with mono-syllabic poetry; he now played with the shape of words and even the spaces on the page on which they were written. 1963's El Saltamartí marks the beginning of Brossa's "visual poetry": poems that use visual images to convey a poetic meaning. An example from this period is a piece titled "Conscientious Objector," which consists of a rifle barrel topped with a candle snuffer used during the Roman Catholic Mass. Brossa now frequently collaborated with visual artists that included Miró and the internationally renowned Catalan graphic artist Antoni Tàpies.

Meanwhile, Brossa never lost his taste for traditional written poetry. Els entra-i-surts del poeta and Roda de llibres show Brossa continuing in the style of the Cabral period and creating short, surprising poems full of political and social insight. "The use of everyday language, synthesis, definition, visual games, and especially humor and irony are the principal techniques used in these poems," commented Bordons, adding that the resulting works "are almost jokes of a critical nature."

Brossa found a model for his quasi-theatrical explorations in the "transformist" art of Italian actor Leopoldo Fregoli, who created a kind of early performance art using multiple disguises and other techniques to dramatize his ideas about the continuous change, or transformation, inherent in living beings. Brossa's play 1967 Striptease uses Fregoli's ideas in the context of a peep show. The play consists of six girls on a darkened stage. A spotlight roves from one to the next, revealing that each successive girl wears an article less of clothing, but when the stage lights burst forth as the end of the piece the audience realizes that the last girl is not only naked, she is a mannequin. "The superimposed appearances, when eliminated one after the other, do not lead the spectator to a sure knowledge of the naked body, but to another reality," wrote Forcadas. Indeed, he added, Brossa's use of Fregolian techniques "are frequently more fascinating than in Fregoli's own works."

The death of Franco in 1975 ended the decades-long suppression of Catalan language and culture within Spain. For Brossa, this meant opportunities to publish new and old works and reach beyond his small circle of postwar intellectual friends. He charged forward with his avant-garde experiments and won international acclaim. His later work followed two tracks: one poetic and the other "plastic."

In poetry Brossa tried new metrical forms, most notably the complicated Medieval sextina. But his work in non-literary visual arts was what most captured public attention. In the 1980s and 1990s the artist's growing fame resulted in sufficient funding for ever grander projects. As the size of his works and the media used to create them evolved, his themes remained consistent: he retained the critical, almost bitter anti-establishment position he developed in response to the civil war and Franco's long regime. This anti-establishment posture was clearly seen in one of Brossa's major exhibition at the Virreina Palace in Barcelona. One work, "Parasite," consists of a stuffed parrot perched atop a tailor's dummy facing a microphone. The implication is that public speakers are mimics and non-entities, commented Kim Bradley in a review of the exhibition for Art in America.

Brossa died as the result of an accident at his Barcelona studio in the Barri d'Horta-Guinardó on December 30, 1998, while preparing for a major exhibition to commemorate his eightieth birthday.



Art in America, September, 1994, Kim Bradley, review of "Joan Brossa at Virreina Palace," p. 125.

Discurso Literario, Volume 2, number 2, 1985, María A. Salgado, Joan Brossa's La sal i el drac: "A Playwright's Reflections on Life, Theatre, Playwrighting," pp. 363-376.

World Literature Today, spring, 1981, Albert M. Forcadas, review of Antologia poètica (1941-1978), p. 298; summer, 1981, Janet W. Díaz, review of Poesía escénica, Volume 4, p. 445; winter, 1983, Peter Cocozzella, review of Vint-i-set sextines i un sonet, p. 88; spring, 1986, Albert M. Forcadas, review of Fogall de sonets (1943-1948), p. 298; summer, 1987, Janet Pérez, review of Romancets del Dragolí, p. 437; winter, 1992, Albert M. Forcadas, review of Poemes civils, p. 118.

other, (June, 2002), "Joan Brossa."

Lletra, (1999), Glòria Bordons, "Joan Brossa."