“Living between sand and skin”

Fernando Bravo's "Kantorian: abocar-se a la memòria" at L'albergueria de Vic Over the past few weeks, I’ve been pondering these lines from the poem Going Back, which was written in Catalan by Gemma Gorga; translated to English by poet, linguist, and translator Anna Crowe; and published in Six Catalan Poets (Arc Publications, 2013). This poem might be one of those rare gems that transcends those large questions of poetry in translation, such as whether the conversion should focus on the vocabulary, the overall sense, the meter and rhyme, or something else altogether. “Going Back” is a piece on identity, and identity is something so inescapable that the poem is almost difficult not to enter.

The delicately sparse, 30-line piece is a richly imagistic poem. Here’s an example:

Once they found me under the buckle
of the sandals she wore on the beach,
living between sand and skin — [1]

This quality keeps the work, despite its substantial motif, from heavy-handedness.

“Going Back” is not only deserving of a close reading, but it is perhaps even more important for its resonance, the greater implications it leaves its readership to ponder, the concepts of identity. In July, I had the pleasure of attending a Murphy Writing of Stockton University residency at l’Avenc in Tavertet, Spain. During the week, however, no one in Tavertet nor in Vic, the nearby city that we visited on our excursion day, mentioned their home as España nor did I see a single horizontally striped red, double-wide yellow, and then red again Spanish flag—the only gift my niece, who I adore, had requested. Which is to say that, among other things, the experience introduced me to a Catalan desire to preserve their unique language and ways of life despite being an autonomous community of Spain. For example, Gorga, the visiting writer at the residency, teaches in Spanish at Barcelona University, but she told us that she always writes her poetry in Catalan. One of my bilingual fellow writers in residence, who sometimes blends English and Spanish within one poem, asked Gemma if she ever combines Spanish and Catalan together in her writing. She does not. Gemma explained that, to her, this wouldn’t feel right.

The day of Gemma’s visit, we did not discuss Catalan politics, nor did we delve too deeply into conversation about Catalan culture, but Gemma read us a handful of poems focusing on concepts of identity. The closing lines of “Going Back” read as follows:

you are small
so that you might have been
a clothes-peg
a pine-nut lying on the ground
or a window covered in snow,
if it weren’t for the others who always remind me of it
and still define me thus today:
you are small.[2]

Gemma Gorga from Noctuary: a record of what passes in the nightDuring her afternoon visit at l’Avenc, Gemma suggested that “the others” mentioned in this poem are, most literally, members of her family. The poet told us that she was an exceptionally tiny girl, and that her siblings continue to remind her of this regularly, rendering her, in some ways, unable to escape this identity even today, decades later.

Since my week in Tavertet, largely due to the thoughts with which “Going Back” has left me, I’ve often contemplated how this concept of being defined by others—personally, culturally, politically, or otherwise—circulates throughout our lives and affects our sense of identity no matter how true we are to ourselves.

— Heather Lang, Zeteo Contributor



Title: “vivint entra la sorra i la pell”

[1] “Un cop em van trobar sota la sivella / de la seva sandàlia de platja, / vivint entre la sorra i la pell.”

[2] tu eres petita
com haguessis pogut ser
una agulla d’estendre
un pinyó estès a terra
o una finestra plena de neu,
si no fos perquè els alters sempre m’ho recorden
i així em defineixen encara avui:
tu eres petita


Top: Fernando Bravo’s “Kantorian: abocar-se a la memòria” at L’albergueria de Vic
Bottom: Gemma Gorga from Noctuary: a record of what passes in the night



Heather Lang’s poetry has been published by or is forthcoming in Pleiades, december, Mead, Jelly Bucket, The Normal School online, among other publications. She serves as the Online Managing Editor for The Literary Review, as Co-Editor for Petite Hound Press, and as an adjunct professor. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her chapbook manuscript was named a semifinalist in the 2014 Tupelo Press Snowbound Chapbook competition, her poetry has been twice nominated for Pushcart Prizes, and she will serve as an AWP16 moderator/panelist.

Heather would like to thank Murphy Writing of Stockton University for awarding her the Spain 2015 scholarship and also the Jan-Ai Scholarship committee for their generous gift, as these allowed her to attend the Getaway To Write in Tavertet.

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