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Algeciras-Born José Luis Cano and The Call of Surrealism

Reach Contributor: Juan Emilio Ríos

José Luis Cano ( Algeciras) and The Call of Surrealism

The first surviving text written by José Luis Cano dates to 1930. It is a poem which he wrote in Málaga, called MAR Y ÁNGELES SOLO (“ONLY SEA AND ANGELS”), published in an academic article of the Academy of Medical Sciences of Catalonia. Reading it, we find surrealist allusions such as:

“In the sea, next to the sea, there are angels who play at breaking their wings. I’m sitting in a square, perhaps of snow, and the pallor of that intangible moon is destroying my tenderness.”

Jose Luis Cano Surrealism Algeciras
Surreal Seascape

That powerful call of surrealism was clearly influenced by Emilio Prados and Rafael Alberti. During the first stage of his work, Emilio Prados fused surrealism and other avant-garde movements with his Arabic-Andalusian roots.

Tiempo (“Time”, 1925), Seis estampas para un rompecabezas (“Six stamps for a puzzle”, 1925), Canciones del farero (“Songs of the lighthouse keeper”, 1926), Vuelta (“Turn”, 1927), El misterio del agua (“The mystery of water”, 1926) and Cuerpo perseguido (“Persecuted body”, 1928) are the titles of those of his collections of poems which were influenced by the surrealist movement.

Alberti’s Sobre los ángeles (“About angels”) was published in 1928 and Lorca’s Poeta en Nueva York (“Poet in New York”) in 1929. Both are influential poems in the first writings of this poet from Algeciras. In 1935, José Luis Cano published his article “Surrealismo y lucha de clases” (“Surrealism and the class struggle”) in the Sur magazine.

Jose Luis Cano Surrealism Algeciras
Jose Luis Cano

In it, he explains that at that fateful moment in his life and career he hesitated between activism in the movement – the main driving force of which was the Frenchman André Breton – or, on the contrary, abandoning it and devoting himself to literature that was true to the social, political and economic reality of Spain at the time. He opted for the latter because, as he expressed much later, he thought that surrealism was to be a movement as ephemeral as other isms – futurism, creationism, Dadaism. He was obviously wrong.

In his book “Cuadernos de Adrián Dale” (“Adrian Dale’s Notebooks”) he confessed that he was not tempted by surrealist techniques such as automatic writing at all, but preferred to fight the blank paper on a daily basis and tear a poem from his mind through the hard labour of creativity and reflection.

Our poet was never willing to flee from reason in order to give birth to a text, which was what the surrealists demanded at that time. Thus, we lost an avant-garde and experimental author, but won a poet committed to the struggle for man’s quality of life, like few others.

Throughout his fertile and fruitful life, José Luis Cano worked as a poet, anthologist, librarian, essayist, biographer of poets such as Antonio Machado or Lorca, editor of the “Adonais” collection together with his great friend Canito, editor of the Ínsula magazine.

He was discoverer of poets, not to mention the memories of the inexhaustible conversations which he had with Vicente Aleixandre during those unforgettable evenings at 3 Velintonia Street, Madrid…

But, for me, the most important thing in his life and work was undoubtedly his ability to erect himself as a bridge between islands. Becoming the vehicle through which exiled poets could embrace that minimal link with the Spain they had left behind.

The best example of this is, without a doubt, the publication of Luis Cernuda’s book “Ocnos” in his “Sansueña” (that’s what the Sevillian poet called Spain after his exile), something that has been almost completely forgotten in the mists of time.

Therefore, I believe that Spanish literature has not thanked the Algeciras poet enough; this was a poet who cared more for others than for himself.

José Luis Cano ( Algeciras) and The Call of Surrealism

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