Every man and every artist, whether he is Nietzsche or Cézanne, climbs each step in the tower of his perfection by fighting his duende, not his angel, as has been said, nor his muse. This distinction is fundamental, at the very root of the work.— from “”Play and Theory of the Duende”
Today’s read: In Search Of Duende, Federico García Lorca – New Directions Publishing – 1998
I see myself moving closer to understanding duende but I would be lying if I said that I understood it more know than before. I have read this particular book a few different times during my poetic career and it is always a welcome read. This time around it helps prove that in poetry the more you learn can be the less you know.
I would say that there have been three times that I have come into contact with duende.
1) I was seriously drunk on stage. I read a poem with a particular refrain and the line caught on. I am sure it started with another poet friend who was also drunk and soon the whole audience was joining me in refrain. This continued through the poem and even after I walked off stage. It was exhilarating and completely false. It would mark the last time I would ever go on stage drunk.
2) I was poetically very young and invited to join in a group piece with some very talented poets.I had a few lines in the poem, some in concert and some solo. I was most nervous of one line in particular. When it came time for that line I delivered it from my toes through my skull. It lit the room up and helped make the piece a success. I have no memory of the actual words I spoke.
3) I was in the semi-finals of a poetry slam competition. I had put everything into memorizing and delivering my poems. It was the last round of the competition and I was mathematically eliminated. Even a perfect score would not get me to the finals. I felt humiliated and angry. It was time to deliver my last poem for the night and I did something I did not think I would do. I came to the stage, adjusted the mic, put my hands to the side, and delivered the poem without moving my body. I had learned this technique from Patricia Smith but never had the courage to try it. With nothing to lose, I followed through and the whole poem came out through my face and mouth. The duende for sure came out. I remember the whole moment because I came to the mic with the intention to be still but at a certain point I could not move at all. My body was frozen and it was no longer my decision. This is what the poem demanded because it was all building to one line and one word in my poem. And as soon as the word left me the duende went with it. I was exhausted but had control of my body back and walked off stage proud. I had given myself up and the poem came from all the places I had written and rewritten it from to be performed one time. I still have the poem. In fact, it is actually anthologized but that version and any other version of that poem will never be the poem that came through me that night.