On Tuesday 14 January the Argentinian poet Juan Gelman died at his home in Mexico City and so, in spite of winning the Juan Rulfo in 2000, the Reina
Sofía and the Pablo Neruda in 2005, and the Cervantes in 2007, the Lorca Prize – the International City of Granada Garcia Lorca
Prize for Poetry, to give it its full title – has alluded him forever.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1930, he had lived in Mexico since 1988. Son
of Ukrainian immigrants he got into poetry on hearing his brother recite
Pushkin to him in Russian, a language Gelman, apparently, did not understand.
On his death, he was recognised as one of the greatest poets of twentieth
century Spanish literature, winning practically every important prize in the
Spanish-speaking world, with the exception of the Lorca.

I had been tipping Juan Gelman for the Prize since
October 2010 (blog #post5) on the basis of his literary profile which fitted that
of a Lorca Prize winner perfectly. Not only was he one of most widely read and
influential poets in Spanish, translated into fourteen major languages, there
were a number of other essential criteria that he fulfilled.

One. At 83, he was just the right

He is from Argentina. My
reckoning was that, as the prize tends to alternate between Spain and Latin
America, and as, in 2013, previous Latino winners had been from just three
countries – Mexico, Peru, and Cuba – a poet of the calibre of Juan Gelman from Argentina
must fancy his chances. (However, it must now be said, that, while five of the
ten Prize winners have been Latinos, three of them have been Mexicans, and
three of the five Spanish winners have been Andalusians, so the Prize does not
depend only on geography.)

Another factor in his favour, Latin
American prize-winners are likely to be holders of the Pablo Neruda Prize (as
Gelman was), or the Octavio Paz Prize, or both (as in the case of José Emilio Pacheco,
2005-winner), and maybe the Juan Rulfo Prize for Latin American and Caribbean
Literature (Gelman’s first major award).

Also: the Lorca and the Reina Sofía
Prize go hand-in-hand. If a Lorca Prize winner is not already a Reina Sofía
Prize holder, the chances are s/he soon will be. Seven of the nine/ten Lorca
Prize winners have also been Reina Sofía Prize holders. Three won the Lorca
Prize first, three the Reina Sofía, and, in 2011, Fina García Marruz of Cuba
actually won both. Gelman, who won it in 2005, must have felt he was in the
running for the Lorca ever since.

Gelman even had the Cervantes, awarded
for all literary genres and not just poetry. So far it has only been claimed by
one Lorca Prize winner, José Emilio Pacheco, second winner in 2005, who went on
to win both the Cervantes and the Reina Sofia in 2009.

The award’s main aim is to bestow prestige on the city of
Granada and it is only awarded to well established poets who already have a
long list of published and recognised works to their name and whose reputation
would reflect back on the city. It seems that the judges judged that Granada
could do without Gelman’s stamp of authority as the prize became more and more

Previous blogs 5, 24, and 39

Aknowlegements to BERNARDO MARÍN El Pais 15
Jan 2014