There is a very good exhibition on at the Lorca Centre in Granada; it runs until 31 May. It is called Suites and is curated by Melissa Dinverno, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the Indiana University Bloomington. Suites is a work that represents something of a black hole in Lorca’s body of poetry. Its physical contours and content are difficult to identify, although of course André Belamich  did an excellent rescue job, eventually publishing his critical edition, first in France in 1981 and then in Spain in 1983. Otherwise, the presence of this never collected collection has tended to make itself felt by its unoverseeable effect on the rest of Lorca’s poetic works, which would be harder to make sense of without an awareness of the Suites.  Since Bellamich’s great achievement, new evidence and arguments have come in and Dinverno seems to think it’s time for a reappraisal and hence this exhibition, while promising us a new critical edition of this little known but key work in the near future.

Let us then try to define the physical contours of the work. 1921 – 1923 are the dates generally given for the composition of the Suites. That is, they come immediately after Lorca’s first poetry collection, Libro de poemas; before Primer romancero gitano, the first poem of which, Romance de la luna, luna, he started on in the summer of 1923; and they were written at the same time as his Poema del cante jondo, not published till 1931 but mostly composed in November 1921, and his Canciones, dated 1921 – 1924, published in 1927, with an additional collection Primeras canciones, written predominantly in 1922 and published also in 1931. See below.

Just looking at the Miguel García-Posada edition of the complete works (1996) makes us realise the dimensions of the poetic black hole Suites represents and what Belamich was up against when he undertook his mammoth task of reassembling the elusive set of verses it might have consisted of. Until then, the poems that were to make up this reconstructed collection had not been clearly classified. Although his work has been built on since by both Christopher Maurer and García-Posada himself, the astuteness of Belamich’s reconstruction is generally recognised and accepted today. Following Belamich´s lead, García-Posada’s complete works lists 95 pages (191 – 286) of unquestionably ‘finished’ suites, plus a dozen pages of poems that must at least be close to what the poet intended (289 – 300). Then there are around 20 pages (687 – 706) of poems not expressly excluded from the collection by the poet but which display a lower degree of readiness for publication, and which Belamich had already excluded from the definitive collection. Lastly, there are another ten pages categorised as definitely rejected (707 -718). This amounts to a total of around 137 pages.  By way of comparison, in the Complete Works of 1996 Poeta en Nueva York occupies some 65 pages, Primer romancero gitano around 45. It does not seem likely that Lorca had in mind such a diffuse and extensive work.

Because during half a century it was not presented as part of Lorca’s published oeuvre, because of its diffuseness, its apparently unfocused content and ill-defined contours, there has been a tendency to see this work as lightweight: less serious, less finished; a playful, arbitrary, almost whimsical interlude, which includes let it be said some scattered gems,  between the concise Poema del cante jondo and the more weighty and worked-out Romancero, the impact on publication of which put Canciones in the shade, and virtually nullified the still unpublished and unordered Suites.

But this exhibition points to the importance Lorca himself gave to this never quite collected collection of Suites.

Starting in August 1920, we find Lorca writing the following in a letter to Antonio Gallego Burín:

The countryside is magnificent. (…) If you could only see the sunsets so full of unearthly dew, that dew of the evening that seems to descend for the dead and for abandoned lovers, which is the same thing in the end! If you could see the melancholy of the thoughtful irrigation canals or the revolving rosarios of the water wheels. I expect the countryside to prune my lyrical branches this blesséd year with its evenings’ red knives. (My translation.)

Indeed, Viaje, dated November 1920, the first of the poems  considered by Belamich as not quite up to the standard Lorca wanted to set for his new collection, conforms to the expectations raised in the letter to Gallego Burín in the sense of being a melancholy lyrical reflection of the countryside [975*] and at the same time it may be seen as in transition from the more verbose modernist style of the Libro de poemas to the pruned, trimmed down, more succinct style that we might now call lorquiano.   

In the following year, 1921, writing from his familiar summer retreat at his father’s farm in Asquerosa/Valderrubio, Lorca assures the critic Adolfo Salazar, who had written a eulogistic review of Libro de poemas, that he is now working on “the best and most exquisite” poems he had yet produced, and, again, we have to agree that the tighter structure of the Suites certainly represented the pruning of his hitherto profuse lyrical foliage. By the end of the year, he had written more than thirty suites, Dinverno tells us.

The following two years sees the creation of twenty more new suites, as well as revisions and the publication of some as single poems in literary magazines. In May 1923, in a letter home, the poet writes with apparent self-confidence “I have decided to publish a book I have written here in Madrid of extraordinarily new things in the form of suites which i think is the most perfect thing I have created” (quoted from Dinverno’s exhibition). It must be said that Lorca’s letters home generally emphasised in an upbeat fashion the progress he was making as a serious poet and were written to counter his father’s suspicion that his son was up to no good in the capital. This second book, Lorca is insisting, will not be just a repeat of the somewhat less than successful Libro de poemas that Don Federico had not so long ago shelled out for to get published.

Finally, towards the end of July or beginning of August 1923, in a letter addressed to José de Ciria y Escalante and Melchor Fernández Almagro and referring to El jardín de las toronjas de luna, he writes that he is determined to work the whole summer refining the poem so that it comes out exactly as he wants it. “You could say I have been working on it in a state of near ecstasy”, he concludes.

Lorca must have been satisfied with the result, for by September 1923 he considered the period of composition of his Suites to be over and that it was time to find a publisher, says Dinverno.

Even so, in the following two years little seems to be done in this respect. Lorca always had a number of irons in the fire. The summer of 1924 finds him back in Asquerosa/Valderrubio finishing his book of Canciones and working on Romancero gitano. He also completes the first act of La Zapatera prodigiosa. In Madrid, meanwhile, Lorca is heavily involved in his stimulating social and cultural life at the Residencia de Estudiantes. Then, at the start of 1925, Salvador Dalí returns to the Residencia after a year’s absence due to his expulsion from the Escuela de Bellas Artes, and from then on the creative lives of the poet and the painter are closely intertwined for a while. Lorca has now ‘finished’ his play Mariana Pineda, dating it 8 January, and, taking advantage of an invitation to give a poetry recital at El Ateneo de Barcelona on 13 April, he reads it on a visit to Dalí’s family, first in Cadaqués, then in Figueras. Lorca’s stay in Cadaqués that spring is, we know, hugely influential. On his return to Madrid, Lorca starts writing Oda a Salvador Dalí, and in July, once more in Asquerosa/Valderrubio, he writes the short Dalí-inspired dialogue, El paseo de Buster Keaton. That same summer, La Zapatera prodigiosa now finished, he is working on his ‘erotic romance’ Amor de don Perlimplín con Belisa en su jardín. There is no doubt that Dalí has distracted Lorca’s attention from what the Andalusian poet would come to consider his ‘early works’.

So, January 1926 finds Lorca lamenting in a letter to Fernández Almagro that his three finished works, Suites, Poema del cante jondo, and Canciones are still without a publisher. “I want to publish,” he insists, “If I don’t do it now I never will and that would be a pity. But I want to do it right.”  In February 1926, he declares to his brother Francisco the three works are definitely ready for publication, and by early March, we know, he has made the decision to publish all three with Emilio Prados’ Imprenta Sur. In October, we also know [893], Prados was in Granada to collect the material for their publication. Yet in the end, only Canciones got published, in May 1927, due to an unfortunate series of mishaps and misunderstandings which have been well documented.

It is around this time that Lorca laments to his brother his inability to turn his ambitious poetic projects into reality, arguing the need for a secretary to overcome this personal flaw that led to Prados’ exasperation at the ‘impossible’ state of the drafts he had been presented with by the poet [875].

There are no such setbacks with the publication of the Primer romancero gitano, with only a couple of years passing between its first conceptualisation as a collection in 1926 and its publication in the Revista del occidente in July 1928. The concept of a collection called Suites, on the other hand, arises in the autumn of 1923, and Lorca is still struggling with it at the time of his death. This is one reason why we might be tempted to think that Lorca was less confident about the quality or potential reception of his pre-Romancero works.  

Nevertheless, Lorca has not by any means yet given up on his still unpublished ‘early’ works.

 In October 1930, back in Granada after his American adventure, he offers his finished poetry collections to his editor Ulises. El Poema del Cante jondo gets published, in May 1931, and Suites would surely have been, too, if it had not been for the untimely financial collapse of Ulises’ distributor. One final attempt to publish with the small publishing house run by Manuel Altalaguirre and Concha Méndez ended when the nationalist uprising unleashed the Civil War (July 1936). With this imminent publication in mind, no doubt, Lorca mentions the work in conversations, not published at the time, as a book he has put a great deal of work and love into. It must be added that Suites was just one of six unpublished poetry collections Lorca mentions in the conversations and which he left behind at the time of his death, including Poeta en Nueva York and El Diván del Tamarit, both to be published outside Spain in 1940.

And so an enormous task was left for André Belamich’s critical edition of 1983, and now, in 2020, a hundred years after the seeds of the work were sown, apparently for Dinverno’s new evaluation, based on the latest evidence, research, and scholarship, which had been unavailable for Belamich, some 40 years ago.

Dinverno’s exhibition carries the subtitle Viaje de la percepción and has two rooms, the first of which narrates the chronological vicissitudes of the failed attempts at publication of the projected collection as outlined above, and the second of which deals with Suites as a thematic or methodic conceptual unity, the purpose of which, she says, was to ‘perceive and reveal a reality beyond the conventional’; that is, they are a good deal more than just being a bundle of charming single poems. This aspect is possibly a more interesting one, but one I do not feel competent to comment on in detail.

* numbers refer to pages of notes in Miguel García-Posada’s Obras Completas I Poesía Galaxia Gutenberg/Círculo de Lectores 1996

The following link gives more information about the exhibition:

https://www.centrofedericogarcialorca.es/en/actividades/exposiciones/315/suites-viaje-percepcion

And this one contains practical information on visiting the Centre, which you should, before the end of May:

https://www.centrofedericogarcialorca.es/en/el-centro/informacion-practica