Fuertes, Gloria

Gloria Fuertes was born in Madrid in 1917 and died in that same city in 1998. She wrote books for children and adults, so many that she has not had the patience to count them. Of her many lovers —she says— only one did not love her for her verses: her first boyfriend who went missing during the Civil War.

She has sprinkled her biography in her poems, which can be read as a diary. We learn that she had a sad childhood, because her parents did not love her; although no one ever prevented her from growing up with humour; when someone would ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would reply: ‘an orphan’.

Everyone knows Gloria Fuertes, or at least they think they do, but it is not true. It is possible that not even Gloria Fuertes knew Gloria Fuertes.

For many she is just a popular author of ‘children’s’ books. Others —fewer— only appreciate her poems for ‘adults’. Those who write about poetry and such things (which some consider ungraspable) say that she belongs to the 50s generation, to the group of the social poets, to the poetry of everyday life, to second generation post-surrealists, etc. She did not like being labelled. Nor being called ‘poetess’.

There are poetry books that have wonderful titles (sometimes so wonderful the content is unnecessary); Gloria Fuertes gave one of her books one of my favourite titles: Poeta de guardia (Poet on Guard). For her, poetry was a necessary full-time profession. In a letter to Max Aub in which she introduced herself to the author, she said: ‘I am certain you will somewhat like my poetry. I want for us all to make useful, or at least necessary, art, to take our books to the people, not to a couple of cold or sappy intellectuals, lyricists, or technician-critics’.

Gloria Fuertes had stated in writing that without the tragedy of war perhaps she would have never began to write poetry.

There is also evidence that she was the first modern girl of the grey Spanish post-war period. Or at least the first in Madrid to ride a bicycle wearing skorts, and who made ties fashionable among women.

Poet Jaime Gil de Biedma was an enthusiast of her poetry and made a selection of her poems for a prestigious collection. Due to Gil de Biedma’s interest, a highly respected author, her poetry began to be better appreciated and read by more people.

Despite having limited studies and no teaching experience, Gloria Fuertes was a university professor in the United States between 1961 and 1963, a period she considered the happiest of her life. It was the era of Kennedy and the beginning of the Vietnam War. Gloria said she used to make her students tear up their enlistment papers.

The theme of war is present in many of her poems. She had always wanted to bring them together in a book, and she already had the title in mind: Claw of War. In the Foundation where her legacy is kept, there is a blue folder full of all types of papers (from subway tickets to commercial prints) with the writings that belong to that period. They are Gloria Fuertes’ first poetic attempts, her testbed. Probably her first typewriting exercises, too.

The following is what Gloria Fuertes thought of poetry:
‘Everyday poetry must ‘call a spade a spade’ (but with beauty, which is what Poetry is for). Something direct, emotive, with flair. To prove that: any feeling, idea, topic, or thing, has poetry within it. There is nothing anti-poetic in life (except the verb ‘to kill’ and all of its derivatives). When Poetry is clear, alive, juicy —without going overboard—, written with emotion and grace, it is daily and useful like a cheap everyday suit. When poetry is like this, it touches even the super-refined, the critics, the academics, and it reaches (a miracle!) the masses —I do not want to say masses—, the majority, without education or culture, because to feel what is poetic one does not have to be a graduate. It is not an educational issue, because there is a certain type of poetry that could make an illiterate weep or laugh —I am telling you this from experience—.’
(from Poesía cotidiana. Antología (Everyday poetry. Anthology). Selection and prologue by Antonio Molina. Alfaguara Editions; Madrid-Barcelona, 1966)

Gabriel Celaya, one of the best known poets of the post-war generation, of social poetry (or however we like to call it), wrote to Max Aub (22 September 1955) to tell him he had personally met Gloria Fuertes and that her poetry made him ‘tingle’, as they say.


Hermana nube, hermano pajarito,
y tú, perro policía,
y tú, policía armado,
¡todos sois hermanos míos!
Pero dime tú, Francisco,
¿son los bacilos de Koch
también hermanitos míos?

(«Cuatro canciones tachadas», Parte de guerra, ed. Laia; Barcelona, 1977)

For Francisco Nieva, friend and companion in their ‘postist’ (a Spanish literary movement of the 1940s) adventure, Gloria Fuertes was a ‘female Prévert who sounded like Madrid, as Piaf or Prévert sounded like Paris’.

Postism was invented in Madrid by Eduardo Chicharro, Carlos Edmundo de Ory, and Silvano Sernesi. It was kind of a last -ism, imaginative and joyful, which —in Chicharro’s own words— shared a heating system with Surrealism. Carlos Edmundo de Ory, friend of Gloria Fuertes, is the author of this poem, ‘Heil Hitler’, which is probably not his most representative work but does fit this book about war.


Treblinka Treblinka Treblinka
Heil Hitler!

Büchenwald Büchenwald Büchenwald
Heil Hitler!

Plotzensee Plotzensee Plotzensee
Heil Hitler!

Auschwitz Auschwitz Auschwitz
Heil Hitler!

(La flauta prohibida. Colección Guernica. Editorial Zero, S.A.; Bilbao, 1979)

Another great poet of the self-proclaimed ‘social poets’, along Celaya, Hierro, or Ángela Figuera, is Blas de Otero. Blas de Otero wrote necessary poems, like those Gloria Fuertes liked.


Estados Unidos sale
de espadas.
Para defender el oro.

(«En castellano». Verso y prosa. Author's edition, Cátedra; Madrid, 1981)

Gloria Fuertes’ poetry is said to drink from Unamuno, who wrote a songbook titled Diario Poético (Poetic Diary). For reasons that are most likely extra-literary, or not exclusively literary, Blas de Otero valued Unamuno’s poetry in the same way: ‘If he is a poet, I am an archbishop’, but the truth is that, in the Unites States, Gloria Fuertes began teaching her course on 20th century Spanish poetry talking about his verses. In his desire to chase the truth, Unamuno dedicated himself to peeling the shells from words, and it cannot be denied that he made good discoveries; and although this is not the case, here is a sample that fits into our small garden dedicated to warfare ‘micropoetry’. He wrote it on 17 January 1929, ‘Al margen de De Buonaparte et des Bourbons, de Chateaubriand’:

Por el campo de batalla
cuando la granada estalla;
grito va;
apocalíptico grito
que resuena al infinito
un... «mamá!».

(Cancionero. Diario poético [1928-1936]. Alianza Editorial, Madrid, 1988)

Ramón Gómez de la Serna was a poet who did not write poems. However, he had a great influence on Gloria Fuertes. Ramón’s poems did not rhyme, they were called ‘greguerías’ and they spoke about anything and everything. Like Unamuno’s songs, they were a daily exercise that aimed to narrate all the things of the world, what happens and what does not happen. Ramón did it with humour, and for him humour was above all ‘an attitude towards life’.

Cuando en los alambres de púa salgan rosas, habrán acabado las guerras (Ramón).

The best way to get to know a poet is by reading their poems. If we like them, we will want to make them our own and feel a healthy amount of jealousy (if such thing is possible) towards the person who wrote them. Perhaps we will think that it would have been nice to live a life like theirs, to feel and write about those things. Anyone who wishes to know more about Gloria Fuertes will have to read her books, since the author is not here to recite them in your ear, to your face, or to your nose (in a way that made us tremble). Many readers who do not know her work would probably like her poems and fall in love with this young woman who, in 1937, had an hourglass figure. These are poems about war, or better yet, as she preferred: about peace. They do not speak of nice things, because war is an ugly matter; they speak of what we must do. In the end, everything has already been said before; yet, sometimes it seems that if a poet does not stand up to remind us all that war is brutal, horrible, and a monstrosity, we would all be running around ready to eat each other alive. But enough is enough, let’s stop this war business so we can all get back to reading in peace.

Herrín Hidalgo

Portrait of Gloria Fuertes by Sean Mackaoui