Leopoldo María Panero: POE-NERO (Gothic tyrant)
The enemy is Man
and I am
the shepherd of shit
only Lord of nothing
King of the wind
the page on which the dog barks
This introduction for New Linear Perspectives opens a can of worms that will end in the next few years as a collection of Panero’s work, the first full English collection of Panero’s poems to be published worldwide. The full monograph will serve as a frontispiece for the collection. For a taste of Panero’s work, my translation of his poem El Lamento del Vampiro (‘The Vampire’s Lament’) has recently been published at US literary webzine The Nervous Breakdown.
Panero was born in Madrid in 1948, the son of poet and franquista Leopoldo Panero and writer-translator Felicidad Blanc. Franco’s Spain was restrictive, a mental corset on a blossoming mind. His family was respected in Spain – Franco and his wife Carmen Polo were family friends. Leopoldo María turned to the far left as an escape from the right-wing façade his family maintained, which landed him in prison. In Jaime Chavarrí’s 1976 film El Desencanto, a film that centres on the Panero family and their reflections on Leopoldo padre (d. 1962), Panero alluded to his time in prison and his sexual experiences therein. This led to Chavarrí’s film being censored under Franco’s regime. Not only is Leopoldo María a bisexual aesthete, a son of the movida madrileña that brought us Almodóvar, Alaska and Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, and brought Madrid rock & roll, sex and heroin. He is also a political symbol of the dying embers of Franco’s Spain, and of the strait-jacket that Panero’s bound generation shook off. They then exploded into rebellion, escape, and in Leopoldo María’s case, self-destruction. His drug-use and schizophrenia landed him in the Mondragón mental asylum.
My interest in Panero lies in his past, his present and his future. Presently, he resides in Doctor Inglod’s mental institution on the Canary Islands, from where he fires off shots in his rare interviews – like this one in Spanish broadsheet El Pais in 2005: “(The asylum) is fucking hellish. The poisoning business began at Mondragón (a previous asylum) but Inglod’s is worse. They’ve given me tonnes of haloperidol (an antipsychotic drug used for schizophrenics) and I’m still not dead. Rasputin was locked up for a night behind closed doors. I’ve been here for 20 years in full light of day: the diary of an infinitely poisoned man. Spain’s the crazy one, not me. (The haloperidol) zones me out, but you can’t get more intelligent than me. I’m as smart as Nietzche.” Journalist Daniel Wools interviewed him 2002: Mondragón “was one of many such facilities he has inhabited since his first suicide attempt in 1968. Over the years, Panero was diagnosed with schizophrenia and has lived in asylums nonstop since 1986.” Wools suggests that Panero “spends his days clutching a gym bag filled with books”.
Panero’s illness has helped him create the myth-laden public image of a madman. His poetry draws from Edgar Allen Poe, most clearly, and it is this that interests me. Poe too cultivated an image as an outsider; his alcoholism and drug addiction led to his death in 1849. Panero is still alive, and the man is a brilliant braggart. His psychiatrist (according to Wools) claims that “despite his illness, Panero could live independently and is free to leave the hospital whenever he wants.” Panero depends on this glorified hellhole as it defines his work – he is “the shephered of shit… the only Lord of nothing” and it is this that informs his poetry most of all – the destruction or studied ignorance of poetic discourse and the desire to destroy and to damage the twin symbols of Spain and the Self. Panero is a little dictator, but he is also an important voice to help unravel Spain’s past and the pacto de silencio that hid the horrors of the Civil War until only recently. Panero does not give us answers to Spain’s predicament, but he does suggest new spaces to explore, dark spaces, nihilistic and irreal. However, just as Poe was equally praised and reviled during his lifetime and beyond, so Panero invites criticism for his bombastic interviews and mad-as-a-box-of-frogs persona. His similarities to Poe do not end in their human failures and weird posturing. Panero is damning of his contemporaries, as was Poe – one critic of Poe wondered if he wrote in prussic acid instead of ink, so acerbic was Poe’s criticism of others. They both rely on the symbolism of their lost and damaged families to inform their work; disciples of Freud have had a field day with Poe, and it would be easy to do the same with Panero.
Panero inhabits the dark space of uncovered Spain, the space of death, the space of perversion, of gravestones and grebes, that so fascinated Poe. Hopefully this new uncovering of Panero’s work will contribute to the study of the madness of King Franco’s Spain, and will expose the little tyrant who sits out there on his African rock, plagiarising Poe and laughing, to himself, to no-one, the “only lord of nothing”: POE-NERO.
Andrew Faraday Giles is a writer, poet and translator currently based in Sirlingshire, Scotland. He spent the last ten years riding buses, planes and trains around the world, and horses too: he’s been a horseriding teacher in upstate New York, a cruise chef in Panamá, a theatre producer (alongside Hollywood great Michael Kearns), a literary critic for In Madrid (Spain’s premier English language publication) and has made dog-food in Yorkshire. Dogs need to eat. In the tradition of all good hobos, he’s got poems: written on streets in Madrid and published in, among others, Poetry Scotland. He’s currently working on English translations of Leopoldo María Panero’s poetry and a book about Quinsley the Booze-Cruise detective, a small-town sleuth with a penchant for rum. Otherwise, he teaches both English and Spanish language, including a course at The University of Stirling.