Letter from Poetry Magazine

Conor O'Callaghan Responds

by Conor O'Callaghan

I’m really glad of both Rhina P. Espaillat’s and Mike Schneider’s responses to my version of Lorca’s “La Casada Infiel.” I mean that. I kind of expected it too. Lorca once described how the poem’s “popularity [had] a desperation” that made him stop reading it in public. My version does intentionally take some liberties with the original, mainly at the end, a fact that I perhaps should have flagged more clearly to the editors and in my note. When I wrote, “I really wanted to be faithful to Lorca’s version of infidelity,” I meant to imply the fundamental impossibility of that desire.

“Creel” does indeed imply fish, but there are fish in the poem. Words, like things, get put to uses other than what they were originally intended for. Perhaps I overlooked the symbolism of the sewing basket: is he telling her to mend her ways? I don’t know the Langston Hughes version and still can’t find it. I’d be really grateful if Schneider could send it on.

I’ve gone back through my notes around “mozuela,” and the original seems more ambiguous than Espaillat suggests. The Gili version I worked from translates “mozuela” as “maiden.” The Leonard Cohen song uses “virgin.” In his note on the poem in his translation of Gypsy Ballad, R.G. Havard writes: “we know little about the woman, except that: she lied when she said she was mozuela, an unmarried lass or virgin.” Less immediately relevant, but with an interesting proximity, is Ramón del Valle-Inclán’s play Lizagón. In his study The Theatre of Valle-Inclán (Cambridge University Press, 1983) John Lyon writes:

There are four characters in Lizagón . . . : an old procuress (La Raposa), an innkeeper and her daughter (La Ventera and La Mozuela) and an itinerant knifegrinder (El Afilador). The mother and procuress scheme jointly to sell the daughter to a rich Jew. Their efforts to appeal to her acquisitive instincts fail and the Mozuela (‘virgin’), determined to follow her natural inclination, offers herself to El Afilador who happens to be passing by.

Lizagón opened in December 1926. The composition of “La Casada Infiel” is generally dated at 1927.

Originally Published: September 1, 2011

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This prose originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

September 2011

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 Conor  O'Callaghan

Biography

Conor O’Callaghan is an Irish poet who teaches at Wake Forest University and Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. His most recent collection is Fiction (Wake Forest University Press, 2005).

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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