The Tumbler/
El saltamartí
Joan Brossa

Translated from the Catalan by Cameron Griffiths
Edited by Cameron Griffiths & Dominic Jaeckle

Opener, Glória Bordons
Coda, Pere Portabella

(Winter, MMXXI)

Aquests versos, com
These lines, like
una partitura, no són més 
sheet music, are no more
que un conjunt de signes per a
than a collection of signs to
desxifrar. El lector del poema
decipher. The reader of the poem
és un executant. 
is a performer.

avui, deixo estar 
today, I leave
el meu esperit en el 
my spirit in
seu estat natural. No 
its natural state. I
vull que l’agitin pensaments
don’t want it agitated by thoughts
ni idees. 
or ideas.

(From Brossa’s Prelude)

This first-time English translation of The Tumbler [El saltamartí]—a collection of poems written by Joan Brossa in 1963 (and first published in Catalan in 1969)—presents a convergence of Brossa’s critical and cultural concerns. With his growing sense of social commitment and support of Catalan independence, “freedom” stands as both Brossa’s primary subject and conceptual framework in this collection. The Tumbler is an anti-clerical and anti-authoritarian work that brings together verse vignettes and visual poems to revivify the proverbial, often with comic and subversive effect. Brossa plays with image, iconography and intimation as both verbal and visual elements vie for our attentions throughout these pages. 

In The Tumbler, traditional poetic stanzas sit side-by-side with a more liberated poetic form—one Brossa referred to as a synthetic poetry—in which he employs a straightforward, everyday language (it is the language of the working classes with which he identifies). Always the innovator, Brossa reinvigorates this language so as to evince an accessible and archly political poetry that demands our critical and creative participation. Challenging the very notion of an author’s hold over these texts, Brossa invites us to approach these works with a critical autonomy all of our own, and The Tumbler stands a critical study of freedom. The poet places himself as a critic of established power systems, accepted meanings and held conceptualizations of liberty. His movement towards an aesthetic autonomy (a journey we can charter from his early books on) arrived at its final destination in a complete break with language—his visual poetry—and in this collection we encounter this mixture of verse and visual poems for the first time.  An examination of poetic license that proves as pertinent today as it did upon its first publication.

Due to the book’s anti-Franco sentiments—and Brossa’s distinct support of the Catalan independence movement—both the first and second Catalan editions of The Tumbler suffered due to censorship. Publishers of the first Castilian translation released only a selection of works from the manuscript due to the political implications of this poetry (leaving out 50 poems in total), and the lion’s share of Brossa’s bibliography remains untranslated. Cameron Griffiths’ new translation is the most extensive English language publication of Brossa’s poetry to date. A bi-lingual English and Catalan edition based upon the complete Proa Edition, Barcelona, 1985. Griffiths’ rendition of The Tumbler includes all 150 poems (7 visual poems and 143 verse works) and is accompanied by an opening statement from critic Glòria Bordons and concluding remarks from filmmaker Pere Portabella. Throughout his work, Brossa’s capacity for subversion, misdirection and irony expresses an insistent analysis of freedom as both a political and personal precept and The Tumbler stands as testament to Brossa’s tremendous versatility as an artist and poet.

A selection of six poems from The Tumbler (in Griffiths’ translation) can be found here, and a further ten poems can be found here (with thanks to the editors of Asymptote and The Cordite Poetry Review).

The four excerpted poems from The Tumbler were read and recorded by Ona Balló Pedragosa; a programmer and researcher interested in narrative interbreeding between music and image. Following her studies at Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona) and the Sorbonne (Paris), Pedragosa’s (ongoing) investigation seeks to analyze both the representation of the sound space in paintings and the treatment of diegetic music in cinema. Her dissertation—a collaboration with the Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art (INHA)—deals with the musical thinking of composer Carles Santos in Pere Portabella’s film work. She writes about art and cinema for different media, and oversees sound recording for film.

Images (from top down)— 
Joan Brossa, ‘Poema objecte’ (1967)
© Fundació Joan Brossa, VEGAP, Barcelona
Audience & Joan Brossa on stage at the first festival for Catalan Poetry
(Barcelona, 1970); stills from Pere Portabella’s film Poetes Catalans (1970)
© Films 59 (2020)


Joan Brossa (1919–1998) was born in Barcelona into a family of artisans. He began writing when he was mobilised in the Spanish Civil War and, following an introduction to surrealism by way of the friendship and influence of Joan Miró and Joan Prats, would fuse political engagement and aesthetic experiment through sonnets, odes, theatre, sculpture and screenplay within a neo-surrealist framework. Brossa founded the magazine Dau al Set in 1948 and, during the fifties and sixties, his poetry displayed significant social engagement. His collection El saltamartí (1963) presented a synthesis of themes both political and social, and the subsequent publication of Poesia Rasa (1970), Poemes de seny i cabell (1977), Rua de llibres (1980)—and the six volumes of Poesia escénica (published between 1973 and 1983)—saw Brossa stake his place as a principal figure in contemporary Catalan literature. 

Cameron Griffiths studied History and English Literature at the University of Waikato in New Zealand and works in the field of Information Technology. His poetry has appeared in journals in New Zealand, Australia and the United States. He lives with his family in Spain.

Glòria Bordons de Porrata-Doria is a Catalan teacher, researcher of literature and essayist. She is a professor at the University of Barcelona and has taught, as a visiting professor at the main Spanish universities, the Brazilian USP in São Paulo, ULBRA in Porto Alegre and at the Portuguese Universidade Nova de Lisboa.  

Pere Portabella (born 1929, Spain) is a Catalan filmmaker and politician. A key figure in Spain’s cultural and political landscape, Portabella began his work in cinema producing Carlos Saura’s Los Golfos (1959) and Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana (1961), and went on to create the cult films Nocturno 29 (1968), Vampir Cuadecuc (1970) and Umbracle (1972), a series of films with artist Joan Miró and the 1978 documentary work General Report on Certain Matters of Interest for a Public Screening (Informe general sobre algunas cuestiones de interés para una proyección pública). Marked by a cinematic style deeply rooted in both the Calatan experience and a broader support for democratic liberty, Portabella’s films have proved an important reference point for a younger generation of artists.