Following presentations in the book fairs of Soria in Spain, and San Pedro Sula in Honduras, as well as in the Biblioteca Piloto del Caribe in Barranquilla, Colombia, on 20 April 2023 Charles Olsen presented his third bilingual poetry collection La rebeldía del sol (Rebellious Sun) in Spain's capital, Madrid. It took place in the gallery O_LUMEN, with support from the New Zealand Embassy.
The author was accompanied by his publisher, Trinidad Ruíz Marcellán and the poet Diego Valverde Villena, followed by ‘Reader’s Opinions' from the New Zealand potter, scientist and teacher, Rick Armstrong, and Dayana Jímenez, MA in Anthropology and PhD in Visual Communication. The author's mother, the singer and artist Marion Olsen, closed the evening with two songs from Scotland and Aotearoa New Zealand.
Diego Valverde Villena described the collection as both whole and diverse, uniting poetry, painting, photography, reading, translation and even musical structures (as in Sonata for Reading Room, and Rubato); a mirror of the versatility of Charles Olsen: poet, painter, musician, filmmaker and photographer.
He saw it as a book composed of juxtapositions of time (past and present, times in the life of Antonio Machado and in the life of Charles), of languages (English, Spanish and te reo Māori), of people (Charles, Antonio Machado, Robert Burns, the people of Soria and Segovia) and of the arts, in a poetic panorama that grew from Charles’ visits to Soria and Segovia in the footsteps of Machado.
Diego talked of how 'two journeys cross, like abscissas and ordinates – the journey in time and the journey in space – through the lands of Castilla in the lives of both Machado and Charles, and in the journey from New Zealand to Spain. This journey of Charles is captured in the third part of the book, where the poet converses with the childhood memories of Machado. The collection is a profound conversation between Charles and Antonio through poems, places and times.’
Rick Armstrong, himself a New Zealander who has settled in Spain, commented on how Charles' poems resonate with him, ‘not only for the memories of growing up in New Zealand, but also for how they illuminate the richness of living across Spanish and New Zealand cultures.’ He spoke of how these elements appear in poems such as The Intruder, connecting ‘childhood experiences and local places to construct evocative myths’. He noted the impact of the poet’s close upbringing to Māori culture as a child and how this is reflected in poems such as Ōtākou. ‘Charles expresses the simple but important idea that "Sometimes leaving is a coming home," which resonates with those of us who straddle two cultures.’
Dayana Jiménez spoke of the dialogue between Antonio Machado and Charles across time, and how Charles grew up so far away geographically but still he finds inspiration in Machado’s poems and landscapes, which become places for literary expression. Territory is a fundamental part of the work and Charles elevates this and the everyday in his poetry: going for a walk, looking at the landscape, even the sun, which is always present. Dayana also commented on the beautiful aesthetic of the book itself, the colour, the tactile quality of the publication, and she finished by reading out one of her favourite poems, with its playful layout on the page, Vertigo.
Charles Olsen introduced and read a number of his poems, giving some insights into the background and creation of each one, in particular the people he had met in Segovia and Soria who had inspired his writing, such as the gardener, Carlos, in Soria, who inspired The Gardener, the walks with Sorian novelist Lucía Santamaría Nájara that inspired Crime Story, and a writer visiting his primary school in Wellington who inspired one of his first poems as a young boy.
The author's mother Marion Olsen closed the presentation with two songs a cappella. First ‘Ye banks and braes o’bonnie Doon’ which Charles references in the opening lines of the poem Touching Land: ‘Mum’s voice gently drifts out to where I play / on the back laundry step, Ye banks and braes / o’bonnie Doon.’ Then she sang in te reo Māori, Pokarekare Ana, with an explanation of the song for the mostly Spanish-speaking audience.
In a room of the gallery there was a projection of two poetry films by Charles Olsen related with poems in the collection, Poetry Walk, which was made with members of the group Paladio Arte – a theatre company and social inclusion project working with people with learning difficulties and disabilities – and Vértigo, which has been selected for film festivals in Cork, Albacete and Barcelona.
O_Lumen, situated in the street Claudio Coello, well-known for its art galleries, also had an exhibition by the sculptor Juan Ramón Martín, VIA CRUCIS (Stations of the Cross), accompanied by the poetry of Gerardo Diego. It seemed a fitting surrounding for the presentation, both with the author being the son of an Anglican priest, Rev. Barry Olsen, and also the corresponding struggles of a journey, which in Machado’s case led to his fleeing Spain as a refugee only to die shortly after in Collioure in Southern France.
Richly imagistic, [Charles Olsen’s] artist’s eye captures and documents every nuance of every situation.
Sarah Tremlett in Liberated Words
La rebeldía del sol (Rebellious Sun) is published in Spain by Olifante Ediciones de Poesía and grew out of the III Antonio Machado Poetry Fellowship of Segovia and Soria which Charles was awarded in 2018. He spent a month in each place, doing workshops and talks in schools and with the local community groups, visiting local villages, walking in the countryside, and getting to know the people and places that infuse Antonio Machado's poetry. As well as poems inspired by these experiences, Rebellious Sun includes a selection of poems by other writers in Spain and New Zealand from special editions of the Given Words project Charles runs, and finishes with poems inspired by a line found in Machado's overcoat after his death 'These blue days and this sun of childhood', which in Charles' case took him back to his own childhood in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Rebellious Sun burns with curiosity and restless energy, a wandering journey of travel, culture and thought.
Erica Stretton in Kete Books