Tag Archives: Charles Olsen

My five words for the Spanish ‘Given Words’ project produced a tremendous poem by Juan M. Santiago León

I was invited by Charles Olsen to submit five words for the Palabras Prestadas (Given Words) project. My words: limón, miel, azul, caer y agrietar. I was surprised and delighted to read the winning poem. I adore it. I have posted it below with a translation by Charles. Wonderful!

For all the selected poems (in Spanish!) see here.

Charles Olsen on the project: ‘Tell me about the Palabras Prestadas project. Every two weeks a guest is invited to donate five words and participants send in their poems that must include the five words. A prize is awarded for the best poem of each edition and it is these poems that are brought together in this book. You can read more in this previous press release in The Big Idea. The project is currently coming to the end of its fourth year during which poets have been challenged to write with Samoan words given by Doug Poole and words donated in the annual football match between poets and novelists in Granada among others. This year the publishers Vaso Roto, Pre-Textos and Huerga & Fierro have joined with Cuadernos del Vigía in donating books from their poetry collections as prizes for the best poems. The project has also been featured in the national Spanish newspaper El País and on national Spanish television (RTVE) in NCI Noticias.’ For the rest of the article see here



All the given words

led me to one person, my grandmother.


a bloody war

bombs fall

the space under a staircase cracks

my great uncle is a baby

a neighbour is blown up.


A Cordovan torturer

sucks a lemon

while the face of the red turns blue

shots are heard in the street

a false alarm.


I’ve never liked honey

I hate things that look me in the eye

neither prawns nor snails

first time I got drunk

on sour beer.


She hung the curtains

in one of her flats to rent

although she didn’t invite us to eat

so as not to mess up the kitchen.


My mother sets her curlers

my youngest uncle writes simple poems

and tells me his new theory

to fix Spain and the world.


It’s 30 years since my grandfather died

and the word processor goes crazy.

The email opens windows without reason

and decides alone to send

an unfinished poem.

Today I’ve smashed a mobile against the floor

and without wanting, I’ve paid homage to my other drunk grandfather

to my cantankerous and bullied father

to the post-war which was messed up for the common people

to the women full of unwanted children

to the brutal priests

to the pitched battles between gangs of youth

to the doors with splintered wood from the blows…

Juan M. Santiago León

(Translated by Charles Olsen)

Aquella vez, todas las palabras pensadas
me llevaron a una sola persona, mi abuela.

una guerra cruenta
caen las bombas
se agrieta el hueco de una escalera
mi tío abuelo es un bebé
un vecino muere reventado.

Un torturador cordobés
sorbe un limón
mientras el rostro del rojo se pone azul
suenan tiros en la calle
es una falsa alarma.

Nunca me gustó la miel
detesto las cosas que me miran a los ojos
ni gambas ni caracoles
primera borrachera
con cerveza caducada.

Le colgaba las cortinas
en uno de sus pisos de alquiler
sin embargo, no nos invitaba a comer
por no manchar la cocina.

Mi madre le lía los rulos
mi tío el pequeño escribe poesía fácil
y me cuenta su nueva teoría
para arreglar España y el mundo.

Hace 30 años que falleció mi abuelo
y el procesador de textos se vuelve loco.
El correo electrónico abre ventanas sin ton ni son
y decide enviarse solo
un poema inacabado.

Hoy he estrellado un móvil contra el suelo
y sin quererlo, le he hecho un homenaje a mi otro abuelo borracho
a mi padre iracundo y maltratado
a la posguerra que fue muy jodida para el pueblo llano
a las mujeres llenas de hijos sin desearlos
a los curas partebocas
a las batallas campales entre bandas de chicos

a las puertas con la madera hundida por los puñetazos…

Juan M. Santiago León