Magazine article Verbatim

Greguerias: Squeals/pipsqueaks? the Work of Ramon Gomez De la Serna

Magazine article Verbatim

Greguerias: Squeals/pipsqueaks? the Work of Ramon Gomez De la Serna

Article excerpt

Born in Madrid in 1891, and later living in Buenos Aires, Ramon Gomez de la Serna (he telescoped himself to just 'Ramon') first published his greguerias in 1910. This cornucopious author was also a globettroting lecturer, orating on occasion in circuses while swinging from a trapeze or perched on an elephant's back.

Though he no more came out of nowhere than any of us, he was a true original. What he called his "danceable philosophy" harks back to medieval Spanish Arabic poetry, which is based on acute observation (essential in the desert, but still serviceable in cities and gardens) of human, animal, and botanical phenomena. Or climatic: here is Ramon on various weathers:

   Rain is melancholy because it takes us back to
   the time when we were fishes.

   A thunderstorm is the first day at school all
   over again.

   Electricity is God's nervous system.

   The rainbow is a dry-cleaner's neon advert.

Ramon offered umpteen explanations for his choice of the term gregueria, which means 'hubbub, outcry,' and, by extension, 'the squeals of piglets around the sow.' In general, what things, life, the universe, and everything murmur to us. He makes the tacit talkative, the dumb world an open book, chattering to readers. Although he makes a song-and-dance about the need not to confuse greguerias with maxims or other congealed asseverations, he cannot resist teaching us, in effect, to open our ears and eyes. Like Nicholson Baker, he is the poet of littleness.

Many greguerias are blatantly precious, conceits, but no less serious for all that:

   Some men with wooden legs turn green in
   Spring and rebecome satyrs.

   The human ear is forever asking questions.

   Our head is a fish-tank for ideas.

   Dust is full of old and forgotten sneezes.

   In the phone-book we are all Lilliputians.

   An embrace is a necklace without a fastener.

   After using toothpaste we bare our teeth like
   wild animals.

The majority are fleeting impressions (are there any other sorts?), but the apparently related haiku, in his eyes, is inferior, because too fragile and evanescent:

   Some dirty skies look as if water-colourists had
   cleaned their brushes on them.

   Seagulls' are born from handkerchiefs waving
   goodbye on jetties.

   The feline Raze of screws.

   The hardest fish to land is a bar of soap in the
   bath.

   Giblets are a chicken's greguerias.

   The typing keyboard is the alphabet's false
   teeth.
   All are resolutely anthropomorphic:

   Sometimes flies look as if they're trying to rip
   their heads off, sick to death of being flies. … 
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