Federico Garcia Lorca—a poet without freedom in his own country where his homosexuality was never accepted—has a story that still resonates on many levels today.
In his collection Poet in New York, “Lorca saw New York’s beauty and grittiness and speaks of all these things,” noted Patti Smith, at her intimate tribute concert to the deceased poet. “His poems [in the collection] are a window into the freedom he felt here." On Wednesday, June 5, Smith performed at the Bowery Ballroom as part of the ongoing citywide celebration of Lorca.
Ironically New York has struggled with its own vitriolic persecution of individuals within the LGBT community by rogue miscreants of late.
Smith has long drawn inspiration from Lorca’s public struggle. “We must cherish our right to speak,” she said. “Our voice is the one thing we have and we must preserve it.”
Smith’s words of buoyancy and encouragement were met with applause from the packed ballroom, though it was hard to know how many audience members were there celebrating Lorca and how many were merely charged up in the presence of the famed rocker.
“I’ll let his words speak for themselves,” said Smith, before introducing a lineup of close friends to read some of the poet’s work, and prior to regaling the audience with a performance of her own.
Smith’s friends included a young man she met in a train station, a girl she met on the street, a college friend from whom she occasionally stole food before their friendship truly took off and Lorca’s own niece. Lenny Kaye, a current member of the Patti Smith group, also offered a reading.
Artist Oliver Ray, noted, “reading Poet in New York is like reading about a person from the Spanish countryside being challenged by the machinery of the town.”
“He was like a plane going too fast,” said Ray.
Another added reading Lorca’s poetry was like discovering he not only owned, but invented the moon (the highest of compliments to a poet).
Smith also drew parallels between Lorca’s struggle and that of groups like Pussy Riot and the current upheaval in Istanbul.
“Young people are persecuted everywhere,” said Smith. “We can’t let this happen. They fucking own everything, they won’t own our voice.”