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Montserrat Abelló

by Oriol Izquierdo
Montserrat Abelló i Soler was born in Tarragona on 1 February 1918. Her published works show a notable cohesion, beginning with the unusual maturity of her early verses. As suggested by the title of her first book, Vida diària, she draws openly on her own experiences, although the concise, transparent, simple verse manages to shed any trace of the anecdotal and takes us to the heart of existential, emotional and social conflicts.

Montserrat Abelló's poetry has its roots in subtlety, delicacy and proximity. It is poetry to be felt and to be heard. A poetry of combat, but one that uses small words and diminutive realities that have all the force of fragility.

In 1935, Montserrat Abelló began studying at Barcelona University, where she belonged to the circle of students taught by Carles Riba and Joan Mascaró. She was eighteen when the Spanish Civil War broke out, and that year she sat the public examinations for school teachers and obtained her first post as an English teacher. In January 1939 she went into exile with her father, and in 1940 she moved to Chile, where she met Joan Bofill. They married three years later and their three children were born between 1944 and 1951. During the 1950s she completed her English studies, and from then on she devoted her life to teaching, translating and writing. In 1960 the family returned to Barcelona, where Montserrat Abelló continued to work as teacher until retirement and also as a translator.

In 1963, at the age of forty-five, she published her first book, Vida diària, with the support of Joan Oliver. Later on, she returned to the university and in 1975, at the age of fifty-seven, she obtained a degree in English. Montserrat Abelló had discovered her literary and teaching vocation at an early age, and she continued to study and work despite the difficulties of life as the mother of a young family in the mid-twentieth century, living first in exile and then in Spain under Franco.

It was not until 1981 that she published another collection of poetry. Two years later, when she retired from teaching, she was able to devote herself full time to writing and translating, and during the next two decades she produced half a dozen books of poetry. At the same time, her interest in English poets led her to translate their works into Catalan and to promote their publication. Between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s she translated books by Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich, and compiled the anthology Cares a la finestra (Faces at the Window) (1993) containing works by twenty English-speaking poets of the twentieth century. During this time she also make considerable efforts to publicise women's poetry, often through the Writers Committee of the Catalan PEN Centre.

Montserrat Abelló celebrated her eightieth birthday in 1998, when she was actively involved in creative writing and promoting women's poetry. In 2002, a complete collection of her poetry written over forty years was published under the title Al cor de les paraules. The prizes and tributes she has received include: the Serra d'Or critics' prize for poetry in 1999 for Dins l'esfera del temps, the Cavall Verd-Josep M. Llompart prize, the Quima Jaume award and the Lletra d'Or in 2003 for Al cor de les paraules, as well as the Creu de Sant Jordi awarded by the Generalitat de Catalunya in 1998 for her work as a translator.

Translated by Joanna Martinez
Montserrat Abelló
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