María Victoria Atencia, the lady from the south


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In some of our conversations, the Portuguese poet and translator José Bento and I decided to call her La dama del sur. We recognized, with it, that something always distinguished that there is in the poetry of
Maria Victoria Attention
, a delicate and intensified beauty, an elegant writing, intimate in its distance and a powerful language. His distinction as a poet has always been, therefore, creating a personal style, of a voice that wanted to be beyond the voices of its time.

His poetry has been assimilated to the everyday, to the culturalist, to the reflexive, even to the mystical, but these are only more or less academic approaches. Time has shown that the cultural vision of

attention is a form of biography, that contemplation or reflection are only forms of emotion. In the same way, we see more and more clearly, to what extent the brevity of his poems, his minimalism are related to that miniaturism that tried to enclose the world in a few signs, to establish a form of worldview.

'An unexpected light.  Complete poetry.  Maria Victoria Attention.  Chair, 2021. 562 pages.  €15.67
‘An unexpected light. Complete poetry. Maria Victoria Attention. Chair, 2021. 562 pages. €15.67

everyday objects

Atencia speaks of what she looks at, that is, of what her gaze dictates to her, all that universe of things on which she acts by means of analogy and imagination, and in which she traces the signs of her personal identity, of her personal identities. That gallery of identities is, therefore, in everyday objects, even domestic ones, in works of art, in cities, in landscapes because, as it happened in the Italian hermetics, any external experience is for her an internal experience. Atencia expresses in her poems the passion turned into a thing, or what is the same, the thing turned into a symbol, into sentimental matter.

A well, for example, is that soul in dark days of helplessness; a house that falls apart is the emblem of time and death; in the mist of Mala Strana childhood is lost. As Eugenio Montale would say, poetry is the knowledge of a dark world that is around us but whose origin is ourselves.

He speaks of what he looks at, that is, of what his gaze dictates, the universe of things on which he acts

Without tragic emphasis, but meditating on the tragic destiny of the human being, always exquisite although without falling into Parnassian manners, his poetry has been describing an arc where the aesthetic adventure bursts into a spiritual adventure. The originality of this adventure, visible in many of his last poems, lies, unlike what happens in Eliot and in other poets with meditative roots, in that he aspires to a new way of knowing from the unknown, to a new way of inquiry from the illuminative impulse.

repertoire of voices

There is, therefore, in a voice as apparently unitary as his, a whole repertoire of voices, a whole trunk full of people. And that can be discovered in each cardinal point of this meeting of all his poetry, in the excellent prologue that accompanies it and that marks, in a very lucid way, internal debates that have been creating it. The purpose of a poet is wonder, beyond time and death, that’s why, now that all 50 hides behind a tombstone, this vital and resistant woman who is María Victoria Atencia, this lady from the south, keeps reminding us that «in the south of some country is my house/ with records by Dylan and Purcell, and bills/ and Yorkshire pudding, and books waiting for me/ and voices that cross by the room is”.

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