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Apocryphal Lorca

Translation, Parody, Kitsch

Federico García Lorca (1898–1936) had enormous impact on the generation of American poets who came of age during the cold war, from Robert Duncan and Allen Ginsberg to Robert Creeley and Jerome Rothenberg. In large numbers, these poets have not only translated his works, but written imitations, parodies, and pastiches—along with essays and critical reviews. Jonathan Mayhew’s Apocryphal Lorca is an exploration of the afterlife of this legendary Spanish writer in the poetic culture of the United States.

            The book examines how Lorca in English translation has become a specifically American poet, adapted to American cultural and ideological desiderata—one that bears little resemblance to the original corpus, or even to Lorca’s Spanish legacy. As Mayhew assesses Lorca’s considerable influence on the American literary scene of the latter half of the twentieth century, he uncovers fundamental truths about contemporary poetry, the uses and abuses of translation, and Lorca himself.

240 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2009

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature, Romance Languages


“The great merit of Mayhew’s study is his sustained effort to document and interrogate Lorca’s reception, unique among American encounters with foreign literatures in its nature and extent. For Mayhew, the American Lorca is largely an apocryphal figure, a cultural stereotype that was fully assimilated into the American idiom. Like all stereotypes, the Americanized Lorca is reductive: the poet’s life is equated with his homosexuality and his murder by Franco’s forces, and his oeuvre, whittled down to his essay ‘Play and Theory of the Duende’ and a small group of poems from Gypsy Balladbook and Poet in New York, becomes indistinguishable from a romantic image of Andalusian folk song and so-called Spanish surrealism.”

Lawrence Venuti | Times Literary Supplement

“Jonathan Mayhew has, in Apocryphal Lorca, written an amazing book. . . . As an extended case study in the uses, abuses and consequences (intended and otherwise) of the practice of translation, the book is almost without precedent or parallel and will, if the world has any sense in it, serve as a practical model to other scholars. Secondly, this examination of the American afterlife of a prominent Spanish poet is also one of the most perceptive readings of 20th century American poetry that I have ever read.”


“Apocryphal, American Lorca! Inviting us to consider how one culture reads another—how American poets read Spain through Lorca and Lorca through Spain—Jonathan Mayhew has given us an informative, thoughtful, fascinating, and often funny journey through translation, parody, and kitsch. No one could be better qualified to study Lorca’s work as ‘generative device’ in English-language poetry and get at the mystery of how and what a poet can mean in a different cultural context.”

Christopher Maurer, Boston University

“An intriguing and invaluable study of import of Spanish deep image poetry in its domestic American mode, foregrounding problems of authenticity, translation, and imitation—and the legacy of the Duende.

Mary Ann Caws, CUNY Graduate Center

“Jonathan Mayhew’s Lorca is less the distinctive Spanish poet, whose murder in 1936 marked the beginning of the Civil War, than he is an American invention. From the 1940s to the end of the century, our poets have invoked  Lorca—in translation, of course—as a Romantic, exotic, radical, and, in many cases, gay icon—the poet of mystery and the duende. The Lorca myth, Mayhew argues persuasively, has enriched American lyric, but it has also been an obstacle to a more adequately grounded understanding of Spanish poetry in the 20th century. Apocryphal Lorca is revisionist criticism at its most acute.”

Marjorie Perloff

"Enhanced by copious notes and an excellent bibliography, this book offers a perceptive, intriguing assessment of the Garcia Lorca created by the postwar generation of American poets."


“Jonathan Mayhew’s [Apocryphal Lorca] belongs to a certain class of surprising books: those so obviously necessary once they appear that it apparently required a stroke of genius to come up with the idea for them.” –Hispanic Review

Daniel Katz | Hispanic Review

“In this study, Jonathan Mayhew has taken as his point of departure the resonance of Lorca in the English-speaking world to carry out a fascinating exploration of the many Lorcas who exist in the poetic imagination of North America….Instead of interpreting Lorca’s poetry through his life (or death), Mayhew analyzes various examples of how his poetry inspires new textual readings (in poetic form or critical prose). Apocryphal Lorca…is much more thant a study of Lorca’s afterlives in American poetry between the 50s and 70s. It also offers an historical approach to the translation of the work, uncovering significant book reviews and discussing critical recognitions. The text is elegant and fresh; the analysis wide-ranging and historically specific…..[T]he original and erudite voyage that Mayhew creates through these American poets, through translation and their literary configuration, offers a captivating treatment of the lasting legacy of the Lorquian model based on ‘romantic genius and cultural essence.’”

Revista de Literatura

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Federico García Lorca (Himself)

Chapter 2: The American Agenda  

Chapter 3: Poet-Translators:

Langston Hughes to Paul Blackburn                    

Chapter 4: The Deep Image 

Chapter 5: Apocryphal Lorca:

Robert Creeley and Jack Spicer   

Chapter 6: Frank O’Hara’s “Lorcaescas”

Chapter 7: Kenneth Koch: Parody and Pedagogy 

Chapter 8: Jerome Rothenberg: The Lorca Variations 

Conclusion: An American Lorca?




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