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Joan Oliver (Pere Quart)

Joan Oliver

Josep Maria Ripoll

Sabadell, 1899 - Barcelona, 1986. Poet and playwright

Joan Oliver is a writer who is difficult to place from the generational standpoint. He was born in 1899 and hence is of the batch of Riba, Foix, Sagarra and Salvat-Papasseit. He published his first book, a collection of short stories, in 1928 but did not become known as a poet until 1934, a circumstance that brings him closer, in chronological terms, to Espriu, Rosselló-Pòrcel and Vinyoli. Again, with his commitment to the Republican cause and subsequent exile, he reached his peak of fame in the 1960s through the points of contact in his work with what was known as "historic realism".

Attempts at classification aside, his work presents some very consistent features: a permanently critical stance regarding political power and social conformity, irony at times verging on sarcasm, a model of language as simple as it is depurated, and clear opposition to pretension and transcendentalism. With a background of Noucentisme, the early twentieth-century politico-cultural movement in the service of bourgeois reformism, and the avant-garde, Oliver tended towards realism and political engagement after the Civil War, although by means of acerbic humour, an iconoclastic and frequently individualistic spirit and clearly articulated ethical assumptions. The latter, in influencing his poetry, worked in his favour in the 1960s but certainly worked against him thereafter, with the emergence of movements that were more interested in the autonomy of the literary fact vis-à-vis ideological contingencies.

From Bourgeois Origins to Commitment
Joan Oliver was born in 1899 into a well-known industrialist family of the Sabadell bourgeoisie. His paternal grandfather was one of the founders of the bank Caixa de Sabadell, while his maternal grandfather was a director of the influential employers' organisation Foment del Treball. Fourth of eleven siblings, of whom he was the only survivor, Joan Oliver was educated as a young gentleman, studied Law, travelled around Europe and, in 1919, formed what became known as the "Grup de Sabadell" [Sabadell Group], along with the novelist Francesc Trabal and the poet and critic Armand Obiols – the pseudonym of Joan Prat – and others. These writers produced a literature somewhere between cosmopolitan-leaning avant-garde iconoclasm and pure jesting of local flavour, which was somewhat along the lines of Santiago Rusiñol's witticisms, for example. Their taste for absurd humour is manifest in the collective publication L'any que ve [Next Year], a compilation of jokes and absurdities, signed by Trabal although everyone took part. In 1923 they took over the newspaper Diari de Sabadell, of which Oliver became director and in which he published pieces using several pseudonyms (Feliu Camp de la Sang, Florentí Carvallà Cot and Joan Pendonista, Orella Dreta, among others). In 1925 they founded La Mirada, a remarkable publishing endeavour that was to bring out eighteen volumes plus loose pages by authors like Carner and Riba and, of course, themselves. Thus the Sabadell Group brought together avant-garde influences and more local humour and, in the domain of publishing, the Noucentista legacy of respect for rigour and a job well done. Continue reading...

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