The Edge of Words

14 February 2014

Professor Jean Andrews, The University of Nottingham

Carmen Conde, Kati Horna and Gerda Taro: Women’s Witness to the Spanish Civil War.

This seminar is run in conjunction with Hispanic Studies, University of Edinburgh.


The Spanish poet, Carmen Conde (1907-1996) produced the only through-composed collection of non-political poetry to emerge from the Spanish Civil War: Mientras los hombres mueren (While the Men Are Dying).

In this series of dense prose poems, she bears witness to the privations and terror experienced by civilians, mainly women and children, in the first war to employ mass carpet bombing, portrays the anguish of the mothers losing their sons to war and those same sons dying and decomposing on the battlefield.

The Hungarian surrealist Kati Horna (1912-2000) and her Polish co-eval, Gerda Taro (1910-1937), both pioneering female war photographers, created bodies of work containing front-line and rearguard action as well as civilian activity behind the battlelines.

Taken together, there is a unity of vision and purpose in the work of these three young women which offers a response to the Spanish Civil War which, while still consonant with the perspective they shared with the predominantly masculine left wing visual and poetic commentariat, contains certain subtleties of approach, inevitably, which are different.

I will be using my own, recent, translations of Carmen Conde’s poetry in the course of the discussion and, as an addendum, relating the visual context provided by Horna and Taro to some of the decision-making process involved in translating this work into English.