BRATTLEBORO -- Join Patricia Billingsley for an illustrated slide talk with vintage photos, maps and other images about the friendship between Spanish poet Federico García Lorca and Vermont poet Philip Cummings on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 7 p.m., in Brooks Memorial Library’s meeting room (snowdate is Saturday, Feb. 22, at 3 p.m.)
The celebrated Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca was only 38 years old when he was executed by nationalist partisans in 1936, at the very beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Seventy-seven years later, his poetry and plays continue to engage readers, captivate audiences and inspire writers, musicians and social activists around the world.
Many books and articles been written about Lorca’s life and work since his death, but even today few people are aware that in August 1929, he spent 10 days in Vermont with a young Vermonter named Philip Cummings.
Cummings (1906-1991) was an aspiring poet and language teacher when he first met Lorca in Madrid in 1928.
They became friends, so when Lorca traveled to New York the following summer to study English at Columbia University, Cummings invited him to take a break from the city and come to Vermont. Lorca happily accepted and, in August 1929, spent 10 idyllic days with Cummings and his family at a rustic cottage beside Lake Eden.
There the two young men roamed the lakeshore and surrounding countryside, talking non-stop about life and poetry.
In quieter moments, Lorca worked on a series of haunting and evocative poems that combined his complex private emotions with images drawn from the Vermont landscape.
The best known of his Vermont poems, "Poema doble del lago Eden" (Double Poem of Lake Eden), was first published four years after Lorca’s death as part of his landmark collection, "Poet in New York."
In her talk, Billingsley will present recent findings that shed new light on Lorca’s visit to Vermont and its influence on his poetry. She will illustrate her talk with maps, archival photographs of Lorca and Lake Eden, and quotes from Lorca’s letters and other original source materials.
She will show how that the judgment made by early scholars that Lorca’s time in Vermont was inconsequential left this important episode in the poet’s life unexplored for decades.
Billingsley became interested in Cummings in 2006 after reading about him in Ian Gibson’s biography of Federico García Lorca. Curious to learn more, she began researching Cummings’ life and soon became intrigued by the complexity and contradictions of his story, especially his relationship with Lorca.
In the course of her research, she re-examined known source materials, discovered new materials in archives in the United States and Spain and interviewed poets and writers who spent time with Cummings.
Billingsley has given invited lectures about Lorca and Cummings at the International Institute in Madrid, the City University of New York and Smith College, and co-curated an exhibit titled "Lorca in Vermont" with Christopher Maurer at the CUNY Graduate Center in 2013.
Her web site about Cummings (www.philipcummings.net) has received more than 3,500 visits since its launch in 2011.
A graduate of the University of Delaware and California State University, Northridge, she began her career as a software usability analyst and is now a communications specialist at Smith College and independent biographical researcher. She is currently writing a book about Lorca’s visit to Vermont.