Duende has many definitions, but we will focus on Federico Garcia Lorca’s extensive writings on it, looking at duende through the lens of poetry, how it relates to poetry, and how it can be adapted to the art of your poetry. Lorca writes in his essay, “The Theory and Play of Duende,” “So, then, the duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.”
We hear poets attribute a poem’s success to their “angel” or “muse,” but not many speak of duende. Writers have spoken of all three as experiences beyond their control, but only duende comes strictly from a dark space of internal anguish or revelation, from the body’s response. The angel and muse are beauty/gifts/inspiration from outside the body, while duende is a bodily response, a dance with darkness or death, something written not to please or excite but out of necessity.
This exercise will focus on duende as an internal source of “inspiration,” although perhaps “need” is a better way to describe the experience. What is it that your body needs you to write? Perhaps it is what scares you most. Perhaps it is a hardship or loss or love you deal with on a daily basis. Or maybe there is a shadow that flits across your daydreams or quiet hours that you must seduce in order to face directly. These may be the duende to draw from for your work.
Take 10-15 minutes to find a place to find or wrestle with the duende. For some, this will mean meditation. For others, there is something in mind to immediately draw from. In 10-15 minutes, free-write a draft from this experience (event, moment, or emotion) without focusing on craft or technique. If more time is necessary, I encourage you to continue writing. Once the first draft is complete, revise the poem. The most difficult aspect will be the desire to delete the moments that scare or embarrass or lay you bare to a future reader; these may be the aspects that give the poem duende.
I suggest picking up Lorca’s book, In Search of Duende, and reading his essay, “Theory and Play of the Duende,” available online here. Tracy K. Smith’s poem, “Duende” is an astounding poem that is aptly titled—and is a wonderful example of duende in poem form!
Ciara Shuttleworth was born in San Francisco and grew up in Nebraska, Nevada, and Washington state. Her work has been published in journals and anthologies, including Alaska Quarterly Review, The New Yorker, The Norton Introduction to Literature, 11e, and The Southern Review. Shuttleworth received an MFA in poetry from University of Idaho, a BFA in painting/drawing from San Francisco Art Intitute, and a BA in studio art from Gustavus Adolphus College.