Thursday, December 8

The first Spanish war photojournalist was an anarchist poet, lesbian and athletics champion

Poet, journalist, Spanish javelin throw champion, the first woman to be part of the board of directors of a football club, war reporter, anarchist, feminist and lesbian. That a person gathers all these characteristics and develops them in a single life seems impossible. That she really existed and that today she is a virtually unknown figure is even more surprising. But it is real. Ana María Martínez Sagi (Barcelona, ​​1907) was the writer who combined all these facets and that the writer and columnist Juan Manuel de Prada has rescued in a biography. For this, she has needed more than twenty years of research, in which she had the opportunity to meet her protagonist before she died in the year 2000.

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The author gave him all her unpublished work, both in verse and in prose, with the express directive that it not be published until twenty years after her death. Two decades later, The right to dream: Life and work of Ana María Martínez Sagi (Espasa) traces his story from his birth in a right-wing bourgeois family to his lonely end, going through his success during the Second Republic, his time on the front lines of the Civil War and his exile in France. “That someone who had been so prominent in so many aspects did not appear anywhere seemed very unfair to me,” De Prada acknowledges to this newspaper. It was at the end of the 90s when he discovered the artist through an interview made by César González-Ruano. Knowing who that “poet, trade unionist and virgin of the stadium”, as he was defined in the text, was the doubt that immediately settled inside him.

After verifying that she was still alive, he convinced her to open the doors of her house in Moià. There he revealed to him that as a journalist he had covered “the combats on the Aragon front, that he crossed the Pyrenees when the enemy troops entered Barcelona, ​​that he barely survived in the neighboring country, that he had participated at risk in activities of the Resistance during the years of the German occupation, who after the Liberation had earned a living with the most varied trades, from street painter to flower grower, before obtaining a position as a professor at the University of Illinois, where she retired.

Later he returned to Spain, where he stumbled, as the biography describes, “with a sullen reception that led him to convince himself that he should take refuge in that little town.” “He tried to make himself known again in literary circles, but they didn’t pay any attention to him, so he decided to seclude himself and live in the most absolute anonymity”, explains the author, “he thought that he would be welcomed with open arms because he knew that he had a new anti-Franco generation, but no”. The prevailing machismo in that period didn’t help either: “While exiles like Rafael Alberti came back being acclaimed, nobody wanted to know anything about her.”

With that first information, De Prada published in the year 2000 the novel the corners of the air. However, as he continued to investigate and recover data about Sagi in archives and libraries in different cities around the world, he understood that he deserved a more extensive publication that would collect her biography in detail. And he decided to do it academically in the form of a doctoral thesis. His tutors were Jaime Olmedo, technical director of the biographical dictionary in the Royal Academy of History and Gonzalo Santonja, controversial Minister of Culture of the Junta de Castilla y León who has gone from communism to the extreme right. He chose the first because he had been his teacher in a master’s degree in Philology and the second, because he was a “lifelong friend”. “His specialty is the literature of exile, despite the fact that now there is an image of him as a fan of bullfighting and, more recently, for his appointment of Culture in Castilla y León by Vox”, indicates the writer.

In fact, Juan Manuel de Prada, whose political ideology is more on the right than on the left, has been asked “how, being so Catholic, are you now recovering the life of a red woman?” “Today we have a very Manichaean view of things that makes us think that we can only focus on what has to do with us. The writer’s vocation has nothing to do with this, you can feel attracted to people who are ideologically very distant from you. What you fall in love with is the story,” he replies.

A woman ‘out of place’

A constant in Sagi’s biography was being “out of place”, beginning with how he broke up with his family due to his “ideological drift”. Before turning to anarchism, she was a supporter of Esquerra Republicana and a defender of Catalan nationalism, although she always wrote in Spanish. “This has already left her in no man’s land,” she says of Prada. She was an elite athlete to the level of winning a national javelin throwing championship and she founded the Club Femení d’Esports during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera; one of the most important feminist spaces in pre-war Barcelona where, in addition to playing sports, women learned to read. At the age of 27, she became the first director of a soccer club in the world, a position she held at FC Barcelona between 1934 and 1935.

In the Second Republic, in which he experienced his greatest recognition as a poet and journalist, his reports on women’s suffrage were especially commented on at a time when this issue was being fought in the street and in Parliament. In the daily supplement Las Noticias he included interviews with profiles from all social strata, whether they were beggars, prostitutes or politicians. In 1929 he published his first collection of poems, Roadswho would follow Concern (1931), island songs (1932) and country of absence (1938), among others. “That a woman began to do a series of activities hitherto considered masculine was viewed with hostility, regardless of her ideological orientation,” says De Prada. “Lesbian love was not approved. Relationships between women were kept underground, out of focus and out of public life, so her lesbianism contributed to turning her into that person with no place in the society of the time”, she adds about how her sentimental life was also marked by the difference.

The novelist and poet Elisabeth Mudler was his great love, reconstructed in the biography through the lyrical diary that Ana María left of her romance and her poetry inspired by her. It was also one of the reasons why Sagi asked the writer not to publish his texts until twenty years after his death: “All the poems he dedicates to evoking his relationship with her are extraordinary, but I think he was afraid that his relatives they felt offended because some of their texts are erotic and very explicit”. In any case, he considers that he “wanted to make sure that people of his generation were dead and there were aspects of his life that he wanted to hide.” In addition to trusting that “another time would come that would be more receptive to his values.”

The impact of war on the front lines

Another area in which Sagi was a pioneer was caused by the Civil War, making her the first Spanish war photojournalist. She “she combined the photographs on the front lines with chronicles of what was happening. In one of them, she recounts that a militiaman was shot in the forehead while he held out his canteen for her to drink water. He died in his arms, ”recalls De Prada. During this period she wrote down the river came, which for the novelist is one of the author’s most relevant poems. “In it she narrates how the corpse is dragged by the current. Is beautiful. Federico García Lorca could have signed it”, she claims. “Your dark, motionless and cold body came. The water, singing, passed through your stiff fingers. You came so pale, soldier, in the river! ”, Say some of her verses.

For the writer, this work is an example of the “indelible mark that death left on his spirit.” “He was at the center of the conflict, he lived it very closely and suffered it in his own flesh with three injuries: a slight shrapnel, a car accident and a third very serious one in the bombing of Alcañiz in 1938 for which he was in eat and go blind for several days,” he adds.

There is still material to publish

Sagi’s biography is divided into two volumes totaling 1,709 pages. The first offers a panoramic vision of the first three decades of the author’s life until 1937, in which the trace of her disappears after the fall of the Anarchist Council of Aragon. The second delves into the years to come up to 2000, addressing the author’s exile, strongly marked by scarcity. “It was very hard. He lived in miserable conditions for a few years, ”says De Prada. The novelist considers that the “misanthropy” of the poet harmed him at this stage, since while “many exiled intellectuals weave relationships with each other, she totally separates herself from those environments. She tried to incorporate herself into the French culture but she didn’t succeed either”.

There he maintained a relationship with Marie-Thérèse Eyquem, a pioneer in the defense of women’s sports who ended up being secretary general of the French Socialist Party. A figure that he ended up becoming the protagonist of one of his novels, with lesbian content, but in code. In Paris she lived under the German occupation between 1942 and 1944, but her most complicated years as an expatriate were those she lived in Chartres, where she was involved in “rocambolesque stories”, as the author defines them, due to her friendship with Joaquín Ascaso, Antonio Ortiz and other anarchists persecuted by justice.

Before this biography, De Prada published the voice alone (2019, Fundación Banco Santander), an anthology of poetry and journalistic texts by Sagi. Ahead he advances that he has pending the release of prose by the author and a wanderings of memory, a book “with vignettes in which she recalls some episodes from her past and an idealized diary of her relationship with Mudler.” She, through him, will continue to expand and make accessible the work and legacy that the writer entrusted to her.