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[whitespace] 'Platero y Yo'
Guitar of Many Colors: 'Platero y Yo' combines poetry and music.

Prince of Poems

The South Bay Guitar Society sets the poetry of Juan Ramón Jiménez to music in 'Platero y Yo'

By Marianne Messina

WHEN I LEARNED about Platero y Yo, I really, really liked it very much," says Iranian-born classical guitarist Babak Falsafi. He is sitting in front of a class of enthralled third graders at San Jose's Dahl School, demonstrating the arpeggios and tremolos of classical guitar. "It reminded me of The Little Prince. ... It seems to be for children, but everybody learns a lot." For several weeks, South Bay Guitar Society's Jerry Snyder has been bringing poetry readers and classical guitarists like Falsafi and Michael Bautista into the schools as part of an outreach program to prepare children for the upcoming mixed-media presentation of Juan Ramón Jiménez' Platero y Yo (Platero and I). Snyder has put together a bilingual reading of the Platero poems to be staged in front of a mural by local artist John Kurtyka and accompanied by modern dance as Bautista and Mark Teicholz play the music of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Eduardo Sainz de La Maza.

Ramón Jiménez, 1956 Nobel Laureate for literature, wrote Platero y Yo at a turning point in his life. Serious depression after the death of his father in 1900 had led Jiménez back to his small, scenic hometown of Moguer in southern Spain. The slow healing process (along with his early poetic style) culminated in Platero y Yo (1914); then his style changed and his career soared. The book's 138 lyrical poems (or chapters) describe the splendor of Moguer, celebrate the immediacy of nature, question the nature of the soul and dare to look for the sad beauty in death, often as a sort of apostrophe to a silvery donkey named Platero.

"Platero is little, furry, soft; so soft to the touch that one might say he is made of cotton, with no bones." So starts the tale of the poet's fond but clearsighted musings among the butterflies, swallows, Gypsies and beggars of his natal scenery. Jiménez' descriptions of the rich cultural interactions found in his Andalusian province--Moorish art, Roman architecture--are part of the reason Javier Salazar is still struck by the poems after a lifelong relationship with Platero y Yo. "I was introduced to Platero when I was 7 years old," says Salazar, the Mexican-born poet reading Jiménez' poems. "And having eight children in my life ...," he shrugs, grinning. He raised them all on Platero.

At a preview performance, the cherubic Salazar accompanies his dramatic reading with strains of glee and wonder: "I kiss him and tease him mercilessly. But he knows that I love him and bears me no grudge. He is so like me, so different from the rest, that I have come to believe he dreams my own dreams" ("Friendship"). It seems that Jiménez' gentle poems draw everyone in, no matter their culture or age. When San Jose Dance Theatre first asked Los Gatos Ballet director Marcie Achkire to put dances to the show's 13 poems, she thought she'd only have time to choreograph four. But the poems so inspired her teenaged choreographers--Jenny Gram, Adrianna Dougherty, Christine Herrera and Rachel Talley--that the girls took on extra work to choreograph three additional pieces.

When you hear the poems and the light, pensive music, you almost have to downshift or strip yourself away from your adult and hectic life. It's as if they take you directly to the knee of some childhood storyteller. "His curly hair looked now like the moth-eaten flax hair of an old doll which crumbles at the touch into a sad dustiness. Through the silent stable, fluttered a butterfly, its translucent wings bursting into flame each time it passed a ray of light streaming from the little window ..." It's the ending of the poem "Death"--on one level, the curious, restless eye of a child; on another, the juxtaposition of loss and wonder; on yet another, the transformation of a soul. "The Little Prince, Platero y Yo," Falsafi is saying to the third graders, "and there is also another story in Farsi literature, The Little Black Fish--this is also for children--all these stories are trying to teach the adult people not to forget their childhood. ... I'm trying my best not to forget my childhood."

Platero y Yo plays Friday (April 2) at 8pm at Le Petit Trianon, 72 N. Fifth St., San Jose. Brenda Simmons will give a pre-show talk at 7:20pm. Tickets are $15/$18. There will be a children's matinee at 10:30am (invitation only). (408/292.0704)

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From the March 31-April 6, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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