Del Río’s silence about the Vermont interlude continued until 1954, when he began working on the introduction for a new edition of Poet in New York being planned by Grove Press. In a carefully worded letter to poet Ben Belitt, translator for the new edition, he expressed his concern about just how much to reveal:
As to content, I am not entirely sure, for instance, whether some parts could be greatly shortened or eliminated, especially the account of Lorca’s life in New York. Do you think that the details about his friends or about his trips to Vermont and the Catskills have any interest for an American reader of poetry for whom the book was intended?…
I am worried also about the allusion to problems into which it might be advisable not to delve. You know, of course, to what I am referring. I feel that a discreet allusion should be made but by being too discreet I do not want to imply too much and, above all, I do not want to remove* a delicate matter which I know troubles Federico’s family and friends a great deal.1
[*Although he wrote the letter in English, Del Río may have unintentionally used a form of the Spanish verb remover—which can mean stir, as in “stir coffee,” or stir up, as in “stir up controversy”—in this sentence. My thanks to Brian Morris for suggesting this possibility.]
In the end, Del Río chose to say only the following about Vermont and Cummings:
At the end of the Summer Session [at Columbia University] the group dispersed, and Federico, as we always called him, went to Vermont to visit an American friend. This was a fellow-poet, according to him, a Mr. Cummings, whom he had met a few months before in the Residencia at Madrid. This friend, I regret to say, I have never been able to identify; and if he was indeed a poet he would have been Lorca’s only contact with an American creative writer during his stay in this country.2
The 1955 Grove Press edition of Poet in New York attracted the attention of many interested readers, including Philip Cummings. Dismayed to find himself described in such ephemeral terms, Cummings wrote to Del Río in an attempt to jog his memory:
I have before me your introduction to the comparatively new book, Federico García Lorca with the translation by Ben Belitt. On page xiv you state “This was a fellow-poet according to him, a Mr. Cummings, whom he had met a few months before in the Residencia in Madrid. This friend, I regret to say, I have never been able to identify; and if he was indeed a poet he would have been Lorca’s only contact with an American creative writer during his stay in this country.” Perhaps I can help you out.
[Federico] came to us in Vermont and stayed for ten days at Eden Lake, Eden Mills, Vermont, with my father, my mother, and myself… He was with us in August, 1929. I hope this identification and clarification may be of interest to you. While there may be doubt as to my being a full flowering poet, there is none about our pursuing this subject hour after hour in the cool dusk of a northern Vermont lake shore…
Sometime when I am in New York we might have lunch together and I can add to my few details in this letter. How well I recall his clutching your letter of details when my father and I put him on the train in Burlington with destination of Shandaken.3
Cummings’s letter prompted an almost immediate response from Del Río. In his conciliatory reply, Del Río did his best to soothe any hurt feelings and portray his omissions as regretful but unavoidable:
Your letter came to me as a most pleasant surprise and I was, indeed, glad to finally identify the person whose existence especially interested me, but who was, much against my own desires, fast becoming a fantasmal one. I do now clearly recall that Federico spoke frequently of Philip.
I trust that my brief reference to you and subsequent dismissal of the matter in that one paragraph of the Introduction did not appear unduly hasty. I had, of course, never had the pleasure of meeting you personally nor was I ever able to glean an iota of concrete evidence that “Mr. Cummings” was a real live person…Do contact me when you are in New York and we shall make arrangements to get together.4
The two men never actually met, in New York or elsewhere, but the exchange with Cummings did spur Del Río to take one additional step toward disclosure: He shared a crucial piece of information with a newly-minted professor of Spanish named Kessel Schwartz.
1 Ángel del Río to Ben Belitt, 6 December 1954. Ben Belitt Literary Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University.
2 Ángel del Río, “Introduction to Poet in New York: Twenty-Five Years After” in Federico García Lorca, Poet in New York, translated by Ben Belitt (New York: Grove Press, 1955), xiv-xv.
3 Philip Cummings to Ángel del Río, 24 November 1955. Daniel Eisenberg Papers, Special Collections & Archives, Florida State University Libraries, Tallahassee, FL.
4 Ángel del Río to Philip Cummings, 1 December 1955. Daniel Eisenberg Papers, Special Collections & Archives, Florida State University Libraries, Tallahassee, FL.
Copyright © 2020 Patricia A. Billingsley | All rights reserved