In a century that produced many world-class Spanish writers, Pedro García Cabrera was the most distinguished and original poet of the Canary Islands. Author of some twenty collections of poems that spanned fifty years, he was witness to and victim of the social upheavals experienced by the Spanish people from the Dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-1930) through the short-lived Second Republic (1931-1939), the Civil War (1936-1939) and the repressiive dictatorship of General Francisco Franco (1939-1975), followed by the return to democracy.
He was born in 1905 on the island of La Gomera into a family that fostered education and the values of human dignity and justice that he would uphold throughout his life. His father, a teacher, was transferred to Seville in 1912, where the family spent two years before returning to La Gomera and then to Santa Cruz de Tenerife. As a student in La Laguna, García Cabrera began the parallel activities of essayist and poet, publishing articles and poems in various newspapers and magazines and his first major collection of poems, Líquenes [Lichens] in 1928.
His decision to join the Spanish Socialist Party in 1929 led to his election in 1931 as councillor of the city of Santa Cruz and of the insular government, where he was active in promoting better housing and education. As director of the newspaper El Socialista, he was found guilty of defamation and sentenced to a period of exile, which he spent on the neighboring island of Gran Canaria, where he wrote most of his second book of poetry, Transparencias fugadas [Fleeting Transparencies, 1934], and began another work, La rodilla en el agua [The Knee in the Water], As a member of the group that published the journal Gaceta de Arte, he absorbed European currents in art, literature, theatre, cinema and architecture.
As one of the organizers of the International Surrealist Exhibition held in Santa Cruz in 1935, he was clearly identified as a target of the repression that followed the military uprising in July 1936. On 18 July he was imprisoned and then deported to a prison camp in Villa Cisneros, in the Spanish Sahara, from which he escaped, along with a group of prisoners and guards, on the boat that transported them, which they sailed to Dakar, in French Senegal. He eventually made his way to Marseilles, and then entered Spain by train to join the Republican forces, serving in an intelligence unit until he was gravely injured in an accident during a night mission, suffering severe burns to both legs. Taken to the civil hospital in Jaén, he was nursed by the woman whom he would marry in 1948. Imprisoned at the end of the war in 1939, he was sentenced to thirty years impisonment, released, recaptured, and finally granted limited freedom in 1948.
During his years in various gaols, he wrote ceaselessly about the war and captivity in a series of works – Entre la guerra y tú [Between the war and you, 1936-1939], Romancero cautivo [Captive Ballads, 1936-1940], La arena y la intimidad [Sand and Intimacy, 1942-1944], Hombros de ausencia [Absent Shoulders, 1942-1944], Viaje al interior de tu voz [Journey to the Interior of Your Voice, 1944-1946] – that would remain appear in print on the publication of his Complete Works in 1987. A succession of works published between 1951 and his death in 1981 demonstrate his dedication to the vocation of poetry and his dignity and integrity as a survivor of war, imprisonmen, repression and censorship. The titles of some of these works signal his fortitude and concern for humanity: La esperanza me mantiene [Hope Sustains Me, 1959], Hora punta del hombre [Man´s Peak Hour, 1969], Elegías muertas de hambre [Elegies Dying of Hunger, 1975], and Hacia la libertad [Towards Freedom, 1978]. Highly respected for his perceptive essays, García Cabrera made a major contribution to Spanish poetry, transcending the narrow range of island poetry with his universal themes of war and peace, imprisonment and freedom, oppression and justice, and winning recognition as a truly international poet.