Liliana Heer



Liliana Heer

Argentinian poetry: the written word re-cited
By Liliana Heer and Ana Arzoumanian

To outline a map of Argentinean poetry we must cast a sharp glance at the meanings underlying syntax. We are invited to explore the origin of myths, and witness them dispelled. We are urged to identify those Argentinean poets who are truly shaped by their own voices, who are guests of poetry.
The poetic voice, with its ability to evoke many tones, is defined according to its different registers: traditional, avant-garde and ‘negative theology’ (as styled by some critics). This division produces effects of a political nature, as the poetic voice is always rooted in a historical context. There is a constant transference between society and poetry. At the same time, there is a reservoir of words that rejects change and does not negotiate meaning: that plagiarizes, enriches, repeats, distorts, like the morning remnant of a nightmare...

“My Lord! The cage has turned into a bird! and it has flown! and my heart is insane / as it howls at death / and smiles behind the wind / at my delusions! / What shall I do with fear / what shall I do with fear...” -Alejandra Pizarnik.

...a way of expressing that silent words sing, beg, confess:

“My Lord! I am twenty! My eyes are also twenty! nevertheless they say nothing”. -Alejandra Pizarnik.

Argentinean flesh1
Cattle-raising country; a whole cow and more per capita. A feast of entrails (to Joyce’s taste) where ‘red meat’ is the main metaphor. From meat to the bloodshed of the pampas, literature entrails the unsteadiness of urban life facing borders of troopers, of milkmen.

A powerful voice describes an awkward, violent suburb of Buenos Aires; everyday death represents Borges’ ideal of courage. He chooses the witness of a sharp weapon for his Juan Dahlmann. To such an extent that ‘meat/flesh’ is depicted as the desire resulting from a poor diet, or as the outburst of writing, as that passion that tears itself to pieces with rage.

The myth of meat is always present in oral and written language; it describes the deconstruction of a nation which daily wakes up to be slaughtered.

The historic-political making of a cattle-raising country uncovers the other remarkable myth: the barn — that gets grain and gives bread. A country that shelters immigrants and looks after them.

The silo; an underground place to store grain, forage…men. Into such a construction built to store grain, a nameless world is packed. In this emptiness — of names — poetry becomes the powerful voice that gives itself a name.
“Each death is caused by crime,! here, now,! it is known,! you die because they kill you,! like when bending down, tipping, / you do know what you are doing,! coming and going,! and you know it...” -Alberto Girri

An unfaithful grammar draws up its eyelids and shows itself faithless. When the pulpy tongue2 of the poet escapes from its sheath and brandishes its blade, writing poetry is a great treachery.

The verse or ‘poetic prose’ is written by means of the — poet’s whole - body. The crashing hand attacks and turns into a fist. A conflicting force is always a form of confronting the dominant speech of the day. Poetry claims that it is the place of the political agere, where its ethics reveal the living essence of desire. The poet knows that an outcast desire with no historical background is self-consuming.
This arbitrary language, not ideal, language of the shapeless shape, of vivid clear graphs, is beyond epics. And even when this contrasting language is constantly describing polarities (‘up’, ‘down’, support’, ‘opposition’), there is still an unborn, not yet conceived child, without which it would be impossible to imagine our own world, to dream our own writing, the words a poet gives birth to each time he writes.

“To see, not being, happens to be the stanza function. / The stanza: something too far away. / And if there is a potato in the heart of the skull / it can be (well drilled)! with a stick: without a chance,! not ever being there! not ever saying it...” -Osvaldo Lamborghini.

The patience of faith
SeIf-absortion, self-suffering, joyful trustfulness nest in the heart of the classic poet. In this inner struggle, the writer keeps loyal to what he receives as a gift, to what words expand.

“Someone must go under the stone wheel, like a wheat grain,! enlightened by the moon of wolves,! searching for the sacred ritual of the four elements! to proclaim his worship for the soil...” -Enrique Molina3

In classicism, the ‘prayer’ -unyielding tie with faith- places itself where language expresses tenderness. The peculiarity is the verb which ‘embodies’ itself in a self-conscious subject closely related to nature and language.

“Her firm absence is the best wealth. / I scent myself with her fled flesh! If I take my wandering closer to her lips! my heart enlarges like the day.” -Carlos Mastronardi4

While the traditional poets understand the fertile area of language as the in-uterus meeting of affection, its conception and pregnancy, the new trends see in language the ‘machine’ that ungrains, bones and multiplies; what evolves, turns up or, in the end, disgusts.

“...The smell of vanilla is not there! Far away is the vanilla smell! The wee smell of sour vomit over the face of! plaster and the white heart. It is not there! Gone is the sour wee smell. It is not there.” -Arturo Carrera

A woman, a bird, the street, the river take over the word up to the point of saturation. The brown river, that neck/passage/aisle, doorway of thousands of immigrants to Argentina, pattern of the promise of an unfulfilled return, engraves and aggravates the ‘nostal­gic’ tone of these pampas. A river that swallows and is swallowed.

“I went to the river and felt it! close to me, opposite to me. / The branches had voices / that could not reach me. / The stream said / things I could not understand...” -Juan L. Ortiz.

At the beginning of the Sixties the poem turns its eyes down and gives privilege to the null degree of indifference: disappointment. Little by little, the geometry of the city becomes invasive. It destroys in frontier areas; in central areas, non-symbolic reality assaults with its dissecting knife. The poet’s alert watchfulness is displaced, no longer holding vigil over the landscape that is to die.

“Under the bushes / in the scrubland / on the bridges / in the channels / there are corpses / In the threshing of a train that never stops / in the trail of a ship on wreckage / in a little wave, which vanishes / In wharves halts trampolines seafronts / There are corpses...” -Néstor Perlongher.

Under the stone of the urban design, there are more stones, and under the river, corpses. Corpses later named as ‘missing people’. The opening metaphor of a death that returns from water ‘processed.’5 The city dwellers quench their thirst with brown river water.

The subverted subject
Whereas the orphic lyre pacified monsters, oxymoronic lyricism, chiasmus, antilogy, mot-valise, and diverse metaphors from the newest trends present the world as a chaos. Once the dichotomy of form-content is overcome, the subject is nested within the space of disorder. The paradigm changes: it resorts to non-sense; where truth was previously claimed, poets try out new shapes, stir up accidents in everyday life.

“...from nape to waist / no one knows / in that shaped nature / yet; that sweat, indecent prayer / there is neither rider nor runaway back: nor hundred eagles / nor perhaps raped vaults nor quick fasten­ing! neither handfuls of soil in the face.” - Laura Klein

This language subversion causes the fissure between subject and object. What is crystalline becomes opaque, difficult to pronounce, illegible or refractory to the voice.

The poetic game these days is to surpass the challenge by means of meta-images. The new tendency questions punctuation, baroque writing, the use of capital letters, the hiatus that constituted the language of tradition.

Beyond logos
The death of metaphysics empties grammar-relationships; language reveals an absence that strengthens the word as a grave-voice of the thing. The unmodal tone reflects the discontinuity of language, and at the same time generates a terror of emptiness. Mute. Aesthetics of pure pleasure that marks the faith of negativity and its distancing from nihilism.

Negative theology raises the noun as a dissolving limit of the poetic self. That crushing takes poetry out of the book, sending it to voice and body, as public as uterine. The juncture is erected over a sidelong look. The rush to show more and more becomes loss, disrupts sense.

“I have never drunk some chocolate / where to mix salad with so much thankless doing...? / Where did they go for Don Casimiro´s s beans? / Never throw away the travelling pea!” - Emeterio  Cerro6

Text published in Poetry Irlenad Review, magazine number 73, summer 2002, edited by Michel Smith.

1 In Spanish, this is ´carne argentina’. Carne has two meanings: ‘flesh’ and ‘meat’.
2 The original in Spanish says ‘lengua’ which means both ‘tongue’ and language’.
3 Enrique Molina was born in Argentina in 1910. He travelled a good deal abroad and lived in several South American countries. With another great Agrentine poet, Aldo Pellegrini he founded the magazine A partir de cero. In 1975 he won first prize in the Buenos Aries Municipal Awards for his novel Una sombre donde sueña Camila 0 Gorman Besides being a writer, Mokina was also a distinguished painter. Among his works are the following: Las cosas y el deliria (1941); Pasiones terrestres (1946); Costumbres errantes a la redondez de la tierra (1951); Amantes antípodas (1961); Fuego libre (1962); Las belles furies (1966); Hotel pdjaro (1967); Monzón Napalm (1968), about the war in Vietnam; Las últimos soles (1980); Ela ala de Ia gaviota (1989); Hacia una isla incierta (1992). He died in 1996.
4 Carlos Mastronardi was born in 1900, in Gualeguay, Entre Ríos, Argentina. His books are Tierra
amanecida (1926); Tratado de Ia pena (1939); Cnocimiento de Ia noche (1937); Valéry o la infinitud del método (1955); Formas de la realidad necianal, (1961); Siete poemnas (1959). He worked as a journalist in Noticias Gráficas, and the famous literary magazine of the time, Sur. He died in 1963.
5 In Spanish ‘proceso’  is an euphemism for the military dictatorship that began on March 24,1976
6 Emeterio Cerro was born in Balcarce. Pcia, Buenos Aires. He created a theatre company called La Barrosa. He published more than twenty books of poetry including: La barrosa, El bonchicho. Las Amarantas, El charmelo, Los fifiris. Las mirtilas. Las teros del Danubio, El Bristol. Las carnes L hambre  china and La Bulina. He also published plays and several novels. He died in 1996.



© Liliana Heer and Ana Arzoumanian

Partial or complete reproduction of the material in this site is allowed, only if quoting author´s name and source . Please, send copy of publication to :