Review: Twenty Poets of Argentina
ed D Samoilovich and A Graham-Yool. Redbeck Press 2004
By L. Wesley
This is best kind of book; the Introduction not only gives us a thorough background to Argentinian poetry, but also invaluable notes on poetics so often missed in translations.
The poets are chosen by having published two plus books by the time of translation; and so, as this book took four years up to publication, it is by necessity a book about history.
In Latin America this has significance.
It was necessary to give a background period of forty years to contextualise the writing. The period begins with three military coups: Brazil 1964, Dominican Republic 1965, and Argentina 1966, and gets worse.
This is where the Introduction really comes into its own: where can the individual stand?
The response of writers was to find different modes of expression.
- Firstly we detect a neo-romantic tone, which emphasised the individualist, rebellious, non-modernist.
- This, however, locked her/him into too much of a role, and so a neo-baroque tone came to the fore, using the full resources of language, its ambiguities as well as multiple meanings.
- Against this an objectivism appeared, distrusting meaningful discourse, generalisations.
We could warp this into a kind of dialectic, where the particular, that is, the individual, once more becomes centre-stage, but seen through a post-modern filter.
Each of the twenty writers in this book has a take on this basic premise. We have notes on each writer’s birth place, publications, and biographical details. Many of these writers are published in translation for the first time here.
Sergio Raimondi (born 1968, Rosario) works in the Museum of the Port of Ingeniero White, in the register of oral history. His poems blend a history of fishing with economics:
The sweep of a net dragged the length of the bed,
maximum allowed mesh, seven hundred thousand litres
of diesel in the tank………..
What The Sea Is
In URGA (from Union of Grain Handlers of Argentinian Republic) we get an idea of the complex weave we handles:
The student was shot in the hall at University
in front of everybody, that was in nineteen seventy
five, and, no, nor is it an archetype sickle that is to be painted
on the wall, unless it serves to recall the event
in relation to grain from on high down a shoot at the dock
falling to the hold or over there in a dust cloud where the tester sinks
once, twice, in the belly of the sack, thrice the sampler up to the
grip and in his palm sees the goodness of grain but rules
the load to devalue. The main authority is the State
and the practice dates to nineteen thirty: a mechanism
of constant regulations usually enforced by only
one main head, reproduced in vague and empty offices.
and as the union mediates in the disorder, so does the University:
it is wheat that lies around the fallen body, the dead insects,
acarus. Over there a new tester sampler point in hand.
The belt brings him another sack, and another and another and another.
And all in strict hexameters.
Argentinian poetry allows so many delightful changes of manner, tone: Laura Wittner (Buenas Aires, 1967) writes –
I had told you of the park
where I kept a small memory
a mystery of prevalence
installed, along with some duck feathers
and green twigs drying on the ground,
and in that scene of action
I am sitting swinging
in a wooden seat with arm rests
which closed with a small chain,
my mother is pushing,
makes me laugh, we both laugh
at the adventure that is pushing and flying.
My Life on the Swings
The exhilaration of a pure moment! The poem is too long to quote but goes through many tonal changes: how swings initiate the children,/ in a parenthesis,/ in the melancholy,/ the uselessness of effort/ to be different… to end on a measured but whole note.
By contrast is the ‘mysterious urgency of the present…’ as ‘ungraspable as recollection’ of Gabriela Saccone:
I know of poets who dream
about the time I spend in the bath.
If I could, if I had that!
they say, secure in the will and wisdom,
disguising reproach with compassion
if they could possess (Chronos)… before a window
where the tops of the plane trees touch
in a green and dry toast
I Know of Poets (from Half a Birthday)
: sheer playfulness underthemed with darker tones.