Flora Alejandra Pizarnik (1936–1972) was born to Russian Jewish parents in an immigrant district of Buenos Aires. During her short life, spent mostly between Buenos Aires and Paris, Pizarnik produced an astonishingly powerful body of work, including poetry, tales, paintings, drawings, translations, essays, and drama. Like Artaud, Pizarnik understood writing as an absolute demand, offering no concessions, forging its own terms, and requiring that life be lived entirely in its service. “Like every profoundly subversive act,” she wrote, “poetry avoids everything but its own freedom and its own truth.”
[In preparation for the final publication Summer-Autumn 2017]
Something happened to me, now a full half century in the past, that has shaped my ambition for poetry up until the very present. Not to focus too much on myself, it was a discovery shared with others around me, of the multiple hidden sources and the multiple presences of poetry both far and near. I don’t remember clearly where — or when — it started, but once it got under my skin — our skin, I mean to say — that which we could hope to know as poetry drew in whole worlds we hadn’t previously imagined. Nothing was too low — or high — to be considered, but the imagining mind and voice, once the doors of perception were opened or cleansed, were everywhere we looked.
I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to issue a manifesto like in the good old days, but any such assertion nowadays always seems to splinter into its ambiguities, leaving the motivating impulse unmanifest. The burden of poetic process is how easily it spoils even the finest dogma. However, if one located a principle that exists outside as well as inside art, stating it would not be a manifesto but a poignant observation.
[Anne Blonstein died much too soon on April 19, 2011. She had by then created a remarkable series of works in which she employed and transformed traditional numerological and hermeneutic procedures (gematria, notarikon) in the composition of radically new experimental poems. Too little known, her oeuvre, as I would read it, is in a line that goes from Abulafia to Mallarmé and Mac Low and various poets of Oulipo and Fluxus, among others, while the devotion and precision that she shows throughout is clearly and powerfully her own.
[Author’s note: The poems in this suite (cor)respond to a group of ancient Akkadian exorcism incantations, several of which I first discovered in the form of Jewish-Aramaic adaptations in the Babylonian Talmud. I read the radical hybridity of the Talmudic discourse here as both precedent for, & invitation to, my own contemporary translinguistic praxis, one which engages writing as a mode of perpetual displacement — translating languages in wide spirals outward, to the farthest edges of the sonic/semantic divide — while gleaning materials for poetics from even the most minute residues left behind. I’ve begun, in these terms, to compose & transpose from homophonic transliterations, as well as Aramaic & Hebrew translations, of the Akkadian spells, stitching together poems from the translingual dregs between the gaps of the adapted texts.
The phrase “Lick and Spit” I take from the Ashkenazi-Jewish folkloric expectoration ritual of licking a person’s forehead three times, spitting between each lick — a physical gesture I associate most closely with the act of sucking venom from a snake bite — in order to excise the “evil eye” from the body. I continue here then my ongoing inquiry into the tense & intensive micro-socio-poetic ritual relations between translingual utterance, psycholinguistic stigma, & the preliterary Jewish curse. —AR]