The New Poetry (1969)

Translated by Zane Koss

Photo courtesy of Clemente Padín.

Syntax, subordinating and coordinating conjunctions, syntagma, paramoiosis, redundancy, dictionaries, adjectivization; unifying strophes, determinate semantic groups, the subject, neologisms, verbs, reflexive anomalies, complementarity, versification; paradigms, pronouns, grammar: all in the trash! No more images induced with elements alien to their own nature; enough of metaphors, the indecisive second term of trivial identifications; enough of the elegiac excrement of a man with the face of a duck. Language breaks with the linguistic tradition that has tarred it by defining it by its function and not by its primary condition as an object. War on the exclusive and authoritarian expressive function of language. Innovative Gladys[1] will be put to rest; descents into the Inferno in search of the new are over. The combinatory possibilities of language have been exhausted from the excessive use of more than thirty centuries. Who today dares to continue mixing adjectives and adverbs searching for some point beyond which Breton would dream? Sunday strolls through the ruined plaza of language have ended; Eliot’s tired militias are dead at last. Language refuses to continue being used and defined by its expressive function; it is, primarily, matter, an object first of phonic nature, then of visual-phonic and, now, free from the burden of signification, an instrument for locating poetry. 

The signifier, traditionally evoking images through psychic association, has become the true protagonist of poetry. Of all the components of the signifier-signified relation, there are hardly any clots of the signifier-object relation that remain and which endure thanks to old perceptual habits. The signifier no longer evokes images, nor identifies sentiments, nor transmits states of mind. The elements of language transmit themselves. No feeling, no concept, no hyperbole. If the signifier-signified relation has always been a conventional system of signs created for communication among men, why use it? With what authority has this ineffectual tool for unveiling the poetic been imposed on us, when it has already demonstrated its incapacity?

The iron tyranny of the poet-genius-talent irreplaceable sorcerer of the tribe has disappeared. The poem has ceased to be a vehicle for caprices, for laments, for emotional processes that only interest the author and that impose on the passive reader the former’s authority. Now both the producer and the consumer of poems are its creators — those who update the poetic material. The old poetic reader-listener relation disappears by virtue of the fact that the emotional processes or transmission of information or advocacy for social and metaphysical concerns or the locating of poetry belongs to both of them, and both are responsible for the total realization of the poetic act. Poetry, creating itself at the same time that it is renewed, at the same level as action and not preceding it as Rimbaud prophesied. Both assuming their responsibility before poetry and before reality. No more receptacles of impositions, of creeds of dying habemus, of secrets, of trivialities, but responsible for acts and situations before which they will exercise their freedom of choice. Words have been enslaved, making them transporters of nonsense, movers of bad conscience; now words have ceased to hide the art, retaking their primal condition of acts, of objects. Specifically, they will serve in their traditional functions: to transmit information, but not to transfigure reality as much as they have tried to until now — old and useless mechanisms, obscuring the temporal anguish of beings that do not tolerate the real, reconciling all the typographic possibilities of the signifier-signified relation, with their obscure and personal symbolisms, with their conceptual ambiguities and their safe diachronic modifications. Now, the option is to comprehend, to react, and modify reality and not to resist it passively. Man is responsible for what happens; he is a historical being, labors on reality despite himself, and pretends to forget that by following the facile path of symbolism. The new poetry induces action and, by analogy, that attitude is transferred to the rest of his activities. Poetry is action, not thought. The old aspiration of the traffickers of illusions — identification — disappearing by its own impossibility, will now have to incorporate or reject those objects called visual poems, but, in any case, through movement and not through the intermediation of elements foreign to the actualization of poetry. Words used to perform that Celestine-esque function, haulers of concepts; now their alienation, characteristic of objects, is overturned by modifications and disorder.

In no way does the new poetry negate the importance of the expressive function of language. Thanks to this function, man communicates with his peers, learns, understands, and knows reality, and is able, through that function, to transmit that knowledge or interpret it. In the same way that interpreting the information provided by a map, for example, allows him to go wherever he wants. But what do maps have to do with an art where the essential element is precisely the map itself? What does the expressive function of language have to do with poetry? What does the red of a stoplight have to do with the red of a figurative painting? In the first case, they need to signify something decreed by convention, by contract; in the second case, they act just as they are.­ 

Until now, traditional poetry has been an assumed weapon to destroy or affirm the system, without noticing that, having been developed within one of the subaltern branches of that system, talent was impossible and hypocritical. These failed acts have demonstrated their inability to alter anything. It is impossible to replace the real. We all ride Babieca and chase the Bactrians. Poetry that expresses the desire for revolution fails from the beginning — it excites and exalts but does not provide cover from bullets or seize power. To make matters worse, poets have not even made revolution possible from their writing. Good intentions are alright for the confessional. To induce criteria that are considered just and necessary is good for the irreplaceable social condition of language, but not for poetry which is concerned with itself and its elements. The unicity of man — if he conquers it — will act on its own; if it is revolutionary, that attitude will be transferred to all his activities, those he develops through undermining the foundations of the unjust system at its base, that is, in its socioeconomic infrastructure and at subsidiary levels like art and education, for example. Now, poetry will force us, by its specific condition as an object, to the exercise of liberty and choice, without disguise, from the attitudes facing it and facing the rest of reality that it integrates and, finally, to commit entirely to the choice. Flirtations with progressivism are finished, the revolutionism of the merchants in the temple, the amorality of the great and unique poet; it concerns everyone, we are all creators; poetry in the hands of the innocents.

1. In the ninth issue of Padín’s magazine of experimental writing, Los Huevos del Plata, published in September 1967, a brief narrative, “Las Andanzas de Novedosa Gladys” (“The Adventures of Innovative Gladys”), follows a young woman who decides to apply avant-garde poetic techniques to her daily life to help counter the stagnation of language. In the course of the short story, Gladys orders an ice cream with a needlessly long monologue that links the act to the various forms of state bureaucracy present in their interaction, writes a love note to her boyfriend that consists mostly of the repeated line “Clac — tac,” and commits other linguistic acts that result in social disruptions.