Commentaries - January 2012


On Raul Zurita's visionary poetics

I first heard Raul Zurita read his poems on May 6th, 2010 at Poets House, on the occasion of the great Chilean poet’s visit to NY. The reading was from his book Purgatory, published in 1979 in Spanish and in 2010 by the University of California Press in translation by Anna Deeny, who was also on hand that evening to read her translations. Zurita’s reading moved me to the core. Others I spoke to after the reading were similarly astounded. In performance, Zurita’s visionary poetics proves its own language like none other. Since then I’ve called Zurita twice in Santiago, the first time to record him reading from Purgatory (CCP #219), the second time reading from Inri (CCP #234), translated by William Rowe and published by Marick Press.

From Zurita’s Inri:

Strange baits rain from the sky. Surprising bait falls falls upon the sea. Down below the ocean, up above unusual clouds on a clear day. Surprising baits rain on the sea. There was a love raining, there was a clear day that’s raining now on the sea.

In 1973, the U.S. backed military coup in Chile led to the eighteen year rule of the Pinochet regime.

Two poets who write about art

Ken Bolton (photo by Adrian Wiggins)
Ken Bolton (photo by Adrian Wiggins)

When I read Eileen Myles' book The Importance of Being Iceland in November 2010, I was stimulated by its breadth of sources and its kind of charged acuity. I decided to publish a review of it in Jacket. In the essays Eileen had written mostly about art and often about the circumstances of travelling, mainly to Iceland, to look at art. So I needed to find a critic on a similar wavelength to hers and one for whom the art she talked about might be familiar.  It wasn't too hard - Ken Bolton was the obvious person. He is, like Eileen, both a poet and an art critic and his book of essays, Art Writing, was published around the same time as hers. (Ken also makes drawings, some of which will be published in a forthcoming instalment of the Australian poetry feature currently gearing up again in J2).

Anthropophagy & you

Drawing of Abaporu by Tarsila do Amaral, 1928, from the Manifesto Antropófago
Tarsila do Amaral's illustration in Oswald de Andrade's "Manifesto Antropófago" (1928)

Dear Readers, by a happy coincidence, today (January 11) is the inaugural post of Brazilian poetry and poetics, and the birthday of Oswald de Andrade, one of the founding poets of Brazilian modernism. "Tupi, or not Tupi that is the question," Oswald famously asked (in English) in the Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibal Manifesto, 1928), which adopted cannibalism (and the figure of the indigenous Brazilian cannibal) as a metaphor for a new Brazilian art that would devour and assimiliate European culture and the European vanguards along with local nature and culture to produce a native national art free of its colonial past. Oswald's writing has touched every Brazilian poetic vanguard since.

Experiment is exhausted, so it's time to interpret rather than explore

American Quarterly, which at the time was the true home in print of the surging postwar “American Studies” (or: “American Civilization”) movement in academe, sought out poet Louise Bogan to write a short summary of “Modernism in American Literature.” It was published in the Summer 1950 issue. Bogan (1897-1970) was very loosely associated with Euro-American poetic modernism of the 1920s, and perhaps it helped that her first book was published in 1923, the time of Harmonium. Her particular Eliot was the writer who’d discovered a modern mode as part of a “personal point of departure [from] Elizabeth drama and the irony of Jules Laforgue.”  She admired the way Yeats and Pound “achieved modernity” yet happily distinguished them from the real thing: “Eliot,” on the other hand, “was modern from the start.”

Bogan, in my view, was essentially done as a poet of significance in 1941, by which time, in any case, most of her poems had been published. She stayed with us a long time, though, and that’s because she’d been hired by the New Yorker to be their main poetry reviewer, holding that powerful position for 38 years, until 1969. I suspect most poetry people would thus know her from the byline on all those short New Yorker notices. (There is, to be sure, a corridor in the house of poetry along which Bogan is said to be “the most accomplished woman poet of the twentieth century.” So begins the introductory note on her at the Poetry Foundation web site.)