29 ago. 2010

Notes on El libro de barro.

These poems by Peruvian poet Blanca Varela were written from 93-94. There are 23 of them, none longer than a page. None has a title, so that the overall effect is one of unity. They are written in prose and/or long lines of verse that push the limit between prose and verse. Varela's later poetry showed a marked convergence with that of Valente and Gamoneda, two Spanish poet with whom her name has been associated. Like these two poets, her poetry became even more interesting in her later years, so that a poet born in 1926 writes a lot of her most interesting work in the 80s and 90s. Gamoneda contributes an epilogue to Varela's collected poems in which he rewrites her motifs in his own style.

Although the poems are not numbered in the text, I am identifying them by Roman numerals for convenience:

I. In the first poem the speaker finds a vertebra in the sand and then loses it immediately. The scene is a beach, where, on this side of the ocean, the foam is darker, more sinister. The style is quasi-surrealist, with an emphasis on landscape.

II. "Columns of dust hold up the afternoon sky." We seem to be in the same landscape, the same imaginative space, as in the first poem. The fossil bone reappears: "To find the fragile little bone of the race by chance and to lose it."

III. "The hand of god is bigger than himself." A huge cosmic force, whose effect on reality, his touch, is larger than his own presence.

IV. "The blood of the African lamb is indelible." We remain within this quasi-surrealist rhetoric. Bones, harps, eyes. The lamb is the sacrificial animal par excellence. To say that the blood is indelible (a word usually used of ink), is to say that the trace of the sacrifice can never be effaced. We have music produced by a wind blowing through bones. These lines could almost be by Gamoneda: "Ojos susurrantes se abren y cierran donde ni cal ni arena fueron sino edades y cenizas del corazón."

V. Men are "bleeding in the book of mud." The first explanation of the title of the sequence. "The history of history is the sea." The theological theme persists (gods, crucifixion, paradise). The only elements that have appeared in the sequence so far relate to the natural world, the human body and human emotions, and this theological discourse.

VI. Now the speaker is god, or god speaks. "Write it down in your book," he or she says. "It would be absurd not to celebrate this treasure."

VII. "The child looked at himself in the mirror and saw he was a monster." Now writing becomes a way of digging up (desenterrar) childhood--a childhood seen without sentimentality. Although the themes seem to change here, the language and rhythms do not, so that we feel continuity even in the absence of discursive coherence.

VIII. A mysterious answer comes in the wind. The moon and the stars shine, but give very little light. The body is a bow and arrow.

(to be continued)

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