In the posthumous My bare heartCharles Baudelaire (died in 1867) refers, with his usual grimace of irritation, to the “predilection of the French for military metaphors”, from which the denomination “avant-garde writers” emerged. This term was to serve, in successive decades, to cover such a wide range of artistic manifestations that, since the mid-twentieth century, historians and critics prefer to use it with notorious caution: it hardly appears in Hugo Friedrich (Structure of the modern lyric) or Marcel Raymond (From Baudelaire to surrealism), to mention two classic studies. And, to enter the specific subject of Latin American poetry, Octavio Paz, in The slime’s children, although subtitles From romanticism to the vanguard, refers above all to “modernity”, “tradition of rupture”, “revolt of the future”.
In what sense is the concept used in this Anthology of Latin American avant-garde poetry? We do not know; it does not define it and the “minimum bibliography” offered does not reach the 10 titles (among which there is the canonical study of Peace), the first of which is Dictionary of the avant-garde in Spain, by Bonet, a work of extraordinary value that, as its title denounces, refrains from the transatlantic jump. To complete the vagueness: dates are not given that encircle the period, nor do the selected poems carry them, nor from which book they have been taken. But in the prologue it is conjectured that the outpost movement began even before Darío’s death, if The glass cowbell (1915) “can be considered as the first title of poetic avant-garde in America”. That book by Guiraldes, a series of prints that, with worked metaphors, celebrate the vastness of the Argentine countryside, does not skimp on couplets in the style of “A boy on horseback. / The song of a rooster ”.
In the prologue, Juan Bonilla, perhaps so that he is not taken by a stubborn and insensitive academic, prefers informal language (“Pedro Luis Gálvez can banter” having frequented Marinetti; Neruda’s “rhetorical tools” are “mark of the house ”; the war of 14“ was going to be loaded ”to some of the futurists). And progress through statements that go from the obvious (Lugones, Fernández Moreno, López Velarde, Eguren “are great self-sufficient poets, do not need to be labeled …”) to the arbitrary: Residence on Earth, from Neruda – one of the most influential books of Latin American poetry after Darío – deserves this brief judgment: “sample of virtues and defects” and of “ease and self-sufficiency”. The moving and recurring will to unite the destiny of Latin America to that of Spain leads us to affirm that “there was no American country in which Ramón [Gómez de la Serna] he will not reap a good ride of disciples ”; the influence of the greguerías, undoubtedly in Oliverio Girondo, in the first Borges and perhaps in Altazor, of Huidobro, is doubtful in Residence on earth and nonexistent in Trilce. De Trilce precisely preaches his status as “mythical” (that is, everything and nothing at once) and is indicated as “one of the most radiant samples of the first surrealism”, whose founding First manifest published Breton in 1924: two years after Vallejo’s book. Also, “it is easily released from any attempt at cataloging.” Same as the “self-sufficient poets” mentioned above.
The considerable corpus The anthology, of almost 1,000 pages, is governed by a candid democratic spirit: it is divided by countries, so that the concert of the nations of Latin America is represented entirely. Then, to populate a (rather dubious) Cuban vanguard, five poems by Eugenio Florit are added: something worthy of applause if it were not because it is tenths, a form whose traditional prostate accredits, among other teachers, Fray Luis de León and Lope de Vega. Something similar can be said about Carpentier’s poems; half of those selected, on the other hand, written in French. Undoubtedly, the incorporation of Brazil is a success, whose relationship with what Henríquez Ureña called the “literary currents of Hispanic America” is always problematic. In that regard, the mention of Jorge Schwartz, one of the scholars who have worked most in the relationship between these areas, especially in the twentieth century, is just; Latin American avant-garde (Chair, 1991) is an unavoidable work.
One of the essential features of the avant-garde was the work on the visual disposition of the poem, the calligramatic aspect that Huidobro put into play early, in Songs in the night, and that he reached his maximum interest in 5 meters of poems (1927), by Carlos Oquendo de Amat. That work called into question even the concept of “book”: it was a drop-down that measured the five meters that its title announced, and each of its 27 faces, stamped as if they were frames of a film, contained a poem. In Black earth with wings the integrity of these pieces is destroyed: the poems are reproduced as if they were simple text, so that ‘Reclaim’ me, for example, is dissolved between two successive pages and followed by ‘Garden’ and, on the same page, ‘Antwerp’ , which continues in the following. The reader who does not know the disposition with which Oquendo published those poems will get an adulterated impression of them. If this way of editing them was inevitable, could it not, by a brief note, have declared that modification? Does it make sense, almost 100 years after that milestone of Latin American poetry, to reproduce it without that minimal care? There are more questions that this anthology raises, but with those already formulated it is enough to get an idea about its value.
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Author: Edition of Juan Manuel Bonet and Juan Bonilla.
Editorial: José Manuel Lara Foundation, 2019.
Format: Soft cover and ebook (960 pages).