Alejandra Pizarnik’s work has long served as a touchstone for Latin American writers. The late Argentine poet has been cited as an influence by everyone from Roberto Bolaño and Julio Cortázar to Octavio Paz, who described her writing as exuding “a luminous heat that could burn, smelt, or even vaporize its skeptics.” But this fervor didn’t reach the English-speaking world until some four decades after her death, with the publication of her collection A Musical Hell in 2013. Since then, translations of five more collections of her poetry have appeared to near universal acclaim, and several of her poems have been published in The Paris Review. Ugly Duckling Presse has recently published A Tradition in Rupture, which presents Pizarnik’s critical writings in English for the first time. In the excerpt below, she ponders the nature of poetry and the pain of revisiting past work.
Poetry is where everything happens. Like love, humor, suicide, and every fundamentally subversive act, poetry ignores everything but its own freedom and its own truth. To say “freedom” and “truth” in reference to the world in which we live (or don’t live) is to tell a lie. It is not a lie when you attribute those words to poetry: the place where everything is possible.
In opposition to the feeling of exile, the feeling of perpetual longing, stands the poem—promised land. Every day my poems get shorter: little fires for the one who was lost in a strange land. Within a few lines, I usually find the eyes of someone I know waiting for me; reconciled things, hostile things, things that ceaselessly produce the unknown; and my perpetual thirst, my hunger, my horror. From there the invocation comes, the evocation, the conjuring forth. In terms of inspiration, my belief is completely orthodox, but this in no way restricts me. On the contrary, it allows me to focus on a single poem for a long time. And I do it in a way that recalls, perhaps, the gesture of a painter: I fix the piece of paper to the wall and contemplate it; I change words, delete lines. Sometimes, when I delete a word, I imagine another one in its place, but without even knowing its name. Then, while I’m waiting for the one I want, I make a drawing in the empty space that alludes to it. And this drawing is like a summoning ritual. (I would add that my attraction to silence allows me to unite, in spirit, poetry with painting; in that sense, what others might call the privileged moment, I speak of as privileged space.)
They’ve been warning us, since time immemorial, that poetry is a mystery. Yet we recognize it: we know where it lies. I believe the question “What does poetry mean to you?” deserves one of two responses: either silence or a book that relates a terrible adventure—the adventure of someone who sets off to question the poem, poetry, the poetic; to embrace the body of the poem; to ascertain its incantatory, electrifying, revolutionary, and consoling power. Some have already told us of this marvelous journey. For myself, at present, it remains a study. Read More