“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.” This is the voice of Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik. Born in 1936 to Russian Jewish immigrants, she spent most of her adult life in Buenos Aires and in Paris within the circle of Octavio Paz, Julio Cortazar, and Silvina Ocampo. A prodigy, she published three volumes of poetry before she was twenty-three, and her influence and fame as a poet, according to biographer César Aira, had an “aura of almost legendary prestige.” (7)
Pizarnik committed suicide at 36, leaving behind a trove of poems, stories, and critical essays that have recently been translated and published in the States by New Directions and Ugly Duckling Presse. Here, in a selection of reviews, essays on craft, and interviews, her voice is singularly confident, her analysis subtle, and her commitment to craft absolute. A Tradition of Rupture – a phrase that lingers even beyond her discussion of poets who embodied a “rupture” with early 20th century poetic traditions — considers the artistry of Pessoa, Artaud, Cortazar, and Breton, among many others, and even reviews a collection of parodic detective stories by H. Bustos Domecq, the pseudonymous partnership of Jorge Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares (more on him below).
In self-interviews – a fabulous format! – Pizarnik writes: “I don’t believe contemporary society needs a reform. I believe it needs a radical change, and it is in this sense that benefits can redound to women.” (25). One wonders what kind of change she advocates, and how she would frame the “curse” of womanhood via her own experience: “…I assert that it is a curse to be born a woman, just as it is to be a Jew, to be poor, black, gay, a poet, Argentine, etc., etc. What matters, of course, is what we do with our curses.” (25). Pizarnik’s thinking on feminism and social justice demands further amplification and more historical context. How do we move from this to: “Among other things, I write so that what I’m afraid of doesn’t happen; so that what wounds me doesn’t exist; to ward off Evil…In this sense, the poetic task entails exorcism, invocation, and, beyond that, healing. “ (29)
I wish for a companion to this slim volume that could fill in the historical and biographical blanks – the context for such statements, and outline philosophical and emotional currents that underlie Pizarnik’s appreciation of Artaud, her critique of Breton, her assessment of Michaux. What kind of literary world – post 19th century – asks such questions as: “wouldn’t it be better to turn life into poetry than to make poetry into life?” The question is Octavio Paz’s and Pizarnik, responding, quotes herself:
I wish I could live solely in ecstasy, making the body of
the poem with my own body, rescuing every sentence
with my days and weeks, infusing the poem with my
breath insofar as every letter of every word has been
sacrificed in ceremonies of living.
This collection of prose, translated with a dynamic elegance by poet and scholar Cole Heinowitz, will send you on a pilgrimage to read Pizarnik’s poetry and trace the details of her life and times.