Aldo Pellegrini: The subversive effect of poetry

aldo-pellegrini_bwThe Argentinian poet, Aldo Pellegrini (1903-1973), was the founder of the first Surrealist group among Spanish-speaking writers. In his writing he called for a poetry “free from the schemes of reason, free from social norms, free from prohibitions, free from prejudice, free from canons, free from fear, a poetry free from its own preconceptions.” 

Below, along with two poems dating from 1952, I have translated the first two paragraphs of an essay he published in Buenos Aires in 1965 which outlines his poetic manifesto.


Aldo Pellegrini: The subversive effect of poetry (extract).

There is a force in man, that comes from the simple fact of living, it conditions his destiny fatally. This force is visible at every turn through the manifestations of love, which tends to transcend the individual in communion with the whole, has its own laws that are irreducible to rational schemes. Poetry appears as an expression of that impulse toward fulfilling a vital destiny, and the inevitability of that fate is revealed in poetry as an indisputable fact. Poetry is not, therefore, an amusement or luxury, but a necessity, just as love is. All other needs, even the most urgent, are subordinate to those two, which ultimately are the two aspects of the same primordial energy that gives true meaning to life. If we penetrate deeply into the meaning of the old saying “Man does not live by bread alone,” we will see that the lucidity of popular wisdom reaches a similar conviction. To go without poetry would be to renounce life.

Considered thus, the poetic exists not only in words; it is a way of acting, a way of being in the world and existing with people and things. Poetic language in its different forms (plastic form, verbal form, musical form) merely objectifies in a communicable manner through the appropriate signs of each particular language, the expansive force of the vital. As a result, the poetic world is in everyone, to the extent that every individual is an integral being. Lautreamont’s clear slogan, “Poetry should be made by everyone,” has no other meaning. Whoever ignores poetry is a mutilated being, as is whoever ignores love.


No subject

He who sings out of not knowing
he who saturated with ignorance
runs along the belly of the dark Fridays
he who throws fingernails into the street
and hides his life in corners
who enraged chews on silence
seeks his subject.

A subject
a subject that changes
a subject that changes with the steam of digestions
a subject illuminated by the glow of parched tongues
a subject pursued by the rumble of empty eyes
the subject of luminous hunger, the subject of the cry of ecstasy
the subject of resounding brows
the subject of ears where words are liquefied.

The eyes out of their sockets
a shaft of light that causes the gaze to bleed
staring in the direction of microscopic subjects
hands outstretched
that reach the final disintegration of subjects.

Subject that changes in a man who doesn’t change
in the cave of subjects, unchanging man
I am condemned by the time of times
to be myself.

*

The spiders’ feast

O so you’ve woken up?
a prodigious morning opens wide the windows
last night’s tree has left a mark
on the skin of your forehead.

Yes, you’ve woken up
shaking off your mantle of cobwebbed sleep
You’ve put to flight the crowd of blind rats
that gnawed at you as you slept.

You’re awake, where you off to now?
you abandon your night wealth for the great void of day
and with pale weakness you build your aimless march.

You’re awake, let’s mount
the narrow stairs to the end of time
there to surprise the lost minutes
life escapees.

No
a sudden discouragement holds you back
before a heavenless space where terrified mists
of inexplicable gentleness
transform those who advance into wind.

Marine algae of hope
pointless hours lurk behind the golden door
words chained to a deep secret
diamond discouragement shines inwardly
those who dare to smile lose their place in the world.

Where’re you off to without me? looking for your solitary feast
your drunkenness of signs and cataracts
your cage of freedom
where unknown friends sup your fluid gestures
and poison glares at you with phosphorescent eyes.
Prepare for your feast
the feast of hands that crush each other
the feast of creaking sweat
there where the lethargy of your flesh
throws itself into a dark dance.

Your feast is the feast of spiders
that ferociously devour your night wealth
to feed their endless misery
there submerged in boundless oblivion
you’ll buy reasons to laugh
You’ll purchase a roar to fill your silence

Aldo Pellegrini

(translation by John Lyons)

On Wimbledon Common

On Wimbledon Common

A fine clear dazzling morning
           as I stroll out
the sun scarcely an hour high
           the air just tart enough
How my whole day is shaped
           by the song of that meadow lark
perched on a fence-stake
           twenty yards away!

Two or three liquid-simple notes
           repeated at intervals
full of careless happiness
           and hope

With its peculiar shimmering
           slow progress and swift
noiseless action of its wings
           away it flies
alights on another stake
           and so on to another
shimmering and singing
           as it goes

John Lyons

(adapted from Walt Whitman, Specimen Days)

Robin red-breast

Robin red-breast

A robin
           with fiery red breast
chilling out on a branch
           in the chill wind
insignificance
           is its significance

I watch as the branch
           slowly rises and falls
the bird virtually
           weightless

but a moment
           nevertheless
in my life
           I who still have 
the breath to appreciate
           and to admire it

John Lyons

The foxes have gone to ground

The foxes have gone to ground

The foxes
           have gone to ground
in the silence
           in the stillness
they know
           that something
is seriously wrong
           with the world

No more sunbathing
           on sheds roofs
no more slinking
           from garden to garden
no more wandering
           the streets after dark
no more chattering
           in the early hours

the foxes
           are self-isolating
mothers are confining
           their litters
to the lair
           they can sense
that something serious
           is afoot

John Lyons

The poetics of dream

The poetics of dream

Never has space
           flight of birds
flight of angels
           aerial distance
the poet’s mind
           eyed from a castle
or from a tower
           in Sligo

the act ever
           incomplete
the arrow speeding
           through the air
how thoughts soar
           carried on the wind
a child’s kite
           with unending string

never has space
           and within it love
the heartfelt impulse
           flight of fancy
eclipsing all fear
           never has space
known such a time
           inwardly
outwardly
           as now and then

John Lyons


Die Poetik des Traums

Hat nie Platz
           Flug der Vögel
Flug der Engel
           Luftentfernung
der Geist des Dichters
           von einer Burg aus gesehen
oder von einem Turm
           in Sligo

die Tat immer
           unvollständig
Der Pfeil beschleunigt
           durch die Luft
wie Gedanken steigen
           im Wind getragen
Drachen eines Kindes
           mit endloser Schnur

hat nie Platz
           und Liebe darin
der warme Impuls
           Flug der Fantasie
alle Angst in den Schatten stellen
           hat nie Platz
eine solche Zeit bekannt
           innerlich
außenlich
           wie jetzt und dann

 

The lyre among the shades

Sonnets to Orpheus

Sonnet 9

Only those who have already
raised the lyre among the shades
can foresee
the infinite praise.
 
Only those who consumed  
poppies with the dead,  
will not lose the least
of their notes.
 
Our reflection in the pond  
may often blur:  
know the picture.
 
Only twixt the twin realms
will our voice turn  
gentle and everlasting

Rainer Maria Rilke

(translation by John Lyons)


 

Sonnett 9

Nur wer die Leier schon hob
auch unter Schatten,
darf das unendliche Lob
ahnend erstatten.

Nur wer mit Toten vom Mohn
aß, von dem ihren,
wird nicht den leisesten Ton
wieder verlieren.

Mag auch die Spieglung im Teich
oft uns verschwimmen:
Wisse das Bild.

Erst in dem Doppelbereich
werden die Stimmen
ewig und mild.

A poem of thank you

stein

A poem of thank you

It was a very pleasant day yesterday
           and it is pleasant that today
is as warm as yesterday
           a blue sky is always welcome
long hours of sunshine
           the birds were in good voice yesterday
and today is no different
           I heard the foxes in the early hours
they were planning their day
           they sensed it was going to be
a very pleasant day
           a day as warm as yesterday
it was no surprise to me
           it is no surprise to me

naturally the world is never
           always full of bad news
there is always some light
           some hope to cling on to
and there is always room
           for love and gratitude
and so I gave my love a kiss
           and she agreed that it was
a very pleasant day yesterday
           and that so it would be today

John Lyons

 

The murder of Federico García Lorca

Gelman
Juan Gelman (1930-2014)

Reds

it’s raining on the Río de la Plata and it’s almost
36 years since they killed Federico García Lorca but
what’s the relationship between that
outer reality and this inner unreality? or
what’s the relationship between that outer unreality
and this inner reality?
 
I don’t know the river’s gray line  
looks like the knife with which they slit the sky
looks like the knife with which they slit childhoods in Azul
slit childhoods in Santa Fe and other places in the republic
sometimes forever or always forever
it’s one of the country’s great agonies
 
that’s for sure in the west
the sunsets are not inflamed by the sun here
children’s blood inflames the republic’s sunsets  
children from Salta children from Tucumán little angels
blood evaporated or fallen swept away by the sunset
each and every each and every day
 
and what’s that got to do the death of Federico García Lorca
with the execution of Federico García Lorca in Granada in 1936?
or the sunset in the west of Spain
that is inflamed not by the sun but from the blood
of Federico García Lorca poet
each and every each and every day
 
I don’t know I don’t know
“child, you’re going to fall into the river!” said Federico García Lorca
“when he was lost in the water I understood” said Federico García Lorca
“within the rose there’s another river” said Federico García Lorca
but why does his blood inflame
Granada each and every day every day?
 
and the children of Azul Santa Fe Tucumán Salta
why do they inflame the sky of the republic
beneath which they have forgotten them or pretend to forget?
why did they fall into the river were lost
in the water went to the river of another rose from
ugly poverty?
 
what’s the relationship between that
outer reality and this inner unreality? or
what’s the relationship between that outer unreality
and this inner reality?
when did they kill Federico García Lorca in Tucumán?
when was he shot in Azul Santa Fe Salta?

Juan Gelman

(Translated by John Lyons)


In this poem, Juan Gelman – of Ukrainian origin and one of Argentina’s greatest poet – draws a parallel between the murder of the poet Federico García Lorca by Franco’s fascist troops at the start of the Spanish Civil War and the slaughter of innocents in Argentina during the so-called Dirty War (the name used for the period of United States-backed state terrorism in Argentina from 1976 to 1983). Azul, Santa Fe, Salta and Tucumán are representative provinces of Argentina, though the military dictatorship spread terror throughout the country.

Vietnam

 

espriu
Salvador Espriu (1913-1985)

Vietnam

I’m not young and I’ve always seen
injustice and fear all around me
It’s always been this way,
I gratefully learned  
from the heavy books of the good old days.
I live in a country that’s not free,
very tired, cruel, corrupt, very cowardly,
I have to live in an unworthy country
but the rest of the world is no better.
 
And I can raise only a few fragile words
against the contempt of the lords of power,
the princes’ lips are just smiling,
barely a smile that comes from oblivion
and then dictate forever
icy laws of fear and force,
a firm support  
most generous crutches
upon which the lame  
may walk towards death.
 
How will I fight with nothing
but useless words,
what good is the cry of the dreamer?
I wake up slowly and in silence I contemplate
the great bonfire lit in the far south,
the shame and dishonour of all peoples
It will spread everywhere  
and in it we shall burn,
now someone has understood
but soon everyone will know
that we’re completely lost.

Salvador Espriu

(translated by John Lyons)


“Vietnam” by the great Catalan poet, Salvador Espriu, was written in 1968, ostensibly as a denunciation of the Vietnam War, but was aimed more particularly at fascism and the corrupt regime of Franco’s Spain which sought to suppress Catalan culture.