“In the Mind of the Bourgeois Reader”

It had been a while since I listened to Sonic Youth’s Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (DGC, 1994), one of those perfect short albums that shifts gears into multiple styles, including sublime semi-acoustic moments (“Vicarious pleasure in my brain... ”). I’ve also been listening to Jeff Mangum, Live at Jittery Joe’s (Orange Twin Records, 2001), recorded in Athens, GA in 1997. He plays many of the songs that would end up on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, evoking so much with just his voice and an acoustic guitar. One song I keep listening to repeatedly is the magnificently sad “Engine”:

“But sweetness alone who flew out through the window,
And landed back home in a garden of green.”

Thanks to Heriberto Yépez, I was able to find a copy of a recent anthology of 20th century Venezuelan poetry, edited in Spain by Rafael Arráiz Lucca, Poesía venezolana: Antología esencial (Visor Libros, 2005). It includes a long poem by Hanni Ossot (1946-2002) composed over one night in 1985, called “En el país de la pena,” a beautiful, honest account of her psychic disturbances and the desire to write. The poem feels like a conversation with night, as its hours proceed into dawn, visionary impulses trying to momentarily pull back the curtains.

A couple days ago, I finished reading Yépez’s book of essays Made in Tijuana (Instituto de Cultura de Baja California, 2005). He offers a convincing argument as to how Nestor García Canclini’s notion of hybridity on the U.S.-Mexico border is often interpreted apolitically, as a way to create an illusion of the border as a synthesis of equal forces, when in actuality it remains a colonial situation, with capital setting the agenda. The book includes a great long essay on the writing of Rafa Saavedra (whose prose texts can be read at his Bukonica). In this essay, Yépez differentiates between the nihilism of younger Latin American artists & writers and that of certain American sectors, such as the almost-instantly coopted Generation X:

“A hypothetical critic of our nihilism – in other words, of our latest residual romantics – could tell us that in that aspect we seem to be colonized by pessimistic Western values. I think this is part of the problem, but the most serious aspect is something that those who don’t live the Latin American collapse would not be able to understand. In this way, Latin American nihilist cultural manifestations could seem to be postmodern or merely cool manifestations, similar to ones practiced in the United States or Spain, for example. However, their meaning is another one completely. Only someone who has experienced the continent’s misery, the corruption of our public language, the renewed oppression of globalization, could understand why nihilism finds fertile ground here, and to accuse this nihilism of being merely a retro-romantic expression would be a naïve decontextualization. However, the different meaning that nihilism has – including electronic nihilism – in Latin American in relation to other disenchantments – that of Generation X in the United States, for example – is not an apology for maintaining ourselves within absolute incredulity as a culture. That incredulity only foments the continuation of American imperialism, our main enemy, only after the corruption of our own societies and governments.” (My translation)

In The Nation, Roberto González Echevarría has an excellent essay on César Vallejo and the recent Clayton Eshleman edition of The Complete Poetry, “Revolutionary Devotion” (May 21, 2007):

“Translations are not just transactions; they are also compromises. No matter how generous we want to be, no matter how dismissive of the power of originals and of the real poets who wrote them, translations, particularly poetic translations, can never be a substitute for the poems as they were created and written. Without Spanish, a reader will never be able to enjoy Vallejo fully or even sufficiently.”

Lastly, I’m astonished by Tom Raworth’s Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2003). I remember being introduced to his work when he gave a reading in Cambridge (inside the new Frank Gehry building at MIT) in October 2005 (with Anselm Berrigan). I later found out his fast-paced reading style is a trademark of sorts. It made it difficult for me to catch much of his poems but what I did hear led me to his books. Collected Poems is massive and the poems are presented with no separation between the books, all one continuous thread, going from the mid 1960s to now. One doesn’t know what will appear each time the book is opened, poems that dissolve us and speak on various levels, simultaneously. Such as this one, from 1975:

Memories of Sadness

machines die as tapes
slowing to increasing echo

seize it

seize it”

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