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Poems from Alejandra Pizarnik’s Works and Nights

Written by eastern writer on Wednesday, March 05, 2008

BORN in 1936 in the town of Avellaneda, a Southern suburb of the city of Buenos Aires, Pizarnik was the second daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. In her short life - Pizarnik died in September 1972 - she was to produce one of the most compelling poetic works in the Argentine canon. Her friend, linguist and poet Ivonne Bordelois recalls the occasion when she accompanied Pizarnik to Jorge Luis Borges’s house in order to interview him for the literary magazine Zona Franca. The questions had been planned by Pizarnik, who, nevertheless, remained for most of the visit ‘curled up like a hypnotised cat in an armchair in Borges’s house’ while Bordelois conducted the interview. She recalls how she felt at the time, ‘moving between these two Himalayas of our literature, so opposed between them and, at the same time, both of them writers that only Argentina could produce, with such a special amalgam of European and porteño roots…’ Pizarnik’s favourite Borges poem, which she regarded as one of his best poems, ‘Mateo, XXV, 30’, found its way into one of her last poems (dated 1971), as part of the typical ‘intertextual fusions’ she used to practise:

We gave you all that was necessary for you to understand
and you preferred the wait,
as if all announced to you the poem
(the one you'll never write because it is an inaccessible garden

- I only came to see the garden -)

-Te dimos todo lo necesario para que comprendieras
y preferiste la espera,
como si todo te anunciase el poema
(aquel que nunca escribirás porque es un jardín inaccesible

- solo vine a ver el jardín -)

Another great Argentine writer, Julio Cortázar, who also became a close friend of Pizarnik’s when they met in Paris in 1960, dedicated a poem to her, entitled ‘Aquí Alejandra’ which shows the warm regard and esteem he felt for the young poet. Their friendship is also evidenced in his many letters to Pizarnik, compiled in his Cartas (edited by Aurora Bernárdez and published in 2000). In his poem Alejandra is his bicho and so he pleads with her to:

curl up here, drink with me,
look, I have called them,
they will surely come, the intermediaries,
the party for you, the whole party…

acurrúcate aquí, bebé conmigo,
mirá, las he llamado,
vendrán seguro las intercesoras,
el party para vos, la fiesta entera…

The above references to two major figures of the Argentine literary
canon in connection with Pizarnik offer an insight into her position within that same canon. When years later she achieved the status of major poet, such status was by no means the result of her untimely death. Early in her literary career, living in Paris with a number of Latin American writers, she met Octavio Paz, who acknowledged her great talent and unusual poetic gift. In his prologue to Pizarnik’s fourth collection Árbol de Diana (1962) he described the volume as ‘an object (animate) which allows us to see beyond, a natural instrument of vision’. This statement, for the young Pizarnik brought up reading French poets, such as Rimbaud and Mallarmé, signified a major breakthrough. Her poetic fate had been sealed: she would devote her life to poetry - to poetry understood as a ‘space of revelations’, as a place in which to live herself - and set out to write a poetry that would construct her identity as poet, making the body of the poem with her body… ‘No quiero ir/nada más/que hasta el fondo’ (I don't want to go/ anywhere/ but to the end) was found among other texts written on the chalkboard in her workroom after she died. The poems in Works and Nights (1965) are evidence of this process and mark Pizarnik’s mature poetic voice. The key question for the translator is how to translate this construction of subjectivity, this subject-in-process, to borrow Julia Kristeva’s term, which is indeed a question Pizarnik herself addressed in her sixth collection, Extracción de la piedra de locura (The Cure of Folly) (1968): ‘¿Qué significa traducirse en palabras?/ What does it mean to translate oneself into words?’

page(s) 119-120


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