Israel Holas Allimant Reviews Poems of Olga Orozco, Marosa Di Giorgio & Jorge Palma

By | 12 April 2018

There is in Orozco’s poetry an attempt to transform the quotidian elements of reality into moments of splendour, of magic, and this alchemical transformation is at the core of her poetic vision. In one of her final poems, as if encapsulating a life in poetry, Orozco declares:

It was my punishment, my fiery mandate, 
to find God’s secret writing scattered among the images of
            the world, 
under the grass, in the lightning flash, in memories of rain. 
The impossible attempt to thread the signs together, 
the ciphered alphabet that begins in the Word and ends in 
            my bones.

Marosa di Giorgio (Uruguay, 1932-2004) is the next poet anthologised by Boyle and is the most well-known of the three, both in Latin America and in the English speaking world, in part due to her inclusion in Roberto Echevarren’s Medusario: muestra de poesía latinoamericana (1996), a landmark anthology of late twentieth century Latin American poetry. Often placed in the neo-Baroque tradition, Di Giorgio’s poetry shares with Orozco’s its vanguardist lineage, tendency toward the juxtaposition of seemingly incongruent imagery and its interest in the magical. Di Giorgio’s poetic world also shares with Orozco’s nostalgia for the past, for innocence and childhood lost, and a fascination with death and the animal world. Like Orozco, di Giorgio grew up in countryside. Her family owned several orchards and this country-life is dutifully explored in her poetry. Yet, di Giorgio’s poetic voice is markedly different. There is a marked inclination toward the duplicitous, a tendency to highlight the violence that lurks beneath the imagery of innocence. ‘The Moth’, set in her distant childhood, begins with a visit to the farm that her uncles shared and is replete with images that betray the violence that hides behind the quotidian. It is notable that the poems collected in Boyle’s anthology are from a book of poetry published in 1987, that is, two years after the end of the twelve year Uruguayan dictatorship:

The “mulita” armadillo turned a very beautiful pale green, almost light blue, in the paroxysm of fear. With its tiny hands it ran down the paths, through the rosebushes; and hid, and reappeared, transformed now to gold, to precious stones, to a small box with links and studs.

And once more it scurried further down and reappeared, its small, brown, everyday plates rattling in the cold night.

And again it went further down towards the place of the roots, where poisonous mushrooms and pin-coloured mushrooms are born.

But hunting dogs were leaping off the terraces; and men with lamps and sticks leapt out of the trees. … Its body was served with violets on china plates, alongside wine and gentle conversations. For the twenty minutes of the meal.

Where Orozco’s poems retain the trance-like effect of the dream state, di Giorgio’s poems summon the dream-like as a cover with which to lead the reader to the precipice of the nightmarish. This is despite her recurring themes being those of the innocence of childhood, the rural-agrarian world of her early youth, evoking a countryside that exists almost out of time. In di Giorgio’s poems, there is a tender balance between the beauty and innocence that this world can evoke, and the violence that it can belie. Di Giorgio’s recurring images include the seemingly innocent fruits and foods of the orchard and countryside, animals, the childhood home, flowers and other plants. Yet, for all of the romantic wonder that these can bring forth on the page, it is still the unknowable relationship between the sublime and the horrible that forms the backbone of di Giorgio’s poetic expression. Di Giorgio’s childhood experiences are mined in ‘Funeral Carriages Laden with Watermelons’:

A mysterious longing came over me to see fruit, to eat fruit; I left the house and made for the forest. I caught an apple, a quince, a cherry with its blue hood. I roasted a dahlia, lightly, and ate it; I drank a rose in one gulp; I saw peaches and their ochre wine, grapes, red, black, white; figs that provide equal shelter to the Devil and Saint John, and bunches of bananas and loquats; dates fell into my blouse.

Wings of astonishing whiteness grew out of me, my dress grew. I started to fly. I didn’t want to come back, ever. I landed on a roof; they thought I was a stork, a tall angel; the women screamed; the men circled with dark plans.

Di Giorgio’s poetry does not fetishise violence. Her poetry is suggestive and never descriptive, nor can it be fully characterised by the violence within its pages. Violence lingers and hides behind magnolias and other objects of beauty, but it never fully takes form on the page for it is not the central axis of di Giorgio’s poetic vision. Di Giorgio’s poetry seeks in moments of beauty and nostalgia, the brutal truth that lies beneath the glittering facade of memory.

The third and final poet included in Boyle’s selection, Jorge Palma (Uruguay, 1961- ) represents an offshoot from an entirely different, if not parallel, poetic tradition in Latin America: that of socially committed, conversational poetry. In reality, this nomenclature is a problematic one, which serves only to reference the fact that it is a form of poetry that is not afraid to take its themes, imagery, form and language from the everyday. Palma’s is a poetry of straight-talking verses that employ humour, disparate images, juxtapositions, as well as formal experimentation to reach deep into the quotidian and extract different perspectives from it. What Palma’s poetry has in common with that of Orozco and di Giorgio is the attempt to articulate that which remains unsaid and lies beneath the glittering surface of reality. Given that Palma produces his poetry in the era of Uruguay’s supposed economic ascent put in place by the neoliberal economic policies of the Uruguayan dictatorship of 1973-1985, he questions the official narratives. But Palma’s poetry is not politically committed in the traditional sense of pamphleteering for political parties or mythologising fallen martyrs. Palma, who in some sense comes of age in the deep of the Uruguayan dictatorship, does not appeal to explicit ideology in his poems. Instead, his poems become political when they take the aspirational images of the everyday and ground them in the forced landing of his verse. This occurs, for instance in ‘The Working Class Don’t go to Paradise’, where the reality of the proletariat is laid bare through a series of juxtapositions that dismantle the certainties put forth by the economists and discursive architects of the present-perfect that is late capitalism:

Depending on who’s looking at it, how it’s seen.
Here or in China the working class
do not go to paradise: they travel in torment
in the entrails of a lightning bolt crammed
inside the entrails of a chicken
struck dumb in the wingless breeze
which with a soundless blow
evaporates in the air
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