Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Vertical Poetry 

By Roberto Juarroz

Translated by Mary Crow

Born in Coronel Dorrego near Buenos Aires in 1929, Roberto Juarroz worked as a  professor of Library Science in University of Buenos Aires. Intensely withdrawn as a person and a philosophical thinker , he was the proponent of what he himself called "explosive poetry",  seeking pastures that  goes beyond conventional limits of poetry and language. Ocatvio Paz called him  one of the most distinguished of all Latin American poets. Paz wrote:" Each poem of Roberto Juarroz is a surprising verbal crystallization: language reduced to a bead of light. A major poet of absolute moments."  This is very true about the subject and form of his poetry as his poems speak about a speaker's momentary confrontation with some quandary conveying the brevity of the immediate. Juarroz's goal in poetry is "the recuperation of the instant". Juarroz's vertical poetry is wise and luminous. As the great Argentinian novelistJulio Cortazar rightly said,  "It's been a long time since I've read poems that have extended me and exalted me as his have."

Roberto Juarroz called his entire body of verse "vertical poetry" using this phrase as the title of every one of his books, each poem a fragment of verticality yet also fragment of the whole impossible to complete. "Vertical Poetry" plunges deep and soars high. For Juarroz, verticality presupposed "to break , go beyond the flattened dimension, the stereotypical , conventional, to search for the other." It is the opposite of horizontality, the space we see extending around us of the material world. He doesn't title any of his poems which adds to the sense that the poems form part of an ongoing flow. 

His typical poems, as seen below, are aphoristic, cast as a riddle or syllogism, mixing abstraction with concrete image. One can find a rare confluence emotion, intelligence and sensitivity here.  Autobiographical elements are absent in his poems and  he doesn't follow history or politics or a particular life . He tries to speak of an experience outside of ordinary time. Juarroz's poetry expresses a despair of human condition in its idea  that in each person there's a side that opens towards the void or abyss. His poems  attempt a view of the depths and the heights playfully so that we are prevented from feeling that we are being addressed by a self-proclaimed prophet. While sometimes the subject is God or the nature of the universe, the immediate focus is almost always on something small, a leaf or butterfly , and frequently the voice that speaks to us is bemused or quizzical , even when it tells us "We have no other remedy, then/but to be paradise".

Over his lifetime, the style of this poet never changed. Austere in language and generalized in imagery, his poems employ an interpersonal tone and archetypal sentiment . They have the spareness of haiku in their economy and simplicity of language, their reliance on images from nature and their Zen like serenity or playfulness.  However, unlike the haiku, Juarroz's poems present the interior world.

Poem 1

The most beautiful day
lacks something:
its dark side.
Only to a near-sighted god
could light by itself
appear beautiful.

Beside any Let there be light!,
Let there be darkness!
should also be said.

We don't arrive
at necessary night by omission only.

Poem 2

Night shuts down sometimes
like blocks of stone
and leaves us without space.
My hand then can no longer touch you
to defend us from death
and I can't even touch myself
to defend us from absence.
A vein that springs up in that same stone
separates me from my own thought too.
Thus night is converted
into our first tomb.

Poem 3

Now I can only wear old shoes.
The road I follow
wears shoes out from the first step.

But only old shoes
don't despise my road
and only they can arrive
where my road arrives.

After that,
you have to continue barefoot.

Poem 4

An arrow pierces the universe.
It doesn't matter who shot it.
It crosses equally fluid and solid,
visible and invisible .
Trying to figure out where it's going would be
 like imagining a wall around nothing

Arrow from the anonymous to the anonymous,
from a void that isn't its origin
toward another void that isn't its destination.
movement not resembling movement
but ecstasy constantly renewed.

I find the arrow in your hand
or you find it my thought.
I can see it entering a cloud,
cutting a bird in two,
emerging from flowers and rains,
splitting a blindness,
penetrating the dead.

Perhaps its model anonymity
summons us to our own anonymity,
to be able also to liberate ourselves
from our beginning and our end.
(for Laura)

Poem 5

He drew windows everywhere.
On walls too high,
on walls too low,
on blunt walls, in corners,
on air and even on roofs.

He drew windows as if drawing birds.
On the floor, on nights,
on glances tangibly deaf,
on death's outskirts,
on tombs, trees.

He drew windows even on doors.
But he never drew a door.
He didn't want to enter or leave.
He knew one can't.
He only wanted to see: to see.

He drew windows.

From : Vertical Poetry: Last Poems by Roberto Juarroz. Translated by Mary Crow. Publisher - White Pine Press

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