6° International Meeting of
Experimental, Sound & Visual Poetry
. 1980: A decade of Argentine experimental poetry .
Jorge Santiago Perednik
The history of Argentine experimental poetry has among its many characteristics one that should be specifically highlighted: its practitioners generally have training in the visual arts or working experience in them. Xul Solar, an exponent of one of the most outstanding moments of experimental poetry in the world, Edgardo Antonio Vigo, who could be called the father of Argentine experimental poetry because of his devotion to spreading it and expanding it within the country and abroad, Carmelo Arden Quin, León Ferrari or Mirtha Dermisache are but a few examples of this strong presence of visual artists taken from a very long list. It may seem curious that a literary art, poetry, can be promoted from a non-literary art; it is not so curious if one pays attention to the characteristics of experimental poetry: its lack of respect for the boundaries established among the arts, its exploration of territories normally considered alien to literature -typical of music, the visual arts, theatre, etc.- allow visual artists to consider it a non-alien practice. Moreover, some of them are attracted by the word and they include it in their works, even through such a treatment that may be typical of this indefinite adventure, of convergence, which is here called experimental poetry.
The 1980s bring a surprise to the history of this area: for the first time, advancement and renovation arise from literature, are promoted by writers whose training and working experience come from poetry, or above all from it. There are two remarkable, and related, moments to be pointed out in this process: at the beginning of the decade, the publication of XUL, Signo viejo y nuevo. Revista de poesía (XUL, Old and New Sign. Poetry Magazine), and towards the end of the decade the creation of Paralengua, la ohtra poesía (Paralanguage, the Ohther Poetry), a group made up of experimental writers.
In 1980 the first number of the abovementioned magazine is published. The reference in its name to Xul Solar and the emphasis placed on the sign -in its ever-changing, and ambiguous, character, which, on the other hand, underlines an interest in tradition and renovation- are a kind of poetic program. The editorial of that first number states that XUL means a crossroads, a line that turns on itself in order to arrive at a different point, and an abrupt turn: it reaffirms the already mentioned program, seeking to practice its inscription in the form, in the drawing of its capital letters. The first number already includes, in this sense, a poem by Xul Solar and an avant-garde manifesto by an Italian group just made up, the INI. The second number on the following year devotes most of the magazine to a dossier on Brazilian concretism and its history from the beginning of the century. And in the third number, an essay covers some of the landmarks of experimentation in Argentina. Later on two numbers are devoted to contemporary Argentine experimental poets, number five entitled “Un nuevo verso argentino” (“A New Argentine Verse”) and number ten entitled “El punto ciego: la poesía visual” (“The Blind Spot: Visual Poetry”).
XUL magazine, because of its importance for poetry in its decade, served to attract and spread experimental search and research in Argentina. Several poets emerging at that moment stated that thanks to reading XUL they realized the possibilities given by poem matter (its sound elements, visual elements, body elements, virtual elements, etc.) and they decided to work on them. Among the first to make their poems known, in 1982 Emeterio Cerro publishes the book La barrosa (The Muddy One) under “XUL Ediciones”, a book consisting in two long poems organized on musical structures, based on sound repetition and variation, where the logic sustaining discourse is strictly phonic. At that moment, “XUL Ediciones” also publishes Sopa de letras (Letter Pasta Soup) by Gustavo Rossler, a book of visual poems made up with a mechanical typewriter. The same publishing house publishes my own Un pedazo del año (A Piece of the Year), a little book with two long sheets of paper stuck on the front and back covers and folded like an accordion, which reproduce the content of several meters of electric typewriter tape, where everything the writer typed appears, including mistakes, corrections, failed texts, private issues, etc. Also, C.E.A.L. publishing house engages me for an anthology, Poesía Concreta (Concrete Poetry), which is published in a large edition to be sold at newsstands, and which provides a widespread circulation of this type of poems.
In 1985 Oral by Carlos Estévez, an Argentine poet prominent among those who work with voice and sounds that can be produced by the body, is published. As a kind of score, this poems book has the function of accompanying a cassette with the author’s vocal interpretation. From the second half of 1980 onwards, Roberto Cignoni, Fabio Doctorovich, Andrea Gagliardi, Alonso Barros Peña, Roberto Scheines and Ladislao Pablo Györi also started to make their experimental poems public through different media. Most of them, as well as those mentioned above, have been collaborators in XUL magazine, and all of them are writers. The work by each of them would deserve an extensive commentary.
In 1989 Paralengua, la Ohtra Poesía (Paralanguage, the Ohther Poetry) group was created, its activities extending during the following decade. The group was made up by Roberto Castro, Roberto Cignoni, Fabio Doctorovich and Carlos Estévez, and continued by the last three. Its purpose was stimulating what was called “la ohtra poesía” (“the ohther poetry”), a consciousness of otherness in relation to institutional poetry theoretically sustained on the issue of techniques: it proposed and stimulated other technical supports and other interpretative techniques different from the traditional ones. Carlos Estévez states: “The extension of the concept of the poetic, the redefinition of its specificity, the poetic bodily aspect, the dissolution of boundaries between poetry and the other artistic disciplines are some of the issues that result from the premises [of Paralengua]. In sum, Paralengua has a tentacular and protean nature, from which one should not spare the unprejudiced, the festive, the intellectual, the sensitive and, above all, the passion with which it takes on every dimension of the word.” I can also add that whatever the position that can be attributed to it, it has always maintained a policy of non-self-marginalization, evident from the places chosen to stage meetings and exhibitions: squares or parks, writers’ associations, the most well-known cultural centres, café-concerts (cafés offering shows), theatres, exhibition halls and museums.
Among its public activities it should be pointed out that since 1989 at least an annual meeting has been held, where there were exhibitions of visual poems, sound poems, virtual poems, videos, performances in which poetry merged with theatre, music, dance, etc. In the first year a meeting took place at Oliverio Mate Bar and on December 10 and 17, 1989, another meeting was held at a neighborhood square located at Serrano and Honduras streets. On the following year, a meeting called Paralenguados was held at Foro Gandhi. A year later the meeting was repeated at the same Foro. In 1992 Paralengua video was presented at Liberarte. In 1993 the annual meeting was held at Babilonia. In 1994 meetings were held at Sociedad Argentina de Escritores and Foro Gandhi, and in 1995, at Centro Cultural Ricardo Rojas. In 1996 an international mega-exhibition called Primeras Jornadas de Poesía Experimental en Buenos Aires (First Experimental Poetry Conference in Buenos Aires) took place at Centro Cultural Recoleta, also held at Centro Cultural Ricardo Rojas and Teatro Sala Sarmiento. On the following year there was a two-day conference at Museo de Arte Moderno and in 1998 participation under the suggestive title Paralengua Fuera (Paralanguage Out) in the Tercera Feria del Libro de San Nicolás de los Arroyos (San Nicolás de los Arroyos’s Third Book Fair) marked the end of this ten-year experience.
The empty space that Paralengua left as a stimulating center and event organizer did not prevent its members from continuing generating new works and coinciding with their individual participation in many exhibitions; moreover, that empty space was soon occupied by Vortice Argentina, a movement that has again promoted visual poetry from training and work in the visual arts. Thus, a new moment in this history begins.