A translation of Eclipses y Fulgores, an interview of Argentinean surrealist Olga Orozco, with new preface.
Born to the Pampas in 1920, Olga Orozco spent her adolescence in the coastal city of Bahía Blanca in Argentina, and made her artistic debut in the so-called “Generation of the 1940s” alongside authors like Enrique Molina and Edgar Bayley, as well as Alejandra Pizarnik (perhaps the internationally most-famous Argentinean poet) after whose tragic and youthful suicide Orozco dedicated the poem “Pavana del hoy para una infanta difunta que amo y lloro”
Pavanne for a girl-child who I love and mourn today.
Orozco’s encounter with European and Latin American schools of surrealism redefined her poetry—the surreal, the strange, and the nocturnal became, perhaps, her poetry’s most defining characteristics. Fond of talismans, masques and pseudonyms — she was said to be juggling about 8 of them at a given moment — she used these to sign advice-columns on astrology and the occult, perhaps a surer means of income than her many poetry awards she won from institutions in Argentina (where she had won nearly every major literary award) Chile (the Gabriela Mistral Prize), Mexico (a prize named after Mexican novelist Juan Rulfo) Spain, and Italy. Talismans, astrology and the paranormal reappear in her poems.
In her old age, Orozco had the reputation of being a mentor — oracular, Diothema-like — to younger poets who deserted their humble provinces like Salta, for the metropolis Buenos Aires. Thus far the sole published English translation of her poetry is “Engravings torn from Insomnia” by Colorado poet Mary Crow. Two decades passed since Olga Orozco’s death in 1999.
Below is my English translation of fragments of an interview realized at the time of the re-release of her poems in local and international anthologies, now collected in La Palabra del Otro, The word of the Other, poet and cultural journalist Sergio Kisilewsky’s selected interviews of Argentinean writers and artists (published by Acercándonos Ediciones). The original text of this interview in Spanish appeared this year in Argentinean newspaper Página12 as a homage to the influential poet.
“Olga Orozco sat in a large overstuffed chair. The living room was spacious and brightly lit. The usual noise of Arenales street could not be heard at any moment of our conversation, only the patter of the cats offered the minutest distraction during our encounter. Surrounding her, were bookshelves crammed with books; newspaper and magazine clippings littered the tabletops.
Sergio Kisielewsky: Do you believe that poetry provides answers, or does it rather generate new questions?
Olga Orozco: It offers answers which, perhaps, turn into new questions. I believe we never arrive at the final answer. The final question produces silence because of its generating friction with the realm of the forbidden. It has no possible answer, because to answer it would be the supreme transgression.
Furthermore, it be disallowed for us to open that door, we do not know how to unseal it, we have no answer from this side of the world. We don’t even know who were are, neither where we came from nor where we are going, despite any attempts we make to find a thousand images of those purported realms. No matter how much faith we might have about the image we have constructed of those places, we know that a metamorphosis will come and unsettle that image and perhaps carry us back to the point where it all began.
SK: Is poetry not a way to correct the fates, to modify fate improving for the better?
OO: Poetry is a pretence of seeking to correct the fates, yes, of course. I believe that rather than offering a rectification of destiny, it tries, at least, to fulfil destiny. I believe we write because we feel incomplete, because we feel we are not enough, because reality as it is at this current stage does not suffice for us; this “I” confined to one single person, with which all is reduced to laws of cause-and-effect and to linear time; we wish to transgress all these things, to surpass them, to be one and all.
SK: Do you find that contemporary society respects the occupation of the poet?
OO: I wonder whether the respect for it that exists in society, originates in despair, or in helplessness. I believe poetry is respected as a sanctuary, just as certain religious sects are respected, but poetry has never been looked upon favorably upon by all people.
There has always been the notion of the poet being the inhabitant of a cloud, who walks with one foot leaning on the edge, and the other dangling adrift in the emptiness, probing, to find where to proceed, where to find the drawbridge where one can step without plummeting….
Foucault himself says that people in general, that society puts the poet in the same place it designates for society’s ultimate transgressors, such as the rapists, murderers, burglars… He speaks of these “outlier” cages, which society has designated for these people: these are supposedly cages of non-admission, they have no bars.
SK : Why does the habit of writing and reading poetry still prevail in society?
OO: Poetry offers companionship, it helps people share their longings and their sense of estrangement, to feel they are not alone in looking at the bottom of the abysses that open up before us every now and then. Poetry can accompany people in their deepest doubts, in extreme restlessness, in encountering the enigma we all carry within ourselves, by the mere fact of our existing while not knowing who we are. And poetry helps us to not fall asleep in comfort.
SK: Death is a recurring theme in your poetry. An idea which, in your work, became a challenge to put into narration.
OO: Death was a grave concern. I did dress rehearsals for death, one could say, every day, regularly. Life happens on the crossroads with death. I think when reading Henry Miller, you cannot think of one without thinking of the other. But the opposite of life is not death. The opposite of life, is nothingness. Death is but a continuity. For me it always was a threshold of the unknown.
SK: In one of your lectures, you alluded to rivers that run dry, and connected that to poetry….
OO: I spoke of that in relation to Time, but not to poetry. I disbelieve that poetry comes to an end in the way some writers claim it does, like Milan Kundera and some others who predict there will an end of poetry in history. I do not believe that at all; it would imply that man would have to leave all that pertains to the spirit to one side, in order to adjust more to the immediate concerns, and to the happenstance, to the eventual and the circumstantial, while absolutely renouncing the greater spiritual values. The quest in poetry is directed to the high-above and to the down-below, as (Gaston) Bachelard says. Poetry, if not directly invoking the heavens, is in any case speaking of the heights and of the abysses.
SK: You worked out issues with personal obsessions within your poetry. How do you keep tabs on your obsessive tendencies in order to write?
OO: I was able to take control of them, luckily. I worked on very extreme sensations. There is a book made in this manner called Savage Museum (Museo Salvaje) in which each part of my body is explored as a source of estrangement, during a time when I was feeling many doubts and alienation towards myself. In a sense, I exacerbated all these obsessions. Something very interesting happened. As I went about analyzing each body-part, it disintegrated. For example, I looked at an eye, in all its detail, until I saw a jungle in its deepest end, and then abruptly I experienced a momentary blindness. While I was writing the poem on blood, my blood-sugar suddenly spiked.
I did the poem about the bones, and I got a fracture. I’m not sure if these were premonitions, or the reverse…Either these accidents came about because I started to work on these poems, or because these events were already on the horizon, and somehow, something in me gave warnings by way of an unconscious process.
SK : Your opinion on writers’ workshops?
OO : I believe the workshops work especially well for shy people, in that context they might be less intimidated when having to show their pieces. It can help the process of correcting texts. Perhaps the understanding of criticism can be clarified, when people and their work are present, as people in the same situation encounter one another, to analyze that which they find valuable or ineffective in a text.
SK: How did you deal with the phenomenon of shame, of ashamedness (in contrast to the personal or to openness) while writing poetry?
OO: One should be borderless, uninhibited. Say what you have to say. Of course I dislike crassness in poetry, just as I dislike crassness in everyday life. Everything can be handled with a delicate touch, absolutely everything. I believe there are no taboo subjects, not at all. I think there are ways to say it all.
SK: How do you remember Alejandra Pizarnik today?
OO: Just like when she was alive. What happened with that girl, is that they constructed a lot of mythology around her; they tell fabulous stories about her that are untrue. I believe she had a great future ahead of her… When reading Pizarnik, one senses that her poetry lacks nothing, there were deficiencies in her life that made her write an oeuvre that lacks nothing. Hers is a poetry containing the experiences of feeling chilly, of feeling thirst, of feeling thirst and of asking for help.
With gratitude to the courtesy of Sergio Kisielewsky for welcoming my translation and publication of this interview. -AD
Arturo Desimone, Arubian-Argentinian writer and visual artist born in 1984 on the island Aruba which he inhabited until the age of 22. Desimone’s articles, poetry and short fiction pieces have previously appeared in CounterPunch, Revista Marcapiel, Tripwire, Acentos Review, New Orleans Review, DemocraciaAbierta, BIM Magazine, and the Drunken Boat issue 22. His translations of poetry have appeared in the Blue Lyra Review and Adirondack Review.
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