Southern Exposureby Laura Cesarco Eglin
Kent Johnson and Roberto Echavarren, eds.
Hotel Lautréamont: Contemporary Poetry from Uruguay
(Shearsman Books, October, 2011)
The title of the bilingual anthology of poetry edited by Kent Johnson and Roberto Echavarren, Hotel Lautréamont: Contemporary Poetry from Uruguay, immediately made me want to stay at this hotel. I wanted to experience its selection of poets and poems, to read them both in their native Uruguayan Spanish and their English translations. Hotel Lautréamont features the work of 12 well-known Uruguayan poets born between the 1920s and early 1960s and, more importantly, it presents them, many for the first time, to English-speaking readers.
The authors appear in alphabetical order, which not only points to a democratic organizing criterion, but also, to the impossibility of pigeonholing their work by category. As Johnson explains in the preface, “These poets extend a long national legacy of literary originality and change.”
Although the work of these poets has common elements, themes and forms, these common areas are by no means intersections; they are delineated by differences. Each poet has a distinct vision of reality, and of the nature of poetry. For example, Roberto Appratto’s and Marosa Di Giorgio’s poems both cast a spell over the reader, but Appratto’s poems enchant through the repetition of words, and the moments and rhythm created. This is how he produces a “during” that lasts, one that, at the same time, has the heart ticking away, as a central presence. This enchantment is different from the one exerted by Marosa Di Giorgio. Her poetry is intimate, for the reader does not just read about this world—sometimes oneiric, sometimes magical, sometimes disquieting, always Marosa—but rather, inhabits this unfamiliar reality.
Nancy Bacelo, in contrast, does not create a different reality; instead, her poetry examines all sides of it, undermining what we take for granted by broadening and reconfiguring reality into a more complex web. This web is a world in which what “is true” is “the multiplicity of the gaze.” Silvia Guerra’s poems also introduce changes in what we consider reality. Meanings and definitions are reconstructed in her poems. Thus, each poem digs deeper into what real is, ingraining itself upon the reader, while the scarce punctuation serves to create a Guerra logic. Her “Aspirated H,” for example, illustrates how the H in the Spanish language speaks of and to these silences of different kinds—absences that are actually presences, always becoming, always part of the voice.
Sometimes the poets and poems in Hotel Lautréamont argue more directly with one another. In her poem “Möbius Strip,” Amanda Berenguer presents realities and selves as interconnected, and multidimensional, while Roberto Echavarren, in “Ut Pictura Poesis,” rejects the very idea of the strip: “it is a part / that has stopped having / left or right, front or back.” His is a world in which everything coexists, especially what is natural and artificial; what is exposed and what is hidden; what is there and what is not.
If Echaverren’s poetry presents images that conjure realities, Eduardo Espina’s poems abound in details that demand the lines be read and reread. His poems evidence a tension between control and tightness, and something that wants to break free. Tension can also be found in Circe Maia’s poems—between the particularities of objects and situations and the bigger picture. Her sparse language brings out this tension through details that are otherwise not apparent to the common gaze, like she says in her poem “Sketches,” “/ A clumsy pen sketches / the shape of nearby things. / It’s a way of seeing them better, this wanting to carry them / to paper in some manner.” In contrast, the tension in Idea Vilariño’s poetry comes from the combination of simple and straightforward language with complex observations. One line impacts the next, and together, they are not just a poem but a universe: “/ and you and I and you stepping / on what is the day’s / in other words forgetting the memory / in other words you and I and you”.
Then, in a poem like “Men Alone,” Gustavo Espinosa brings the readers back from any possible wanderings of the mind to show them real cases of men alone, here and now. Espinosa’s characteristic humor is an integral part of his “diatribes.” “/ Ferlinghetti is the name of a fast car / (is it a Lamborghini? or even an Alighieri?)” Selva Casal, though, uses a form of denunciation that is entirely different; there is no humor when, in “Confession,” she speaks of violence in “the country where everyone punished [her],” her “own land that furiously dismissed [her].” This is a place where everyone has experienced violence in many forms.
There is no doubt that Hotel Lautréamont presents a diverse group of poets. And, in Eduardo Milán’s words each one is able to “turn [the world] transparent” with their poetry. This makes Hotel Lautréamont an essential dwelling for all poetry readers.