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By Javier Huerta

advertencia.gif
(It is highly improbable that a reader would encounter an “Advertisement” in the opening pages of a contemporary book of poetry. Preface, Foreword, Prologue, Introduction—Yes to all of these. But the “Advertisement” is a past genre that didn’t make the evolutionary cut. It differs from those other types of prefatory remarks in that it explicitly references the contentious relationship between the author and his reader. In a way, the “advertisement” anticipates questions and criticisms that may be raised about a particular volume, and the author, thinly veiled in the third person, makes a preemptive strike against his detractors. It serves, if you will, as a warning.


Before writing the famous “Preface” to the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth includes an “Advertisement” in the 1798 edition. This advertisement anticipates criticisms by explaining the experimental nature of the poems—

The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure. Readers accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion, will perhaps frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness: they will look round for poetry, and will be induced to enquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be permitted to assume that title.

—and arguing that readers should adjust their tastes:

An accurate taste in Poetry, and in all the other arts, Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed, is an acquired talent, which can only be produced by severe thought, and a long continued intercourse with the best models of composition. This is mentioned not with so ridiculous a purpose as to prevent the most inexperienced reader from judging for himself; but merely to temper the rashness of decision, and to suggest that if poetry be a subject on which much time has not been bestowed, the judgment may be erroneous, and that in many cases it necessarily will be so.

Wordsworth’s advertisement is more intriguing than his “Preface” because in the “Preface” he fails to engage the reader and his taste in such a confrontational manner. Also the tone of the “Preface” is not as playful. “Punch you with a smile,” isn’t that the saying?
Nicanor Parra adopts the playful confrontational gesture of W’s advertisement. In Poemas & Antipoemas, Parra moves the “Advertisement” from the front matter to a poem. Here is his “Advertencia al lector.”

El autor no responde de las molestias que puedan ocasionar sus escritos:
Aunque le pese.
El lector tendrá que darse siempre por satisfecho.
Sabelius, que además de teólogo fue un humorista consumado,
Después de haber reducido a polvo el dogma de la Santísima Trinidad
¿Respondió acaso de su herejía?
Y si llegó a responder, ¡cómo lo hizo!
¡En qué forma descabellada!
¡Basándose en qué cúmulo de contradicciones!
Según los doctores de la ley este libro no debiera publicarse:
La palabra arco iris no aparece en él en ninguna parte,
Menos aún la palabra dolor,
La palabra torcuato.
Sillas y mesas sí que figuran a granel,
¡Ataúdes!, ¡útiles de escritorio!
Lo que me llena de orgullo
Porque, a mi modo de ver, el cielo se está cayendo a pedazos.
Los mortales que hayan leído el Tractatus de Wittgenstein
Pueden darse con una piedra en el pecho
Porque es una obra difícil de conseguir:
Pero el Círculo de Viena se disolvió hace años,
Sus miembros se dispersaron sin dejar huella
Y yo he decidido declarar la guerra a los cavalieri della luna.
Mi poesía puede perfectamente no conducir a ninguna parte:
“¡Las risas de este libro son falsas!”, argumentarán mis detractores
“Sus lágrimas, ¡artificiales!”
“En vez de suspirar, en estas páginas se bosteza”
“Se patalea como un niño de pecho”
“El autor se da a entender a estornudos”
Conforme: os invito a quemar vuestras naves,
Como los fenicios pretendo formarme mi propio alfabeto.
“¿A qué molestar al público entonces?”, se preguntarán los amigos lectores:
“Si el propio autor empieza por desprestigiar sus escritos,
¡Qué podrá esperarse de ellos!”
Cuidado, yo no desprestigio nada
O, mejor dicho, yo exalto mi punto de vista,
Me vanaglorio de mis limitaciones
Pongo por las nubes mis creaciones.
Los pájaros de Aristófanes
Enterraban en sus propias cabezas
Los cadáveres de sus padres.
(Cada pájaro era un verdadero cementerio volante)
A mi modo de ver
Ha llegado la hora de modernizar esta ceremonia
¡Y yo entierro mis plumas en la cabeza de los señores lectores!

The phrase “las molestias” in the first line echoes “feelings of strangeness and awkwardness” in Wordsworth. Parra’s answer to his would-be detractors is simple: be satisfied or make yourself satisfied with what my writings offer you. The poem ends with that playful “violence” so characteristic to Parra: And I bury my pens/feathers in the head of Gentlemen Readers. (If anyone knows of a translation, please share.)
So as a form of Introduction I—Javier Omar Huerta Gomez, mucho gusto, para servirles—have written an Advertisement. It is part of my modest attempt as an Old Formalist to revive extinct forms and genres.)
Many of the future posts from this blogger are to be considered as apologies. When he writes, “the beautiful bores me,” it is to be read as a confession and not as a polemic. The blogger simply wishes to express his remorse that after investing his G.I. Bill and other funds, his time, and his effort in attending some of the higher institutions in this country he has failed to rehabilitate his aesthetic miseducation.
And when he claims, “the new annoys me,” it is to be read apologetically and not combatively. Though he has exposed himself to experimental isms, this blogger cannot shake the somewhat mistaken notion that there are no stark differences between the platform of the beautiful and the platform of the new. Thusly, Harriet readers should be aware that many of this blogger’s future posts will focus on old-and-not-that-beautiful poetry.
Readers accustomed to the thoughtful and thought-provoking posts by past Harriet bloggers may find that the words of this present Blogger lack any real substance. Many Harriet readers may also question this blogger’s inexperience in blogging at a national level. After all, with only one blog to his name he does not have much of a record. In lieu of that record and as a way of answering that big question mark, our Blogger offers to his prospective readers the following six axioms:

The problem is that we read poetry when we should leer.
In depicting an angel losing his wings, the poet should make him sigh, alas. The figure of the angel should be portrayed sympathetically because, after all, sin is without.
How much is a vale of tears worth? There is no exit from the realm of no sale.
A choice: either put your foot in your mouth or enjoy some warm pie. Consider your poems a feast. Tell the reader, Come and eat.
Sometimes knowledge is not enough; then you must wield your saber.
Every poet is allowed eleven once-upon-a-times.

Comments (5)

  • On September 8, 2008 at 12:27 pm Don Share wrote:

    What a terrific post, Javier – so much to think about. Thank you!
    My own apologies for focusing on the minute (as in very small, not as in any unit of time) – the bit about Reynolds caught my eye because of all the stuff Blake said about him in his marginalia, e.g. – ‘Reynolds’s Opinion…that Genius May be Taught & that all Pretence to Inspiration is a Lie & a Deceit’ and ‘The Enquiry in England is not whether a Man has Talents & Genius, But whether he is Passive & Polite & a Virtuous Ass & obedient to Noblemen’s Opinions in Art & Science. If he is, he is a Good Man. If Not, he must be Starved’. (Other remarks of Blake’s on Sir Joshua: ‘Villainy!’, ‘A Lie!’ ‘Nonsense!’ ‘True!’ ‘Excellent!’ and ‘Well Said!’.)

  • On September 8, 2008 at 7:56 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Yes, this is really great.
    I’ve often wondered: Why is U.S. poetry so generally bereft of paratextual jouissance?
    (If that’s how you spell jouissance…)
    Or: Why leave fiction to the fiction writers? as a late poet once asked.
    Where are the English-language anti-poets, anyway?
    Kent

  • On September 8, 2008 at 11:27 pm Oscar wrote:

    Thanks for all the background on the “Advertisement” form. I’m definitely going to look more into it.
    And I’m really diggin’ the Spanglish puns.
    As Willie Perdomo would say:

    so tell Pachanga
    that si no hablas español
    bienvenido
    that is no hablas inglés
    bienvenido
    - The New Boogaloo

    ¡Bienvenido!

  • On September 10, 2008 at 6:36 pm Vivek Narayanan wrote:

    I’m not sure I agree with what you say, but I like it because you put it so beautifully…

  • On September 13, 2008 at 8:07 am Rich Villar wrote:

    Bienvenido, indeed, sir.
    Wanted to point out to intrepid readers that they can check out another modern Advertisement and its subsequent experiments in the collection SOME CLARIFICATIONS Y OTROS POEMAS. By Javier Huerta. :-) Word, y’all.
    Parra was a master of the Spanglish pun, too–
    “Spanglish: cierren la windowa, que parece que va a reinar.”
    Thanks for giving him some space here.
    Looking forward to reading. And I gotta blog more, dernit.


Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, September 5th, 2008 by Javier Huerta.