What Is Urgent Poetry? 5 Poets Respond
Again and again you come across terms that define the poetry of this or that poet. For my own work, they often say, “hers is an urgent poetry.” I’m trying to find out if there exists a consensus, more or less, to this definition. Here are the responses of five poets, and if I had been in the same room I wouldn’t lose the thread of the discussion...
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When entering any categorization of a writer, I’m suspicious of reductionism. One of the most interesting aspects of poetry is its complexity, its resistance to simplifications. Having said that, “urgent poetry”? I suppose you could talk of urgency whenever the poem surrenders a demand for transformation, whenever the poem pushes someone to act as soon as possible. Urgent poetry is what moves us to write, what leads us to live or commit some act of life. José Viñals said that art is transformation. In this sense I understand urgency in poetry. Also, for example, in Joan Brossa, who urges us to look at the world (and words) in another way. Also César Vallejo, who in addition believed it was imperative that we act on ourselves.
Esteban Martínez Serra
I know URGENT POETRY is one of the titles of Celaya and that it intends to associate with the poem “poetry is a weapon armed with the future...” Then the Basque poet, committed to some manner of socialist ideas and the idea of art as an instrument of social change, perceived the “urgency” of a poetry less influenced by styling, slow reflection, and imagery. A poetry written in exact time, for a time that he wanted to perpetuate when it already started to rot. An urgent action from the field hospital.
However, for me it’s more “poetry of urgency” by Leopoldo María Panero, for example. It’s a scream, an expulsion, an excresence—between beautiful and fetid—like a short breath before returning to drowning.
Urgent poetry: it corresponds with those rare moments of lucidity, alone, when one and alone we succeed in taking the thread that binds us all, those of before, those of now, those that will come. To account for those brief flashes and let them flow is urgent. To sink the sediment of material life and dark that we are and fill the riverbed of that essential river.
If I get up every morning it’s because I’m certain
that life owes me the happiest days.
And if perhaps thereby it’s not my destiny
I’d get up all the same anyway.
Clemente Riedemann (Rewind)
“What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage.”
There are blows in life, so powerful . . . I don't know!
Blows as from God's hatred; as if before them,
the backlash of everything suffered
were to dam up in the soul . . . I don't know!
Cesar Vallejo, trans. Michael Smith and Valentino Gianuzzi
Urgent poetry, for me, would be the opposite of poetry: poetry requires time, “tempo,” places where the word is delayed, turns in on itself, and so produces a “poesis”: I think urgency is political, contingent, even very neoliberal: and poetry must oppose this way of thinking about society, life, the world. For me, poetry is just the opposite of urgency: it’s slow, it’s time in waiting, it’s the spirit looking at himself: it’s the Being of speech, of words, of forms. Poetry is formed like waves crashing into the cliffs: its time is the time of the ages, of geology, of, finally, death.
Urgent poetry: a grotesque, violent, humiliating, indecent poetry that does with language what state and corporate bureaucracies do with money and power, that instills words with a similar, abject effect in order to devour bodies, to anonymously absorb bodies, to privatize bodies in our rotten, carcass economies. A poetry that uses extreme, urgent, grotesque, piercing language, movement and imagery as a means of responding to politics and policies that are themselves grotesque. A poetry that is concerned with pain and its infinite varieties: a poetry that lodges itself in our bodies, that embodies how we live with pain, how we survive pain; an urgent poetry that shows the body-in-pain relentlessly and furiously creating itself only to eat itself alive again and again.
Thanks to Raúl Zurita for his help in the diffusion of this question.
Responses by Benito del Pliego, Esteban Martínez Serra, Rosabetty Muñoz, and Tomás Harris translated from the Spanish by Torin Jensen.
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Benito del Pliego (Madrid 1970). Among his books are collections of poems (Index, 2011 and Fable, 2012) editions and essays (Exiles: Nine Latin American poets in Spain, 2013) and translations (in collaboration with Andrés Fisher) such as Circulo de Huesos de Lew Welch, 2013.
Estaban Martínez Serra (Figueres-Spain-1962). Co-founder of Versalia Papers. With Words defenseless Hispanic Prize winner Juan Ramón Jiménez poetry 1999. Other books: Penúltimos last poems, Voices of the shadow, Moorings, voice landscapes, nomadic lights.
Rosabetty Muñoz (Ancud, Chile, 1960). He participated actively in the cultural development of southern Chile. Posted Singing a sheep herd, 1981; In Place of Dying, 1987; Children, Editorial The Kultrún, Valdivia, 1991; Dancing Ladies, The Kultrún, 1994; The Holy, story of his rise, 1998; Shadows in the Rosselot, 2002; Ratada, 2005; and In the Name of No, 2008.
Tomás Harris (La Serena, Chile) is one of the most recognizable voices in contemporary Chilean poetry. He studied Castilian Pedogogy at La Universidad de Concepción and among his books are La vida a veces toma la forma de los muros, 1983; Zonas de peligro, 1985; Los 7 náufragos, 1995; Cipango, 1996; Crónicas maravillosas,1996; Itaca, 2001; Tridente, 2005; y Las dunas del deseo, 2009. He has recieved the City of Santiago Prize (1993), the National Book and Reading Council Award (1993), the Pablo Neruda Prize (1995), the House of the Americas Prize (Cuba, 1996), and the Athena Award (2012). His book Cipango, translated by Daniel Shapiro, was published in the U.S. by Bucknell University Press, 2010. He lives in Chile.
Daniel Borzutzky's books include In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy (Nightboat, forthcoming); The Book of Interfering Bodies (Nightboat, 2011); The Ecstasy of Capitulation (BlazeVox, 2007); and Arbitrary Tales (Ravenna Press, 2005). His poetry translations include include Raúl Zurita's Song for his Disappeared Love (Action Books, 2010); and Jaime Luis Huenún's Port Trakl (Action Books, 2008), among others. His chapbooks include One Size Fits All (Scantily Clad, 2009); and Failure in the Imagination (Bronze Skull, 2007). His writing has been translated into Spanish, French, Bulgarian, and Turkish. His work has been recognized by grants from the PEN American Center and the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Chicago.
Painter and poet Valerie Mejer was born in Mexico City. Her poems explore containment and fragility, layering loss and possibility over a once-familiar landscape. She is the author of the poetry collections Rain of the Future (2013), translated by C.D. Wright, Forrest Gander, and Alexandra Zelman; de la ola, el atajo (2009); Geografías de Niebla...