Posts Tagged ‘Latin America’

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 The Tango is a passion, a way of life.

Tango was born on the Rio De La Plata delta, when Buenos Aires was a child: holes in pockets, scuffed shoes, a tattered bandanna called Monserrat.

The dance tales a story: In the long struggle between the power of the Rancheros and the centralised State, the Pampas felt the hand of man.

The economy is a snake, it twists and turns, at times it devours its own children. In the 1850s it twisted again. Rural workers made their way to the city, they fetched up in Monserrat.

With them came the old dances, music; the milonga was danced on the street of Corrientes. The music of European immigrants trickled through alleyways; the German religious accordion, the Bandaneon, was prominent. Lutheran austerity met Catholic poverty. Pride was in the mastery of its 71 buttons, in elaboration upon a frugal base. The withheld gesture, syncopation: all the arts of drawing from a 4:4 structure the utmost gestures.

The Tango, the Condorelle, the Fandango grew up in the barrio, fostered by uncertainty, fed by hunger, and the bitter herbal tea, Mate, a substitute for coffee. For all the coffee was exported.

As the snake lay glutted in the country’s Golden Age, the Tango grew into its youth: everyone was young again, the future possible. Everyone danced to ‘La Cumparista’s marching tune, tweaked and as polished as patent leather shoes.

Songs added an extra sound. So when a world at war no longer found safe footing, they listened to songs of loss: of pride and confidence, and loss.

The singers held them with a sob in the voice, as the world reeled.

Nothing was the same; the snake turned, and columns shook and crumbled. Argentina became a backward look, a lost glory, the plaster falling from the cornice of the fashionable street, never to be replaced.

The long, troubled look into the dark of La Plata at night; only warships churned, some never to return. Later, the Belgrano, sunk like the fortunes of Presidents, before and after.

To remember the songs. Tango is a passion. At times it shows a light across the delta, a boat perhaps, where fishermen can still make a living.

Tango lives on in the wilderness, far from home. It establishes cult centres: Paris, New Orleans, even Helsinki, Tokyo.

Lately the Paris based performers, dancers, musicians, singers joined in a dance-based beat and rhythm to become ‘The Gotan Project.’

But it always returns home: Buenos Aires, its’ columns and chipped marble, the peeling paint. The passion as strong as ever.  Whenever the blood is taxed in its artery, the economy lays its stifling torpid weight on all, bodies can still transport the soul, dance it out into the brag, and the ultimate sacrifice of self, that Tango enacts.

Out of the head of the snake a bird flies, from its body the blood beat and rhythm; its poised draw-back places precisely the footstep of new rhythms.


From SUR (South) 1948, lyrics Homero Manzi:

Ancient San Juan and Boeda street corner, the whole sky,

                                             Pompeya and farther down, the floods

                                             Your loose hair of a bride in my memory

                                             And your name floating in the farewell.

                                             The blacksmith’s corner, mud and pampa,

                                             Our house, our sidewalk, and the ditch

                                             And a scent of weeds and alfalfa

                                             That fills the heart all over again.

 Or the accumulation of urban details: witnesses: A MEDIA LUZ (In Half Light), 1925. Lyrics: Carlos Cesar Lenzi

Corrientes three-four-eight

                                            Second floor, elevator.

                                            There are no doorman, nor neighbours.

                                            Inside, cocktail and love.

                                            Loft furnished by Maple:

                                            Piano, rug and nightlamp,

                                            A telephone that answers,

                                            A phonograph that cries

                                            Old tangos of my flower,

                                            And a porcelain cat.



The mystery of: CHARLMOS (Let’s Chat) 1942. Lyrics: Luis Rubinstein

                                            Belgrano 6-0-1-1?

                                           I would like to speak to Renee…

                                           She doesn’t live there?… No, don’t hang up…

                                           Could I talk with you?


                                           Don’t hang up…the afternoon is gloomy.

                                           I feel sentimental.

                                           I know Renee does not exist…

                                           Let’s chat…

                                           …life is so short…

                                           let’s dream, in the grey

                                           rainy afternoon…


From the same period the highly impressionistic, almost surreal: TINTA ROJA (Red Ink) 1942. Lyrics: Catulo Castillo

                                         Thick wall,

                                                               Red ink in the

                                         Gray of yesterday…

                                         Your emotion

                                         Of brick, happy

                                         Over my alley.

                                         And a blotch

                                         Painted the corner,

                                         And the cop

                                         That in the wide of the night

                                         Placed to the end of the beat

                                         As a clasp…

 And then suddenly, possibly a future: PRELUDIO PARA EL ANO 3001. (Prelude for the year 3001) Lyrics: Horacio Ferrer, and music by the modern master Astor Piazollo.

                                            I’ll be reborn in Buenos Aires in another June afternoon

                                            With a tremendous desire to love and to live.

                                            I’ll be reborn fatally, it will be the year 3001

                                            And there will be an Autumn Sunday at san Martin square

                                            Little stray dogs will bark at my shadow

                                            With my modest baggage I’ll arrive from the beyond

                                           And kneeling down on my dirty and pretty River Plate

                                            I’ll knead me another tireless heart of mud and salt

                                            And three shoe shiners, three clowns and three

                                           Sorcerers will come, my immortal accomplices…..


Twenty Poets of Argentina
ed D Samoilovich and A Graham-Yool, Redbeck Press 2004

This is best kind of book; the Introduction not only gives us a thorough background to modern Argentinean poetry, but also invaluable notes on the poetics used, so often missed in translations.

The poets are chosen by having published two plus books by the time of translation; and so, as this book took four years up to publication, it is by necessity a book about history.
In Latin America this has significance.
It was necessary to give a background period of forty years to contextualise the writing. The period begins with three military coups: Brazil 1964, Dominican Republic 1965, and Argentina 1966, and gets worse thereon.

This is where the Introduction really comes into its own: where can the individual stand in a political and politicised environment?
The response of writers was to find different modes of expression:
– Early on we detect a neo-romantic tone, which emphasised an individualist, rebellious, non-modernist attitude.
– This, however, locked her/him into too much of a role, and so a neo-baroque tone came to the fore, using the full resources of language, its ambiguities as well as multiple meanings.
– Against this an objectivism appeared, distrusting meaningful discourse, generalisations.

We could warp this into a kind of dialectic, whose synthesis is where the particular, that is, the individual, once more becomes centre-stage, but seen through a post-modern filter.
Each of the twenty writers in this book has a take on this basic premise. We have notes on each writer’s birth place, publications, and biographical details.

Many of these writers are published in translation for the first time here.
Sergio Raimondi (born 1968, Rosario) works in the Museum of the Port of Ingeniero White, in the register of oral history. His poems blend, for instance, a history of fishing with economics:

The sweep of a net dragged the length of the bed,
maximum allowed mesh, seven hundred thousand litres
of diesel in the tank………..

from: ‘What The Sea Is’

In ‘URGA’ (from Union of Grain Handlers of Argentinean Republic) we get an idea of the complex weave we handles:

The student was shot in the hall at University
in front of everybody, that was in nineteen seventy
five, and, no, nor is it an archetype sickle that is to be painted
on the wall, unless it serves to recall the event
in relation to grain from on high down a shoot at the dock
falling to the hold or over there in a dust cloud where the
tester sinks
once, twice, in the belly of the sack, thrice the sampler up to
grip and in his palm sees the goodness of grain but rules
the load to devalue. The main authority is the State
and the practice dates to nineteen thirty: a mechanism
of constant regulations usually enforced by only
one main head, reproduced in vague and empty offices.
and as the union mediates in the disorder, so does the
it is wheat that lies around the fallen body, the dead insects,
acarus. Over there a new tester sampler point in hand.
The belt brings him another sack, and another and another
and another.

And all in strict hexameters.
Argentinean poetry allows so many delightful changes of manner, tone: Laura Wittner (Buenos Aires, 1967) writes:

I had told you of the park
where I kept a small memory
a mystery of prevalence
installed, along with some duck feathers
and green twigs drying on the ground,
and in that scene of action
I am sitting swinging
in a wooden seat with arm rests
which closed with a small chain,
my mother is pushing,
makes me laugh, we both laugh
at the adventure that is pushing and flying.

from: ‘My Life on the Swings’

The exhilaration of a pure moment! But also the chilling shadow of the inquisitor’s chair. The poem is too long to quote but goes through many tonal changes: how swings initiate the children,/ in a parenthesis,/ in the melancholy,/ the uselessness of effort/ to be different… to end on a measured but whole note.
By contrast is the ‘mysterious urgency of the present…’ as ‘ungraspable as recollection’, of the integrity of the body, of Gabriela Saccone:

I know of poets who dream
about the time I spend in the bath.
If I could, if I had that!
they say, secure in the will and wisdom,
disguising reproach with compassion
if they could possess (Chromos)… before a window
where the tops of the plane trees touch
in a green and dry toast

from: ‘I Know of Poets’ (from ‘Half a Birthday’)

: sheer playfulness under-themed with darker tones.