Steven Ford Brown
Paris, France, August 2000
Of Celestial Navigations
At the close of the twentieth century, the skies over the central and southern parts of the continent of the Americas were crisscrossed with the residual lights of flashing comets and stars of poets that emerged during the era: the extravagant moonlight of Rubén Darío; the powerful masculine-feminine sun of Pablo Neruda; the searing human starlight of César Vallejo; sparks given off by the flint and stone creationist poetics of Vicente Huidobro; the infinite indigenous light of Octavio Paz. All of these poets left their celestial marks on the heavens. But there was another poet in Latin American literature during this era, a luminous presence that hovered over the landscape near the horizon. That poet was Jorge Carrera Andrade, an Ecuadorian, who spent his entire adult life traveling as a diplomat and poet. Despite a brief flurry of attention generated by his book, Secret Country (New York: MacMillan, 1946), published in English just after he served as Ecuadorian Consul General in San Francisco, Jorge Carrera Andrade has since been forgotten by anthologists and literary critics in the United States. Each of these poets was important to the theory and execution of the new modern and post-modern Portuguese and Spanish language poetry of the hemisphere. The effect of the celestial metaphor may seem fantastical, and yet appropriate for a land that at first appeared to be the mythical Garden of Eden, although more savage and fierce. Indeed, everything about the countries the Spanish discovered and then fought for against indigenous tribes was fantastic: tangled and secretive jungles; vast rivers and towering mountains; erupting volcanoes; sophisticated native cities and cultures; legends of real and imagined treasures.
Rubén Darío And Ornamentation
of the Literary Landscape
Even after the British Royal Navy warships (and stormy seas) sank the “invincible” armada of Phillip II of Spain in 1588 as it sailed north to invade England, Spain continued to dominate the search for new lands and carving out of lucrative footholds in the New World. Legend holds that the silver mines of Potosi in Bolivia alone yielded enough silver in those early colonial centuries to build a bridge across the Atlantic Ocean from Spanish America to Spain. But after the defeat of Spanish forces and liberation of the southern continent by Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar at Ayacucho in Peru on December 9, 1824, the inevitable diminishment of Spain as a world power was confirmed by its defeat at the hands of the United States during the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Like volcanoes that shook the earth of the central and southern parts of the continent, Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío erupted on the literary scene in 1888 with the publication of his book of poems and stories, Azul… Darío was a cosmopolitan dandy and international traveler who shook the dust from the pages of Spanish American poetry that had reached a dead end. Darío’s embrace of the modernist impulse emanating from Europe allowed him to tear away the musty romantic clothing of the old continental literature and put on the new suit of Symbolism fashioned from French cloth. As English Romanticism declined on the European continent and Symbolism flourished, Darío embraced the new and spread the word in his travels throughout the cultural capitals of Spanish America about the new possibilities for literature. The period of Symbolism passed quickly within three decades as new generations of writers arose to throw off the ornamentation of Darío and the Symbolists. There were also ideas generated by modernism and other movements of the era -Cubism, Futurism, Imagism, Indigenismo, Realism, Romanticism, Surrealism, Ultraism- that led to inevitable concerns writers had about the future evolution of their writing. Spanish American writers began to wrestle with a variety of questions and themes: the advent of World War I and growing development of their own cultural, financial, and political capitals that had the residual effect of sowing internal seeds of nationalism; the break with a Spain humiliated by its defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and resulting decline of its colonial holdings, finances, and culture in the twentieth century (paralleling Spain’s decline as a world power); and a look back by writers over their shoulders in the mirror at their own indigenous reflections.
The Origins of Jorge Carrera Andrade
Jorge Carrera Andrade was born in Quito, Ecuador, on September 14, 1903. From a prominent family -his father, Abelardo Carrera Andrade, was a member of the Ecuadorian Supreme Court and his mother, Carmen Vaca Andrade, the daughter of an army general- Jorge Carrera Andrade grew up in Quito. During his childhood on the family’s country estate, he developed sympathetic relationships with the Indians who worked the land. His father’s views from the judicial bench – very liberal for this era in Spanish America- were also sympathetic to the plight of the Indians. Within a short time after graduation from college Carrera Andrade was involved in Quito with the Ecuadorian Socialist Party. In 1929 he left Ecuador for an appointment as Chancellor of the Ecuadorian consulate in Marseilles, France, followed by a promotion to Consul General in Le Havre, France. For the next four decades, he would hold a variety of diplomatic postings (Belgium, Great Britain, Japan, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Peru, Venezuela, and the United States), and positions at the United Nations in New York City and as Ambassador to France and senior management at UNESCO, both in Paris.
Even as a beginning writer, Jorge Carrera Andrade’s first poems were ambitious and polished. With French poet Francis Jammes as an early influence, he experimented with a variety of styles and forms. Upon departing for Europe in his early thirties, Carrera Andrade became, like many artists before him, a student in the university of European ideas. In Paris and Spain, he met and associated with fellow Latin American expatriates, including Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, and César Vallejo.
Following up on his encounters with Ultraism in Ecuador from his friendship with Cesar Arroyo, Carrera Andrade continued in Europe to experiment with the ideas of Casinos Assens and Guillermo de Torre. Assens and de Torre created Ultraism in Madrid as a poetic that utilized the metaphor as a primary compositional tool. Although Carrera Andrade embraced Ultraism for a brief period, it has been pointed out by H.R. Hays that he was never a true Ultraist. Hays notes his images were never the product of naiveté or neo-surrealism. I suggest he was more the scientist in a laboratory mixing, experimenting, and theorizing until he was able to successfully marry his poetic metaphor with the natural surroundings of his native Ecuador. In his best work from the 1920s and 1930s, the poems are portraits of simple objects and landscapes, most often the Indians and their villages. The visual images he creates in the early poems are so striking his poetry is the equivalent of visual painting with words. The intense clarity of the images obscures the brush strokes, and the result is the addition of other dimensions to the poem. Whereas most written poems by poets are clearly flat or one-dimensional on the page, the most accomplished poem adds a second or third dimension, so that image and language are illuminated by the luster and pulse of light, the immediate contemporary feel of life. Carrera Andrade is a master of this technique, and an example of this technique often cited is the poem “Sierra”, with its visual image of corn hanging by its husks from roof beams of the Indian hut: “Ears of corn, with canary wings,/hung from roof beams.” A more dynamic and powerful and example is from the cubist influenced poem “Dining Room Mirrors”:
The dining room mirror
builds squares and
figures of incandescent geometry.
It lifts wavering planes
to its blue level.
It measures objects
with compasses of light.
It shuffles certainties.
Its crystal ruler breaks
the nude water bottle
and a slanting stream of diamonds
flows toward the dark table.
their telegraphy of reflections
along cables of air.
From euphoric bevels
light strikes its eyelashes.
with diagonals of ice.
Counterparts to life,
virginal breasts of the fruit bowl.
World animated by
a glittering consciousness,
a trigonometry of light,
Life sliced into patterns:
the salt shaker, wisdom;
The pear is sculpted
into molds of air;
the coffee, intelligence,
and the sugar bowl, an angel.
In “Hydrographic Poem,” the poet looks at a map of the world and sees the story, the biographies of rivers:
Rivers seek each other throughout the world,
and spread throughout the earth their glass trumpets.
Navigation charts collect
the blue biographies of rivers.
William Carlos Williams in a letter to Muna Lee, the translator of Secret Country, remarks that Carrera Andrade’s images are so remarkably clear, the poems are “freed from the torment of the mind which has become our daily bread.”
* All translations of poems by Jorge Carrera Andrade by Steven Ford Brown from Century of the Death of The Rose: Selected Poems. Copyright © 2002, 2020 by Steven Ford Brown.
Traveller of Vistas and Countries
After his initial posting as Chancellor of the Ecuadorian consulate in Marseilles, France, Jorge Carrera Andrade rose quickly through the Ecuadorian diplomatic ranks. He became then a man on the move, with new countries rising and falling on the horizons of his sunrises and sunsets. In December of 1940, Jorge Carrera Andrade stepped ashore at the port of San Francisco, California. Appointed as Ecuadorian Consul General to the United States, Carrera Andrade had just spent two years in Yokahama, Japan, as its military forces continued their imperialist war of conquest throughout Asia and Indochina. In the past two years, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland had fallen to the Germans. In December of 1940, the Luftwaffe had begun its bombing campaign of Britain. The entry of the United States into the global war was inevitable.
Carrera Andrade’s first period in the United States was to last four years. As he had always done in whatever city he reported to, Carrera Andrade continued his active literary life. In California, he met and became close friends with Pedro Salinas, poet-in-exile from Franco’s Spanish Civil War. During those four years, he engaged in extensive literary correspondences with many U.S. writers, including John Peale Bishop, Dudley Fitts, H.R. Hays, John Hershey, Muna Lee, James Laughlin, Seymour Lawrence, Thomas Merton, Archibald MacLeish, Wallace Stevens, Donald Walsh, and William Carlos Williams. It is worth noting his international correspondents around the same time: Jaime Torres Bodet, Eugenio Florit, Yvan Goll, Jorge Guillen, Nicolas Guillen, Juan Liscano, Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Carlos Pellicer, Edouard Roditi, and Jules Superville.
In 1941 Carrera Andrade spoke at the San Francisco Press Club on the subject of its ongoing military dispute with Peru. Dating from the eighteenth century, Ecuador and Peru had repeatedly clashed over land and shared border demarcations. In 1941 Peru -by now a Japanese proxy in the region- had engaged in armed incursions over the Ecuadorian border. Ecuador possessed coastline with access to the Pacific Ocean and potential harbors for Japanese warships. By 1944 the United States had subverted Japanese plans and established a naval military base on The Galápagos Islands and Ecuadorian coast.
In 1942 James Laughlin’s New Directions Publishers in New York City published a massive anthology of Latin American poets. Under the editorship of Dudley Fitts, with the logistical assistance of Carrera Andrade, the anthology weighed in at more than 500 pages as the first comprehensive anthology of Latin American poets to be published in English. In its pages, readers gained their first significant glimpses of, among others, Carrera Andrade, Miguel Angel Asturias, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Antonio Cuadra, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Vicente Huidobro, Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, and Cesar Vallejo.
By 1943 essays by and about Jorge Carrera Andrade were beginning to appear in the major American literary journals of the time. H.R. Hays wrote and published an eloquent appraisal, “Jorge Carrera Andrade: Magician of Mirrors”, as the featured essay in the distinguished international literary journal Books Abroad (now World Literature Today) at the University of Oklahoma. Poetry: A Magazine of Verse of Chicago published a collection of poets from the Caribbean and Latin America accompanied by an introductory essay by Carrera Andrade (translated from the Spanish by H.R. Hays). The collection of poets and essay, “The New American And His Point of View Toward Poetry”, was a dazzling survey of the contemporary poetry scene of the 1940s in a landscape just outside the borders of the United States. It was a series of snapshots of an exciting and evolving literary scene from the inside.
By the time the essay appeared in 1943, the United States was fully engaged with the United Kingdom in World War II in both Europe and the Pacific. Carrera Andrade’s portrait of poetry of the central and southern continent of the Americas and Caribbean was both poetic and evocative. He envisioned a future poetry that would combine the cultures and languages of the region to allow the new American to speak with the voice of the changing century. For many U.S. readers, it was an eloquent introduction to literature emerging from European models to maturity as a purely Latin American literature. Carrera Andrade used the essay to also draw attention to the fact Latin American countries were contributing their sons as soldiers to the war for democratic ideals in Europe. In the same breath in which he promoted Latin American literature and culture, he was aware of the need to lobby for political support for the same countries facing a threat from the Japanese military in the Pacific region.
The appearance of the essay in Poetry resulted in letters sent to the editor from Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. Williams wrote in Spanish from his New Jersey home to the editor of Poetry that “if the essay had appeared twenty years earlier, it would have saved us all a great deal of work.” Stevens, in a handwritten note on the letterhead of the Hartford Life Insurance Company in Connecticut, said he was impressed by the essay and invited Carrera Andrade to meet with him in New York.
In 1944 Carrera Andrade was appointed ambassador to Venezuela and left the United States. In 1946 the publication of his first major book in English, Secret Country (New York: MacMillan, 1946), translated into English by Muna Lee, a native of Mississippi and wife of the then governor of Puerto Rico, drew praise in the pages of The Chicago Times, Hispania, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Partisan Review, Saturday Review of Literature, and The Yale Review. Carl Sandburg, writing in Spanish from his farm in Flat Rock, North Carolina sent a letter to Lee praising the poetry of Carrera Andrade, calling him his ” brother in the poetry quest.”
Within the next ten years, additional essays, articles, and reviews of his work would appear in the United States, Belgium, England, France, Italy, and The Netherlands. From 1952 to 1958, Carrera Andrade lived in Paris and worked at UNESCO. He continued his literary activities there, including two books published in bilingual Spanish-French editions. Although Carrera Andrade made short trips to the United States as part of his duties with UNESCO or as a delegate to the United Nations, it was not until 1968-1971 that he spent another substantial period there.
During the intervening years, other translators had begun to translate his work. Visitor of Mist, a book of poetry translated by G.R. Coulthard, was published in England in 1950. J.M. Cohen included him in his Penguin Book of Spanish Verse (England, 1956), and Willis Barnstone included his poetry in Modern European Poetry (New York, 1966). Carrera Andrade also appeared in other anthologies on the European continent, including anthologies in Danish, French, and German. Muna Lee, Thomas Merton, John Malcolm Brinnin, Donald Walsh, and William Carlos Williams translated various poems for anthologies, books, and magazines. Thomas Merton managed to capture the flavor and delicacy of Carrera Andrade’s poems in a small collection of translations he included in Emblems of A Season of Fury (1963), one of Merton’s many books of poetry from New Directions. H.R. Hays published Selected Poems (1972) with the State University of New York Press (SUNY Press). SUNY Press also published Reflections On Latin American Literature (1973), a collection of essays and lectures from Harvard University, SUNY at Stony Brook, and Vassar College, translated by Don C. Bliss and Gabriela C. Bliss.
In 1968 Carrera Andrade participated in a poetry gathering at the Lincoln Center in New York City. Attendees at the Lincoln Center event included Carrera Andrade, John Malcolm Brinnin, Jim Harrison, Anthony Hecht, Zbigniew Herbert, Czeslaw Milosz, John Logan, J. Enrique Ojeda, Nicanor Parra, Henry Rago, Louis Simpson, William Jay Smith, and James Tate. Another poetry festival at the Library of Congress organized by William Jay Smith, the Library’s Poetry Consultant, took place April 13 – 15, 1970, with poets from eight countries. Participants of the Festival included Yehuda Amichai (Israel), Jorge Carrera Andrade (Ecuador), Nicanor Parra (Chile), Francis Philippe Thoby-Marcelin (Haiti), Vasko Popa (the then Yugoslavia), Zulfikar Ghose (Pakistan) and Shuntaro Tanikawa (Japan). John Malcolm Brinnin and Miller Williams read English translations for the audience. Louis Untermeyer, poet, critic, and anthologist chaired a discussion on issues related to translations of the various poets. From 1969 to 1971, Carrera Andrade taught at SUNY Stony Brook while living on Long Island. He also traveled to give lectures at Harvard University and Vassar College.
At the age of seventy, as he mentions in his Vassar College lecture, Jorge Carrera Andrade had come full circle. Throughout his life and career, he was a man on the move. He was a diplomat posted to a variety of countries, often sent to negotiate or lobby for Ecuador’s financial or political needs. He was hired and fired, reassigned, or sought other employment according to the political winds that blew through the presidential palace. He spent his last years in Quito as Director of the National Library.
Since his death in 1978, Jorge Carrera Andrade has suffered a decline in his literary reputation in the United States. Although Carrera Andrade benefited from translators like Muna Lee, H.R. Hays, Thomas Merton, and William Carlos Williams, editors anthologized lesser translators. These poor translations diluted his brilliant metaphoric genius, and the resulting translations were not representative of his work. As decades passed, his poems were no longer actively translated into English. Although he has become a forgotten poet among U.S. literary critics and anthologists, his reputation remains very high today in France, Germany, Italy, Pakistan, Poland, and Latin America.
The Hothouse of Latin American Literature
Like the garden in a hothouse that produces new exotic species of flowers, Latin American literature has benefited from the artistic cross-pollination and experiments of the twentieth century. The beautiful and dazzling poetic flowers that sprang from the countries of the central and southern regions of the Americas are unmatched for their power, beauty, and vibrancy. Such is the reputation of the Latin American poets that we know them today as we know Shakespeare: by one name: Borges, Drummond de Andrade, Huidobro, Mistral, Neruda, Paz, Vallejo.
As part of the continuum of Latin American literature of the past century, the poetry of Jorge Carrera Andrade exists like an exotic orchid in the vibrant garden. His poetry is the perfect hybrid flower created from European literary models and Latin American narrative, experiments of modernism, lessons learned from the American Imagists and haiku he studied while posted in Japan, and the ever-present rural indigenous coloration of Ecuador. His best poems -minimalist portraits of rural life and his encounters with the great cities of the world- benefit from their resonance with history. Jorge Carrera Andrade always composed his poems with the belief he represented the New American, or, as he says in another poem, “the new angel of this [his] century.”
Century of the Death of the Rose: Selected Poems of Jorge Carrera Andrade, 1926-1976. edited and translated by Steven Ford Brown, published by New South Books: Montgomery, AL, 2002. Copyright © 2002, 2020 by Steven Ford Brown.
All photographs from the archives of Dr. J Enrique Ojeda, Boston College. Copyright © 2002, 2020.