Interview with Jorge Carrera Andrade

JCA drawing

 

By William J. Straub

University of Pittsburgh 

 

The following interview took place at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Long Island, New York on April 29, 1971. The interest generated by the presence of Jorge Carrera Andrade in North American universities, and the constant rise of his poetry in books of literary criticism and in anthologies prepared by professors from the United States persuaded me to carry out this project of interviewing the poet at his temporary residence in Stony Brook.

Carrera Andrade had recently achieved success at Harvard University with a conference and reading of his best poems, in a cultural event which was called “Carrera Andrade, As Seen By Himself”, in which he was presented by Enrique Anderson Imbert, a native Argentine and a Professor at Harvard University. My visit, motivated in addition by the desire to solicit information for a doctoral thesis, had the full acceptance of the poet, who was kind enough to answer all of the questions. They are being published now with the approval of the interviewee and the Revista Iberoamericana, which published the original Spanish version (No 79).

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Straub: I would like to know which, among your poetic works, is your favorite, and why?

Carrera Andrade: My book Hombre planetario (Planetary Man), because it undertakes the transcendental themes of time, eternity, the plurality of individuals contained in each human being, and utopias of terrestrial and extra-terrestrial happiness. I believe that the poems of this work constitute my greatest victory over words, and that they define my position in respect to the cosmos.

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“Hombre planetario” by Adriana Gómez

Straub: Which of your poetic works has had the most “success” world wide?

Carrera Andrade: I am not exactly sure what “success” means. If it has to do with the sale in bookstores of a large quantity of copies, I must confess that none of my works are in that category. However, on the other hand, if it has to do with critical acceptance and general preference, I can point out the poems “Juan sin Cielo” (“Juan without Heaven”) and “Las armas de la luz” (“The Weapons of Light”). The first of these poems has been recited in the theaters of all Latin American capitals, and it appears on various recordings. The emotional atmosphere created by this poem was such that the Ecuadorian journalist Alejandro Carrion adopted the name of “Juan sin Cielo” as a pseudonym for his press articles. With regard to the poem “Las armas de la luz”, it has been translated into various languages. In French, there are versions by Fernand Verhesen and Vincent Monteil. Verhesen went so far as to edit the poem in a personal, bilingual version with a prologue by Jean Cassou.

Straub: How do you explain the great interest that your work has generated in France?

Carrera Andrade: I suppose this interest is due to the poetic moment through which France was passing. The readers of poetry were reacting against a permanent experimental attitude and a profusion of arbitrary schools, such as lettrisme and others like it. My poetry brought new metaphors and a fresh and direct vitalist tone, in the manner of something which we could call “a geographical flavor”. The critics said that it was an original contribution to Western poetry because of the new and magical perception of objects.

Straub: Why do you write, and for whom?

Carrera Andrade: On this point there are two questions, and I should, therefore, give two answers. I write because I feel the need to do so. There are moments in which poetry invades the mechanism of my conscience, and I can no longer do anything else than devote myself to this demanding guest, the poem. The romantics and neo-classics expressed this concept very well. We ought to remember the verse: “Who will free me from the god that fatigues me?”, written by Olmedo. With regard to the addressees of my poems, I must say that I write for some invisible readers who I suppose possess sentiments analogous to mine. People from all parts of the world have similar feelings. This is the reason why my poems have been well received in many other countries.

Straub: Are you satisfied with the criticism of your work? Has it been accurate and just?

Carrera Andrade: Logically, not all criticism is well-oriented or accurate. Some critics consider the work of art from their own perspective, and interpret it only partially. Others are creative critics who lend new dimensions to the work analyzed. French criticism has known how to uncover the meaning of my poetic work and to situate it accurately.

Straub: Does your work seem to you to be the result of a process, a natural development? Is there a constant in your poetic creation, in spite of its variety?

Carrera Andrade:  My work is the result of a natural process which develops, shall we say, in concentric circles, from the small rural world to the cosmos. From the standpoint of language, it equally represents an expressive evolution. The principal constant of my poetic creation is the exaltation of reality and the discovery of things as a means of arriving at human unity.

Straub: What have you wanted to leave or offer to Latin American letters, and have you attained it?

Carrera Andrade:  I have wanted to point out to Latin American letters, mainly to poetry, the possibility of expressing itself with dignity, by ennobling the small things and enlarging them as if they were seen through the magnifying glass of lyricism. I have searched for the road of transparency and virginal freshness of language. Against deliberate obscurity, I have opposed clarity. Against intentional triviality, I have preferred the correct metaphor.

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Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina) as a young writer

Straub: Could you comment on your relations with vanguardism as a movement, in particular ultraismo?

Carrera Andrade: My relations with vanguardism were limited to an essay that I wrote on this trend, and which I did not publish, as I relate in my autobiography El Volcan y el Colibri (The Volcano and the Humming Bird). In those days, I kept up correspondence with the Peruvian writer Alberto Guillén who published, in Madrid, an anthology of young poets of America, in which appeared some of my poems of that period of ultraista flavor, like “Primavera & Company” (“Spring & Company”). However, the influence of ultraismo in my country was very limited, although we read with pleasure the poems of Oliverio Girondo, Gerardo Diego and others. Jorge Luis Borges contributed to the simplification of poetic language, and he found an apt disciple in Jorge Reyes. Nevertheless, I personally did not correspond with the ultraistas, and I followed other paths marked with influences of Gide and Jules Renard.

Straub: What is your opinion of this movement, ultraismo, and could you tell me if it was an error of youth, or if it truly took advantage of the new techniques of imagery and versification?

Carrera Andrade: Ultraismo originated as an echo of some French vanguard schools, and it was a rather late reflection of Apollinaire, as Borges confessed in 1964. It was not an error of youth, rather it constituted a useful education for the author of Fervor de Buenos Aires and for other Argentine poets, above all in the fabrication of the autonomous image and metaphor.

Straub: With whom, among the ultraistas, do you feel most affinity as a writer?

Carrera Andrade: I do not believe that I have affinity with any ultraista poet. I feel closer to Huidobro and creacionismo. Someone has said that I occupy a place equidistant and equinoctial between the intellectualism of Borges and the intuitive expressivism of Vallejo.

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Vicente Huidobro (Chile) in Madrid 1931

Straub: Do you believe that the creacionismo of Huidobro marks a radical and fundamental dividing line in American poetry?

Carrera Andrade: Yes. In Latin American poetry, the creacionista movement manifests itself with strong outlines. In Mexico, Venezuela, and Peru many followers of Huidobro appear. The aesthetics of Huidobro can be identified in some poems of Carlos Pellicer, Villaurrutia, Queremel, Parra del Riego, Alberto Hidalgo, and others. There is no poet of the second quarter of the twentieth century who does not owe something to creacionismo.

Straub: Which of the most important elements of surrealism -play, dream, eroticism, humor, automatic writing, etc.-have you used the most?

Carrera Andrade: We should not confuse creacionismo and surrealism. Ultraismo does originate from creacionismo, and it was born in Madrid when Huidobro passed through that city in 1918. However, creacionismo owes much to Apollinaire, who invented the name of surrealism in order to designate poetry of the subconscious. Actually, among the elements that you point out as the most important of surrealism, I have used only humor, eroticism, and metaphorism. However, my metaphor is different from that of surrealism, because it proceeds by analogies and not by differences. Furthermore, my erotic world is real, rather than oniric. I do not believe in automatic writing, and for me, reality is more precise than dream, as I have already stated in my poem “El objeto y su sombra” C”The Object and its Shadow”).

Straub: What importance does cubism as a procedure have for you?

Carrera Andrade: At first, cubism constituted a revolution in painting, and later spread to the other plastic arts. Literary cubism had few devotees, among them Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars. Cubism reduced the world to geometric form, but it also offered a new vision of things. The poet who most reflected the influence of cubism in his works was Pierre Reverdy who, along with Huidobro, founded creacionismo.

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Pierre Reverdy at literary magazine Nord-Sud (Paris, 1920). Photo by Brassai.

Straub: What is the most important role of the poet?

Carrera Andrade: I do not believe that the poet has to perform a role, but rather fulfill a mission: to interpret the appearances of the world and to decipher the language of things to make other people understand them, contributing in this way so that human life may be worthy of living. The poet should not separate himself from society, but should participate in its adventure.

Straub: The poet should be, then, a messenger, a prophet, a missionary ?

Carrera Andrade: All three things at the same time, and even more when necessary.

Straub: Is the poet a revealer of reality, a transformer, or a creator, a singer or a conductor?

Carrera Andrade: No one of these functions is excluded. I believe in the mission of the poet as a revealer of the real world, a revelation for which he can make use of metaphorical transformation, in other words, lyrical creation. Even without intending to do so, the poet, when he sings, when he offers up his poem, guides those who understand him toward a more ample spiritual horizon.

Carrera Andrade: No one of these functions is excluded. I believe in the mission of the poet as a revealer of the real world, a revelation for which he can make use of metaphorical transformation, in other words, lyrical creation. Even without intending to do so, the poet, when he sings, when he offers up his poem, guides those who understand him toward a more ample spiritual horizon.

Straub: When it comes to artistic creation, does reality impose itself, or the author himself?

Carrera Andrade: Artistic creation is the fruit of a dual collaboration between the world of reality and the contemplator. No one of the two imposes itself. The conscious arranges the elements of reality employing the most appropriate recourses in order to present what is real in all its authenticity.

Straub: Your clear, simple, and not over-worked verse, does it result from a desire to communicate with the majority of readers? Is it due to the message contained? Is it due to the urgency, the necessity for a change?

Carrera Andrade: My verse is clear, but one cannot assert that it is not overworked. On various occasions, I have already said that I detest improvisation, and that my method is one of reflexive rigor.  I work my poetry with the object of obtaining the greatest expressive force. I do not think about the number of readers that my poem could obtain, I only try to preserve its meaning and its message. I never hurry in the creation of a poem, since I have never felt the urgency of poetry, whose mechanism works in the most unexpected moment, with a slowness that is the best guarantee of its quality.

Straub: Do you base your poetry on its meaning, or on the mere play of imagery?

Carrera Andrade: These two types of poetry are highly valid. However, my preference is for the creation of a meaningful poem, of a poem that imposes a meaning and is not only an aesthetic game produced from the elegance or lucidity of an image.

Straub: Should a poem base its structure upon a thematic unity, or upon a dissolution of that very unity?

Carrera Andrade: The structure of the poems which I customarily write is always based upon thematic unity. In my poems, there is a central axis around which the metaphors are arranged. Dissolution of thematic unity was one of the characteristics of ultraismo.

Straub: Space and time, are they metaphysical categories, or are they part of your vital posture, and therefore direct ingredients of the poetic phenomenon?

Carrera Andrade: Space and time are, undoubtedly, metaphysical categories. However, I feel them just as physical realities, profoundly intermingled with my being. People are made of matter and time, and they occupy a place in space. The identity space-time is a vital phenomenon which directly influences my poetry. I do not conceive of space-time as a labyrinth, but rather as an omnipresence, as a totality of which man forms a part.

Straub: Do you believe that the poet of the last few decades is a solitary being lost in the world, and that he can only amuse himself in the “labyrinth of his solitude”? *

  • Referring to The Labyrinth of Solitude,  a 1950 book-length essay by the Mexican poet Octavio Paz. 

Carrera Andrade: Poets of all times have been solitary beings. However, the modern poet is, in addition to solitary, a solitary man of all the great problems of humanity.

Straub:. I have the impression that you rather share in the joy and pleasure of creation, as in the verse of Keats: “a thing of beauty is a joy forever”.  Is that true?

Carrera Andrade: Precisely. My poetry is a poetry of the vitalist joy of the discovery of the most beautiful things of creation.

Straub: Is poetry to be a “cemetery of bones” as Neruda states, or is it to be the world of Aurosia?

Carrera Andrade: At the time in which Neruda wrote his Residencia en la tierra [Residence on Earth], the world was a “cemetery of bones”. However, humanity since that time has departed from destruction to the construction a new world. We ought to have the hope that the world be a new Aurosia, especially our new world.

Straub: Could you discuss the stylistic devices that you use?

Carrera Andrade:  Actually, in a strictly voluntary and conscious manner, I could not say that I customarily use certain stylistic devices. Stylistic devices exist in my poetry. They are produced upon creating the poem. However, voluntarily, I cannot point out others than the metaphor, the image, and precision in the choice of the exact word that might give a true feeling of reality.

Straub: Could we talk about the difference that there is, or that exists, between metaphor and image? For example, Bachelard states that, for him, the metaphor is an intellectual thing, that it is a false image, and that the image consists, or is the result of pure imagination.

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French philosopher Gaston Bachelard

Carrera Andrade: Possibly this explanation of Bachelard on metaphor and image has escaped me, but I believe that both forms of expression equally have the same intellectual origin, the metaphor as well as the image. Let us illustrate: What is intellectual? The intellectual, is it that which is separated from the conscience? Is it the subconscious, or is it the conscious? This is the problem which we should state in order to know effectively what is the difference between metaphor and image. When Jean Giono says, for example: “the green breast of the hill”, that is a metaphor. It is a complete idea, a complete visual sensation. The image is a little more detailed, as if we were to say, for example: “the respiration of the hill”, which implies the presence of pure, healthy air. In other words, the image is a metaphor that could be developed on various planes, on two or three planes.

Straub: Then, after the metaphor, on a higher level, comes the image. It is a more extensive thing.

Carrera Andrade: I conceive of the image as a more extensive thing than the metaphor. Now one can label, as a whole, metaphorical style that which makes use of the image and the metaphor, because where the metaphor exists, an image already exists. In addition, the image has the metaphorical medium as a means of revealing itself. So that, for me, they are two things which are very much alike.

Straub: But would the image be the culmination of a metaphor?

Carrera Andrade:  Yes. For me, the image is the culmination of a metaphor, or of several metaphors.

Straub: Your images, it seems to me, are made up of at least two elements. On the one hand, a natural element and, on the other, a human or social element, and the two combine to form the image. Is that true, or are there other elements? Am I mistaken?

Carrera Andrade: No, I believe that you are right. Perhaps, I believe that just one word would help to give us some idea of my metaphorical work. That word is humanization of poetry, humanization of the image. This type of humanization consists of the animation of things, as if they were human beings. For example, you see in my poem “Cuadernos de poemas indios” (“Notebooks of Indian Poems”) it says: “the hill was seated in the country with its poncho squared”. The hill is like a human being, and it gives an idea of a whole series of related things. For example, “with its poncho squared”, in other words, with the outlines marked by the sowers that are more or less geometrical in the Latin American countryside. This gives the notion of human labor, and who uses the poncho is the Indian, which carries us through a kind of analytical, automatic system to the idea of native exploitation and all the rest. Or, in another image from that period which states: “the sea, vendor of mirrors”, human activities are attributed to the sea. Nature is completely humanized. And this humanization of nature is one of the characteristics of Latin American poetry. We want nature to be somewhat the same as man. And nature has the same capacity for suffering and emotionalism as a human being.

Straub: Does a crisis in poetry exist?

Carrera Andrade: In all ages, they have spoken of a poetic crisis. In our times, some critics have come along pointing out the existence of a poetic crisis and, in reality, I have not been able to see it. In European circles, poetry has an immense following. There has been the case of editors who believed they were taking a dangerous risk by editing a book, and they have made a profitable business. Which indicates that there still are readers of poetry. This, with regard to the public. In regard to criticism, it is true that, in order to function, it has been seeking out the attraction of the novel, which, as it is a much more read genre, has a larger public. Nevertheless, in reality, I must reaffirm that there is no poetic crisis.

Straub: And the future of Latin American poetry? What would it be?

Carrera Andrade: I do not consider myself a prophet, and I can scarcely point out something that, perhaps, could be the direction of the future of poetry, that being the affirmation of America. The poet must return his eyes to our America, to the absolutely real, natural, material conditions of the American world, and separate himself from the tutelage of foreign poetry. When speak ing of foreign poetry, I could refer, specifically, to Your images, it seems to me, are made up of at least two elements. On the one hand, a nFrench and English poetry. As of late, for example, we have seen how English influence has marked poets like Jorge Luis Borges and others in Latin America. Poetry, for me, is the culmination of the cultural state of a people, and we should search for the maturity of that culmination in America by means of an autonomous poetry.

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Straub: And your plans for the future?

Carrera Andrade: My plans can be condensed in just on word: to write. I have not had time to do so, because life has carried me along other paths. How ever, now I think that I will have the time necessary to carry into practice a series of projects of a literary nature, among which poetry will occupy the first place.

Straub: One more thing. When I think about your work, I recall a quote I found once from Daudet, and I planned to use this quote as the motto or epigraph of the work I am doing, and it says that “poets are men who have kept their child-like vision”. Do you think that it is appropriate, that it is one way of expressing accurately your particular point of view, “with your child-like vision”?

Carrera Andrade: Yes. Many authors, when speaking of poetry, have said that it is almost a child-like view of the universe, because within poetry there is the innocence of childhood, there is a candor and, at the same time, a bewilderment of the world discovered by the child. The child begins to discover the reality which surrounds him. The poet is also a discoverer, a discoverer of the world with a virginal view, or in other words, new, with a new look.

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