The Rediscovery of Jorge Carrera Andrade
A Bilingual (Spanish and English) Reading
October 24th, 2007
Steven Ford Brown
This is a momentous day at Assumption College as the life and literary works of Jorge Carrera Andrade are celebrated through the good graces of our friend Dr. Juan Carlos Grijalva.
I have read and translated Latin American literature for three decades, and yet in 1998 the name of Jorge Carrera Andrade was not prominent in the universe of Latin American writers available in English translation. I did not know who he was. I then discovered Carrera Andrade in an anthology of European poets published in the 1960s, for he had already lived on and off for decades in Paris as Consul General and Ambassador to France. He later was also a senior representative at UNESCO, also in Paris. Although he remained an Ecuadorian all his life, he spent so many years in France he was included in a European anthology: Modern European Poetry (New York, 1966). I was immediately attracted to one poem in this collection:
LIFE OF THE GRASSHOPPER
Always an invalid
he wanders through the field
on green crutches.
Since five o’clock
the stream from a star
has filled the grasshopper’s tiny pitcher.
A laborer, he fishes
each day with his antenna
in the rivers of air.
A misanthrope, at night
he hangs the flicker of his chirp
in a house of grass.
Leaf rolled up and alive,
the grasshopper keeps the music
of the world written inside.*
- This version translated by Steven Ford Brown
The images of Carrera Andrade are so simple and clear a child can see and understand. His poetry is the result of the poet’s intense magical engagement with nature, with the Indians of his native Ecuador, with the landscape of Ecuador itself and other places of the world he has traveled.
I translated the manuscript of Century of the Death of the Rose: Selected Poems of Jorge Carrera Andrade, 1926-1976, and began a search to contact the family for permission to publish. Since the poet had been dead for thirty years and the family was in Quito, Ecuador, this seemed an impossible task. At one point, I had a dream in which I climbed the Andes Mountains on a donkey in a winter storm searching for the family of this poet! The fantastic idea of climbing the Andes was born from the frustration of going through diplomatic channels in Washington, DC, and having no success. I finally contacted the Cultural Attaché at the Embassy in Quito, and it turned out he was from Boston! He had worked as a newspaper reporter of local government affairs for The Boston Globe and later joined the U.S. State Department. By telephone, he offered to help locate the family. We agreed to talk in two weeks. We spoke again and he recommended that I communicate with Dr. J. Enrique Ojeda, the world’s leading authority on the work of Jorge Carrera Andrade. He added Dr. Ojeda was a Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies at Boston College! The mysterious contact I had searched for was just across the Charles River from Cambridge upstream to Wellesley, Massachusetts.
I called Dr. Ojeda and arranged a meeting. I made the long drive from Cambridge to Wellesley to meet with him for lunch. After lunch, we moved to his study, a museum for Carrera Andrade. He had every book in the original Spanish, many photographs, manuscripts, his own written works about the poet, and many memories. Looking at my research and the translation manuscript of Century of The Death Of The Rose and understanding my sincerity, Dr. Ojeda welcomed me into the fraternity of admirers of Jorge Carrera Andrade. More importantly, over time, he has been instructive to me about the poet, the intricacies of modernism and Latin American literature, and the more personal details of the literary life of Carrera Andrade. But Dr. Ojeda is also the hero of Jorge Carrera Andrade, devoting thirty years of his career to this one poet. He has published critical studies, arranged for other works to be in print and lectured, and championed this one writer. And this is an essential fact.
It is useful to understand the world of art is filled with accidents of history, political feuds that relegate one artist to the dusty book shelf in the library and another to the top of the mountain, schools of art appearing and disappearing, tastes of public consumption always changing. Two days ago The New York Times reported a painting by Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo, “Tres Personajes”, worth $1 million dollars, was found in trash for pickup by a woman walking down the street in New York City; part of a lost composition by Johann Sebastian Bach was found in Japan nearly eight decades after it went missing; there was the recent discovery of an unpublished Robert Frost poem.
What happens today at Assumption College is part of the rediscovery of Jorge Carrera Andrade, one of the most famous Latin American poets in the United States in the 1940s, more famous then than even Pablo Neruda. While in America as Consul General to the United States in san Francisco, Carrera Andrade helped edit the first substantial anthology of modern Latin American poets published in English by New Directions Publishers in New York City. He also edited a collection of Caribbean and Latin American poets and wrote an introductory essay for a special issue of Poetry magazine of Chicago. As he departed San Francisco and America for a new appointment as Ambassador to Venezuela, his first book in English translation, Secret Country, was published in 1945 and reviewed in The Chicago Times, Hispania, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Partisan Review, Saturday Review of Literature, and The Yale Review.
Since the publication of Century of the Death of the Rose: Selected Poems of Jorge Carrera Andrade, 1926-1976, Dr. Ojeda and I have lectured together about Carrera Andrade at The Americas Society in New York City, the State University of New York at Stony Brook (Long Island), and The Library of Congress. A separate event to celebrate publication of Microgramas (2007), a new book by Jorge Carrera Andrade, first published in Tokyo, Japan in 1940, was sponsored by Liberia Rayuela in Quito, Ecuador. A glowing review of the book appeared in The Harvard Review, BBC Radio in the United Kingdom recently broadcast his poetry in English and Spanish, and the reception to his reappearance in print has been enthusiastically received on a global basis. Today Assumption College helps to celebrate the continuing rediscovery of Carrera Andrade, for which I am very thankful.
Go to the website for “The Rediscovery of Jorge Carrera Andrade” event: