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Poetry in Pieces

Poetry in Pieces: César Vallejo and Lyric Modernity

Michelle Clayton
Series: FlashPoints
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 340
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  • Book Info
    Poetry in Pieces
    Book Description:

    Set against the cultural and political backdrop of interwar Europe and the Americas,Poetry in Piecesis the first major study of the Peruvian poet César Vallejo (1892-1938) to appear in English in more than thirty years. Vallejo lived and wrote in two distinct settings-Peru and Paris-which were continually crisscrossed by new developments in aesthetics, politics, and practices of everyday life; his poetry and prose therefore need to be read in connection with modernity in all its forms and spaces. Michelle Clayton combines close readings of Vallejo's writings with cultural, historical, and theoretical analysis, connecting Vallejo-and Latin American poetry-to the broader panorama of international modernism and the avant-garde, and to writers and artists such as Rainer Maria Rilke, James Joyce, Georges Bataille, and Charlie Chaplin.Poetry in Piecessheds new light on one of the key figures in twentieth-century Latin American literature, while exploring ways of rethinking the parameters of international lyric modernity.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94828-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: “The Whole, the Part!”
    (pp. 1-22)

    We have grown accustomed to conceptualizing the divide between modernisms and avant-gardes as one between recollection and rupture, epitomized in the ways in which their iconic works deal with increasingly uncontainable contents: a shoring-up of fragments against ruins, in T. S. Eliot’s classic formulation, or a willful scattering of references across the surface of what no longer pretends to hold together, as in Dada sound poetry. On the one hand, a vertical aesthetic, which finds meaning for modernity in its recapitulation of the past; on the other, a horizontal one, which severs itself from the past and reconstitutes the present...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Pachyderms in Poetry and Prose
    (pp. 23-49)

    Vallejo’s poetry, from the earliest to the latest, contains unflinching portraits of an artist: struggling with his own body and language, with his responsibility to the figures and landscapes that surround him, and with the history of poetry. Yet for all this self-figuration, we have very little sense of what Vallejo the man was like. There is, as yet, no authoritative biography.¹ Accounts by Juan Espejo Asturrizaga and Antenor Orrego focus only on Vallejo’s Peruvian years (1892–1923). Juan Domingo Córdoba Vargas, Ernesto More, and Armando Bazán offer glimpses of Vallejo during their short associations with him in Paris, but...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Invasion of the Lyric
    (pp. 50-88)

    This chapter explores the transformation of lyric language in Vallejo’s first two poetry collections,Los heraldos negros(1919) and Trilce (1922). But does it even make sense to discuss these two collections in the same breath? If the first often sounds like a hackneyed recycling of earlier poetic discourses and their clichés—Romanticism, symbolism,modernismo—the second offers an intimate and intransigent performance of a new lyric voice, feeding off a broad range of the discourses of modernity to produce its own unsettling tones, senses, and meanings.Los heraldos negrosis a long inhalation of literary influences; Trilce consists of...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Lyric Matters
    (pp. 89-133)

    This chapter begins with an ostrich. In fact with several ostriches, which appear under different names and in various guises in Vallejo’s first two poetry collections. An ostrich might seem an unlikely bird for the lyric—large, lumbering, flightless, with its only qualities being its speed and its valuable skin. Nor does it fit our image of a lovebird, and it hardly seems to stand for the local. Recent years may have seen a boom in the cultivation of ostriches in southern Peru for domestic consumption and export, but in the early part of the century their national profile was...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Lyric Technique, Aesthetic Politics
    (pp. 134-150)

    The critic who might best have responded to Vallejo’s provocations inLos heraldos negrosandTrilce—José Carlos Mariátegui—missed the moment of their publication. Mariátegui spent the years 1919 through 1923 in de facto exile in Europe, where his acquaintance with the international avant-gardes set him thinking seriously about their import for Latin American cultural production. Being based in Italy, his closest encounters were with Futurism; what he appreciated in the movement—despite its unfortunate political alignment—was its attempt to jettison the classicism that had diverted attention from Italy’s contemporary situation (Artista56–59). The movement’s name and...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Literature Under Pressure
    (pp. 151-191)

    On June 17, 1923, Vallejo sailed away from Lima, on the run from an arrest warrant whose status remained ambiguous. He would never again set foot in Peru, despite intermittent attempts to do so over the next fifteen years—stymied in part by economic worries, in part by concern over his legal status, and, increasingly, by his sense of abandonment by the Peruvian establishment. But his distanced relationship to Peru was offset by his newly immediate exposure to contemporary international culture, which would result in a different form of writing: roughly three hundred newspaper articles for a variety of Peruvian,...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Making Poetry History
    (pp. 192-249)

    Vallejo’s Paris sojourn was an experience of radical dispossession. Between 1923 and 1938 he lived isolated among a handful of Spanish speakers in the capital of cultural modernity, losing contact with Peru while finding no new audience in Europe, made miserable by his material circumstances and by recurring physical illness. In the background were rising poverty and frenzied industrialism; class and ideological tensions within and between countries; economic reconfigurations, military preparations, colonial depredations; policies of “nonintervention” in the Spanish Civil War; and the unchecked rise of fascism in Italy and Germany. In the face of all this, the lyric might...

  11. Conclusion: Poetry and Crime
    (pp. 250-256)

    Readings of Vallejo have tended to present him as exceptional: in his context, in his approach to language, in his difficulty, and in his struggles with local and international modernity. My approach throughout this book, by contrast, has been to work against any such notion of his exceptionality. To fully understand the challenges of his writings, it is crucial to read him in connection with his contemporary avant-gardes in their various media (poetry, sculpture, theater), with the mass medium of film, with the larger cultural panoramas of both Latin America and Europe, and with unfolding political discourses in both arenas....

  12. APPENDIX: Translations of Poems
    (pp. 257-274)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 275-308)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 309-322)
  15. Index
    (pp. 323-329)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 330-330)