Notes on a Return to the Ever-Dying Land

August marked 90 years since the birth of Blanca Varela, poet of Peruvian surrealism

Arturo Desimone
Aug 23, 2016 · 9 min read
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picture from Poetas del Fin del Mundo

“The solitude is what unites us in the humidity of the pea-pod, in the swelling of the wave, in the sweat of the root.”

(( La soledad nos une en la humedad del guisante, en la hinchazón de la ola, en el sudor de la raíz ))

  • from a poem by Varela, quoted in José Miguel Oveido’s recent article in Spanish inVallejo & Co. Translation into English by Arturo Desimone

In August 2016, lovers of Peruvian poetry commemorated what would have been the 90th birthday of Blanca Leonor Varela, a poet associated with subversive movements of surrealism that were of great importance to a generation of Peruvian poets influenced by André Breton’s circle in Europe. Many of her generation (such as surrealist Peruvian poet César Moro, Xavier Abril, and Jorge Eduardo Eielson) spent extensive periods in Paris, often because of political exile and the threat of dictatorship in Peru. Varela’s poetic universe shows strong signs of the surrealism that influenced her, but it is also comprised of forces that could not be contained within intellectual or psychoanalytic experiments or absurdism associated with French surrealism. Passion, spirituality, humor, the rancor of frustrated love, the childish paradisiacal thinking of wanting to remain ever in love, abound in her poetry (yes, we are both ribonucleic acid/ but we are ribonucleic acid that remains forever in love from Monsieur Monod Does Not Know How To Sing, which can be read here, below in my English translation) Varela uses references to cooking, (Lima, the poet’s home-town, is spoken of as having all the colors of the clear liquid that spills from a cracked egg) and her time spent cooking— the poet names the elements of cuisine in a similar way to passing references to wild nature, sex, and scientific education. A futuristic Noah’s shipwrecked stampede of animals that dwell upon the sea coasts and river banks of Peru, are constantly rearing their crying heads in her poems. Her grasp of the intimate is that of a revolutionary romantic, (to the contrary of those whose aesthetics emphasize domesticity and the petty-bourgeois private — Blanca is hostile to placid terrains) hers is a poetry lived between many worlds, cities of migration, a poet at once worldly and cosmopolitan, drinking from the contaminated chalice of Dali-esque surrealisms in Europe, while spiritually, deeply engrained into her native and beloved Peru. Her verse is full of the humor of those poets who sing from radical wounds of love and solitude.

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“I ascend and fall to the bottom of my soul

that regains its green, agonized by light, magnetized by light.

In this coming and going time beats its wings

detained for ever.”

English translations of two poems by Blanca Varela.

(transl. Arturo Desimone

~with special thanks to Reynaldo Jiménez for illuminating conversations about Peruvian poetry and ‘’el surrealismo sudaka’’~

video of Blanca Varela reading Monsieur Monod no sabe Cantar

Monsieur Monod Does Not Know How To Sing

my dear one

I remember you like the best song

that apotheosis in the coming together of roosters and stars

that you no longer are that I no longer am

that we no longer will be

and nonetheless we both know very well

that I speak from the painted mouth of silence

with the fly’s agony

at summer’s end

and for all the badly closed doors

conjuring or calling that nefarious wind of memory

that record scratched before use

tinted according to the mood of the time

and its old sicknesses

of red

or of black

as a king standing in disgrace before the mirror

as the day of the viper

which is tomorrow and the past and always

night what do you precipitate

(that is how the song must speak)

charged with forethoughts

insatiable female dog ( un peu fort)

splendid mother (plus doux)

child-bearer, and always barefoot

to not be heard by the fool in you who believes

it is better to mash up the heart

of the unveiled

that dares to hear the dragged step

of life

of death

a mosquito’s pit* a torrent of feathers

a tempest in a glass of wine

a tango

the order alters the product

engineer’s error

what a rotten tactic it is,

to keep living one’s own story

like in a movie backwards-rolled

a thick and mysterious

dream with slimming effect

the end is the beginning*

a tiny light oscillates like hope

clear color of eggs

with the smell of fish and spoiled milk*

darkens the mouth of the wolf that will take you

from Cluny to Salazar Park

rolling carpet so speedy and so black

you can no longer tell

if you live or if you are playing at being alive

or playing dead

as a flower of steel

like a very last morsel, twisted and filthy and slow

the better to devour you with

My dear one

I adore all that is not mine

you, for example, I adore,

with your skin, like hide of a jackass covering the soul

and those waxen wings I gave you as a present

the ones you never dared to put on

you have no idea how ashamed I am of my virtues

I no longer know where to put this collection of keys

and lies

with my indecency of the child who must hear out the story’s ending

it is already too late now

for the memory, like the songs

is the worst one

the one you want

the only one

it does not resist ruining another blank page

my being here makes no sense

destroying

what does not even exist

my dear one

in spite of it all

all remains the same

the philosophical tickle after the shower

the cold coffee the bitter cigarette

the Green River-slime

of Monte Carlo

everlasting life continues to be good for everyone

intact is the stupidity of the clouds

intact the obscenity of geraniums

intact the shame of garlic

the little mockingbirds shit themselves divinely in mid-heaven

in april

Mandrake is breeding rabbits in some circle

of hell

always a little leg of a crab is trapped

in the trap of to be

or of not to be

of I don’t want this or the other thing

you know,

those things that befall us

and which have to be forgotten so that they may exist

only in verb-grace of the hand with wings

winged hand without a hand

the history of the kangaroo — meaning the one of the handbag, or the one from life, both —

or of the captain who is sealed inside a bottle

that is forever empty

and the womb, empty too, but winged

and wombless

you know

passion, obsession

poetry prose

sex success

or viceversa

the congenital void

the ovum with a mote in it

among millions and millions of little eggs with motes in them

you and me

toi et moi

tea for two in the immensity of silence

in the atemporal sea

on the historic horizon

for ribonucleic acid is all we are

but I mean only the ribonucleic acid that is always in love

Video of Blanca reciting “Canto Villano” at the Medellín international festival.

VILLAIN SONG

and all of a sudden life

on my pauper’s plate

a meager scrap of celestial pig

here on my plate

observe me

observe you

or kill a fly without ill-will

annihilate the light

or create it

create it

as would he who opens his eyes and chooses

a heaven that spills over

onto the empty plate

rubens onions tears

more rubens more onions

more tears

so many histories

black indigestible miracles

and the eastern star

brought to a blush

and the bone of love

so gnawed upon and so hard

shining upon another plate

this hunger in itself

exists

is the urge of the soul

which is the body

is the rose made from grease

that ages

in its heaven of flesh

mea culpa the turbid eye

mea culpa the black morsel

mea culpa divine nausea

no other one is here

upon this empty plate

without I

devouring my eyes

and yours

To read these poems and others by Blanca Varela in the original Spanish, go to the website of Poetas del Fin del Mundo, a Latin-American online resource for poetry.

A future post will by the maker Notes on a Journey to the Ever-Dying Lands will speak to Peruvian-Argentinian independent publisher, poet and historian of Peruvian literature Reynaldo Jiménez, who was given his first whiskey at the tender age of 16 by Blanca in her library in Lima. The importance of reverberations by the past Peruvian surrealists among a new generation of poets today, will be emphasized (thanks in large part to the information provided by Jiménez and the harrowing drinks provided.)

Monsieur Monod no sabe Cantar

querido mío
te recuerdo como la mejor canción
esa apoteosis de gallos y estrellas que ya no eres
que ya no soy que ya no seremos
y sin embargo muy bien sabemos ambos
que hablo por la boca pintada del silencio
con agonía de mosca
al final del verano
y por todas las puertas mal cerradas
conjurando o llamando ese viento alevoso de la memoria
ese disco rayado antes de usarse
teñido según el humor del tiempo
y sus viejas enfermedades
o de rojo
o de negro
como un rey en desgracia frente al espejo
el día de la víspera
y mañana y pasado y siempre

noche que te precipitas
(así debe decir la canción)
cargada de presagios
perra insaciable ( un peu fort)
madre espléndida (plus doux)
paridora y descalza siempre
para no ser oída por el necio que en ti cree
para mejor aplastar el corazón
del desvelado
que se atreve a oír el arrastrado paso
de la vida
a la muerte
un cuesco de zancudo un torrente de plumas
una tempestad en un vaso de vino
un tango

el orden altera el producto
error del maquinista
podrida técnica seguir viviendo tu historia
al revés como en el cine
un sueño grueso
y misterioso que se adelgaza
the end is the beginning
una lucecita vacilante como la esperanza
color clara de huevo
con olor a pescado y mala leche
oscura boca de lobo que te lleva
de Cluny al Parque Salazar
tapiz rodante tan veloz y tan negro
que ya no sabes
si eres o te haces el vivo
o el muerto
y sí una flor de hierro
como un último bocado torcido y sucio y lento
para mejor devorarte

querido mío
adoro todo lo que no es mío
tú por ejemplo
con tu piel de asno sobre el alma
y esas alas de cera que te regalé
y que jamás te atreviste a usar
no sabes cómo me arrepiento de mis virtudes
ya no sé qué hacer con mi colección de ganzúas
y mentiras
con mi indecencia de niño que debe terminar este cuento
ahora ya es tarde
porque el recuerdo como las canciones
la peor la que quieras la única
no resiste otra página en blanco
y no tiene sentido que yo esté aquí
destruyendo
lo que no existe

querido mío
a pesar de eso
todo sigue igual
el cosquilleo filosófico después de la ducha
el café frío el cigarrillo amargo el Cieno Verde
en el Montecarlo
sigue apta para todos la vida perdurable
intacta la estupidez de las nubes
intacta la obscenidad de los geranios
intacta la vergüenza del ajo
los gorrioncitos cagándose divinamente en pleno cielo
de abril
Mandrake criando conejos en algún círculo
del infierno
y siempre la patita de cangrejo atrapada
en la trampa del ser
o del no ser
o de no quiero esto sino lo otro
tú sabes
esas cosas que nos suceden
y que deben olvidarse para que existan
verbigracia la mano con alas
y sin mano
la historia del canguro -aquella de la bolsa o la vida-
o la del capitán encerrado en la botella
para siempre vacía
y el vientre vacío pero con alas
y sin vientre
tú sabes
la pasión la obsesión
la poesía la prosa
el sexo el éxito
o viceversa
el vacío congénito
el huevecillo moteado
entre millones y millones de huevecillos moteados
tú y yo
you and me
toi et moi
tea for two en la inmensidad del silencio
en el mar intemporal
en el horizonte de la historia
porque ácido ribonucleico somos
pero ácido ribonucleico enamorado siempre

Canto villano

y de pronto la vida
en mi plato de pobre
un magro trozo de celeste cerdo
aquí en mi plato

observarme
observarte
o matar una mosca sin malicia
aniquilar la luz
o hacerla

hacerla
como quien abre los ojos y elige
un cielo rebosante
en el plato vacío

rubens cebollas lágrimas
más rubens más cebollas
más lágrimas

tantas historias
negros indigeribles milagros
y la estrella de oriente

emparedada
y el hueso del amor
tan roído y tan duro
brillando en otro plato

este hambre propio
existe
es la gana del alma
que es el cuerpo

es la rosa de grasa
que envejece
en su cielo de carne

mea culpa ojo turbio
mea culpa negro bocado
mea culpa divina náusea

no hay otro aquí
en este plato vacío
sino yo
devorando mis ojos
y los tuyos

Anomaly

Features Supplement to the Online Journal of Literature and…

Arturo Desimone

Written by

Arubian-Argentinian writer and visual artist blogs for Drunken Boat, writes poems, fiction, articles and translations.

Anomaly

Anomaly

Features Supplement to the Online Journal of Literature and Art

Arturo Desimone

Written by

Arubian-Argentinian writer and visual artist blogs for Drunken Boat, writes poems, fiction, articles and translations.

Anomaly

Anomaly

Features Supplement to the Online Journal of Literature and Art

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