Editor’s Note: The following texts are republished with permission from the edition: Cristina Peri Rossi: la nave de los deseos y las palabras. Homenaje al Premio Cervantes 2021 (Alcalá de Henares, Spain: Universidad de Alcalá, 2021).
To read Cristina Peri Rossi is to walk out naked under the elements, into a wind that cuts through your skin like a sharp, shiny razor. It is to face down a poetry of combat, unarmed. This afternoon, after rereading her, I look out the window of a dark office in the Tribunales neighborhood in Buenos Aires; down below, the cracks split the red asphalt paint of a little terrace, and through a crevice comes the green corolla of a wild plant. A plant in the middle of nothingness, budding like a verse.
The word AMOR—LOVE in English—is not in the dictionary. What is shown below
is similar in shape to an adjacent piece of writing.
That afternoon, we found out that the DRAE doesn’t pick up on AMOR as we sought it and wanted it: with capital letters. It tries, instead, to sneak by with a feeble imitation in lower case. Costume jewelry. We kept reading, curious, to see what this academic succedaneum is made of:
(From Lat. amor, –ōris).
1. m. Intense feeling of a human being who, due his or her own insufficiency, needs and seeks encounter and union with another being.
Insufficiency!? Needs!? No. What we were asking for was both halves of love.
Anacondic love. AMORAMOR.
To hell with dictionaries!
Provisionally, so as not to write off the whole afternoon, out of all the flea market offers the RAE hawked at us, we ended up making do with the eighth:
8. m. p us. Sexual appetite of animals.
Then we left for the zoo.
To open the elephant enclosure.
Martha Asunción Alonso
(from the book Wendy, Pre-Textos, 2015, Premio de Poesía Joven RNE)
The poetry of Cristina Peri Rossi lies at the core of the most unruly rush of my literary upbringing. Someone at university gave me a copy of Lingüística general, the old Prometeo edition. Accustomed to the preciosity, let’s call it, of the book’s Spanish ilk, I was immediately enticed by the dynamic, self-assured tone with which its author addressed myth, eroticism, metapoetry, and the trope of Venice. I think she was the first Latin American poet I read with selfish interest, the way we read our neighbors, to learn and find our way and nourish ourselves. She was also the first to express lesbian love not through a rhetorical haze (although Sappho was always close at hand), and that was liberating and admirable. I remembered that youthful encounter much later, when discussing Estado de exilio, which I consider a major work, one of the grand testimonies of exile, that no-place so often endured by the lives and consciences of the twentieth century. And a book that naturalizes the Beats into Spanish, an alloy of learned tradition and urban language that our poet forged with “the rage of rebellious old age” making her ever rougher, ever more insubordinate. And always, in the background, Eros: otra vez Eros.
At this time, in this century, at this moment in literature, Cristina Peri Rossi represents the whole arc of human philosophical experience through which a great writer must pass. For starters, her conception of her own literature, linked to Spanish translations of Clarice Lispector and Monica Wittig, among others, marks an inflection point in the conscience of a writer—one related to her position on exile. A political exile, of course, but then also an inner exile, as she says herself; an exile that is neither Barcelona nor Paris nor Montevideo. This exile is no mere writerly trope; it is, rather, an inner exile. It covers the entire arc of experience, in the old-fashioned way: there is translation and exile, but also suicide attempts and the sufferings of a cause, a political cause from the 1970s carried down to the present. Her stories and novels, her correspondence and friendship with Julio Cortázar are part of the arc of a great writer, as is her correspondence in dialogue, be it real or fictitious, with other writers, be they contemporary or dead. And, of course, her eroticism, fetishism, sexuality, transgression, subversion, the revolution of her way of experiencing language, of her language overflowing, of infringing upon the language of eroticism.
Reading Cristina Peri Rossi, we learned that the most productive efforts are the useless ones; the nicest museums are the abandoned ones; the most eloquent indications are always the panicked ones; the finest loves are the ones misplaced; private rooms always have the best views; ships are always steered by fools; and kids have no duty other than to rebel.
Between diaspora and humor, Cristian puts together her very own general linguistics that cannot help but enact insubordination. Even after reading her so much, she wows again with the declaration of a forbidden desire: “The first time I came out to my mother, I was three years old.” And there begins the tale of a childhood heavy with puzzlement, with distress, with delirium, with animals and insomnia, with sickness, countryside and readings, out of all of which she would become, with every right to the title and the paradox that goes with it, the “great rebel.”
She, like no one else, has told of the small, heroic miracle of sad childhoods and insomniac kingdoms. She, like no one else, has spoken of the child as hero and as misfit, the one who holds the keys and takes the hits, the one who knows and doesn’t know while the afternoon swells and the word is made.
Esperanza López Parada
The Future Displaced
La nave de los locos (1984) was written in exile: the central theme of this novel, and perhaps of all Cristina Peri Rossi’s work. Here, the author plunges into writing the displacement invented in the Bible when the foundational couple was expatriated from Paradise, casting us out into an eternal longing for our origins. I myself read the book from my own voluntary foreignerhood: the shades of errancy cited here called out to me, speaking of our shared contemporary condition and reminding us that you cannot go back (return is ever elusive) and that, likewise, “there are journeys from which you can never go back.” Reading this masterly book, I was Ecks, the eternally displaced, whose name recalls the “x” of expulsion and exile. And I resonated, like Ecks, with the others who wandered through these pages: the survivors of the “involuntary journey” of torture, those who live like “fallen angels” or flee perpetually to maintain their illicit passions, those who suffer the “psychosis of space.” Passengers or prisoners on this ship of fools that is our world, where settling down and building a future seem unattainable.
Cristina Peri Rossi is a wild writer: that is to say, one whose writing is free and undomesticated. The first time I approached her work was with La nave de los locos, and I remember the surprise, the excitement I felt holding a book so alive, so thoughtful regarding the forbidden and desire. I was amazed by the rhythm and intelligence of her writing, but also by her ability to dive in and swim dark waters, to move toward the most secluded corners of her characters’ emotional experience.
So much I couldn’t tell you, Cristina, I who was born in your sad city, off the map. I was born and you were gone, but years later I imagined you suspended over the middle of the sea, in one of those boats that came in and out of the port, while I, facing down this misunderstanding, was reading something or other. (Within one journey there’s another journey, you know what I mean.) Now I send you this encoded message to say something or nothing or just thank you. Back then I was living in wonderment, like someone just seeing her first daybreaks, the submarine castles that decorated the fish tanks, the eucalyptus gum nuts, the cracked floor tiles, the lights of Parque Rodó. But also the words, the only company that never fails. At Tristán Narvaja my hands turned black from flipping through so many old books. I had to search patiently, kneel down, pluck out the deceitful front row, because it was behind where the treasure was hidden. You’re right, the seduction of reading starts with the book’s name, and yours have pretty names: Los museos abandonados, La tarde del dinosaurio, Europa después de la lluvia. Look at that, women write too… even Uruguayan women. I would get home to spill the haul out over my bed, to wipe the dusty covers with a rag. The muses must be restless, Cristina, even if they’re only seeing you in a black-and-white photo, and from a different continent. I see your furrow, the one you dug not with your feet but with your words, and I think: maybe I’d fit in there. I was born in the sad city in its saddest years, and I carried all of it like a silence. How claustrophobic one can feel in the green-skylighted patios, in the wide river, in the gray streets.
We write because the things we want to talk about are not here. And because what happened has no name. If I get lyrical and tongue-tied it’s because that too is desire, of the body and of the text. In my words are yours, darling girl, like two pairs of legs intertwined.1
Translated by Arthur Malcolm Dixon