Córdoba, Argentina: Eduvim, 2022.
Iluminado artificio, Eugenia Straccali’s volume dedicated to Mercedes Roffé’s career, inspires contemplation and pause. It is an opportunity to consider the work of the Argentine poet, to take note of her poetic approaches, to think carefully about the ethics of her work. It is also a moment to think about past and future, to understand the flow of time in poetry, as well as the temporal flow of our readings through the years. This collection of essays, written over the last thirty years, situates us in the manifold times and spaces in which the work of Mercedes Roffé has been developing.
Let’s start for a moment with the concept of the volume of essays—that is, the compilation. This kind of book builds a magical aura, the moment when the various critical views on the work of a single person come together. It can be a moment of consecration, of course, but I also see the construction of a critical community around a shared issue: how to talk about poetry; how to talk about the crossovers between visual image, word, and sound; how to talk about everyday life from the point of view of a person—using Roffé as an example—trained in classical music, in letters, in the Middle Ages, in visual art? And, finally, how to talk about the long trajectory of a poet who has lived through the historical crises of our times, from the military dictatorship in Argentina to the fall of the twin towers in New York? Here, I believe, is the core of the project of the compilation of essays as an attempt to reconcile a series of writing practices produced at different times, and the intensities of a poet who refuses to reduce herself to a single path. Eugenia Straccali calls it a “critical cartography,” a map of the poetic coordinates that trace Roffé’s poetry.
Overall, the collection of essays opens paths of understanding, stops languages in flight, produces new routes of reading, possibly new truths. In the case of Illuminado artificio, life and death, north and south, the voice of critics residing outside their country and those in Buenos Aires—or in Santiago de Chile, Madrid, and Valencia, or (in my case) Northern California—are combined. Roffé has strong resonance, and in each country, in each sensibility, different approaches to her work emerge, ranging from the splendid commentaries of her translators (among them, Anna Deeny Morales) and academic readers (like me) to Roffé’s poet colleagues themselves. And here I must say that I find it compelling and beautiful to have included the recently deceased writers Mirta Rosenberg, Sergio Chejfec, Osvaldo Pardo, and Uruguayan poet Alfredo Fressia. To have them with us in this dialogue on poetry and the path of the world is a beautiful reminder. Life and death, walking hand in hand, always endearing. It is Mirta Rosenberg who speaks here of the distrust in knowledge that Roffé describes; “la perfección de la duda” [the perfection of doubt], she writes with respect to Cámara baja. Osvaldo Pardo, on the same book, speaks of the way to exorcize an absence, and also of the period of great waiting that lies behind the voice that speaks. Or Sergio Chejfec, who speaks of the zones of the poem where “la palabra enmudece o se hace invisible” [the word becomes mute or invisible]. And Alfredo Fressia, speaking on Las linternas flotantes, seeks the Platonic version of knowledge: West and East together, to see in the image of water the flow of time and eternity.
The critics’ arrows point to different themes: few essays repeat others. If, on the one hand, some place Mercedes Roffé within the coordinates of Argentine poetry written by women in the 1980s, others underline her cosmopolitanism, her way of appealing to oriental sources, her ekphrastic poetry, which appeals to the Pre-Raphaelite painters of the late nineteenth century, or her poetry’s encounter with the music of Arvo Part. Roffé, classicist; Roffé, avant-garde; Roffé, the great theorist of poetry, music, and visual arts. This edited volume embraces these multiple truths and draws attention to the process of naming and eluding, while tensing the poem between silence and voice, between light and shadow, between the materiality of objects and bodies and what has vanished into thin air. Everything points to the fleeting, as Straccali indicates.
In Iluminado artificio, we enter into a range of readings that remind us that poetry breathes, that it moves to the beat of rhythm and surprise, between one language and another. It captures different worlds, different voices; it seeks to speak the nescio quid, and acknowledges its own failure. The subject of poetic language that fails and that, tense between truth and lie, between doubt and certainty, breaks on purpose and fractures all speech. Adalber Salas Hernández observes the repeated dismantling of the poem’s solidity until we lose all certainty about the word itself. “Pulsos, vibraciones y temblores” [Pulses, vibrations, and tremors], says Lilliana Collado in another essay, to “almacenar el son y el somos de un sueño” [archive the son and the somos of a dream] in Mercedes Roffé’s poetry, while the sharp comments of German Prósperi and Jordi Doce point to the trope of the cleft or the fragment as the basic form of this poetry. “Sin puntos de origen” [Without points of origin], explains Prósperi; “movimiento y fluidez” [movement and fluidity], observes Doce. A poetic world of crossed tempos, of optical and sonic devices that recompose landscape and time, which, at the same time, propose to review the language or the poem and the matters of its speech. Taking a different analytic route, Raúl Zurita opens his essay by observing that “la obra de Mercedes Roffé constituye uno de los más remarcables ejemplos de la lucha que el poema continúa librando por restituirle a las palabras los significados que le fueron despojados… Ilumina su presente y las circunstancias en las cuales ella surge y, al mismo tiempo, emprende el retorno a ese pasado inmemorial donde las cosas y la voz que nombra a las cosas cancelan sus fronteras” [the work of Mercedes Roffé constitutes one of the most remarkable examples of the struggle the poem continues to wage to restore to words the meanings that were stripped from them… It illuminates her present and the circumstances from which she arises and, at the same time, undertakes the return to that immemorial past where things and the voice that names things abolish their borders].
In other essays, the focus falls on the arts and Roffé’s ekphrastic will, the interrelation of her written word with painting and music. The poem is able, as Ethel Barja says, to “ingresar en la pintura” [enter into the painting], or, as Kelly Martínez-Grandal notes, into photographs, to organize and shape the cosmogonies of the poem itself. Yes, a poetry that overcomes limits and points to spaces where image, body, and voice are reborn. The book Illuminado artificio encompasses the great multiplicity of her writing and contemplation, and situates Mercedes Roffé as a key figure in the poetry of our time.