Obra completa. Juan L. Ortiz. Paraná-Santa Fe: Universidad Nacional de Entre Ríos/Universidad Nacional del Litoral. 2020. 1694 pages.
For Nino Lamboglia
When wandering the contours of an unknown land, it is clear that there is nothing tying down the foreign spirit in pursuit of fully exploring the apparent nature of a place and its customs, which comes about in the availability of an immense amount of time: time to heal and to acknowledge, to look and to perceive. Time to be, and time to distinguish the flows and reflections of a place that takes us in and along with it, in the same way that an old tributary, the sediments of a vast river, which get confused on the tongue, would mix with the material of time.
After twelve years in the land of the white and blue,1 in conjunction with pilgrimages to the banks of the Entre Ríos province, gateway to the Mesopotamia region of Argentina, I have been able to form a more precise idea of the work of Juan L. Ortiz (1896-1978) and its implications. He is a figure who does not require an introduction, but whose Obra completa [Complete works], in an expanded and revised publication this year, is worth noting, not only because of the importance of its printing, but also for its extraordinary account that highlights his prolific editorial commentaries, revealing the fruitful discourse of many willing participants, including critics, writers, editors, and specialists. His efforts are reflected in the strength of the result. Phenomenon like this one should not just be one of the editorial events of the year, but a cause for Argentinian pride: it is a critical success, and the edition has been published by the Universidad Nacional de Entre Ríos and the Universidad Nacional de Litoral.
The publication of his work at this time is significant because it allows the definitive entry of his work into the legend surrounding him, which Beatriz Sarlo once defined as follows: “Macedonio y Juan L. Ortiz, delgadísimos, descuidados y elegantes como mendigos principescos, raros, apartados de la competencia literaria, criollos viejos y amigos de los jóvenes: dos escritores cuya imagen es tan fuerte como su obra. Soles de sistemas planetarios ocultos, alrededor de Macedonio orbitaron Borges, Scalabrini Ortiz y casi todos los martinfierristas; alrededor de Juan L. Ortiz, los jóvenes Hugo Gola y Juan José Saer” [Macedonio and Juan L. Ortiz, thin, neglected, and elegant, like princely beggars; strange, distant from the literary sphere, old criollos and friends of young people: two writers whose images are as strong as their works. Suns of distant planetary systems, around which Borges, Scalabrini Ortiz, and almost all of the other Martinfierrists revolved; around Juan L. Ortiz, the young Hugo Gola and Juan José Saer].2
The immense editorial work is presented in two parts. One contains the entirety of the poet’s books, from the first poems of El agua y la noche [Water and the night] to La orilla que se abisma [The buried bank], and is entitled En el aura del sauce [In the shade of the willow], which resurrects the name of his complete works that were published in 1971 in three volumes under the care of Hugo Gola. The edition was then updated in 1996 with the addition of a second tome, Hojillas [Petals], which is a complete delight. This is exactly how Sergio Delgado, the project director, describes it: “Hay poemas, relatos, reseñas bibliográficas, conferencias, ensayos, traducciones, cartas. Y los textos son tomados de manuscritos, dactilogramas, publicaciones dispersas e incluso de transcripciones realizadas a partir de la memoria del poeta” [There are poems, stories, bibliography reviews, conferences, essays, translations, letters. The texts are taken from manuscripts, dactylograms, various publications, as well as transcriptions done from memory by the poet]. It is a treasure box that contains all of the varied interests of a poet who, unlike many, represents a tutelary figure who reads a different history of Argentina’s literature, one that positions us in the tributaries of this labyrinth of water: if Borges was a writer on the edge, Juanele is the kind-hearted poet along the river’s edge.
Thanks to Juanele’s symbolist (or post-symbolist) vein, it is easy to compare him with Mallarmé. While the French poet presents his impossible book as a double of the universe, the Entre Ríos poet describes the numerous rivers that flow into the River as giving form to his entire project. Juan José Saer captures this perfectly in his commentary taken from Hojillas: “la poesía de Juan es reconocible aun a primera vista por su distribución en la página, por sus preferencias tipográficas, por la extensión de sus versos, por el ritmo de sus blancos, por la peculiaridad de su puntuación” [Juan’s poetry is recognizable at first glance for its spatial distribution on the page, for his typographic preferences, for the length of his verses, for the rhythm in his blank spaces, for the peculiarity of his punctuation]. Seen from a sufficient distance, the brooks, creeks, inlets, lagoons, marshes, tributaries, estuaries, deltas, and rivers construct a meaningful framework that dissolve into the poet’s words themselves. This can be read in his 1976 text “El infinito en el instante” [Infinity of the instant]: “En mi han sido ciertos procesos naturales los que me han indicado la dinámica o el misterios del crecimiento poético, que he asimilado especialmente al de las plantas, o mejor al de esas cosas naturales que están en el aire y que se dan en él: sabemos que hay jardines en el aire, que hay música en el aire, correspondencias y comunicaciones que suceden, no ya en la superficie terrestre sino, digámoslo así, en el éter” [There are certain natural processes in me that have indicated the dynamic or mysterious growth of poetry, which I specifically associate with the growth of plants, or better yet, with all of these natural things that were in the air and that meet there. We know that there are gardens in the air, there is music in the air, connections and conversations that happen, no longer on the surface of the earth but, shall we say, in the ether].
In regard to poetic growth, Saer insists that the aforementioned text contains one of the qualities that may best define the artist, Juan Laurentino’s, frame of mind, which was: “El deseo de conocer cada vez mejor su propio instrumento para utilizarlo con mayor eficacia, esa disciplina a la que únicamente los grandes artistas se someten, tenía como objetivo el tratamiento de un tema mayor, del que toda la obra es una serie de variaciones: el dolor, histórico o metafísico, que perturba la contemplación y el goce de la belleza que para la poesía de Juan es la condición primera del mundo” [The desire to continue learning one’s own instrument and to use it with greater effectiveness. Only great artists give themselves over to this discipline, with the goal of reaching a broader question, in which the work features a series of variations: pain, historic or metaphysical, which disturb contemplation and the enjoyment of beauty. For Juan’s poetry, this is the primary condition of the world]. His situation recalls that of the Japanese engraver and painter, Hokusai, the undeniable master of ukiyo-e or paintings of the floating world, a typical form of Japanese printing from the 17th to the 20th centuries, when he wrote:
Since I was six years old,3 I had the habit of drawing the shapes of objects. By the age of fifty, I had published an infinite number of drawings, but everything I produced before the age of seventy is not worth counting. It was at the age of seventy-three that I came to understand about the structure of true nature, animals, grasses, trees, birds, fish and insects. Therefore, at the age of ninety, I will have made even more progress; at ninety I will penetrate the mystery of things; at a hundred years I will have definitely reached a degree of wonder, and when I am one hundred and ten years old, at home, either a point or a line, everything will be alive4
The artist’s work is like the ripening of a shadow; it is only possible in the abundance of the willow.
Far from being a local term, the entrerrianía5 is an immanence that crosses territories, people, and observations that take shape in the region. It is a condition of possibility that defends, as a condition of belonging, a way of life, and above all, a way of understanding the world (for me personally, I have never felt so at home as I did in Entre Ríos, being that my ancestors are from the mountains).
Between the blurred landscape and the continuity of Heraclitus’s river, Juanele’s poetics emerges as an amphibious being, appearing as a group of animals—or vegetables, he would say—threaded together as poems. A universe, vast with the beautiful scenery of living bathed in the surrounding Gualeguay and Paraná rivers; a continuous flow that inevitably cleans the aura and all of the skies from your gaze; to become conjugated in an imperative present; a poetry spilling over into the future that modifies time and space in the same way that rivers, which flow, flood, sculpt, and consume with the desire of water.
Juan L. Ortiz, with his old criollo edges, is embodied, fully, in the same matter as the ethereal.
Translated by Alison Silverstein
Middlebury Institute of International Studies
1 The author uses the Spanish term albicelestes, which is used in Argentina to refer to the blue and white colors of Argentina’s national soccer team. —Trans.
2 “La imagen del escritor. Leyendas involuntarias” en La Nación, 8 de septiembre de 2007. Cfr. https://www.lanacion.com.ar/cultura/leyendas-involuntarias-nid941140/
3 Toriz cites a quote that says five years old, most English translations and the one that I am using says six. —Trans.
4 Qtd in: Hokusai: Original text by Edmond de Goncourt. Grégori Coudert. Independently published: 2019. 213 pages.
5 This is a Spanish gentilic that refers to an inhabitant or native of the Entre Ríos province of Argentina.
Rafael Toriz (Xalapa, 1983) is a writer and cultural critic. He has published the books Metaficciones, Animalia, Serenata, Del furor y el desconsuelo, La ciudad alucinada, and La distorsión. He recently selected, translated, and contributed a prologue to the book Galaxia de un hombre solo: Verso, prosa y miscelánea by Fernando Pessoa, published by the Universidad Veracruzana with the support of the Direção-Geral do livro dos Arquivos e das Bibliotecas de la República Portuguesa.
Alison Silverstein is a graduate student of Conference Interpretation, studying Spanish and French translation and interpretation, at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Romance Studies from Wesleyan University. She is currently located in Queens, New York.