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Altazor, or, A voyage in a parachute by…

Altazor, or, A voyage in a parachute

by Vicente Huidobro

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When I was a student I studied for a semester in Santiago, Chile, and I took a course on poetry, from which I took the idea that the four most significant Chilean poets were Vicente Huidobro, Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda and Nicanor Parra. Of these, I was attracted the most to Parra, who reminded me very much of Kurt Vonnegut. Neruda's politics bothered me (he had all these fancy residences in Chile, but he was a communist, and a Stalinist at that), and his odes weren't really my thing either; nonetheless, I've returned to his poetry from time to time and I´ve enjoyed it. I always admired Mistral's life story and thought she was a very honorable and inspiring person. And, for some reason, I decided there was something about Huidobro that I didn't like and I kind discarded him, put him aside and never really even gave Altazor a chance. But, my love of searching the internet for cheap Cátedra editions led me to a critical edition of Altazor at a price I couldn´t resist, and I decided to give it a try. I don't really know why I was put off of Huidobro, because there was a lot about this, his most famous work, that I really liked.

Altazor is a poem constructed over a period of many years, from around 1919 to 1931. It has seven cantos, and is written from the perspective of Altazor, a person who is descending through the sky on a parachute. The language as the poem goes on changes, with later cantos containing combinations of real words, made up words, and finally just a bunch of vowels at the very end. In the introduction it talks about how the poem is a sort of synthesis of all of the artistic movements (-isms) that were being developed during Huidobro's time. In general, the poem represents a questioning or refutation of the possiblity of defining art and the role of the artist, or to find one, or even many different ways of looking at life, art, or anything really. I don't think I can wrap my head around all of this in one initial reading. I thought the language was very beautiful, and I enjoyed the way that it was manipulated in different and fascinating ways. For me, reading this poem was like walking through the modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago (I miss that museum, I don't live in the Chi any more) and looking at art from the same interwar time period: there were a bunch of images that I really liked and thought were very beautiful, but I did not feel that I understood them very much at all, nor the context in which they were created. There were portions of the poem that I was especially intrigued by and that I wanted to know more about, just like there are artists from that time that I feel especially drawn to. It was just so sprawling, I feel a bit lost when I try to explain the poem as a whole.

One thing that was mentioned in the introduction that I found interesting was a line from the poem, "Se debe escribir en una lengua que no sea materna," which is exactly what Huidobro did in this poem, alternating between French and Spanish in the synthesis of Altazor. One of my favorite parts of this edition was that the editor compared some portions of the poem between the two languages, showing the interplay between the original French and the Spanish equivalents that Huidobro chose. As a language learner, I am intrigued by the possibilities of expression in languages that are not one's first language. In the case of French and Spanish, I think the closeness between the two languages makes for some fascinating possibiliities for a person who is bilingual and not only knows both languages, but seeks to understand the connection between the two. I liked learning about the bilingual creative process Huidobro followed in Altazor, and the introductory study helped me appreciate the poem more by shedding light on its French-language genesis.

Finally, Altazor made me think of an old favorite of mine, The Little Prince. I feel that Saint-Exupery must have been familiar with Altazor, and been inspired by it. The rose that Altazor speaks of regularly, his travels through the sky, and the way he yearns to understand the things that he sees, they all remind me of the Little Prince and his trip trough space, as well as his time on earth. It's more of a feeling I have than anything concrete, but from the beginning, I felt a connection between the two characters. ( )
  msjohns615 | Sep 3, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vicente Huidobroprimary authorall editionscalculated
Weinberger, EliotTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0819566780, Paperback)

Often compared with Apollinaire as the first and liveliest avant-garde poet in his language, Vicente Huidobro was a one-man movement ("Creationism") in the modernist swirl of Paris and Barcelona between the two World Wars. His masterpiece was the 1931 book-length epic Altazor, a Machine Age paean to flight that sends its hero (Altazor, the "antipoet") hurtling through Einsteinian space at light speed. Perhaps the fastest-reading long poem of the century, and certainly the wildest, Altazor rushes through the universe in a lyrical babble of bird-languages, rose-languages, puns, neologisms, and pages of identical rhymes, finally ending in the pure sound of the language of the future. Universally considered untranslatable until the appearance of Eliot Weinberger's celebrated version in 1988, Altazor appears again in an extensively revised translation with an expanded introduction.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:32 -0400)

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