La palabra como espectáculo: estrategias vanguardistas en César vallejo y Carlos Oquendo de Amat (en inglés).

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En este artículo pretendo demostrar cómo a través de diferentes estrategias vanguardistas, poetas tan disímiles como César Vallejo y Carlos Oquendo de Amat fueron capaces de convertir la palabra en espectáculo significativo sonoro y visual, pero manteniendo un estrecho contacto con su entorno social. 


La palabra como espectáculo: estrategias vanguardistas en César vallejo y Carlos Oquendo de Amat

Por: Damaris Puñales-Alpizar


Teatro, a peer–reviewed academic journal edited at Connecticut College, published this article. The article has 19 pages and was writtenand published in Spanish. In this article I show how, through diverseavant-garde strategies, Peruvian poets as different as Cesar Vallejo and Carlos Oquendo de Amat, were able to turn the word into a spectacle of sound and visual significance, beyond its semantic implications. I compare the poetic works Trilce (1922, by Vallejo) and 5 Meters of Poems (1927, by Oquendo de Amat) to show how both poets were ableto take advantage of then current avant–garde strategies to create apoetic that, nevertheless, cannot be classified exclusively under aspecific avant–garde school.

Both poets came from rural corners of Peru: Vallejo, from Santiagode Chuco, and Oquendo, from Puno. I agree with Antonio Cornejo Polar,who argues that the origin of the Andean poets in this period is linked toa new language, which implies not only other linguistic uses but alsoother ways of socialization. (2003: 147).

Last century in the decade of the 20s, both Vallejo and Oquendopublished their poetry, which allows for reading the Latin Americanavant–garde as a cultural process that was inclusive, heterogeneous andmore importantly, de–centralized. Peru and Brazil were the mainexamples that demonstrate that the avant–garde movement was notconcentrated in the capital cities. Cultural magazines and journalsfunctioned as the dots that connected the creative efforts all across thecontinent and allowed a dialogue among the writers and artists ingeneral.

Even though there was a significant number of artists whobelonged to the avant–garde movement in Latin American, we cannotassume homogeneity in their production, nor at the artistic or ideologicallevels.

In my analysis of Trilce I link this poetic work with the previous onewritten by Vallejo, Los heraldos negros, where we can find the samepreoccupations and anguishes that he is going to develop in his 1922 book: pain, death, abandonment, childhood, time. On the other hand, I analyze 5 Meters of Poems relating this book to the author’s fascinationwith cinema. This allows us to understand the visual presentation of hisbook and how he plays with spaces and images to create his poetry.

Both books need the reader to play an active role. Starting with the titles, the reader will face a challenge: Trilce is a neologism createdby Vallejo, and its meaning is still a matter of debate and discussionsamong literary critics. 5 Meters of Poems refers to length, measure, andthe book actually can be unfolded and extended –it does not measure 5meters, but just 3.65 m, in 26 sheets of papers. The two books areprovocative. In Trilce, language constitutes a new object invented by thepoet who cannot use known words to express reality, although somereferences can be recognized. It also has an acoustic component, vital tothe book. In 5 Meters of Poems the reader has to decide how to read thebook, where to start; it constitutes a physical interaction and can beseen as a movie, as signs, as marketing announcements… In both cases,words have become a sound and visual spectacle, and their meaningshave been modified, amplified.


In spite of the variety of topics and styles that we can find in Trilce,language is the real protagonist and constitutes the main cohesiveelement in the collection.

Regarding the book, Vallejo confessed in a letter to Antenor Orregothat he felt the obligation to be free and that the use of the free form inthis book was his hardest struggle and greatest reward. Because of thisfreedom, his poetry borders on absurdity but never falls into the abyss;the rupture between signifier and significance never happens totally.Unlike the Chilean poet, Vicente Huidobro, Vallejo is not creating a worldthat can only exist in the poem, rather, unable to communicate theworld, to embrace it, he needs to create a new language, richer, moreexpressive. He creates neologisms by joining words, deriving them fromunconventional ways, inventing, assuming a tone that is infantile attimes. He also uses capitalized letters to call attention to a specificverse, word or concept. He uses knowledge that comes from medicine,science ...


Quién hace tanta bulla, y ni deja

testar las islas que van quedando.

Un poco más de consideración

en cuanto será tarde, temprano,

y se aquilatará mejor

el guano, la simple calabrina tesórea

que brinda sin querer,

en el insular corazón,

salobre alcatraz, a cada hialoidea


Un poco más de consideración,

y el mantillo líquido, seis de la tarde


Y la península párase por la espalda, abozaleada, impertérrita

en la línea mortal del equilibrio. (Vallejo, 1994: 119).


Who’s making all that racket, and not even lettingthe islands that linger make a will.A little more considerationas it will be late, early,and easier to assaythe guano, the simple fecapital ponka brackish gannettoasts unintentionally,in the insular heart, to each hyaloidssquall.A little more consideration,and liquid muck, six in the evening OF THE MOST GRANDIOSE B–FLAT Sand the peninsula raises upfrom behind, muzzled, imperturbableon the fatal balance line (Vallejo and Eshleman

The Complete Poetry: ABilingual Edition


It is not a coincidence that this is the first poem of the collection. Herethere are five key words that open a door to enter the book as a whole:consideration, hyaloids, B–FLATS, muzzled, imperturbable. The poetic actshows itself as a free–thinking act, without gags, fearless and at thesame time, it is supported on fragility.

According to Americo Ferraro, “the poems organize anddisorganize themselves as in a kaleidoscope of impressions, seen, felt,remembered or wished things that overlap each other, excludemutually” (Vallejo, 1994: 26) (my free translation).From the 77 poems in the book, not all of them are so radical. There are at least 11 of them which offer a more “traditional” reading,an easier relation between poem and reader. Their structures and topicare more recognizable.


Madre, me voy mañana a Santiago,

a mojarme en tu bendición y tu llanto.

Acomodando estoy mis desengaños y el rosado

de llaga de mis falsos trajines.

Me esperará tu arco de asombro,

las tonsuradas columnas de tus ansias

que se acaban la vida. Me esperará el patio,

el corredor de abajo con sus tondos y repulgos

de fiesta. Me esperará mi sillón ayo,

aquel bien quijarudo trasto de dinástico

cuero, que para no más rezongando a las nalgas

tataranietas, de correa a correhuela.

Estoy cribando mis cariños más puros.

Estoy ejeando ¿no oyes jadear la sonda?

¿no oyes tascar dianas?

estoy plasmando tu fórmula de amor

para todos los huecos de este suelo… (Vallejo, 1994: 166)


Mother, tomorrow I am going to Santiago,to dip myself in your blessing and in your tears.I am taking on my disillusions and the rosysore of my pointless tasks. Your arch of astonishment will await me,the tonsured columns of your longingsthat exhaust life. The patio will await me,the downstairs corridor with its tori and festivepie edgings. My tutorial armchair will await me,that solid big jawed piece of dynasticleather, forever grumbling at the great–great–grandchildrumps, from strap to strand.I am sifting my purest affections.I am the central axis –don't you hear the plummet gasping?–don't you hear the reveilles champing?I am molding your love formulafor all the hollows of this ground… (Vallejo and Eshleman The CompletePoetry: A Bilingual Edition 299) 

This could be a poem from Los heraldos negros. There are not here thelinguistic word play that we can find in Trilce. All is expressed smoothlyfrom the pain, from the lodging for something forever lost. There is atransparent coincidence between the poetic voice and Vallejo’s voice.Most of the poem is colloquial, paused, when compared with the rest of the poems from the collection. Even though there is alliteration it doesnot affect either the composition’s clarity that is shown to us as rich, wide and poetically well done, yet at the same time, legible andaccessible. There are few neologisms but all of them are quite understandable.

If taken separately, poems from Trilce have more elements thatdifferentiate them rather than homogenize them. It is impossible to talkabout a specific poem as the center of the collection. Even given thedifferences among the poems, it can be said that there is a unity that isabove formal and thematic aspects.

According to Coyné, such unity is given by “a secret voice thatsave the poems from their differences and discrepancies” (1999: 254)(my free translation).

Vallejo was conscious about the importance of the word asessential to the poem and he comes back to this topic in numeroustimes. But it was not all about the word, rather the sensibility that it hasto transmit.

Vallejo’s poetic in Trilce is not simple as he breaks with establishedgrammar, with conventional vocabulary. It is not pure rebellion but thecreation of a new sign where signifier and significance alter theirnormative relationship to describe and talk about specifics states that, if said in other form, will not have the same effects.

In many occasions, Vallejo uses the same resources that hecriticizes in other poets like blank spaces, the distribution of words onthe page, the use of capital letters and syntactic and semantic alterations.

Moreover, Vallejo made mistakes when judging the transcendenceof the new poetry created in Latin America in the first three decades of the 20 th Century. He was not able to see the grandiosity of other poets.


This is the first stanza of  5 Meters of Poems : making a call to enjoythe senses. The book can be displayed in front of our eyes horizontallyalmost to 5 meters and any poem can be chosen to start the reading. There is not a logical sequence in the distribution of the poems andevery one is an independent unit of significance. There is no page enumeration; there is only an indication about the year in which the poem was written. There are not capitals for the titles.

All the poems were written between 1923 and 1925, according tothe information provided by the author. Minerva Publishing House, in Lima, Peru, published it two years later and only 300 books were printed. The second edition had to wait 41 years. The book was dedicated to his mother.

Apollinaire’s Caligrams influence is evident in the book: stanzas donot follow a horizontal distribution, rather they climb, fall, and movethrough the page. It gives a different dynamic and meaning to thepoems. Also, Mallarmé’s influence can be traced in the use of a diverse typography and letter sizes. Oquendo’s uses of blank spaces and chaoticdistribution anticipate the Brazilian concrete poetry from the 50s.

After the first four poems, the author introduces a 10–minuterecess, as in a movie from those years. This cut does not mean anychange in style or themes. The poems in the first part were written in1923, while those in the second part were composed in 1925. Some of the titles are distributed along two consecutive pages, like “landscape’sfilm”, “new york” and “amberes”. All these poems refer to the idea of modernity, the metropolis’ brightness as its representation. In general,the book has a sense of photography that characterized some of theavant–garde poets and reminds 20 Poems to be Read in the Train, by Oliverio Girondo in 1922. Like Girondo, Oquendo talks about reality inother cities (visited or imagined) and about the changes in those cities.Some reminiscences to futurism can be identified.

Of all the novelties from the modern world present inOquendo’spoetry, the arrival of cinematography is the most significant inthis book, not only because its conception as a foldable object is like afilm reel, but also because it mentions actors from those years likeRudolf Valentino and Mary Pickford.

Lumière’s cinematography arrived to Peru in 1900 but three yearsearlier movies were being seen with Edison’s system.

Oquendo did not remain behind in the general fascination withcinema. His poetry is full of this fascination. From the cover, the bookinforms about performance, and the juxtaposed images provide amovement similar to a reel and confer unity to the collection.

Only the first poem, entitled “village girl” breaks the book’saesthetic and structure. It has a taste to the Spanish romancero. Thereare other poems, mainly love poems, where the structure is not thesame as in the rest of the collection. The tone is intimate and there ismuch less experimentation in them. Some poems also recall theautomatic writing of the period.

Oquendo has a peculiar vision about America. It appears as aparrot able to repeat stories but without real knowledge. In this sense, itremains of Macunaima by Mario de Andrade (1928). America hasbecome a commercial brand, a market, news, a film. Superficiallydescribed, America is presented as exotic merchandise, with indigenouspeople, feathers, but the reality is nonexistent.


Most likely, César Vallejo –who was always opposed to literarymovements– would not have approved being compared to CarlosOquendo de Amat, considered surrealist by many literary critics. Butbeyond the many differences between the two poets, there are commonpoints that allow one to establish a constructive dialogue between them: both came from Peru’s rural corners; both found in Lima the contacts and impulse to make their creativity to grow. Both migrated to Europeand sympathized with the Communist ideas from the Russian Revolution. Both died in Europe, without money or glory, never knowing the impactof their literary works upon future generations of poets.

In both texts the poet has overcome the fixed relation betweensignifier and significance. Vallejo has created a new language, a newpoetic being. Oquendo, when conceiving his book as a reel, opens thedoor to the visual poetry of the future. In both cases, the word hastrespassed its primary essence, has jumped out of the page and hasbecome a spectacle to be enjoyed, one that make us think and reflect.



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