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Plastic poetics, Coca Cola & other utopian objects 


Visual and Plastic Poetics: From Brazilian Concretism to the Chilean Neo-Avant-Garde (Legenda, 2022)
/ A BOOK OBJECT by Guest Editor Rachel Robinson

Characteristically a-syntactic and insisting upon on the word and poem as object, Brazilian concrete poetry (1950s onward) creatively and often playfully performs a critique of the ways in which we interact with language and literature. The concretist techniques move beyond the Brazilian borders to the Chilean neo-avant-garde of the 1970s and 1980s. I demonstrate for the first time how three Chilean experimental poets, Cecilia Vicuña (1947-), Juan Luis Martínez (1942-1993) and Rodrigo Lira (1949-1981), develop and expand upon Brazilian concrete poetics. Furthermore, the Chilean recovery of the experimentations of concrete poetry transfers the critique of language from an international sphere to the severe political reality of Chilean politics, particularly during or in relation to the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Book cover artwork Cecilia Vicuña

While observing concretist features in the poems of these Chilean writers, I do not argue that they are concrete poets or that their works are concretist.  Instead, I propose that they have absorbed into their own later works features of concrete poetry that they develop as part of their own unique poetics with diverse motivations. Several key characteristics of concrete poetry are manifest in the works of these Chilean poets.  In particular, they share 1) a focus on the word decoupled from syntax, 2) an emphasis on the space of page (and at times beyond the limits of the page) instead of the line and 3) a destabilisation of the authority of a poem which in turn facilitates the reader’s entry into the creation of it.  Making use of these strategies, all three Chilean poets uniquely develop and then significantly bend to their own purposes concretist poetics as a political gesture against authoritarian and capitalist ideals.  

Ultimately, the Chilean poets stray away from typical concretist poetics to express particularly Chilean political and social concerns. My first example, Martínez, like the Brazilian concretists, undercuts the authoritative role the poet plays in many conventional works.
  However, recognising the inevitability of the authorial presence, he questions, without completely erasing (as the concrete poets attempt to do), his particular role as author in the creation of the text and makes room for the reader’s participation.  Lira’s concretist critique of authorship and text takes a different form through his direct détournement of previous poetry and of quotidian materials. Unlike the concretists, however, he draws from literary and non-literary material that is particular to his Chilean context in his critique of the capitalist and authoritarian regime under which he wrote.  Vicuña shares the concretist preoccupations above, but develops them as ‘plastic’ poetry (that is, poetry that invites the reader to enter into the creation of the work in its ideal state) at the level of the word, page and book that encourages active readerly participation and ultimately expresses a democratic and feminist vision.  

Rachel Robinson, 2022