When the world changes, literature must as well. This is the credo motivating the thinking and writing of Argentine poet Sergio Raimondi, born in 1968 in Bahia Blanca. A somewhat gruff genius loci inhabits this place: the nearby port of Ingeniero White is one of Argentina’s main seaports; the nation’s most important petrochemical complexes is also located here. But Sergio Raimondi draws his very inspiration from this genius loci: even in his early work Poesía civil (published in German as Zivilpoesie in 2005), Raimondi—who teaches contemporary literature at the Universidad del Sur in Bahia Blanca—examines in depth Argentina’s changing daily reality. One of the poems is titled programmatically: Poesie und industrielle Revolution [Poetry and Industrial Revolution]. Indeed, this poet is interested first and foremost in the question of how industrialization, and not least also the immigration that accompanied it, has turned against man himself. Visual material drew him to his work also at the Museo del Puerto in Ingeniero White, which is dedicated to the history of industrial dockworkers and where Raimondi served as board director from 2003 to 2011. His work—conceived as a “work in progress”— is therefore closely tied to reality. Raimondi, who is also co-editor of the literary journal Vox Virtual and is responsible for new releases from the publisher Vox in Bahia Blanca, has, since Poesía civil, been regarded as an innovator of Argentinean poetry. His poetry may safely be described as an instrument that, in the sense of a politically engaged poetry, chronicles the constantly changing present in bold notation. In Para un diccionario crítico de la lengua (published in German as Für ein kommentiertes Wörterbuch in 2012) he also leaves behind the radius of the local and opens up his poetic radar to the wide world between Laos and Lebanon, China and Cuba, Hamburg and the South Atlantic. With him the poet becomes a researcher, in accordance with Raimondi’s citing of Brecht—and like all good research, Raimondi’s poetry also proves here to be both curious and full of even-tempered emphasis. Here, vessels carrying mass-produced wares come across Moluskeln and Michel Foucault; population genetics and GM food cultivation encounter migration and trade. Raimondi, who has read both Marx and Max Weber, focuses his attention especially on the tried-and-true: the focal point of his lyrical output is always the poetics of the work itself. It is about the conditions of production and standardized work-processes, about standardization and therefore always about man himself. At times he is a bureaucrat, at times a worker, at times a thinker, at times a consumer—but above all and very gladly so: a revolutionary and an subversive element. Raimondi’s poems are also subversive: kept mostly to long block-like verses and structured in alphabetical order like a lexicon entry, something akin to a humorous resilience still erupts out of them. This begins with the ostensibly dry titles—which tap into intellectual traditions and discourses whose alluring power must be read against the backdrop of the former military regime in Argentina: Internationale, Die or Foucault, Michel. The linguistic register accordingly strides for something beyond the poetic: technical languages and specialist knowledge, legal texts or statistics become here the cool requiems of the global age, in which this poet puts to the test—not without irony—the credits and debits of our overly capitalized world. Raimondi, at the same time a gifted stylist trained in Latin classics, is therefore its chronicler—and critic. To a world in which everything, even literature, threatens to become a commodity, he reproaches the deficits with their own weapons. He cancels out the technical languages simultaneously by pointing out their contradictions; at the same time he explores their phonetic possibilities, pushes them to the extreme and thus explores language itself as the hammer and forge of a possible way of penetrating reality.
Berliner Künstlerprogramm des DAAD | Original German version: Claudia Kramatscheck
English translation: Erik Smith
AUTHOR (ALS PRODUZENT, DER)
The era doesn’t demand our spirits, comrades
of the Institute for the Study of Fascism:
it demands we move our diaphragms.
For that reason I bring a concrete example
(today the concrete examples are Russian!)
of what a literarily and politically correct
work is. Here you have Comrade Tretiakov.
How does Comrade Tretiakov write?
He attends the Kolkhoz committees
organises collections to buy tractors
he asks all around so as to find out
the best horse collars and sparkplugs
he explains Yakovlev’s thesis and calms
the mothers arguing in the nursery
finds mounts for the teachers’ travel
inspects reading groups and sends
three, ten, as many letters as needed
to demand a visit from the mobile cinema
he documents minutely sowing and reaping
click click click with his camera everywhere.
Yes, he also writes and publishes reports
in the Moscow newspapers on what’s done
and edits the Kolkhoz paper with instructions
on preparing the land and the planned
activities for the Revolution’s anniversary.
What? I’m sorry? What’s all that got
to do with literature? Ah, literature . . .
But comrades. Can’t you understand
that the world can change? What’s more:
you fight day after day for change
but demand that literature stays the same?
SILENUS AT THE RAILWAY STATION
Lying on one side, with an awkward elbow
leaning on the cement and his head
tipped back, he sleeps. Knees bent double,
feet against his arse, airing his big belly,
mouth open to the sky, squat nosed.
This is the work of two or three litres.
If he were marble he would be displayed
in a museum in Rome, London or Paris
as an example of Hellenistic art.
And the flies wouldn’t fuss him.
Paying for identity. Paying for tradition.
The French State pays when it subsidises
an agricultural activity whose workforce
in days no longer measured from sunrise
to sunset over farmland first ploughed
at least some seven millennia in the past
quickly declines alongside the percentage
of its real contribution to GDP. It pays
for time. An ancestral time that only exists
financed by millions and more millions.
It doesn’t pay for alpine goats’ milk. Doesn’t
pay for the dusting of charcoal that covers
the rind. It doesn’t pay for the room, damp
and ventilated, where it’s left to mature.
It pays to keep up an idea, the landscape
suited to that idea. Pays for national pride
or pays for a phrase from Brillat-Savarin.
(It’s best accompanied with a nice Shiraz.)
Even if one has to discount structural problems
capable of splitting the hull into two loving halves
from which flow cleanly diesel and fuel-oil
into the rather less limpid waters of wherever
without forgetting either that cereal tends to settle
in each of the holds once the crossing has started
and without any control can slip from side to
side until it turns the whole thing unstable
problems because of which the engineers analysed
the combination of corrosion, metal fatigue
in high tensile steel and also in a crew on board
confused by ten languages and rather less steely
there’s no doubt that it represents a step forward
in mastery of the power of the natural world:
beyond the little medal on the oiler’s chest,
these are less mysterious or uncharted oceans.
The ever-growing size of the craft’s length shows
the increase in the load and of global commerce,
plotted along the planet’s routes now no longer
guided by low frequency radio waves:
they’re the energetic shifts of supply and demand
that are impossible to register on a tidal chart
and organize in minutes the next journey
unknown until that moment by the supposed captain
who busies himself for now checking the cargo
the hatches open all over the single deck
and the telescopic – and final – tube through which fall
tons, counted by the hour, of wheat, soy or maize.
Taking care not to breathe in too much dust
that’s where one has to get close to verify
attention fixed on the continued flow of the load
the basic motivation of the design: concentration.
THE MINOR POET ON THE BIRTH OF HIS SON
Having found, after searching for days, his pencil
in the cabin of the little toy fire truck,
and witnessing the independent judgment
of his heir, who tears up the preferred pages
and intact leaves the rejects, the minor poet
decides to discuss with his wife a key question:
the organisation of time and space for his work,
at home, after the birth of their son.
And this talk touches on various questions:
purchasing groceries and cleaning products,
revenue payments, turns to give the child
care, entertainment, food and hygiene,
the lack of care, entertainment, food
and hygiene for the couple, the need to record
his first steps, how often to use what is known
– by the vulgar masses – as a dummy,
nice ways of keeping the grandparents at bay.
When a mutual muteness marks the end,
the minor poet realises that his concerns
have been displaced by more pressing needs.
That night, like an inspired romantic
taking advantage of the mortals’ silence
to give space for his verses to take flight,
he sings, for hour after hour, a lullaby.
The concept to consider in the Camagüey conference
was the dialectic between consciousness and work.
So before the speech he climbed onto a harvester
and in a few days cut forty-five thousand arrobas.
That was a declaration, at least the empirical base
to sustain a speech of forty-five thousand words.
The minister saw the macheteros at the vanguard
of the oppressed of Asia, Africa and the Americas.
The machetero saw a sugar cane, one and then another.
How to explain that this wasn’t just another field
but the potential reserves on which depended
a war against the most powerful force in history?
Up onto the machine to check how it’s working.
Badly. Of course, it’s new, right. But why?
Too many blades! Ok. Now what else.
The difference between cutting for the company
and the revolution is the revolution demands double:
it wants a muscle with the power of abstraction.
This isn’t a furrow, it’s a power plant, it’s purification
and efficient boilers, hard currency, a Russian tractor,
diversification and the coming of the Socialist World.
But in the cooperative the numbers weren’t going well.
While some of them were trying to improvise
a local replacement for the broken couplings
that for a long time now couldn’t be sourced,
others didn’t understand why they worked so hard
to bring about the day you don’t work at all.
WHAT IS THE SEA
mesh at maximum, in the tank seven hundred thousand
litres of diesel, down below bags of potatoes and onions,
shifts of thirty-five hours, sleep for four, some coffee,
agreements signed in offices in Brussels, increasing
illex squid in proportion to the water temperature
and the approvals signed in the Supreme Court, circuit
of stainless steel channels where the catch falls,
pollock, hake, permit transfers with the support
of the Ministry of Farming and Fisheries; there:
the fishing boat crosses the imaginary parallel, goes
after a stain on the screen of the detector machine,
the shoal ignorant of the notion of miles or charter,
of the made-up Fisheries Institute stats or the gap
between wages and cost of living since the year 1992,
long-tailed hake fillet, Seamen’s Union and rattail,
faked credit letters, lamps and Asian flag of convenience,
outbreak of foot and mouth in British herds, hoki,
chuck back to the very depths tons of dead cuttlefish
when langoustine (five times greater value) appears,
storage infrastructure and cold, fishing ground, that.
One of the ‘big four’ exporting companies
set up in Argentina at the end of the 1800s
ecstasy of international division of production
That’s to say: rapid expansion of the local farming area
sowing seed by hand maize and Barletta wheat
in the air one hand from the millions that arrived
from the Italian or Iberian Peninsula with ancient memories
of the fertile rhythms of Ceres and the Lupercalian feasts
completely useless for this soil, with no rocks and almost
no limits, to rent badly and pay with a potential
harvest in the face of hail and once again locusts
or the labourers and hobos of all sorts for reaping
the use of the harvester if they invested in capital grain
more grain grain threshing and a long spell at the station
after the obligatory bagging stacked high in the cart
and the loss of one or more zeros given the ignorance
of the sudden positive or negative movements
of the prices on a board on the other side of the world
cablegrams from London or Rotterdam or Antwerp
to pass on information to the local agents of,
well, e.g., this company whose income for years
funded the research work of the Frankfurt School
dedicated to elegantly superseding the orthodox
economicist and mechanistic view of base-superstructure.
TODAY MATSUO BASHŌ COOKS
not the reverse, it’s not about plucking its wings
to leave in mid-air an aromatic grain
that on its own would fall. No, the trick is
to give flight to the fruit so it rises from the table!
But at times something spicy is needed to give
taste to the sauce that’s boiling on the hob
and there’s nothing but that dragonfly or conceit
flying around and even bothering a little bit.
The master, now with his apron, should give up
the elegance of the anecdote to keep in mind
as much his own appetite as that of those dining;
poetic judgment may condemn – or not – the act,
but the stomach will appreciate it in the dinner.
And it’s no surprise that, if the cooking is right,
digestion takes place among plates, pans and steam
with a pleasant sense of grace and lightness.
Because of course even the flow of the fish in the water
well, more specifically: that sharp and extended vertex
of the Patagonian grenadier, useful for moving in multiple
order at one two three four-hundred metres’ depth
back at the higher layers of the Atlantic or South Pacific
will end up compacted solidified frozen packaged
in order to adopt the usual form of industrial production
a premium parallelogram of 7.5 kilos of filet of hoki
standardized and universal measure of taste and machines
commerce and transport across similar parallelograms
angles without imperfections and a vacuum smooth surface
exact to dilute the movements of the hand that eviscerates
extracts the epithelium and starts the fine deboning
on board a trawler whose flag doesn’t matter that much.
TRANSLATION BY BEN BOLLIG
FIRST PUBLISHED ON POETRY INTERNATIONAL, 2016
Sergio Raimondi (1968) is a poet, academic and cultural organiser from the city of Bahía Blanca, on the south coast of Buenos Aires province. Trained as a literary specialist, Raimondi has for many years taught at the Universidad Nacional del Sur. He has a particular interest in Latin poetry, as evidenced both by formal features of his work (particularly the intricacies of his syntax) and his translations of Catullus into Spanish (Catulito, 1999).
Raimondi’s Poesía civil (Civil poetry, 2001) marks a watershed in Argentine verse, representing a culmination of the starkly realist or objetivista(objectivist) poetry of the 1990s, but also setting a new course for many writing in the 2000s. The collection is eminently literary, with references to Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Dante and the English metaphysical poets, in poems written in long, carefully measured lines. Via engagements with Antonio Gramsci, Bertolt Brecht and Paul Valèry, it questions the social status and role of poetry. And it is rooted in Raimondi’s cultural and community work at the Museo del Puerto, an oral history centre in the industrial port-town of Ingeniero White, adjacent to Bahía Blanca. Raimondi’s fashioning of what he calls, drawing on Brecht, an ‘epic’ form of poetry interacts directly with the mission of the museum, capturing the connections between everyday life and the flows of capital and power through the region.
Raimondi has won a number of prestigious awards – from the Fundación Antorchas, as well as a Guggenheim fellowship in 2007 – and garnered widespread critical acclaim for his poetry, which has been translated into several languages, including two books into German. His current project, Para un diccionario crítico de la lengua(Towards a critical dictionary of language), is an encyclopaedic work that attempts to catalogue, in verse, the political life of a society. Here Raimondi accentuates certain features of his earlier writing: a basis in detailed research; a distanced, even ironic voice; and great prosodic care. A selection was released in German in 2012, but the full collection is yet to be published in Spanish. Aside from poetry, Raimondi is also an essayist and has penned scholarly articles on J.B. Alberdi, György Lukács and D.F Sarmiento.