- Juan Gelman's Mundar and the Strange Logic of Poetry
Mundar, Juan Gelman's 2007 collection of verse, comes late in the poet's career of over fifty years and offers both a retrospective and a reflection on key issues regarding poetic creation in the twenty-first century. While constantly questioning the poet's ability to bridle the indomitable nature of language, Mundar offers glimpses of solace and joy in the face of the horrors of political discourse and violence. Despite these brief moments of relief that break through its predominantly tortured perspective, Mundar underscores, even more than his earlier works, the unresolvable tensions in Gelman's vision and his resistance to facile solutions. This is a phantasmagoric world with echoes of both the surrealist and the political César Vallejo, a world that circumvents the "logic" of politics, history, or even story telling. The focus is on creating a poetics of conscience and compassion that demands surrender to the strange logic of the poem. This idiom draws upon a lyric language that is tied to its origin in the spoken word and song and that breaks down the conventions of self, nation, history, and authorial authority.
Sophia A. McClennen places these issues at the center of her theory of exile, which is based on her study of the divergent circumstances and texts of Juan Goyti-solo (Spain), Ariel Dorfman (Chile), and Cristina Peri Rossi (Uruguay). She finds that exiles manifest in their writing dialectic and irreconcilable tensions that revolve around their country of origin, time, space, and language. She explains that the experience of exile brings not only a deep ambivalence toward nation and nationalism, but also a sense of having been cast out of the present of the homeland's historical time, a tension that defines Mundar's opening poem, "La manzana" (II, 411) and continues throughout the rest of the collection. The resulting suspension of linear time is, according to McClennen, manifested in the creation of temporal perspectives that are alternatively cyclical, primordial (linking exiles from across the ages) and fractured. In some of his earlier, post-exile volumes of verse, Gelman, in [End Page 189] an apparent search for insight and solace, anchored his poetry in the past and in works by Hebrew and Spanish exiles and mystics. In Mundar, time is both "primordial" and fractured. McClennen also asserts that writers in exile see language as both empowering and controlling, a split perspective that Gelman underscores in various poems. Finally, according to McClennen, exiles describe the space in which they live as free from traditional restrictions but also confining and repressive. These features permeate Gelman's 2007 collection and structure the selection of the poems included here for study, the aim of which is the examination of the expansive poetic vision with which he attacks ideological and linguistic complacency. With this detailed study of key poems, this article offers the first extensive exploration of Mundar and its reflection on the nature and role of poetry.
After spending the first half of his life fighting injustice and inequality, Gelman is sent into exile from his native Argentina in 1975. While away from his beloved Argentina, his son, pregnant daughter-in-law, and countless comrades fall to the brutality of the military dictatorship. These events crystallize his worldview. Gelman, in his struggle to make sense of the devastating events of the 1970s, begins to write in dialogue with the works of other poets and thinkers who endured exile across the centuries and who looked for answers that transcended their immediate context. He combines translation and reconstruction, going as far as to write in Ladino with the voice of a Sephardic Jew (Dibaxu, 1994). In 1999, Gelman and his wife take steps to find the grandchild that had been born to his daughter-in-law in captivity, challenging the Uruguayan government, in what becomes a torturous battle between victims and victimizers.1 By 2007, by the time he publishes Mundar, he is no longer officially a political exile but his perspective on life remains that of an outcast, a foreigner in his adopted land as well as in Argentina and a spiritual ally of those...