“A Film of Landscapes”: Andean Modernities and Avant-garde Poetry in 1920s Peru

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"A Film of Landscapes": Andean Modernities and Avant-garde Poetry in 1920s Peru

Jul 7, 2020 By: Valentino Gianuzzi
Volume 5, Cycle 2


If later testimonies are to be believed, around 1927 Peruvian poet Carlos Oquendo de Amat (1905-1936) published in Lima, under the title Celuloide (Celluloid), a magazine devoted to film news and reviews. Literary historians, however, have surmised that the magazine must have only been a project which never came to fruition, as no copy of the publication, nor contemporary evidence of its existence, has to this day been found.[1] The legend of this magazine has undoubtedly become enrooted in Peruvian literary history because it would have been a project becoming of Oquendo de Amat, the author of 5 metros de poemas (5 Meters of Poems) a “cinematic” poetry book (the only one he published in his short lifetime). This book-object is a collection of eighteen poems printed on one side of several contiguously glued sheets of paper, folded in accordion-like fashion, which can be read more or less as a conventional poetry book, or unfolded to be “viewed” as a continuous canvas, not unlike a movie reel.[2]

Ande PeraltaFig. 1. Title page of Alejandro Peralta’s Ande (Puno, Editorial Titikaka, 1926), with a woodcut by Manuel Pantigoso. Courtesy of the Biblioteca Nacional del Perú.

The legend of the elusive Celuloide has also taken hold because of the common conception of the attraction that cinema held over Peruvian and, in general, Latin American avant-garde poets. And yet Oquendo, who was born in the Andean city of Puno before moving to the capital as a child, infused a handful of the poems of his cinematic book with content which clearly referenced Andean, rather than urban, life.[3] The book has thus traditionally been read under the lens of two of the most important isms of nineteen-twenties Latin American literature—indigenism and vanguardism.[4] Because of its cinematic format, it has been hailed as one of the most paradigmatic examples of the unlimited interest and fascination which Latin American avant-garde writers placed on modern technology. As Mirko Lauer reminds us, however, in the case of the Peruvian avant-garde this fascination was also “a symptom of disagreement between Peruvian culture and the set of technologies that had started to define modernity in the Northern hemisphere since the late eighteenth century.”[5] If this disagreement was evident in the urban cultures of the capital of the country, it became even more visible in the Andean provinces, where modernization provided a sharper, more poignant contrast with the rural world of 1920s Peru.

In keeping with the differentiation made by Jorge Coronado in specific reference to Latin America and the Andean region, I follow his understanding of modernization as the material and conceptual transformations undergone in Latin America since the independence of the early nineteenth century, which saw the rise of new subjects marked by societal democratization and well as by “the influx of economic entities from other parts of the globe as well as the introduction of new technologies into Latin America” (Coronado, Andes Imagined, 2). These transformations were marked by “the arrival and eventual eruption of foreign cultural concepts and artistic production in emphatically local cultural scenes” (3). Modernity, on the other hand, refers to “the cultures that arise as a result of the types of encounters, contacts, and absorptions” presented by modernization (3). In this sense, the disagreement pointed out by Lauer is rather part and parcel of Andean modernity, as it is part of, to quote Coronado, the “fluid responses to the diverse global processes which shape Andean reality” (3).[6] By underlining this difference, I attempt to foreground the uniqueness of the Andean avant-garde. In its engagement with this geo-cultural space, and its adoption and transformation of European avant-garde forms, I argue that poetry is a privileged medium to envision the overlapping of different spaces impacted by modernization and that it provides a privileged platform to discuss Andean subjects navigating through these different loci of Andean modernity. This exercise could hopefully provide an interesting model to feed discussions of avant-garde poetry which engages with rural cultures, and which may be seen as paramount in peripheral modernities.

Falo ArmanzaFig. 2. Cover of Emilio Armaza’s Falo (Puno, Tipografía Comercial, 1926). Courtesy of the Biblioteca Nacional del Perú.

Oquendo’s book, therefore, has stood as a key artefact to enquire about Andean writers’ concern for the Latin American modernizing process of the early twentieth century, which conceived technological and aesthetic advances usually as innovation flowing from abroad, and which elicited both allure and fear. But it is also a product of previous poetical enquiries by other Andean poets, often with different cultural and aesthetic projects in mind. Due to its adoption into the mainstream canon of Peruvian literature, his book has traditionally been read in isolation, and not as one of the very diverse examples of Andean avant-garde poetry produced during the 1920s which provide contrasting examples of Andean modernity, an experience which made central reference to the Andean landscape and which influenced Oquendo’s work considerably.

I aim to give a more detailed account of the paradoxical and problematic process of Andean modernity by taking a closer look not only at Oquendo’s book, but at some often-overlooked contemporary Peruvian avant-garde books which were its precursors: Alejandro Peralta’s Ande (Andes, 1926, fig. 1), Emilio Armaza’s Falo (Phallus, 1926, fig. 2), and José Varallanos’s El hombre del ande que asesinó su esperanza (The Man from the Andes Who Murdered His Hope, 1928). Diverging from other readings, I take this local literary lineage as my starting point in order to trace a picture of local responses to contemporary works, that is, to see how Andean writers reacted, were impacted by, and cross-fed other Andean writers’ attitudes toward modernization. The article takes a chronological perspective to show how the books by Peralta and Armaza created a poetry laden with Andean signifiers (mainly the Andean landscape and its people) which was quickly adopted in part and further problematized by Varallanos and, even more drastically, by Oquendo, who relocated these Andean elements in an urban cityscape. I posit that what surfaces in this exercise are interesting similarities and contradictions in the treatment of the Andean landscape, later placed in contrast with an urban space. Most importantly, each of the subsequent books makes a centrifugal movement from the Andean heart of the country, to the capital, to the international scene. It is in this movement that those signifiers central to Andean modernity are mapped into the experience of a broader, global modernity represented by the international avant-garde. In other words, my aim is to bring to center stage the process by which a poetry book like 5 metros de poemas enacts a foregrounding of the local and national assets available to forge a modern literature in which Andean culture, at least symbolically, can find an equitable place in the canon of contemporary Western culture.

Modern Poetry in the Andes: The Early Andean Avant-garde

All of the books studied here were published during the prolonged presidency of Augusto B. Leguía, known by historians as the Oncenio (Eleven Year Period) or the Patria Nueva (New Country). The Oncenio (1919-1930) was indeed characterized by a rapid process of modernization which, nonetheless, left large parts of the population still at the mercy of foreign capital welcomed by the government, and favored the oligarchic and newly formed local élites over popular political forces. Although hailed in its early years as a breath of fresh air following the élite-governed civilista period—which has been termed the República Aristocrática (Aristocratic Republic, 1895-1919), especially the preceding government of José Pardo—Leguía’s regime would soon become the target of younger intellectuals and political activists who would become exiled or co-opted, and who would later lead or be part of emerging progressive parties (mainly the Socialist Party and the APRA) that would shape the future of Peruvian politics.
The works carried out during Leguía’s presidency attest to his modernizing drive. Built during his regime were several important highways, the start of some railways, and, in the capital, wide, European-styled avenues such as the Avenida Leguía (today Avenida Arequipa) and El Progreso (today’s Avenida Venezuela). These works thus had a strong impact not only on the urban space of Lima but also on the Andean landscape. On the other hand, it was also during this time that American cinema obtained hegemony in the Peruvian movie theatre market.[7] The audience for this new form of spectacle had also grown considerably: the rapid transformation that Lima underwent made of it a center of internal migration from the provinces, especially from the Andean region, seduced by the real and symbolic capital of the growing city. Finally, this opening of cultural borders also had an impact on poetry nationwide, as news of avant-garde movements (futurism, ultraism, cubism, dada, surrealism) poured into, and were transformed by, each of the local literary scenes.

Despite the growing scholarship on the avant-gardes in Peru, a detailed account of the origins of the first books of the Andean avant-garde is yet to be written. Why a group of poets who had a few years previously been writing of fin-de-siècle romances and symbolist-inspired love affairs, in traditional meters (usually alejandrino sonnets), would turn their attention in the mid-1920s to the autochthonous Andean world—while also adopting a modern avant-garde form of free and highly metaphoric and imagistic verse—is a process which remains to be historicized and properly documented.[8] To attempt an answer, one must carry out a deeper inquiry into the archive of long overlooked periodicals, especially newspapers from the Peruvian provinces, most of which are either not extant or available only, and often fragmentarily, in the local archives of the provincial cities themselves.[9] Despite this archival gap, we can trace some of the earliest manifestations of European avant-garde-inspired poetry to the Southern Andean city of Arequipa, which had a strong trade and solid cultural connections with Puno. It was in Arequipa that the news of the Spanish/Argentinian avant-garde school of ultraísmo started to have its followers, as seen in texts written by Peruvian poets and published in the local press under the byline of “versos ultraístas” (ultraist verses).[10] Further archival research needs to be carried out to establish the positive link between this early extolling of ultraísmo in Arequipa and the later avant-garde explosion in Puno, but suffice it to say here that at least one of the most important poets from Puno, Alejandro Peralta, was living in Arequipa at the beginning of the 1920s, when the sudden ultraísmo trend was on the rise.[11]

The year of 1926 saw the publication of three of the most important poetry books of the Andean avant-garde written by Peruvian poets: Peralta’s Ande, Armaza’s Falo, both published in Puno, and Mario Chabes’s Ccoca, published in Buenos Aires, under the imprint founded by Alberto Hidalgo, a poet from Arequipa living in the Argentinian capital.[12] I will focus on the first two of these as they were published in Peru by the same literary circle, that of the group which had been associated with the magazine La Tea, and which in 1926 had started to publish an avant-garde magazine called Boletín Titikaka (1926-1931), initially as an outlet for the publicity of Peralta’s and Armaza’s books.[13] Due to this publicity, the poems from Ande, and to a lesser extent, those of Falo were widely read and, I argue, would become a partial blueprint of many of the poetry books which followed them.[14] These books disseminated the poetics of the Spanish/Argentinian ultraísta movement whereby highly visual metaphors became the main component of the poem. They also, and in clear contrast with urban Argentinean ultraísmo, shifted subject matter in order to represent Andean life and customs and made frequent use of elements that were indexical of the Andes.[15] The work of this literary circle has often been analyzed in conjunction with the Boletín Titikaka project, whose main driving force was Peralta’s brother, Arturo Peralta, better known by his pseudonym, Gamaliel Churata (fig. 3).[16] Ulises Zevallos’s critical assessment of the magazine sees it as a project of mestizo intellectuals who spoke of and for the indigenous communities and in doing so, oftentimes jeopardized and neutralized indigenous grassroot movements by “recycling racist positions which had a colonial origin” (Indigenismo y nación, 214). Coupled with this problematic representation of indigenous subjects, according to Zevallos these writers also held an ambiguous position with regards to Leguía’s modernizing zeal, at once confronting the negative effects of capitalistic modernization, and at the same time engaging in discourses which attempted to make sense of “the indigenous problem,” usually presenting the education of the indigenous subject as a key solution (214). More recently, Elizabeth Monasterios has gone beyond the issue of representation to read the Boletín as the “symptom of an avant-garde with Indian roots which presented for the first time the possibility of a modern indigenous literature” and which was the testing ground of Churata’s later decolonizing project.[17] Both readings attest to the plurality of Andean modernities in their complex relation with the Oncenio’s policies of modernization. Invoking the heterogeneity of editorial and authorial voices inherent to periodicals, however, I see the Boletín as a ground of convergence in which Churata’s decolonizing stance, which signaled a rejection of the harsh effects of the Leguía regime, could cohabit with Peralta’s and Armaza’s more clear allure toward aesthetic modernization, as I will detail below with regards to their poetry books.[18]


GAMALIEL CHURATAFig 3. The Peralta siblings in Puno, c. 1930. Gamaliel Churata (pseudonym of Arturo Peralta), seated right; Alejandro Peralta, seated left; and Diego Kunurana (pseudonym of Demetrio Peralta), extreme left. Photographer unknown. Courtesy of the Biblioteca Nacional del Perú.

efore [sic] publication of their first books, Alejandro Peralta (1899–1973) and Emilio Armaza (1902–1980) (fig. 4) had been active writers in Puno and had been publishing scattered poems in magazines from the provinces (La Tea in Puno, La Semana in Arequipa) and in Lima (in Mundial and Flechas, among others). Most of their early uncollected poems are yet to be compiled, but a closer look at the early versions of poems later included in the books gives an intimation of an accelerated adoption of avant-garde forms. I start with this textual detail as it illustrates Armaza’s sudden allure towards aesthetic modernization. Take the early version of one poem later included in Armaza’s Falo, “El himno del granuja” (“Hymn of the Scoundrel”). The first lines of the early version had a hendecasyllabic pattern and rhyming lines:

Has tenido 9 años, palomilla,

Era, entonces, alegre

Tu buhardilla.

Jugabas a la guerra en los tapiales

Y boxeabas en los arrabales.

(You were 9 years old, rascal

And your attic

Was a happy one then.

You played war among the walls

And you sparred around the neighborhood)[19]

When included in the book, the rhyming words palomilla-buhardilla and tapiales-arrabales were deleted, the meter broken up, yielding a clear move from traditional, rhymed verse, to polymetric unrhymed lines, and the poem was reworked to be more concise, less descriptive and more visual:

Has tenido 9 años

jugabas a la guerra

te boxeabas

                      en el escenario de los cercos

(You were 9 years old

you played war

you sparred

                       in the scenery of walls)

Emilio ArmanzaFig 4. Emilio Armaza c. 1926. Photographer unknown. Courtesy of the Biblioteca Nacional del Perú.

In the case of Ande, two poems had appeared in print as early as 1924. These early versions had a traditional typographic layout, but when included in the book some verses were later set in capitals and all punctuation was omitted, a clear indication that, although remaining linguistically the same, these poems were given an “avant-gardizing” treatment for inclusion in the book.[20] These formal changes betray the allure of aesthetic modernization: the quick adoption of an avant-garde style which, as mentioned, had been a source of experimentation in Arequipa in the early 1920s.[21] Furthermore, by making the poems less descriptive and placing metaphor at the center of their aesthetics, these poets could engage with the representation of their Andean environment in a way that prioritized a sensorial, and prominently visual aesthetics.[22]

Indeed, the Andean landscape features prominently in Peralta and Armaza’s work, to the point that it became one of the salient features highlighted by their early reception.[23] As Marta Ortiz Canseco reminds us, the work of these Andean poets respond to an utilization of the Andean landscape which “was not concerned with the idea of a new political or territorial conquest, as it was with the desire to find a common theme which would act as a homogenous basis to cover or to relativize the heterogeneous identities of the country.”[24] If the representation of indigenous subjects in the Boletín Titikaka was, as mentioned, problematic, the Andes are here also appropriated (homogenized and essentialized) by the emergent middle-class mestizo intellectuals, who, although critical of the effects of the Oncenio’s modernization, seem to follow its nationalistic and modernizing ethos to forge a landscape which could stand, if not for the nation, at least for the regions of Southern Peru. This was carried out by portraying Andean content via new, modern, and foreign-inspired avant-garde forms. In contrast with traditional indigenismo, their modernizing drive also had the effect of avoiding romanticized representations of place, so that the treatment of landscape is not always idealized and arcadian. As Cynthia Vich has pointed out, Peralta’s portrayal of the Andean landscape moves between oppression, desolation, and playful bucolism.[25] Especially when the inhabitants of the Andes are protagonists of the poem, nature can act as an overbearing force. In the first poem, the shepherdess Antuca is “enclosed by the mountains” (“acorralada entre los cerros”) while in “El indio Antonio” (“The Indian Antonio”) the death of the character’s wife takes place “while the hail fell like stones on the highlands” (“mientras el granizo apedreaba la puna”). The destructive portrayal of natural elements can also be extended to the poetry of Armaza: in the poem titled “Kolli” (which is the common Aymara name of the Buddleja incana tree) he succinctly depicts cases of natural destruction, from huge hurricanes to toxic microorganisms:


           el huracán devasta


           el viento apaga


           el tiempo domina


           el microbio enferma



           which the hurricane destroys


           which the wind blows out


           which time owns


           which the microbe infects)[26]

In this sense, the utilization of the Andean landscape attests to a dynamic rather than decorative take on the portrayal of the environment. The dynamism of nature permeates the work of both poets, as landscape is most often introduced in the texts via personification. In Peralta’s poem “Balsas matinales” (“Morning Vessels”) the morning slips away “HANGING FROM THE SAILS” (“PRENDIDA DE LAS VELAS”); in “Gotas de cromo” (“Drops of Chrome”), “Breezes are watering the grass” (“Las brisas están regando el pastizal”); the tree in the final poem, “El kolli,” is described as the “Watchtower of the highlands / [which] guides the swift traffic of the winds” (“ATALAYA DE LA ALTIPAMPA / [que] DIRIGE EL VERTIGINOSO TRÁFICO DE LOS VIENTOS”).[27] As for Armaza, his personification of Andean landscapes goes to the extreme of becoming heavily gendered, with moon and fields acting as female entities, while the sun and the mountains often appear as male.[28] This feminization of aspects of the landscape sometimes creates a metonymic relationship between the rural world and the beloved village girl. This is more clearly visible in the poem “Hembra en el olimpo” (“Woman in Olympus”) where the speaker invokes his lover: “Your lips are a sheaf of infinity / There is a smell of damp soil along my path / you are a slice of spring” (“Tus labios son haz de infinito / En todo mi camino hay olor a tierra húmeda / eres gajo de primavera”) (Armaza, Falo, [23]). Although Armaza’s heavily erotic outlook was not absorbed with the same intensity by the two younger poets I consider below, the metonym of the village girl and the Andean world is unmistakable in many of their poems.
Peralta’s animated natural landscapes and Armaza’s feminized highlands provided a model for the engagement with rural settings that other modern poetry could not provide. These poems are part of the early construction of the national, autochthonous countryside which 1920s intellectuals like Peralta and Armaza were fashioning. As I have mentioned above, their work quickly became one of the main models for later books of the Andean avant-garde, yet it would be adopted and transformed by younger poets who wanted to portray not only the experience of the Andes, but that of an Andean subject who moves between the countryside and the city, one who is faced more visibly with the experience of urban modernization.

From the Andes to the City

What a reader used to Spanish American avant-garde poetry of the 1920s may find unique in the poetry of Peralta and Armaza is that, in contrast with the works of the Mexican estridentistas or the Argentinian ultraístas, for example, there are actually very few references to modern artefacts and, by the same token, to city life.[29] In the case of Ande, the notable exception are some lines in the poem “Canto en brumas” (“Song in Penumbra”) which refer to a train: “The cardiac coals of the locomotive / have burnt the horizons of the days” (“Los carbones cardíacos de la locomotora / han quemado los horizontes de los días”) (Peralta, Ande, [35]). Similarly, in the second half of Falo, the speaker boards a train which seems to be funereal: “This train / both of us will board it / oh mother! / and it will be forever” (“El tren / tu y yo lo tomaremos / ¡oh madrecita! / y será para siempre”) (Armaza, Falo, [34]). Later in this poem, the speaker arrives in the city, yet longs for his return to the native Andes: “I am crawling on the streets of the strange city / . . . one morning the birds will sing of my return” (“Me arrastro por las calles de la ciudad extraña / . . . una mañana dirán las aves mi regreso”) ([34–36]). That both poets refer to a train as one of the few elements of modernization in the countryside is not gratuitous. As Fernando J. Rosenberg has pointed out, the ubiquitous icon of the train had been represented in Latin American literature since the nineteenth century as “a symbol of the order of daily life, the modern organization that reticulates the space of the city and its outskirts and administers their interconnection . . . Indeed, the train displays and nationalizes the achievements of modernity in its administration of time-space.”[30] The train is in both cases an element of urban space entering and impacting the Andes themselves, charting the tension between these different, almost opposed, locations which are included in the same geopolitical space of the nation, an inkling of the forces of modernization in the autochthonous national landscape. Although they are perpetuating an already established symbol, the poets’ take on the train is still contradictory. In Peralta, the locomotive is vital (cardiac) and destructive at the same time, while in Armaza, it becomes the medium through which Andean population is depleted through immigration to the city. By representing the train as the bridge between city and province, Falo, perhaps more so than Ande, offers the first intimation of the Andean subject’s migration colored by a nostalgic look back at the Andes.

The theme of migration, however, is even more central to the work of José Varallanos. The literary activity of José Vara Llanos (later spelled Varallanos, 1907-1996) before the publication of his first poetry book, El hombre del ande que asesinó su esperanza (1928), has not been reliably documented, but it is known that he was part of a literary circle from his native Huánuco (in the central Peruvian Andes, closer to the capital) and which included his brother, the writer Adalberto. Moving to the capital to study in the mid-1920s, he befriended several local writers, Oquendo de Amat among them, and published in modern literary magazines like Amauta and La Sierra. Overlooked since its publication, El hombre del ande should be revisited by scholarship as it acts as the link between the Andean avant-garde from Puno and Oquendo’s work. It is not only the clearest stylistic precursor of Oquendo’s book, but most importantly elaborates on Peralta’s visual metaphors and Armaza’s timid migrant poetics. Like the latter, when adopting the icon of the train (or in this case its close counterpart, the tram), Varallanos swiftly adds a trace of Andean nostalgia: “afuera, los tranvías pasan cantando distancias / los tranvías que no han traído campo” (“outside, the trams go by singing of distances / these trams that bring no countryside”).[31] The migrant subject is the key agent in Varallanos’s book. Commenting on the poetry of Oquendo, Coronado signals the existence of two semantic fields that the migrant subject traverses: “one that encompasses everything that is identified with the city and modernization, such as technology and urbanization, and another that groups together that which the migrant leaves behind . . . the highland region, the mestizos and indigenous peoples that inhabit it, and his own serrano childhood” (Andes Imagined, 84–85). The cohabitation of these semantic fields, which was incipient in Peralta and Armaza—signaled mainly by the image of the train—takes center stage in Varallanos’s move from the Andes to the city. This migration is actually one of the structural backdrops of his book, where the vital “hope” of the title is murdered by the inability of the poetic Andean subject to conform to the pressures of modern life in the city. The first third of the book depicts an almost idyllic Andean life brightened by the presence of the speaker’s beloved, in terms at times reminiscent of Armaza:

ella trae en la mejilla un paisaje de alturas;

domestica el rayo, apacentando las tempestades

i guía las punas vaporosas y silentes

(on her cheeks she brings a landscape of altitudes

she tames thunder, calming the tempests

and guides the misty and silent highlands) (Varallanos, El hombre del ande, [14])

Yet towards the second half the poems turn to the semantic field of the city where the speaker often invokes his beloved (who is far away, living in the Andes) in view of his unsatisfactory urban life:

un cansancio de ciudad baja hasta el fondo de mi cuerpo;

estos son los fuertes cansancios de sostener la vida!

en la ciudad: carcajada de autos, de cines, de proletarios
. . .
porque estoi lejano no veo lo que he chacchado,

i tiemblo extendiéndome por las punas que tú oyes, cerca.

(the lethargy of the city drops to the deep end of my body;

this is the strong tiredness that comes from sustaining life!

In the city: laughter of automobiles, cinemas and the proletariat

. . .

Because I am distant I cannot see what I have chewed

And I tremble laid out on the mountains, which you can hear close by.) (El hombre del ande, [32])

In this movement, the speaker’s lover, following Armaza’s avant-garde lyric, stands as a symbol for the Andean world—the semantic field of childhood, nature, family, tenderness, among others, which is looked back upon with nostalgia from the city. The book, however, is not content with keeping those fields completely separate. Like the train acting as a bridge between city and Andes, in some of Varallanos’s poems the Andean landscape symbolized by the beloved village girl invades the urban space:

a tu venida de la sierra

desataste el río de tras [sic] del campo,

para soltarlo por la ciudad y peinarlo de puentes,

y los trenes que saltan por estos puentes,

los trenes en los que estrenas la fuerza y la haces suave.

y el carbón sacado de la noche que haces espíritu de las fábricas.


(as you came from the highlands

you unleashed the river behind the fields,

to set it free on the city and comb it with bridges,

and with the trains jumping on those bridges,

those trains in which you launch the force but make it tender.

and the factory coal taken from the night which you turn into soul.) ([48])

The tension and opposition between these two fields is portrayed in such a way that the Andean elements take precedence and “cleanse” the urban cityscape via the figure of the beloved. The natural elements provide “soul” and “tenderness” to the harsh objects of Lima’s modernization. This is, however, where the book avoids nostalgia and actualizes the impact of the Andes on the city, even if it remains one that is idealized and symbolic. A similar movement would be enacted by Oquendo when placing Andean elements in the landscape of Western modernity.
It isn’t necessary to search deep within Varallanos’s book to find the parallels with 5 metros. It is a large format book (26 cm tall) with longer, polymetric lines. Like Oquendo’s, Varallanos’s book also presents paratextual cues to the reader as to the commodified nature of the book: the opening statement, “Este libro no vale nada” (“This book is worth nothing”), a reference to the lack of price tag, which was paratextual information given in both Ande and Falo, carries with it a satirical statement of poetry as a commodity which is also present in the title of 5 metros ([1]). On the other hand, Varallanos’s book ends with the statement, “queda clausurado este libro” (“this book is shut down”) ([85]).[32] More importantly, Varallanos also provides intimations of the experience of the cinema as part of the Andean subject’s fascination with city life and technical modernization, something that was completely absent in Peralta and Armaza’s subject matter. The opening poem makes the parallel between life and film, in one of the first references to modern technology in the book:

empujando todas las distancias ahora llego al corazón

corazón viajero de los 5 continentes de ilusión,

corazón con rosas bajadas y una niña.

el corazón o el cinema, y el cinema o la vida

y mi esperanza amenazada que me sigue

(pushing out all distances I now arrive to the heart

the travelling heart on the 5 continents of illusion,

the hert with plucked out roses and a girl.

the heart or the cinema, and the cinema or life

and my threatened hope following me) ([8])

Varallanos’s subtle utilization of the metaphor of cinema as an all-encompassing way of narrating a life would be enhanced and seized by Oquendo de Amat to create his famous book. As I argue below, the cinematic outlook of 5 metros—its title, format, the poems which foreground the visual over the linguistic—were incorporated at a second moment, making of it a heterogenous palimpsest with traces of Peralta and Armaza’s Andean lyric, Varallanos’s experience of the migrant, and Oquendo’s own take on cinematic aesthetic modernization.

Modern for the First Time: Chronological Precisions

A comment and clarification about the chronology of composition and publication of 5 metros de poemas must be made, not only because issues with dates have proven hard to dispel among the scholarly community—the books continues, to this day, to be dated as published in 1927—but especially because the chronological ambiguity regarding the book’s production has stalled a more detailed assessment of the work’s debts to both Peruvian and foreign antecedents, as I aim to illustrate. More importantly, elucidating chronology also allows me to argue that the main Andes-inspired poems antedate those with cinematic qualities, which seem to have been composed at a later date.

5 metros’ misleading colophon, one of the few chronological signals provided by the book itself, has been taken at face value by most scholars: “This book was written during the years 1923-1925. Its publication finished on 31 December 1927” (“Este libro fue escrito durante los años de 1923 – 1925. Su publicación terminó el 31 de diciembre de 1927”).[33] Perhaps the credibility of the dates of composition, as well as the sharp precision regarding the end date of publication, has been the reason why these dates have seldom been put into question.[34] To add to the level of chronological detail, the poems are also dated at the end of each page, with the first four poems dated as written in 1923 and the rest in 1925 (no poem was, according to these dates, composed in 1924). If we consider this dating true, the order of the poems in the book itself is roughly chronological: the oldest poems appear at the beginning, followed by the most recent. There is nothing to corroborate these dates of composition, however, and the fact that most of the poems had been published in periodicals only from 1926 onwards provides a reason to question them. A close inspection of the poems as they were published in Peruvian periodicals, as well as the delay in the book’s publication, paint a slightly different picture and seem to suggest that the chronological information of the book could have been pushed back.

This very modern tendency to predate a text’s production and publication is to be found elsewhere in avant-garde works, and it is the product of an also modern two-fold sense of belatedness, which is especially prominent in Latin America.[35] A first instance of belatedness comes from a feeling of uneven geopolitical hierarchies, in which modern Europe stands at the literal avant-garde of literary development, while Latin America modern poetry lags behind, remaining a derivative copy of the original model. In the case of Oquendo, the dating of 1925 is influenced, I suspect, because this would place his poems as composed before (or at least parallel to) the publication of Guillermo de Torre’s Literaturas europeas de vanguardia (Madrid: R. Caro Raggio, 1925). De Torre’s book had become an often-quoted, and at times criticized, source of information about most of the European “isms”, and it firmly situated modern poetry in the map of the Peruvian literary field, the first to consider the avant-gardes under the lens of critical prestige and trendiness. De Torre’s book brought the word “vanguardia” into common currency, and made “poesía de vanguardia” an umbrella term to encapsulate all modern poetry, usually replacing the terms “poesía nueva” (new poetry) or “poesía de avanzada” (advanced poetry), which had also been used in the first half of the nineteen-twenties. On the other hand, a second, more immediate sense of belatedness springs from this dating at a national level, where we find often implicit internal disputes between Peruvian poets regarding who was the first to become modern.[36] By dating the poems in 5 metros de poemas prior to 1925, Oquendo’s work would have been created before the annus mirabilis of 1926, when the avant-garde was well underway in Peru with the apparition of the first truly avant-garde magazines and, as we have seen above, the earliest books of the Andean avant-garde.[37] In sum, the 1927 dating has been so pervasive that it has obscured the relationship between Varallanos’s and Oquendo’s work.

A more detailed consideration of Oquendo’s poems as they appeared in periodicals, alongside other sources, reveals new data to propose an alternative narrative to the book’s production. Except for one poem, the belatedly discovered “Naturaleza,” Oquendo’s texts started to appear in periodicals from mid-1926 onwards.[38] Oquendo’s biography places him in Lima during that year, where he starts his career as a writer with two texts which would not be included in his book: “El hombre que no tenía espaldas,” subtitled “Cuento” (“The Man with No Back: Short Story”) published in Kosmópolis (no. 2, June 1926); and “Fotografía universal” (“Universal Photography”), published in Sembrador (no. 2, June 1926). Both texts already make manifest Oquendo’s interest in modern poetry and modern technologies: the former is an avant-garde narrative written in a fragmented style with some typographical playfulness; the latter showcases photography as the conduit of modernization (in a reference, perhaps, to the photographs of the illustrated magazines of the time). “Fotografía universal” also utilizes the signature metaphor of the train/tram, where there is an interaction between the natural and the modern world (“un tranvía eléctrico viola el aire”—“an electric tramway violates the air”); we are also presented with the commodification of the natural world through the language of the market, as in the line “teacups of moon sold here” (“se venden tacitas de luna”). These two early texts were soon followed by a string of poems that appeared in journals usually associated with essayist José Carlos Mariátegui and his circle, and the great majority of which were included in 5 metros.[39]

Oquendo left for southern Peru in March of 1928, travelling first to Arequipa and then moving on to Juli, in Puno, perhaps around July, though he is certainly there in September of 1928. The poems in periodicals follow this journey: the uncollected poem “Canción de la niña de mayo” (“Song of the Girl of May”) is published in Arequipa’s Chirapu (no. 3, March 1928), while a reprint of “Aldeanita” is republished in Puno’s newspaper La Región (July 1928); finally, the cinematic “Film de los paisajes” appears belatedly in Puno’s Boletín Titikaka (no. 28, February 1929), as Oquendo is already back in Lima at least by December of 1928. More strikingly, around this time two poems published abroad mark the first instance in which the title of the book appears in print: “Campo” and “Puerto” are printed in Havana’s avant-garde magazine 1928 Revista de Avance (August 1928; the first poem is a reprint) and are dedicated to the magazine’s editors, Jorge Mañach and Juan Marinello, which suggest that Oquendo sent the poems directly, to be published there specifically. A note at the foot of the page mentions these poems as “From the forthcoming book ‘5 Meters of poems’” (“Del libro próximo: ‘5 metros de poemas’”).

The rest of the book’s production has been accounted for by Rodolfo Milla, who quotes a letter (dated December 24, 1928) that writer Jorge Darmar sent to the poet Nicanor de la Fuente and that already included a printed, unbound copy of Oquendo’s book, with handwritten comments by Darmar himself. The letter also states that the book is awaiting its cover and the “ex libris,” which are to be designed by “Asín.” In the end, the book did not have an “ex libris,” and the cover design has generally been credited to Emilio Goyburu, which seems to suggest that the final steps of the production of the book could have extended well into 1929 (fig. 5).[40] This belated date of distribution is also supported by the fact that the book is not offered for sale on the pages of Mariátegui’s magazine Amauta (the publishing house, Editorial Minerva, was owned by the Mariátegui family) until issue 25, with a cover date of August-September 1929.[41]

Cover 5 metrosFig. 5. Cover of Carlos Oquendo de Amat’s 5 metros de poemas (Lima, Imprenta Minerva, 1929). Attributed to Emilio Goyburu. Private collection.

With this information in mind, several assumptions about the book’s composition can be put forth. First, what stands out is how the poems published during 1926 and early 1927 all follow closely the tradition of Andean avant-garde poetry, clearly marked by Oquendo’s close reading and modification of Peralta and Armaza’s poetics. Second, notably absent in the publication narrative above are the three poems that appeared in 5 metros for the first time: “Mar,” “Réclam,” and “Amberes,” the last two of which possess a clear cinematic quality. I speculate that these were actually composed with the book’s format and overall design in mind. We can tentatively, and arguably, date these key poems to around the time of composition of the other cinematic poem, “New York,” which was published in late 1927. This might help to explain why Oquendo chose the date of December 31, 1927 as the closing date of publication for the book—though whether he left the book, in whole or in part, ready for the printers before his trip to Southern Peru on March 1928, or whether he worked on the book during that year and presented the manuscript to the printers after his return from Puno in late 1928, is still anyone’s guess. What seems clear is that by mid-1928 Oquendo had already devised the title and, we must assume, its format: the accordion-like set of glued sheets of paper. Finally, it is also in 1928 that he starts to publish poems that bear a conscious adoption of a surrealist style—“Poema al lado del sueño” and “Canción de la niña de mayo”—in tune with the style of his final uncollected poems published in 1929.

I thus propose that most of the poems in 5 metros were composed in two different, though overlapping, phases: an early phase which included his Andean avant-garde poems, written and published around 1926 and 1927; and a second phase of poems—“Réclam,” “Mar” (“Sea”), “New York,” “Film de los paisajes,” and “Amberes” (Antwerp)—composed with the cinematic aspect of the book in mind, written around late 1927 and into 1928 or even 1929. It is around this latter time that many of his poems (“Compañera,” “Poema del mar y de ella,” “Madre,” “Poema al lado del sueño”) also started to acquire a surrealistic style, which renounce typographical experimentation for a greater emphasis on longer lines and running syntax. This speculative but plausible dating allows us to better understand the book’s heterogeneity, where the model set by Armaza and Peralta for a modern Andean lyric was first implemented but then renovated by the adoption of the metaphor of the cinema as a key structural outlook of the book.

From the Andes to the World

Having taken a fresh look at the chronology of composition and publication of 5 metros, it should now become evident that the book represents one end of a lineage of Andean poetics which had started with Peralta, Armaza, and was followed by Varallanos, among other poets. In putting together his book, Oquendo’s fascination with cinema, which had purportedly driven him to create the magazine Celuloide mentioned at the start of this article, took center stage. As Varallanos’s migrant topics found a way of engaging the rural world with the city, Oquendo uses cinema as a way of engaging with modern Western culture. In this section I would like to illustrate how this process is embodied in some of the poems.
Coronado explains that for Oquendo cinema had the capacity of suspending the “global division of labor” and created “a cultural and social permeability that interrupts the usual flow of cultural goods and commodities from the center to the periphery” (Andes Imagined, 90). The cinematic eye of Oquendo’s book permits the reader not only to view the modern cities of the Western world, but also to portray the Andean landscape—the symbol of the nation in the Oncenio—as a Peruvian asset. Yet these elements’ uneven hierarchy on the map of cultural geopolitics remains symbolically absent. Building on Coronado’s argument, I will focus on the poem “Amberes” (Antwerp), which illustrates it more clearly. “Amberes,” the last of the cinematic poems in the sequence of the book, is also the one that most clearly enacts the identification of poetry and film by presenting a transatlantic encounter that, defying the usual flow of innovation from Europe to America, narrates Latin American and Andean culture irrupting in the space of cosmopolitan modernization. The poem thus portrays the imagined European reception of Andean and Latin American culture that the Peruvian poets had been desiring by inscribing the Andean landscape within modern avant-garde forms.
“Amberes” describes this transatlantic encounter by portraying, in its first half, the arrival of a ship into the harbor of the city. The description is visually highlighted by a calligram which shows in the layout of the word “pasajeros” (passengers) the descending stairs of the ship:

El cielo de pie con su gorrita a cuadros
o s
(The standing sky with its checkered cap
the passengers
FROM AMERICA FROM AMERICA) (Oquendo, 5 metros, [22])

The poem quickly turns to the ladies coming from across the Atlantic and to the Europeans who view their arrival, thus gendering the Americas, like the Andes had been previously, as female. The lines are laden with the description of a cross-cultural encounter:

Las señoritas
con sus faldas plegadas de noticias
y sus ojos receptivos de celuloide
Los curiosos leen en sus ojos paisajes de América
y el puma que abraza a los indios con sus botas
s u r t i d o r e s d e o r o
Por supuesto de sus labios
volará una cacatúa
(The ladies
their skirts folded with news
and their eyes receptive of celluloid
The nosy ones will read in their eyes landscapes from the Americas
and the puma embracing the Indians with their boots
f o u n t a i n s o f g o l d
Undoubtedly from their lips
a cockatoo will fly) ([22])[42]

The poem portrays quite clearly the bidirectionality of the modern experience within the global market of consumer goods: the female passengers from across the Atlantic arrive (like the Andean village girl of Varallanos arrived in the capital) in an important European city, eager to see the modern world they have only consumed vicariously through illustrated magazines and films (their skirts “folded with news” and their eyes “receptive of celluloid”). Yet the poem is not content in stopping there, also offering a glimpse of how Europe is transformed by their gaze. Those curious enough to turn their attention to these passengers, will find in their eyes the American landscapes and the signifiers of Andean culture (the indigenous populations, their traditional garments, and the puma) ready to be part of the modern market. If European modernity is captured by the lens of the camera and imported to Latin America, Latin American culture becomes embodied in the women, whose eyes become the movie screen to the Andes. Following this reading we can also perceive a certain intimation of Oquendo’s awareness of the global division of labor: perhaps in a nod to the colonial extraction of raw material from the periphery, the poem highlights that the Americas have also brought with them “fountains of gold.” And yet the poem quickly turns to an (ironic? wishful?) harmonizing view of this encounter, one in which there is nothing but greetings for culture from the Americas:

es un vino de amistad
es el sobre postal del mundo
Los navíos educados y hay saludos para América
regresan a sus nidos en las fuentes de agua.

is a wine of friendship
it is the postal envelope of the world
The well-mannered ships and there are greetings for America
return to their nests in the fountains of water. ([23])

Despite the often harmonious, at times humorous and ludic vision of Oquendo’s book, the author must have been aware of the issues at stake when dealing with the process of modernization in a peripheral society. Coronado rightly suggests that he must have kept “seeking out alternatives to the Andes’ neocolonial dilemma” (Andes Imagined, 100). His later politicization is one undergone by many of his fellow poets, and marks an end to the Peruvian avant-garde adventure of the 1920s.[43]

This article has been an attempt to trace in detail the responses to modernization in the Andean region by zooming in on the key years of the second half of the Leguía regime, and exploring poetry books of the Andean avant-garde published then. By charting the adoption of avant-garde forms in the region, by illustrating some Andean poets’ fascination with the Andean landscape, on the one hand, and city life, on the other, and by, finally, commenting on Oquendo’s concern for engaging with the wider panorama of international, cosmopolitan modernization, my aim has been to foreground what seems to be unique about the Peruvian Andean avant-garde. Unlike other avant-garde movements in Latin America of the 1920s, such as the Mexican estridentistas, or the Argentinian ultraístas, the Andean avant-garde poets made, at first, a conscious attempt to adopt rural subject matter, while others soon introduced those topics into poems set in cities and, finally, into the poetic cinema screen of the modern Western world. In the case of Oquendo, the composition of his book is arguably marked by these stages. I have thus found it important to center on the tradition of Peruvian writers in order to bring to the forefront this movement from the periphery to the center, and to map the Andean avant-garde writers wishful attempt to bridge the cultural gaps that lie between the Andes and the Western world.

[1] The magazine was meant to be codirected with fellow poet Adalberto Varallanos. The first person to mention the magazine was Esteban Pavletich, who calls it a “commercial review of cinematographic art” (“revista de arte cinematográfico y commercial”); see his “Introducción” in Adalberto Varallanos, Permanencia (Buenos Aires: Andimar, 1968), 36. Another review directed by Oquendo, Hurra, is also traditionally mentioned but much like Celuloide remains unseen. See Estuardo Núñez, Panorama actual de la poesía peruana (Lima: Antena, 1938), 27 and Luis Monguió, Poesía postmodernista peruana (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1954), 155.
[2] Two English translations of the book exist: Five Meters of Poems, trans. David M. Guss (Isla Vista, CA: Turkey Press, 1986) and 5 Meters of Poems, trans. Alejandro de Acosta and Joshua Beckman (Brooklyn, NY: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010).
[3] I use the qualifier Andean throughout this article to describe the elements related to the geo-cultural space of the Peruvian highlands specifically. Thus by “Andean avant-garde” I refer to those works of the literary historical avant-gardes in which the elements characteristics of the Andean region are the clear referent. The ample corpus of poetry books of the Andean avant-garde would thus include not only those produced in Puno, Arequipa, Cuzco, or Huánuco but also those produced by writers from the capital (like Enrique Bustamante y Ballivián’s Junín) which engage with the Andes. By the same token, I am not considering works of writers from the Andes whose works do not show, or do so only marginally, a clear reference to this geo-cultural space (for instance, the work of Alberto Hidalgo or Alberto Guillén).
[4] The earliest readings of Oquendo located his work within the remit of “pure poetry” (see Núñez, Panorama actual, 49–50; Monguió, Poesía postmodernista, 155–56). He was later included in avant-garde poetry anthologies like Vuelta a la otra margen (Lima: Casa de la Cultura, 1970) and Surrealistas y otros peruanos insulares (Barcelona: Llibres de Sinera, 1973). More recently, Jorge Coronado has relocated Oquendo’s book within the sphere of indigenismo; see The Andes Imagined (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008), 102–33.
[5] Mirko Lauer, Musa mecánica: máquinas y poesía en la vanguardia peruana (Lima: IEP, 2003), 11–12. Unless otherwise noted, translations are my own.
[6] For a further discussion of Coronado’s restricted use of modernity, see The Andes Imagined, 2-5.
[7] See Ricardo Bedoya, 100 años de cine en el Perú: Una historia crítica (Lima: Universidad de Lima, 1992), 47.
[8] It can be argued that a nationalistic ethos already permeated the production of literature in Peru during the 1920s. The most famous Peruvian poet of the time, José Santos Chocano, was celebrated for his bombastic patriotic poems, which referred (mostly in decorative and nostalgic terms) to the greatness of the long-lost Inca empire. When reviewing Peralta’s Ande, Chocano precisely praised it for its reliance on vernacular imagery, despite the book’s avant-garde forms: “No me interesa la escuela en que quiera clasificársele. . . . Salvo dos o tres imágenes y expresiones demasiado ‘europeas,’ todo el libro produce una emoción vernácula. Es con la mayor complacencia el que anoto el surgimiento de este Poeta del Titicaca, cuya obra promete la fundación de un nuevo Imperio en nuestra lírica” (“I am not interested what school this belongs to . . . Except for two or three images which are too ‘European,’ the whole book produces a vernacular emotion. It is with the greatest happiness that I signal the birth of this Poet of the Titicaca, whose work promises the foundation of a new Empire in our poetry”) (review of Ande, La Hoguera 6, [1926]: 22).
[9] That the early, usually non-avant-garde, poetry of most, if not all, of the Andean avant-gardists—Alejandro Peralta, Emilio Armaza, Mario Chávez (later Chabes), among others—has yet to be edited and collected is symptomatic of this archival drawback.
[10] The main outlet for these poems was the weekly magazine La Semana (The Week, 1918–1923). Not usually mentioned among the important literary magazines in traditional literary histories, La Semana was one of the first to promote the names of future avant-garde writers in Peru, and the first to reprint ultraísta verses, usually taken from Spanish magazines. From late 1919 onward it began to print poems written by Peruvian writers inspired by the ultraísta verses it had been publicizing. See, for example, the poems by Mario Chabes published in La Semana, nos. 170 and 194 (January 30 and July 27, 1922). On the other hand, there was also a fluid cultural interchange between the Southern Peruvian Andes and Buenos Aires, which has been analyzed in detail with regards to the pictorial arts. See Elizabeth Kuón, Rodrigo Gutiérrez Viñuales, Ramón Gutiérrez, and Graciela María Viñuales, Cuzco-Buenos Aires: Ruta de intelectualidad americana (1900–1950) (Lima: USMP, 2009).
[11] On December 22, 1920, Peralta is one of the signatories of the petition from the intellectuals of Arequipa in favor of the release of the poet César Vallejo from jail (see “Solicitud de los intelectuales de Arequipa”, El Comercio, 23 December, 1920, 5).
[12] Alberto Mostajo’s Cosmos (1925) antedates the two books mentioned here, but although it was written by a writer from Puno, the “cosmic” and philosophical outlook of the book does not engage directly with an Andean experience of modernity.
[13] For a detailed history and a critical analysis of the Boletín, see David Wise, “Vanguardsimo a 3800 metros: el caso de Boletín Titikaka” Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana 10, no. 20 (1984): 89–100; Cinthia Vich’s Indigenismo de vanguardia en el Perú: un estudio sobre el Boletín Titikaka (Lima: PUCP, 2000); and Ulises Zevallos-Aguilar, Indigenismo y nación. Desafíos a la representación de la subalternidad quechua y aymara en el Boletín Titikaka (1926–30) (Puno: Universidad Nacional del Altiplano, 2013).
[14] A lineage of later Andean avant-garde books includes, among many others, Nazario Chávez Aliaga’s Parábolas del Ande (Parables of the Andes, 1928), Guillermo Mercado’s Un chullo de poemas (A Chullo of Poems, 1928), César Miró’s Canto del arado y de las hélices (Song of the Plough and the Propellers, 1929), Enrique Bustamante y Ballvián’s Junín (1930), and Emilio Vásquez’s Altipampa (1933).
[15] It needs to be noted that, in contrast to previous Peruvian poetry, Andean symbols were those of present times, an Andes populated by contemporary inhabitants, and were not located in illo tempore of the pre-Columbian past.
[16] Important among that of the Puno writers, the work of Gamaliel Churata falls out of the scope of this article for two reasons. Firstly, his poetical work of the 1920s is circumscribed to only a few uncollected poems. His most important work, the multi-generic El pez de oro, was only published in 1957. For a discussion of Churata’s take on modernization, but with reference to El pez de oro specifically, see Marco Thomas Bosshard, Churata y la vanguardia andina (Lima: Latinoamericana Editores, 2014), 87–99. In the 1920s Churata had a publishable book in prose, Tojjras, publicized in the Boletín but which only appeared partially in reviews (Kosko and Amauta). Secondly, even his uncollected poems of the period do not seem to have had an impact on younger poets comparable to that of Peralta or even Armaza. His name is absent, for example, from Oquendo de Amat’s catalogue in his “Nueva crítica literaria” (“New Literary Criticism”), published in Rascacielos No. 3, November 1926.
[17] Elizabeth Monasterios, La vanguardia plebeya del Titikaka: Gamaliel Churata y otras beligerancias estéticas en los Andes (Lima: IFEA/Plural, 2015), 131.
[18] A quick look at Peralta’s work in the Boletín and his recurrent section “Glosario de arte nuevo” (“Glossary of New Art”), in which he briefly reviewed avant-garde works and commented on new authors from Peru and Latin America (Alberto Hidalgo, Magda Portal, Jorge Luis Borges, Vicente Huidobro), gives a clear indication of his will to take part in the international avant-garde scene.
[19] Emilio Armaza, “El himno del granuja”, Mundial 213, (1924): n. p.
[20] I am referring to the two poems “Orto” (“Orchard”) and “Emoción de amor” (“Emotion of Love”) published in Flechas, no. 2 (1924): 27, along with the versions presented in Ande (10, 26); the latter poem is given the less romanticized title “Saeta” (“Arrow”) in the book. These early printed versions were published alongside Peralta’s more traditional verse, for example, his sonnets “Perdón” (“Forgiveness”) and “De lo hondo” (“From the Depths”), also published in Flechas (no. 3 [1924]: 29 and no. 4–6 [1924]: 96, respectively).
[21] The adoption of avant-garde forms can arguably be read as a decolonizing maneuver. In what I take as an implicit reference to the rejection of Hispanic verse forms by Peralta, Monasterios reads Ande’s opening poem, “La pastora florida” (“The Flowery Shepherdess”), as one “liberated of Castillian versification, orthographical rules and punctuation” in which “Andean motives reserved to folklore . . . cohabit with avant-garde aesthetics as if this cohabitation were natural” (La vanguardia plebeya, 146). This liberation is, however, partially achieved, since the poem maintains inklings of a hendecasyllabic and heptasyllabic pattern and it can be argued that, as was the case with Armaza’s “Himno del granuja,” the poem could have had a previous more conventional form, where folkloric motives would not seem out of place. Furthermore, the break from Castillian verse appears to have been triggered, more than by indigenous sensibilities, by an approach—albeit personal and not completely mimetic—towards the verse forms championed by ultraísmo.
[22] In the case of Ande, this visual aspect is enhanced by the inclusion of five full-page woodcuts designed by Manuel Domingo Pantigoso.
[23] On the publication of Ande, Boletín Titikaka reprinted an interview with Armaza in which he hailed Peralta as “un buen paisajista” (“a good creator of landscapes”) and mentioned the link between poet and milieu: (“The poet lives in a borderline locality. At 11,800 feet above sea level. In the highlands. A breath of fresh air. Thin waters piercing like a needle. His concern for the landscape would not be able to handle the cityscape. Perhaps his most beautiful poems will be dictated by the sea” (“Vive el poeta en una población fronteriza. A 11,800 pies. Plena sierra. Plena bocanada de aire. Agua delgada punzante como aguja. Su inquietud paisajista no podría con la visión urbana. Sus más bellos poemas quizás se los dicte el mar”). The interview was originally published on the Argentinian newspaper Crítica (see Editorial Titikaka. Boletín 1, [1926]: 3-4, 4). In turn, reviewing the book in the magazine Variedades, Federico Bolaños also refers to his poetry as the doors to the Andean natural world: “Leyéndole, beberéis a grandes sorbos el viento puro de las serranías, la luz loca de los amaneceres, toda la claridad y toda la sombra de nuestros Andes maravillosos” (“Reading it you will drink the pure wind of the highlands, the crazy light of the morning, all the brightness and all the shadows of our wonderful Andes”) (Federico Bolaños, “Alejandro Peralta y su libro ‘Ande,’” Variedades 951 [1926]: n. p.).
[24] Marta Ortiz Canseco, “Un paisaje abecedario: la construcción de lo autóctono en José Varallanos”, Letral 9 (2012): 61–74, 69.
[25] See Vich, Indigenismo de vanguardia, 116–21. Vich rightly questions the traditional separation of Peralta’s work into political and non-political to define his two poetry books, Ande and the more pragmatically social El Kollao (1935). As she argues, Ande contains already inklings of social critique, while some of El Kollao’s poems were also composed in the 1920s.
[26] Emilio Armaza, Falo (Puno: Tipografía Comercial, 1926), [32].
[27] Alejandro Peralta, Ande (Puno: Editorial Titicaca), [14, 15, 38]. Interestingly, the different daily stages of nature are also foregrounded temporally, given that the poems follow a temporal voyage through the day, starting with “Amanecer” (“Dawn”) and later turning to several “nocturnos” (nocturnes), while ending with poems which suggest the night-time and the passing of time: “Vidrios insomnes” (“Insomniac Mirrors”), “Lunario musical” (“Musical Moon Calendar”).
[28] For a reading of Andean eroticism in Falo, see Mauro Mamani Macedo, “Emilio Armaza: la representación de los rituales amatorios rurales en el vanguardismo literario andino,” CELEHIS–Revista del Centro de Letras Hispanoamericanas 24, no. 30 (2015): 3–18.
[29] The titles of the main poetry books of estridentismo attest to their authors’ technophilia and preference for the city: Manuel Maples Arce’s Andamios interiores: poemas radiográficos (Interior Scaffolding: Radiographic Poems, 1922) and Urbe (City, 1924); Germán List Azurbide’s Esquina (Corner, 1923), or Kin-Taniya’s Avión (Aeroplane, 1923) and Radio (1924). On technology and modernity in Mexico, see Rubén Gallo, Mexican Modernity: The Avant-Garde and the Technological Revolution (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005). More recent monographs have taken estridentismo beyond its literary context to relate with graphic arts, painting and muralism (see Tatiana Flores, Mexico’s Revolutionary Avant-Gardes: From Estridentismo to ¡30-30! [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013]). In the case of Argentina, although there is a nostalgic vision in Jorge Luis Borges’s early poetry books Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923) and Luna de enfrente (1925), they are still mostly urban poems. It is worth noting that some works of the literary avant-gardes of other Andean countries demonstrate a similar engagement with the rural world as seen in the Peruvian case. In Ecuador, alongside the technophilic work of Hugo Mayo, Hadatty Mora has identified some poems of Jorge Reyes or Jorge Carrera Andrade with similar sensibilities (see Yanna Hadatty Mora, “¿Vanguardia andina en Ecuador?,” Guaraguao 14, no. 33 [2010]: 31–54).
[30] Fernando J. Rosenberg, The Avant-garde and Geopolitics in Latin America (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006), 57.
[31] José Varallanos, El hombre del ande que asesinó su esperanza: poemas unilaterales (Lima: Editorial Minerva, 1928), [28].
[32] The warning in 5 metros, “abra el libro como quien pela una fruta” (“open the book as you would peel a fruit”) is just as ludic, although it refers to a natural element (Carlos Oquendo de Amat, 5 metros de poemas (Lima: [Editorial Minerva, 1929]), [4]).
[33] See the inner back cover of Oquendo, 5 metros.
[34] The first person to challenge the 1927 publication date was José Luis Ayala, pointing out that the production of the book extended well into 1928 (see Carlos Oquendo de Amat, cien metros de biografía, crítica y poesía de un poeta vanguardista itinerante: de la subversión semántica a la utopía social [Lima: Horizonte, 1998], 169–76). Luis Fernando Chueca and Jorge Coronado follow Ayala in considering 1928 the year in which the book was published (see Chueca, “Aproximaciones a la poesía de vanguardia en el Perú,” in Poesía vanguardista peruana [Lima: Universidad Católica del Perú, 2009], I: 9–114, 73; and Coronado, The Andes Imagined, 179).
[35] The issue is, in fact, central to what literary historians mark as the dawn of avant-garde writing in the region: the case of Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro and his insistence that his own creacionismo predated his knowledge of the work of Pierre Reverdy. This controversy became Huidobro’s burden, to the point that he created a forged 1916 first edition of his poetry book El espejo de agua in 1918, in order to prove that the poems from this particular collection had been composed at an earlier date. For a more detailed account of the issue of El espejo de agua, see Waldo Rojas, “El fechado dudoso de El Espejo de Agua a la luz de la tentativa poética francesa de Vicente Huidobro,” Caravelle 82, (2004): 63–88. A similar case is the predating by Huidobro of his famous Altazor, published in 1931, but whose manuscript is dated as composed before 1924, arguably in order to precede the date of publication the first surrealist manifesto.
[36] This drive to be the first modern is illustrated by the number of legendary or predated poetry books in the history of Peruvian literature during this time: Magda Portal’s book Anima absorta (purportedly written in 1923–24, but supposedly destroyed) and her sequence of poems Vidrios de amor (dated also 1923–24, but published in 1929); Serafin Delmar’s never-found Espejos envenenados; or Rafael Méndez’s Dórich’s Sensacionario (supposedly published in Buenos Aires in 1925), another book which has never been found, but which has been referred to as the first surrealist book in Peruvian literature.
[37] Oquendo’s anxiety of influence for Ande can be read in his brief commentary to Peralta’s poetry in which he accuses him of being derivative of the Argentinian avant-garde: “da un sentido privado y de paisaje (que ya es un éxito) en la nueva manera. Si se pudiera libertar de los abrazos demasiado presentes de Oliverio girondo?” (“he yields a sense of privacy and landscape (which is already a success) using the new forms. If he could only free himself from the ever-present hugs of oliverio girondo?”) (see Rascacielos 3, [November 1926]: n. p.).
[38] The poem was rescued by Rodolfo Milla in Oquendo (Lima: Hipocampo Editores, 2006), 400. It was originally published in the magazine Bohemia azul (no. 1, September 1923).
[39] The poems are the following: “El cuarto de los espejos” (“Hall of Mirrors,” Poliedro no. 1, August 1926); “Poema” (“Poem,” Poliedro no. 3, September 1926, later included in 5 metros as “Campo”, [“Field”]); “Poema del manicomio” (“Poem of the insane asylum,” Amauta no. 2, October 1926); “Comedor” (“Dining Hall,” Hangar, October 1926); “Aldeanita” and “Lluvia” (“Village Girl and Rain,” Mercurio Peruano, November–December 1926; the latter poem is not included in 5 metros); “Poema” (“Poem,” Amauta no. 5, January 1927); “Jardín” (“Garden,” Amauta no. 8, April 1927); “Obsequio” (“Gift,” La Sierra no. 4, April 1927); “Compañera” and “Poema del mar y de ella” (“Companion” and “Poem of the Sea and Her,” Jarana no. 1, October 1927); “New York” (Amauta no. 10, December 1927); and “Poema al lado del sueño” and “Madre” (“Poem by the Dream” and “Mother,” Amauta no. 12, February 1928).
[40] See Milla, Oquendo, 596.
[41] By looking into the original issues of Amauta (many pages of advertisements were unfortunately left out of the often-quoted facsimile edition of the magazine) it is clear to see that although Minerva publications had been advertised in issue 24, Oquendo’s book is not yet listed among them. Furthermore, a discrepancy between two copies of the first edition of 5 metros suggests the apparent carelessness with which it was composed. In one of the copies of the book housed at the National Library in Lima, this poem has a typo on its title (it reads “Ambeeres”); this error is not observed in the copy housed at the Instituto Riva-Agüero, also in Lima. The error must have been spotted by the typist once the printing of the book had already started.
[42] Vicky Unruh reads this passage of the poem, especially the final metaphor, as a humorous critique of the European expectations for an American vernacular art (see Vicky Unruh, Latin American Vanguards: The Art of Contentious Encounters [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994], 134).
[43] After 5 metros, Oquendo published a few uncollected poems but devoted the rest of his life as a political activist, for many due to the influence of Marxist writer José Carlos Mariátegui. A little-known facsimile edition of the book published around 1995 by Editorial 5 y medio in Lima included a facsimile of an undated letter by Oquendo to Mariátegui, which suggests that the latter (who had published many of Oquendo’s poems in his magazine Amauta and whose family ran the printers in charge of producing 5 metros) revised and provided feedback to Oquendo’s poems: “Attached to this note I have left several meters of poems in need of your urgent revision” (“Junto a esta nota dejé varios metros de poesía que necesitan de tu urgente revision”).

About the Author(s)

Valentino Gianuzzi
Valentino Gianuzzi is lecturer in Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester. He has published on the work of César Vallejo and is currently working on a cultural...read more
film, global modernism

SOURCE: https://modernismmodernity.org/articles/gianuzzi-film-landscapes

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