Why am I analyzing poetry? in process part II

After a belated meeting with my advisor, I feel a greater sense of purpose than before. After a belated meeting with my advisor, I feel more intimidated than before. Most of what I have been doing has been gathering background information about the geopolitical and cultural history of Argentina, and doing close-readings of poems by my poet Juan Gelman. What I haven’t been doing is figuring out who I am trying to analyze and dissect poetry for (besides myself, my advisor, family and friends, and faceless visitors to the poster presentations we will eventually give), and exactly how to frame Gelman’s fascinating discussion of life and death, identity, personal and national memory and more, all in the context of the troubled and sometimes horrific history he lived through.

My advisor, Professor Cate-Arries of the Hispanic Studies department, suggested that I imagine (even if it doesn’t end up happening, although I would like it if it did) teaching her Hispanic Studies 208 (Intro. to Analysis of Literature and Film, conducted in Spanish) class for a day on a work or two by Gelman.  This is a kind of presentation that I can understand, having taken her class in the fall.  Just as importantly, I know what it is like to be the student working hard to understand the content and language being presented.  The idea of needing to be able to teach the material that I am digesting to students is certainly daunting, but it’s a frame of reference I think I needed to have.

Gelman’s work is poetry in a tradition that according to Hugo Achugar, a Urguayan poet, essayist, and scholar in the field of Latin American literature, “no alcanzaba con interpretar o expresar el mundo y la palabra sino, precisamente, era necesario transformar mundo y palabra”.

or to translate:

“found it not enough to just interpret or express the world and the written word; rather, it [believed it] was quite necessary to reshape the world and the written word”.

So the idea of studying such work without having a clearly defined audience would be somewhat anathema to the field, since this generation of poetry especially was meant to be disseminated and spread so that it could affect changes in the problematic world that assailed its authors and their peoples.  Consciously I had thought that not worrying about an audience until I had basically completed all my reading and analysis would simplify matters, but now I realize that this lack of a concrete goal has been a nagging concern in my head for a while.

I will now say with some confidence that I do intend to produce some sort of critical essay on the (admittedly broad at the moment) theme of memory in the two books I am reading.  More on this later, but in general this is a strong central concept because each book relates to it in a different way – the first deals with themes of humanity and the life of the common man/woman by presenting reflective epigraphs for citizens of an imagined small town, and the second is firmly situated in Gelman’s continued attempts to process and deal with personal and national pain following the ’76-’83 Argentine junta, and its clandestine kidnapping and murdering of thousands of Argentines, who became known as los desaparecidos – and because this is a good launching point for discussions of the meaning of poetry and the role of the poet, who is the figure responsible for sharing “the common memory” and interpreting it with respect to social justice, humanity, dignity, pain, loss, and the forces responsible for these issues that we all wrestle with.


  1. aenicholson says:

    Your advisor sounds like she gives good advice. Framing the project as if you were teaching a class on it is a really good way to help yourself focus on the really important bits of your research, especially since Gelman’s poetry sounds so complex. The idea that he wanted to reshape the world through the written word is really interesting though, especially when he’s dealing with such a painful subject of the Argentine junta. Your project sounds really cool!