Juan Gelman: The Music of Questions

Jorge Boccanera

Juan Gelman: The Music of Questions

Gelman’s poetic breathing has the music of questions.  The clincher “Qué cuestión!” (“What a Question!”) in one of his early poems sets the stage for the unexpected to coexist with the dawning of awareness.  That question, added to the list of questions to be resolved, is subject to cross-examination.  And since his first book, “Violín y otras cuestiones,” (Violin and Other Questions), he has done nothing but resort to questioning the imagination.  Such questions are his insistent obsession: love, the city, the struggle for dignity, poetic revelation, the infancy of things, exile.  Question marks are the teeth of a gear that relentlessly grinds and mixes those themes together.  The succession of questions obliterates the logical supports of the “singing mania,” and sets up a pendular movement, a counterpoint between assertions-that-question and questions- that-assert.  The hammering of the questions puts everything in doubt; blurs the edges of every theme, creating a feeling of emptiness.  And when it seems that the question has been formulated, another one arises.  This intermittent breathlessness adds a body-language to the discourse as if the body itself were also asking.  For Gelman, the relation between imagination and memory is so intense that it creates another memory; imagination is the tool he uses to interrogate past, present, and future.  When Gelman questions said Julio Cortázar “he is inciting us to turn more lucidly toward the past in order to be more lucid vis-à-vis the future.”  Those questions splinter certainties off the backside of things.

tr. Asa Zatz