Manifestos Manifest

Here are two excerpts from Manifestos Manifest (1925) by the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro (1893 - 1948). The book was translated from the French by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert (Green Integer, 1999). The photo of the author on the front cover is by Arp.

Publisher's description: "Manifestos Manifest contains autobiographical reassessments of his writing, such as 'Manifestos Manifest' and 'Creationism,' more typically manifesto-like statements such as 'Futurism and Machinism' and 'Manifestos Mayhaps,' and comically inspired poetic prose pieces such as 'The Poetry of the Poet.' Through all these one cannot but hear the voice of this great poet, declaiming, exploring, proselytizing, remembering, and discovering."

From "The Need for a Poetic Aesthetic Made by Poets":

In the same way that the laws of chemistry must be constituted by chemists, and that those of astronomy or of physiology must be delineated by astronomers or by physiologists, the laws of poetry are never correct, except when elaborated by poets.

Philosophers or physicians who talk about poetry do so at the risk of understanding nothing and muddling everything. They speak from outside a thing which must be gotten inside of, in order to be fully explored and apprehended.

This is what the examples cited by those gentlemen on the outside looking in at poetry bring home so clearly. In all the sciences, there are the men of the laboratory, those who truly can be accounted insiders and the vulgarizers who are generally more renowned and who, being more facile, enjoy the greatest popularity. Who are the poets cited in essays on poetry written by persons on the outside? They are the poets who hold no significance for real poets. In point of fact, all the theories upheld by these examples slump and fall flat.

[Huidobro then cites some cringe-worthy examples of physicians writing on poetry. I don't fully agree with him here, though I do seek out like a drug the writing of poets on poetry, such as the writing found in Manifestos Manifest!]

From Huidobro's "The Seven Oaths of the Poet" [with Ouroboros ending]:

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me...

Alone amidst the wolves. And I am the cascade of dreams where the wolves drink their fill.

Alone amidst the four cardinal points furiously battered by the hurricane of the planets.

They have abandoned me here in the middle of a river which tilts on its axis, which runs in circles, bending back upon itself like a warped wheel or a snake which bites its own bewitched tail.


Other works by Huidobro in English translation: Altazor, Selected Poetry, and The Poet is a Little God: Creationist Verse.

Painters and writers show up on every page of Manifestos Manifest. Huidobro seems to have known everyone in Paris in the teens and twenties. His love-hate relationship with the Surrealists (he was friends with many of them but refers to the movement itself as "the violin of psychology") makes for fascinating reading -- just keep in mind that these are manifestos for his own aesthetic theory, Creationism. Sometimes it seems like Huidobro could have been Breton's henchman: Cocteau, "a writer without merit," out, right now! Soupault, boring, out! But then, Éluard, you're too good to be a Surrealist, out!

Huidobro has some interesting ideas on why Creationist poems are "universally translatable." The wikipedia page sums up these ideas, which can be found in Manifestos Manifest in the text "Creationism": "The poet also claims that creationist poetry is by its own nature universal and universally translatable, 'since the new facts remain identical in all tongues,' while the other elements that prevail in non-creationist poetry, such as the rhyme and music of the words, vary among languages and cannot be easily translated, thus causing the poem to lose part of its essence."


I also like the quotes and anecdotes Huidobro gives throughout the book:

From Ben Johnson's Volpone, or the Fox: "Your very bathwater shall be made of essence of cloves, spirits of roses and violets, unicorn's milk, and panther's breath preserved and mixed with Cretan wine. We shall drink gold and amber until the spinning ceiling gives us vertigo." [Huidobro then tells us, "I will never forget the gestures of admiration and the exclamations of Apollinaire after I showed him, one evening while I was dining with him during the war, these admirable pages of Ben Johnson, the English playwright who exerted such a great influence over Shakespeare."]

Cicero: "In order to make beautiful verse, a state of madness must first exist."

Desnos: "In the dream of Rrose Selavy, there is a dwarf crawling out of a well eating his bread, the night." [Huidobro says he likes this very much, "despite the fact that Rrose Selavy makes me squirm a bit."]

Éluard: "Night straggled in with the swallows. Owls divided up the sun and weighted it to the earth."

Three images from Gerardo Diego, a Spanish poet: "Your head splutters as it deflates," "The rain trembles like a lamb," and "A dove comes unglued from the sky." [Huidobro calls Diego a "Creationist" poet, but Diego is associated with the Ultraists. Huidobro even says about Diego and Juan Larrea, "They have never hoaxed (unlike those wretched Ultraists) or disappointed people of superior spirit." I don't know enough about the movements to untangle this.]

Rabelais, Pantagruel speaking: "In consideration of the horripilation of the bat declining bravely the summer solstice to flirt with flibbertigibbets who have gone the pawns one better, by means of the evil vexations of the lucifuges nycticoraces who are subject to the Roman climate, and of a monkey mounted on horseback bending a crossbow with his reins, there is every reason to ask why the good woman, with one foot naked and the other one shod, blew up the galleon, which then had to be patched, and merited reimbursement, in the primmest and ugliest frame of conscience, of as many trinkets as there are hairs on the backs of eighteen cows, and an equal amount for the embroiderer. In like manner, he is declared innocent in the special case of the rancid runts, in which it was thought he was implicated, since he could not crap happily, due to the decision of a pair of perfumed gloves, by the crackling of a walnut candle, as is customary in his homeland of Myrbalay, while releasing a bowstring laden with bronze cannonballs from which the cooks' lackeys disputatiously pattycake their moldy vegetables from the mousepatch to the ringing of the sparrowhawk bells sewn with Hungarian needlework that his brother-in-law carried memorably in an adjacent basket stitched with three chevrons made from rattan, to the kennel on the corner where one tugs the worm-eaten parakeet by its feather."

Huidobro repeatedly praises the obscure Symbolist Saint-Pol-Roux (1861 - 1940). Click on that link to be taken to the Atlas Press page for Pauses in the Procession -- somehow copies are still available. Also see the wikipedia entry and French blog dedicated to him. Huidobro prefaces the below passage by Saint-Pol-Roux, "This admirable man had already said, in 1913, some things which it gives me the greatest joy to transcribe here":

Geometer of the absolute, art now goes about founding nations, nations which exist as a unique memory at the base of the traditional universe, nations surveyed and mapped out in the minds of those mystic scribes, the poets; nations where time shall be marked by the beats of the poet's heart, where steam shall be made from his breath, where the tempests and the springtimes shall be his own joys and sorrows, where the atmosphere shall vary with the flux of his fluids, where the waves shall express his emotion, where seismic energy shall echo the flex of his muscles, and from these subjugated forces shall arise nations, and the poet, in sympathetic pangs of birth, shall furnish them with a spontaneous population, flushed from the quadrants of his personality.

While science prudently contends that it will have nothing to do with miracles, poetry suddenly declares itself the science of sciences, wholly sufficient unto itself, subject to capricious rules, which differ from poet to poet, but which rally together under a primordial law: the law of the gods.

Vicente Huidobro