While recovering from an accident, well beyond her sixties, Cristina Peri Rossi, the new Cervantes winner, discovered video games.
“I spent three months in bed / with my right leg / playing on the Playstation.”
She had been hit by a car in Barcelona, where she has lived since the start of the Uruguayan dictatorship more than four decades ago. This exile marked his work, which is a way of saying that the wound opened by a forced flight had shaken his life:
“I hurt here / on the side of my homeland.”
However, there is almost no trace of regret in the poems of this shrewd and sorry, fun and direct writer. The dramas of his books are aired with irony, allowing him to distance himself and trample victimism and political correctness into controversy:
“September 11, 2001 / while the twin towers were falling / I was having sex.” And he continues: “The apocalyptics predicted a holy war / But I fornicated to death / – if you must die, let it be of exaltation -”
Her political commitment led her to be persecuted by the military government of her country of origin after the 1973 coup. But the horizon was hardly brighter in her new destination, Spain, despite the Francoist regime in its last moments.
The two dictatorships collaborated to reject permission for Peri Rossi’s passport, in which case the writer Julio Cortázar helped her settle in Paris. They maintain a “loving friendship”, a deep relationship of complicity where carnal passion has no place because of the sexual orientation of the Uruguayan poetess, sometimes unfairly reduced to the muse of the author of Rayuela, to whom she dedicates some of her most famous poems.
“I don’t think I love you / that I only want the impossibility / so obvious of loving you / like a left hand / in love with this glove / that lives on the right.”
When she was 25, she hung a sign she had written herself: “I have no prejudice against heterosexuals or any discrimination against them”
She said nothing until 30 years after Cortázar’s death, when she published the sentimental story of this mutual devotion, simply redemption for not going to his funeral: “I refused to accept that Julio was mortal, and I preferred to remember him alive, eternally young, in good health, a traveler, sometimes a little melancholy and always funny.
Then the distance between Uruguay and Spain, where she settled permanently after 1975, had forced her to get used to accepting the death of her loved ones out of frustration and estrangement, suffering, thousands of kilometers away. “Exile is having a franc in your pocket / and the telephone swallows your coin / and does not give it back to you / -no coin, no call – / at the precise moment when we notice each other / that the cabin does not work. Exiled, Peri Rossi sees her status as a foreigner continue. Both words in Spanish, exile (exilio) and foreigner (extranjero) begin with the same prefix of what is no more, a lost identity.
This is how his novel La Nef des fous begins: “Stranger. Ex. Banishment. Out of the belly of the earth. Uprooted: born again.
She has published more than 20 collections of poetry, as well as essays and stories, a vast work where eroticism and metaphysics, loss and pleasure are omnipresent, from the electric beginnings of desire (“Tonight / when we meet / I feel again l ‘black animal / that lives in me’) to the darkness of oblivion: ‘And we said goodbye with the vague feeling / of having survived / although we don’t know why’.
Able to laugh and bleed to death almost at the same time, his titles often contain this duality.
This is the case in That Night, published in 1996, where we find poems as different as the Ode to the penis (“It is not possible to have a good opinion / of a membranous organ / which folds and unfolds / without having in mind / the will of its owner”) and Story of a love: “So that I can love you / I had to flee the city where I was born by boat / and you to fight Franco. / For us to love each other, in the end / everything happened in this world / and since we did not love each other / there was only great disarray”.
She still remembers that at the age of 25, she had hung up a sign that she had written herself: “I have no prejudice against heterosexuals nor any discrimination against them. This layer of naturalness, transferred to her free verse, mirrored the narrow gaze of someone who was surprised, even criticized, that she lived and wrote outside the closet.
With Playstation, in 2008 she became the first woman to win the Loewe Prize in 20 years. With this courageous work, which denounces “how certain councils launder money by organizing poetry recitals” and sarcastically questions social conventions (“I loved this woman very much / but she offered to start a family”), Peri Rossi settles accounts with history. Previously, she published essential books such as State of Exile and Strategies of Desire. As she celebrates her 80th birthday and any emotion “could be the last”, the poet remains convinced that literature is “the only bulwark against the banality of these times”. And she warns: “I will live beyond my years / In your memory of a nocturnal woman.”
(Translations of poetry in this article are unofficial.)