OOMPH Press on Buenos Aires, Argentina
Weekly “Scene Reports” here will serve as a guide for those who seek out unique and intriguing literary people, places and events. I’ll try to feature cities that do not always get a lot of exposure but are filled with bad ass people who, in one way or another, put literature into the world. Part of the idea here is that if you find yourself in one of these places, you can use this as a resource to jumpstart your literary exploration. So here is the beginning of the flow of good things, told to us by good people in good places. A big thanks to them for everything they do and for sharing their thoughts here with us.
a letter from Alex Gregor*
I moved from Atlanta to Buenos Aires last April with no knowledge of the contemporary literary scene. I knew I was coming to the city of Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar, as well as my favorite Spanish-language poet, Oliverio Girondo—co-founder of the Ultraist magazine Martín Fierro and author of Scarecrow (1932) and In the Moremarrow (1957)—but I knew nothing outside of these authors and texts.
Somehow, over the past eight months, I’ve come to understand the recent literary history, as well as the current literary scene. This being said, it’s still important to stress that my experience and understanding is surface-level—I’m not an expert, but a tourist, with basic Spanish proficiency who has tried his best to attend readings, visit bookstores, talk with scholars, translate texts, and read as much as possible over the course of a very short amount of time—which contrasts dramatically with my experience in Atlanta—reading and writing in English my entire life, studying language and literature through graduate school, and participating in Atlanta’s vibrant literary community.
The recent literary history of Buenos Aires can be understood as beginning with the Avant-Garde in the early 20th century, continuing with the Neo-Baroque in the ’70s, Materialism in the ’90s, and as I’ve experienced it, a current climate containing the Neo-Baroque, Materialism, Slam, Alt-lit, and drag poetry.
Materialism and the Neo-Baroque are both studied in the university, of which Martín Gambarotta’s Punctum (1996) and Nestor Perlongher’s Austria-Hungaría (1980) can be read as exemplary of each, respectively. Gambarotta read at the Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam in June, and Reynaldo Jimenez, Nákar Elliff, and Juan Salzano, who have continued in the Neo-Baroque spirit of Perlongher with their performance group Estación Alógena and associated press, Tsé Tsé, read at an event in October in Plaza de la lengua at the Museo del Libro y de la lengua with drag performance artist and poet, Naty Menstrual.
Slam poetry here has no correlation to spoken word as we understand it in the States; rather, it’s simply performance poetry, which is by far the most accessible and popular style. Daniela Regert and Mariano Blatt are representative of the most engaging of these poets. The readings, festivals, and competitions take place at various private cultural centers and underground theaters, which unfortunately experience a short shelf life due to frequent government shut-down.
Spanish-language poetry, both in Latin America and Spain, has its own Alt-lit community. The blog Los Perros Romanticos functions as a cultural exchange and lit hub, which hosts online transnational readings and maintains a presence through showcasing different young Spanish-language poets from all over the world. Caterina Scicchitano and Malén Davis are two Argentine poets who have both been featured on the blog.
As for recent publications, Nulú Bonsai recently published Malén Davis’ Buscar Drogas en Wikipedia and Daniela Regert’s Lapsus Linguae. Editorial Gigante published Catarina Scicchitano’s Be a Body, and 18.104.22.168. Editorial, from Mexico, published Juan Salzano’s Ameba Maga. Roberto Echavarren runs a press in Montevideo called La Flauta Magica, which features full-length translations of John Ashbery and Wallace Stevens, as well as critical editions of texts written in Spanish. Also, there are publishing houses called cartoneras, known for publishing inexpensive books with covers made of cardboard, including the publisher Eloísa Cartonera, which puts out, among others, bilingual selections of contemporary Argentine poetry that can be purchased at most magazine stands in the sidewalks throughout the city.
Notable bookstores include La Internacional in Villa Crespo, featuring texts from small independent press publishers, Feria del Libro, a one-block used book market located near Plaza Italia in Palermo, and La Libre and Walrus Books in San Telmo, the latter being a small, English-language bookstore.
Argentine books on my shelf to read: César Aira’s La Villa (2001).
*Author’s note: Special thanks to fellow OOMPH editors Daniel Beauregard and Evan Leed for their mentorship during our time in BA.
Alex Gregor currently lives in Buenos Aires, where he teaches and edits OOMPH!, a transnational literary journal focused on translation. He’s from Atlanta, where he recently completed a master’s program in literary studies at Georgia State University, and curated the Dirty South Reading Series, which showcased contemporary poets living in the Southeastern United States. He’s currently finishing a collection of poems and short stories about frog gigging, the goat man, umbilical cords and yodeling.
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