Monday, November 19, 2012

Adelia Prado: Poet of "Excarnation!"

Upon first reading Ellen Watson's translations of Adelia Prado's poems comprising The Alphabet in the Park, what was astonishing to me was not that they are full of appetites of the flesh that seek the face of God, but that all of Prado's disparate, overlapping, contradictory, obsessive, intertwining impulses seem to appear in each poem. Each one is a mini-song of herself on speed. I am reminded of Whitman's "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large and I contain multitudes.)"

Although Prado is a practicing Catholic, rather than looking for inspiration or revelation from above, each of Prado's poems are tightly packed singularities, exploding their carnality into the face of God with a "big bang"--an antithesis to the incarnation--"The Word made flesh"--creating an "excarnation," making Flesh itself The Word, and making God the better for it. Over and over in The Alphabet in the Park, Prado's poems risk challenging traditional faith, as she does in "Guide":

Poetry will save me.
I feel uneasy saying this, since only Jesus
is Saviour, as a man inscribed
(of his own free will)
on the back of the souvenir crucifix he brought home
from a pilgrimage to Congonhas.

But by the end of poem, rather than destroying faith, her assault has transformed itself (as is most often the case) into a radically new proclamation:

Poetry will save me. I won't tell this to the four winds,
because I'm frightened of experts, excommunication,
afraid of shocking the fainthearted. But not of God.
What is poetry, if not His face touched
by the brutality of things?

Poetry and faith are the same with Prado. They entail bringing everything from the body and the world which she has been told all of her life that she must leave behind on her spiritual pilgrimage: her appetites, her doubts, her nicotene-stained fingers, her earth-stained hands. And, as well, she brings to poetry a confused God:

Two Ways

From inside geometry
God looks at me and I am terrified.
He makes the incubus descend on me.
I yell for Mama,
I hide behind the door
where Papa hangs his dirty shirt;
they give me sugar water to calm me,
I speak the words of prayers.
But there's another way:
if I sense He's peeking at me,
I think about brands of cigarettes,
I think about a man in a red cape going out
in the middle of the night to worship the Blessed Sacrament,
I think about hand-rolled tobacco, train whistles, a farm woman
with a basket of "pequi" fruit all aroma and yellow.
Before he knows it, there I am in His lap.
I pull on His white beard.
He throws me the ball of the world,
I throw it back.

My favorite poem of Prado's is "Dysrhythmia." I admire it for its prosody of disjunction and meld--do I contradict myself? Then very well! Listen to its opening lines that climax with a statement that might jar both "sinner" and "saint" alike!


Old people spit with absolutely no finesse
and bicycles bully traffic on the sidewalk.
The unknown poet waits for criticism
and reads his verses three times a day
like a monk with his book of hours.
The brush got old and no longer brushes.
Right now what's important
is to untangle the hair.
We give birth to life between our legs
and go on talking about it till the end,
few of us understanding:
it's the soul that's erotic.

Adelia Prado: Poet Excarnate. Poet of the flesh made into "The Word."


granddaddy said...

Reading and commenting backwards in time, I am not sure if I have written here this somewhat recent discovery of wisdom that your words about Ms. Prado recall for me:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; then too soon the flesh became words and was lost in translation. - The Gospel of John and Jim Benton (me)

Over the last ten years or so, I have become increasingly aware of the deep spirituality that is the practice of poetry. Poets, more than other writers, mistrust words as bearers of the carnate, experiential, unspeakable depth and meaning of life. Poets know that even the most carefully crafted, finely tuned words can only point in the direction of essential things that are, perhaps, the only things poets love more than words themselves. Which is one reason that poetry can/will/does save us.

granddaddy said...

I just can't resist adding this reflection of that paradoxical love and mistrust of words. It's one of my favorites:

after Lot’s wife,
the second-most remembered
victim of life’s rearview mirror,
might have preferred the life of a pillar of salt
to living out his days
second-guessing and revisiting
the same lightning bolt
agony every time his chin moved
toward his shoulder.

after his head-turning no-oh shit-oh no-no moment,
is second-most remembered
as the archetypal poet,
as word-wielding, web-weaving charmer.
And what poet, having completed the last line
of his greatest creation yet, could not
look back over the irresistible brilliance
he has just brought forth
from the depths?

even after years of painful recrimination,
may never have seen Eurydice as second-most important
love of his life.
But what poet has not been haunted
by the dread possibility that seeing the world
with the poet’s wonder,
exploring its subterranean mysteries,
and coaxing its unspeakable depth
into words, might just be
the only thing worth living for?