The title new poetry has been granted to those verses whose lexicon includes the words: cinema, motor, horsepower, aircraft, radio, jazz-band, wireless communication, and, on the whole, to all those who give a voice to science and contemporary industry, even though this lexicon doesn’t correspond to an authentically new sensibility. What’s important are words.
But we mustn’t forget that this isn’t new or old, or anything. The material modern life offers to the artist has to be assimilated by the spirit and converted into sensibility. Wireless communication, for example, is destined more than to simply say “wireless communication”, but to awake new moods, profound insights into feeling, widening perception and dosing love: a concern grows, is heightened and the breath of life revives. This is the true culture progress gives rise to; this its only aesthetic sense and not simply to fill our mouths with blazing words. Often these voices might lack something. A poem might not say “cinema” while still possessing cinematic emotion in an obscure and tacit way but, all the same, effectively and humanly. Such is truly new poetry.
At other times the poet just about manages to combine new artistic material and achieve in this way an image or “rapport” more or less perfect and beautiful. In such a case we aren’t dealing with poetry based on new words, as in the preceding case, but a poetry based on new metaphors. Even in this we are mistaken. New poetry may well lack new images or a new rapport- this being a matter of ingenuity not genius- but its creator enjoys or suffers a life in which these new relations and rhythms are made blood, are cell-based, something in the end that has become vitally bound up with sensibility.
New poetry based on new words or new metaphors distinguishes itself in a pedantically novel way and, as a result, has a baroque consistency and quality. New poetry based on a new sensibility is, on the contrary, simple, human and, at first sight might seem old, not drawing attention to itself as being modern or otherwise.
It’s very important to note these differences.
translated by Michael Lee Rattigan 19th Dec 2010.
Rattigan is a poet and translator based in Surrey. His translation of the Complete Poems of Alberto Caeiro; one of the heteronyms of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, was released on Rufus Books in 2007.
This article appeared in more than one place between July and August 1926. Cesar Vallejo (March 16th 1892 – April 15th 1938) was born in Santiago de Chuco, Peru. He published three books of poems in his lifetime and is considered to be one of the great poetic innovators of the 20th century.