La materia sensible: Antología personal by Claudia Masin

La materia sensible: Antología personal. Claudia Masin. Buenos Aires: Editorial Viajero Insomne. 2015. 94 pages.


Geology of Memory

Claudia Masin, born in 1972, is an Argentine poet who has been publishing her work since the end of the nineties: a series of verse collections that have earned her recognition not only in her native country but throughout Latin America and Spain, where she won the Casa de América prize in 2002 for her book La vista [The view]. Several of her poems have been translated to French, English, and Portuguese, demonstrating her work’s gradual and well-deserved spread across the linguistic borders of the Spanish language. From this perspective, we must appreciate the publication, at the end of 2015 by Viajero Insomne press in Buenos Aires, of the anthology La materia sensible [The sensitive matter], a book that leads us on a generous tour of over eighteen years of poetry spread across nine books and allows us to glimpse the imaginative sensibility that turns the poet’s lyrical strength into a discourse unafraid of addressing the most varied markers of her experience in a true radiograph of her inner self.

These markers - childhood memory, the presences evoked in words that stand out in serene, magical empathy, along with images of the most concentrated subjectivity, to invite us to reflect and immerse ourselves in the cavernous depths of intense unease - are links in a chain of feelings, but also episodes of constant rebellion, as Masin suggests in her introduction: “[...] a disobedience that allows us to reject adult, patriarchal, white discourse, the discourse of normality [...] and embrace speech, the sensibility of childhood we all possess before we are submitted to the process of stupefaction and desensitization that lets us adapt to the world.” In this way, for Masin, poetry is no mere adaptation of the world we experience, opening into the superficial satisfaction of wonder. Rather, she attempts to detonate this world, to raze it to its deepest foundations and its most secret depths where words can reveal the intimate passions that are hidden in the base of things, in the jarring depths of everything.

It’s not about exchanging the world for poetry, with all its irresolvable contradictions, in an act of naivety; rather, it’s about searching for the clearest, aptest way to survive among the ruins of experience that, in language, accepted as an elucidation of itself, transforms these ruins, which form a crust of sad passions and that, more than comforting us, make us forget our selfhood, hounded by neglect and finity. Poetry is put forward as a fundamental task, not of mere remembrance, but of ferrous auscultation, of geological perforation through the layers of language sanctioned by use that predispose words toward an unhappy resonance of meanings, perhaps obvious, but superficial and absolutely decisive. Perhaps that is why, among the pieces that make up this anthology, the poems that stand out are those that signal an action of deepening, of true introspection, not so much in the subjective sphere of the feelings at hand in misunderstood romanticism, but rather in a true phenomenology that inspects and describes what is within us, drawing us to relate with things and their names in another way, another form. A poetics of recognition and exploration, of the inward journey and the auscultation of memory.

In poems like “Geología” [Geology], “Grafito” [Graphite], “Poligrafía” [Polygraphy], and “Resistencia” [Resistance], for example, the reader can appreciate how Masin realizes this exploration, using images and words from the scientific world of geology. But she does not “poeticize” a supposedly scientific lexicon or create clever neologisms, like we sometimes find in the exploratory poetry of Lugones or Girondo; here, the enunciating subject is presented as a child who plays with words in their most impertinent uses, thereby establishing a sort of mechanism that doubly possesses an understanding of its own consequences and the ludic innovation of the trope. In this way, this poetry “plays” on the one hand, while on the other it establishes a previously unseen - and therefore critical -  relationship with the reality that it establishes and elucidates in the act of speech, an act that implies astonishment as well as a simultaneous return to a pristine atmosphere of wonder. As the poet says in the poem “Geología”: “As a child / I probably thought of geology / as the science that teaches how to live in the earth. / Geo, earth, logy, science. It was reasonable, / and since then I’m going to be a geologist / when I grow up, I would state / as if saying I’m going to find out alone / what nobody can tell me, / I’m going to classify all the kinds / of pain I know as if they were stones [...]”

    But, undeniably, the resources of this poetry expand from this conceptual base into universes that encompass the fragments of the explored sensibility as well as the bends of the cultural discourse that is taken as a reliable part of that sensibility. The poet establishes a singular association between poems that reveal childhood memories or that project the repercussions of life experiences of tremendous weight - the death of a loved one, the escape from irrecuperable places in a geography as real as it is symbolic - and their intense corollary in other poems that recreate, in a flash, suggestive silhouettes of the films of Fasbinder and Tarkovski.

In this way, for example, poems like “Paris/Texas” or “Una película de amor” [A romantic movie] do not recreate the narrative of a body of remembered images so much as they serve as a reference for an abyssal exploration of the very consciousness of the subject who enunciates the transitions that take place line after line. From the previously cited poem, these verses seem particularly revealing: “Perhaps intimacy between two people lasts / as long as that moment when we know / about the bodies and things that another loved / [...].” It’s as if this poetry, so close to material and imagined bodies, needed to verify again and again the dispossessed disposition of its own charm. It is interesting that this is achieved with diction that does not get lost in unnecessary formal flights of fancy: the poet employs free verse, prose poetry, unrhymed blank verse, versification that does not avoid the rhythm of thought, overflowing from the lay verse to the Bible verse, seductively erasing any barrier between poetry and prose.

In this way, Masin’s formal intentions are at the service of expression, where more than being chained to the metaphorical spell of the extraordinary, we are invited to a peaceful, serene consideration of verbal phrasing: a poetry without frills, a poetry unafraid of common or even minimal words that also distances itself from the grandiloquent and the strident, a poetry that avoids paraphrase like the plague - since this technique reveals a profound emptiness in those who love grandiloquence - and that creates its interior and therefore artistic necessity through the search for the right word. A poetry that locates the political in the comprehension of something else that dwells in our subjective depths, beyond any redeeming slogan, that has discovered it can serve as a necessary lens through which to see things in the world as they are, not in boastful hyperbole or spectacular seduction. This, perhaps, leads the reader to think that  poetry like Masin’s is a vast, deep call to recover the sensibility of things and experiences. Sensibility that implies undertaking a compassionate gesture toward the beings and belongings that make the world into something more than a mere image.


Ismael Gavilán Muñoz

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LALT Vol. 1 No. 2
Number 2

The second issue of Latin American Literature highlights the Caribbean and queer literature from across Latin America, featuring dossiers of revolutionary Chilean writer Pedro Lemebel and Mexican author Yuri Herrera as well as a special section on literary voices from Cuba.

Table of Contents

Editor's Note

Latin American Chronicle



Dossier: Pedro Lemebel

Dossier: Voices from Cuba

Featured Author: Yuri Herrera



Nota Bene