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This is Jacket 12, July 2000   |   # 12  Contents   |   Homepage   |   Catalog   |

Steven Ford Brown


Jorge Carrera Andrade in America

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IN DECEMBER of 1940 Jorge Carrera Andrade stepped ashore in America at the port of San Francisco, California. Appointed as Ecuadorian Consul General to the United States, Carrera Andrade had just spent four years in Tokyo as a militarized Japan swept through Asia and Indochina. In the past year Belgium, France, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and Norway had fallen to the Germans. In December of 1940 the Luftwaffe had begun its bombing campaign of Britain. Dark war clouds increasingly loomed on the American horizon.

Carrera Andrade’s first period in the United States was to last four years. As he had always done in whatever city he was posted to, Carrera Andrade continued his active literary life. In California he met and became close friends with Spanish poet in exile Pedro Salinas. During those four years in San Francisco he engaged in extensive literary correspondences with many American writers, including John Peale Bishop, John Malcolm Brinnin, Dudley Fitts, H.R. Hays, John Hershey, Muna Lee, James Laughlin, Seymour Lawrence, Thomas Merton, Archibald MacLeish, Wallace Stevens, Donald Walsh, and William Carlos Williams. It is also worth noting some of his international correspondents around the same time: Jaime Torres Bodet, Eugenio Florit, Carlos Fuentes, Yvan Goll, Jorge Guillen, Nicolas Guillen, Juan Liscano, Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Carlos Pellicer, Edouard Roditi, and Jules Superville.

In 1942 James Laughlin’s New Directions Publishers published a massive anthology of Latin American poets. Under the editorship of Dudley Fitts it weighed in at over 500 pages and was the first comprehensive anthology of Latin American poets to be published in English. In its pages American readers gained their first significant glimpses of Carrera Andrade, Miguel Angel Asturias, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Antonio Cuadra, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Vicente Huidobro, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, and Cesar Vallejo.

By 1943 essays by and about Jorge Carrera Andrade were beginning to appear in the major American literary journals of the time. H.R. Hays wrote and published an eloquent appraisal, “Jorge Carrera Andrade: Magician of Mirrors”, as the lead feature of the distinguished international literary journal Books Abroad (now World Literature Today) at the University of Oklahoma. Poetry magazine in Chicago published a major essay by Carrera Andrade (translated from the Spanish by Hays). Although fifty years later the essay, “The New American and His Point of View toward Poetry”, seems dated, at the time it was a dazzling survey of the contemporary Latin American poetry scene of the 1940s, a series of snapshots of an exciting and evolving literary scene taken from the inside.

By the time the essay appeared in 1943 the United States was fully engaged in World War II in both Europe and the Pacific. Carrera Andrade’s portrait of the poetry of the southern continent and Carribean was both poetic and evocative. It’s clear that he envisioned a future poetry that would combine all the elements of the hemisphere to allow the new American to speak with the voice of the changing century. It was for many American readers an eloquent introduction to a new literature emerging from the European models to maturity as a purely Latin American literature. Carrera Andrade used the essay to also draw attention to the fact a number of Latin American countries were contributing their sons to the fight for democratic ideals in Europe. In the same breath in which he promoted Latin American literature and culture, he was aware of the need to lobby for political support for the countries south of the United States’ borders.

The appearance of the essay in Poetry immediately drew letters from Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. Williams wrote in Spanish from his New Jersey home to the editor of Poetry that “...if the essay had appeared twenty years earlier it would have saved us all a great deal of work.” Stevens, in a handwritten letter on the letterhead of the Hartford Life Insurance Company, was impressed by the essay and invited Carrera Andrade to visit him in Connecticut.

In 1941 Carrera Andrade published a political tract, “Ecuador Sheds Its Blood For Democracy,” and spoke at the San Francisco Press club on behalf of support for Ecuador in its ongoing military dispute with Peru. Dating from the eighteenth century Ecuador and Peru had repeatedly battled over shared border demarcations and land. In 1941 Peru - by now a Japanese proxy in the region- had engaged in armed incursions over the Ecuadorian border. Ecuador’s coast was valuable because of its access to the Pacific. By 1944 the United States had established naval military bases on the Galapagos Islands and on the Ecuadorian coast. In 1944 Carrera Andrade was appointed ambassador to Venezuela and left the United States.

In 1946 a brief flurry of attention was generated in the United States by Carrera Andrade’s first major book in English, Secret Country (New York: MacMillan, 1946). Translated by Muna Lee, wife of the then governor of Puerto Rico, it drew praise in the pages of the The Chicago Times, Hispania, The New York Times, The Partisan Review, Saturday Review of Literature, and The Yale Review. Carl Sandburg, writing in Spanish from his farm in Flat Rock, North Carolina sent a letter to Lee praising the poetry of Carrera Andrade, calling him his “brother in the poetry quest.”

Within the next ten years additional essays, articles and reviews of his work would appear in the United States, England, France, Belgium, and The Netherlands. From 1952 to 1958 Carrera Andrade lived in Paris and worked at UNESCO. He continued his literary activities there, including two additional books published in bilingual Spanish-French editions. Although Carrera Andrade continued to make short trips to the United States as part of his duties with UNESCO or as a delegate to the United Nations, it was not until 1968-1970 that he spent another substantial period there.

During the intervening years a number of other translators had begun to translate his work. Vistor of Mist, a book of poetry translated by G.R. Coulthard, was published in England in 1950. J.M. Cohen included him in his Penguin Book of Spanish Verse (England, 1956) and Willis Barnstone included his poetry in Modern European Poetry (New York, 1966). Carrera Andrade appeared in other anthologies on the European continent, including anthologies in Danish, French, and German. Thomas Merton, John Malcolm Brinnin, and Donald Walsh translated various poems for anthologies, books, and magazines. While Brinnin’s translations on the whole are unaccomplished, Thomas Merton managed to capture the flavor and delicacy of Carrera Andrade’s poems in a small collection of translations he included in Emblems of A Season of Fury (1963), one of his many books of poetry from New Directions. H.R. Hays published a flawed and poorly edited book, Selected Poems, in 1972 with SUNY Press. An even worse rendering of Jorge Carrera Anadrade came with the SUNY publication in English of a collection of his lectures from Harvard, SUNY Stony Brook, and Vassar, Reflections On Latin American Literature (1973).

From 1968 to 1970 Carrera Andrade taught at SUNY Stony Brook while living on Long Island. He traveled to give lectures at Harvard and Vassar and also participated in a writer’s gathering at the Lincoln Center in New York City. A collection of photographic contact sheets by American photographer Rollie McKenna from the University of Delaware archives reveals the attendees at the Lincoln Center gathering included Carrera Andrade, John Malcolm Brinnin, Jim Harrison, Anthony Hecht, Zbigniew Herbert, Czeslaw Milosz, John Logan, Nicanor Parra, Henry Rago, Louis Simpson, William Jay Smith, and James Tate. It was soon after that Carrera Andrade also participated in a poetry festival at the Library of Congress and recorded his poems in Spanish for the Hispanic Reading Room at the Library of Congress.

At the age of seventy, as he mentions in his Vassar lecture, Jorge Carrera Andrade had come full circle. Throughout his life and career Jorge Carrera Andrade was a man constantly on the move. New cities and countries rose and fell on his horizon with regularity. He was a diplomat to a variety of countries, often sent to negotiate or lobby for Ecuador’s financial or political needs.

Posted to Japan in 1936, he watched as Japan devastated Asia and Indochina. In December 1941 he lobbied for American military support for Ecuador against armed incursions by Peru. With the title of Envoy Extraordinaire and Minister Plenipotentiary Carrera Andrade was later sent to Great Britain to renegotiate Ecuador’s foreign debt. He shuttled back and forth between Argentina, Brazil, and Chile seeking support to pressure Peru to return land taken during the border disputes. Throughout the course of his professional career a dizzying array of politicians, generals, and incompetents held presidential office in Ecuador. He was hired and fired, reassigned, or sought other employment according to the political winds that blew through the presidential palace.

As much politician as poet, it was a dual life that resulted in two divorces and estrangement from the children who knew him only as a man with a suitcase on his way to some distant city. When he finally retired he discovered that the pension he had earned as a diplomat in service to his country for fifty years had been squandered by the financial black magic and bankrupt fiscal policies of a government that no longer had any use for him. His last years in Quito were spent on a small stipend as director of a cultural organization. He died unexpectedly November 7, 1978, and was buried in the cemetery of San Diego in Quito.

Steven Ford Brown Steven Ford Brown is employed in the European Equities Department of an international investment firm in Boston. His translations of Jorge Carrera Andrade, Angel Gonzalez, and Pere Gimfirrer have appeared in The Antioch Review, The Colorado Review, Christian Science Monitor, Harvard Review, Marlboro Review, Poetry, Quarterly West, and Verse. Excerpts from his translation of Astonishing World: The Selected Poems of Angel Gonzalez, 1956-1986 (Milkweed Editions, 1993) were included in The Vintage Anthology of Contemporary World Poetry, edited by J.D. McClatchy (Vintage/Random House, 1996).

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