BUENOS AIRES — "Clouds pass, slowly dissolving/ It's a holiday in the sky at least/ birds glide serenely overhead/ a baker rises, losing himself/ up in the air so light/ above, in the celestial part of space/ the clearest part of the day and stillest/ part of time, quiet as a suburb/ Cloud shapes keep changing in the sky/ a bread bun, then fish, then nothing/ just a celestial climate in the thin/ tide of the breeze of your hair/ it's summer in the sky and down here/ you feel like, Oh, what the hell."

The "porno sonnets" of one Ramón Paz circulated for more than a decade on blogs, Tumblr accounts, networking sites and even Taringa! profiles before Vox and Eloísa Cartonera, two publishers based in Bahía Blanca and Buenos Aires respectively, finally published them in print. Then, in 2018, Emecé published the work, this time using the author's real name, Pedro Mairal, who also wrote the successful novel La uruguaya ("The Uruguayan Woman") and poetry compilations such as Tigre como los pájaros ("Tiger Like the Birds") and Consumidor final ("End Consumer")).

Something similar happened with Silvina Giaganti's first book of poetry, Tarda en apagarse ("Takes Time to Turn Off"), published in 2017 by Caleta, another small publisher. It sold 3,200 copies and is still drawing attention more than a year later.

"The success of the books by Silvina Giaganit and Pedro Mairal reveals a lot about current interests, particularly with regards to gender issues," says Santiago Llach, an editor who also organizes writing workshops.

"Giaganti's poetry practices a feminism that refuses to raise a fixed standard, and prefers to reside in contradiction. Mairal's porno sonnets, which introduced bastardized material into a sophisticated genre, can be seen as the last testimony of something that, culturally speaking, is no longer of interest: the desires of a middle-aged homosexual man."

Diffusion through social networks is creating a publishing event, and unprecedented poetry sales worldwide.

Another sign of the times is the already mentioned presence of authors and their works online. Networking sites have formed "a kind of community of poetry lovers, which we follow with interest," says Glenda Vieites, head of the Literary Division of Penguin Random House Argentina.

"For example, we have just published Elvira Sastre, a very young Spanish poet who has many followers in Argentina. Even our dear author Magalí Tajes, whose book Caos ("Chaos") is a best seller in the country this year, has a lot of poetry and she too participates in circuits devoted to the genre."

Random House also has the Poesia Pórtatil ("Portable Poetry") collection, which will include the release this year of works by Portugal's Fernando Pessoa, the Argentine Julio Cortázar, Rimbaud and Robert Louis Stevenson. In addition, it plans to publish a single-volume complete poetry of the Argentine Juan Gelman, and Shakespeare Palace, Uruguayan poet Ida Vitale's memoir of 10 years spent in Mexico. She recently won the Cervantes Prize.

While poetry's space was always restricted, today online circulation helps boost sales of emerging works in the genre, once published in print. Another point favoring the trend is the restricted length of poems and the possibility of reading them in a few minutes, which may be decisive in an age of haste.

Photo: Official website

"Diffusion through social networks is creating a publishing event, and unprecedented poetry sales worldwide," says Mercedes Güiraldes, head of Emecé publishers. "There are web sites and even applications for poetry, and many of the titles later come out in print. Let's hope this is not just a fad and that the revival of the genre will duly encompass all types of authors, even those that did not emerge from social networks."

Next year her firm will reedit El gran surubí, a narrative poem by Mairal, Últimos poemas en Prozac by Fabián Casas, and The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur, a Canadian with strong online presence. Another of its authors is Marwan, a Spanish poet and folk singer who thanks to word of mouth and online recommendations, managed to sell more than 125,000 books in his home country.

New channels, greater access

The Internet and poetry go well together, it seems. And yet, the question arises of whether or not the results are entirely positive. "If we compare analog with digital literary life, what has changed is much more in the circulation than content," says Llach.

"Internet and social networks have activated the idea that anyone can write, and anyone is a poet. That can be negative, because the only yardstick of literary merit becomes the 'like'! But it's also positive, because anyone can access poetry. Decisions on circulation are no longer in the hands of a small and biased group of specialists."

And it's not just the web. There are other channels helping poetry reach a wider public, both in terms of quantity and variety. "We have managed to have our poetry books in the shop front and not just on tables set aside for the category," says Fabián Lebenglik, editorial head of the publishers Adriana Hidalgo. "Booksellers know our titles, they know that good readers and critics have luckily judged them to be very good, and open a path this way for the general reader," he says.

That can be negative, because the only yardstick of literary merit becomes the 'like'!

The firm doesn't focus exclusively on poetry, but it does publish poets like Arnaldo Calveyra and Juana Bignozzi. It favors compilations and sometimes indulges with new and expanded editions of poets' works. An example is Diana Bellessi. The publisher released her book Fuerte como la muerte es el amor (Love Is as Strong as Death) in 2018, which sold out, and it will now publish a compilation of all her previous and new works.

"We want all our books, whatever the genre, to use language poetically," says Lebenglik. In Spain, the firm has brought out a third edition of the works of Olga Orozco, an Argentine poet who died in 1999, and is successfully publishing the poetry of Marosa di Giorgio, an Uruguayan writer who died in 2004.

In addition to classic Argentine poets who do not go out of fashion, other, notable younger names include Tom Maver, Germán Schierloh, Aixa Rava and Camila Sosa Villada, a transgender poetess from Córdoba. We shan't be running out of poetry any time soon.

Stepping into the Sea, by Silvina Giaganti

I think writing

Is like stepping into the sea,

The water is freezing at first,
But as you wade in,
and stay,
It becomes a little warmer.
In the same way, I think,
You can move through this mud
without too much pain.
I also think that writing
is to talk of love
when it's over.


See more from Culture / Society here