Academic journal article Hispanic Review

The Visual Trajectory of Jose Juan Tablada

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

The Visual Trajectory of Jose Juan Tablada

Article excerpt

AS numerous critics have remarked, Jose Juan Tablada made several major contributions to modern poetry in Mexico. Bridging the gap between the modernista poets at the turn of the century and later writers such as the estridentistas and the Contemporaneos group, he represented a crucial link between Europe and Latin America. Although Tablada is generally credited with having introduced Latin American poets to the Japanese haiku, he was also responsible for encouraging them to experiment with visual poetry. Entitled "Madrigales ideograficos," his first visual works were composed in New York City in 1915 under the aegis of Marius de Zayas, who was an old childhood friend from Mexico City. Associated with Alfred Stieglitz' art gallery "291" in various capacities, de Zayas had recently returned from Paris, where he had collaborated on a theater piece with Guillaume Apollinaire and had witnessed the creation of the latter's calligrammes. 1 Taking his cue from Apollinaire, Tablada combined two poems, entitled "El punal" and "Talon rouge," to form a larger composition (Figure 1).2 As in many of the calligrams, the dagger and the red high heel were juxtaposed to make a cubist still life. Like many of the French poems, they were portrayed in outline form and were essentially tautological. In both cases, the picture illustrates an object named in the text, which simultaneously evokes this object and depicts it visually.

For Eduardo Mitre, the charm of "El punal" resides not in its verbal message, which "no sobrepasa la escasa calidad de un madrigal romantico comun," but in its visual design (667). By contrast, he finds its companion poem pleasing in both respects. Although Tablada's typographical effects are rudimentary, the dagger's hilt appears to be outlined in boldface letters. According to visual conventions this signifies that it is relatively heavy and/or a solid (probably dark) color. In order to decipher the text, one must turn it counter clockwise 90 degrees and begin at the upper left. In order to read the crosspiece, the poem must be rotated to the right momentarily. This procedure produces the following reading:

Tu primera mirada

tu primera mirada de pasion

Adn la siento clavada

como un penal dentro del coraz6n

This does not seem to be a madrigal so much as a piropo, that is, a flirtatious compliment addressed to an attractive woman passing by. Tablada has simply taken the verbal metaphor (or simile), which has a lengthy history in western literature, and raised it to the visual level.

Like its companion, "Talon rouge" consists of a single sentence that needs to be rotated back and forth. Starting at the toe of the shoe, it is divided into two unequal lines. Since these were not quite long enough to provide the visual outline, some of the words have been divided into syllables:

Siento al mirar tu escarpin

tefiido el alto tacon

en un tragi co carmin

que me sangra el corazon.

Since the text continues the previous metaphor, it transforms the original trope into a traditional conceit. This time the design is confined to a verbal metonym masquerading as a real object. The fact that the shoe (or at least its heel) is dyed blood red allows Tablada to reinvoke his wounded heart. This means that "tragico" is a displaced modifier that actually describes the poet's pitiful condition. The French title probably indicates that the footwear has been imported from France and refers indirectly to Apollinaire's calligrams. For that matter, the woman who is wearing the shoe may be French as well. While this poem also appears to involve a piropo, it is not necessarily as harmless as it seems. With a little imagination the total composition can be seen to depict a femme fatale. Juxtaposed with the wicked stiletto representing her piercing gaze, the high-heeled shoe betrays her determination to grind Tablada under her heel.

According to all indications "El punal" and "Talon rouge" were light-hearted experiments rather than revolutionary statements. …

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