Introduction to Written Blindly by Martin Adán

Translated by Rick London and Katherine Silver


Written Blindly

Martin Adan was born Rafael de la Fuente y Benavides in Barranco, Lima, Peru, Oct. 27, 1908. After attending the Deutsche Schule in Lima, Adan studied at the National University of San Marcos, Lima, completing his doctoral thesis De lo barroco en el Peru (Concerning the baroque in Peru) in 1938. While employed by the legal department of the Agricultural Bank, he worked on a critical/biographical dictionary of Peruvian letters which went unfinished.

Adan suffered a breakdown in the early 1940s. He was admitted to a private clinic where he was intermittently confined throughout his adult life, and where he died, January 29, 1985. He became a member of the Peruvian Academy of the Language during a confinement there.

Adan was awarded the Jose Santos Chocano National Prize for poetry in 1947 and the National Prize for Literature in 1974.

Although personally isolated for much of his life, Adan’s world included a vast resource of world literature, and his isolation and erudition combined to form a startling hermeticism. This visionary poetry is unique and, at times, eccentric, seemingly not part of any local conversation, more reminiscent of Mallarme or Wallace Stevens than any of the main proponents of modernismo.

In 1961, Adan published a reflection on poetry and the artistic life of the poet, Written Blindly, moving away from his earlier work in more traditional forms to make use of the greater latitude of free verse. As the title suggests, this poem finds its way as it goes, at points seeming to pick its way through unruly verbal rubble. He seeks no summary understanding. Rather, as with all of Adan’s work, the piece confronts presumed meaning, and the way mind makes meaning — often by means of a density and volatility of images that keep the poetic field from resolving in any terms.

As he did throughout his career, Adan here invites in energies from ‘beyond the limits of the normal world’ (Eliot) and allows the mind a glimpse of its own vast possibilities. Adan explored his art freely, with little regard for the reader. Indeed, his shifts and juxtapositions, grammatical dislocations and invented words, create a tension that can cause the intelligibility of the text to tremble, even as he weaves it into lovely song. Accordingly, this translation attempts to balance the lyric coherence of the poem with the semantic and syntactic synesthesia it effects.


Rick London