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El Corno Emplumado / The Plumed Horn: poetry, life and resistance

El Corno Emplumado / The Plumed Horn: poetry, life and resistance

El Corno Emplumado: poesía, vida y resistencia

Yasmín Rojas

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1968 student movement. In that year, many literary magazines were published in Mexico with the purpose of generating a platform for the spectrum of work created by artists of the time. A few of many were: La Cultura en México, Diálogos, El Rehilete, and among them, El Corno Emplumado / The Plumed Horn, edited by Mexican poet, Sergio Mondragón and north American poet, Margaret Randall. The journal had an abrupt ending due to the repression suffered by the editors who protested against the violent actions in Tlatelolco.

El Corno, with its posture of resistance against social injustice, was published in a critical moment of the history of the American continent. Towards the end of the 1950s, North American, Mexican and South American Poets were migrating out of their countries due to the political persecution that had been initiated by communist paranoia in the years following the Second World War, which saw the beginning of a new global tension: The Cold War. The United States especially endured the effects of the “red scare” in the form of McCarthyism (1950-1956). Shortly after, the United States took on yet another external conflict, the intervention in Vietnam (1961-1975), which further triggered indignation among the younger generations, expressed in a series of massive protests against the war. In these protests, art and ideology converged, especially among the counterculture groups of the time, such as, the Black Mountain College or the Beat Generation.

Those rebellious poets critiqued and denounced the US government for its eagerness to dominate others. Tired of such abuses, and of the system that repressed them, many American poets, decided to travel to Mexico in search of freedom of speech and other liberties. In 1959, Margaret Randall, then a 24 year old poet associated with the Black Mountain and Beat scene, moved to Mexico City. She, like many others, thought that in Mexico her leftist opinions would be better received, unfortunately, once there, she would live in cold flesh the ruthless abuse of an authoritarian government capable of silencing its citizens.

By the 1950s, corruption had widened the gap between ideal democracy and real democracy in Mexico, but the government, obstinate on portraying a stable image, tried to stop any possible critique. One of its tactics was cooptation: in the cultural sphere, the government began to subsidize newspapers, literary magazines and other publications in order to silence the intellectual class and avoid future revolts. El Corno was one of the many publications that received monetary benefits from the Mexican government. Needless to say, the expenses of the magazine were not fully covered by this support, which is why many other artists contributed to sustain it: Agustí Bartra, Ernesto Cardenal, Thomas Merton, Julio Cortázar, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller and Samuel Beckett were only a few of the many who donated money. Also, poetry readings were sometimes held in different cities in support of El Corno.

Margaret Randall, an Albuquerque poet who edited a poetry magazine, ‘El Corno Emplumado’, when she was living in Mexico in the 1960s, will be part of a Site Santa Fe exhibit about the magazine, which featured well-known poets in English and Spanish. She later moved to Cuba and Nicaragua before moving back to Albuquerque. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The idea of a quarterly bilingual arts and literature magazine hatched in Phillip Lamantia’s apartment in the Zona Rosa, a gathering place for traveling artists, writers and musicians interested in the United States Beat creativity and Mexico’s contemporary poetry scene. During those get-togethers, Lamantia, Homero Aridjis, Ernesto Cardenal, Juan Martinez, Harvey Wollin, Sergio Mondragón and Margaret Randall met and began sharing their texts in their mother tongue and interpreted each other’s works, yet sometimes not everything was captured; linguistic and cultural barriers were in the way. The need to better understand one another, led Mondragón, Randall and Harvey Wollin (co-editor of the first two editorials) to craft a cosmopolitan magazine.

From January 1962 to July 1969, 31 editions of El Corno were published. Some of the editor’s main goals were to show other forms of creation that came from different parts of the world; facilitate a cultural exchange between Spanish and English speaking nations; spread the pacifist ideas of the time which came from a marked spiritual and social conscience; and to contribute to a coming together between Latin American and north American writers, two cultures supposedly irreconcilable in a time when the United States government was the most visible repressor of the Latin American nations.

In 1964, the editors of El Corno oversaw the making of three book collections totaling 21 texts printed with the journals seal: Colección Acuario, collections of Latin American and North American poets with their respective translations along with illustrations; La Llave, texts only in English; and Colección La Ola, dedicated to the arts.

Once inside the nest of El Corno, a true symbol of the libertarian and creative struggles of the time can be found. Back then, the atmosphere was coated with a revolutionary enthusiasm brought about by the Cuban Revolution, the editors too were receptive to this frenzy. They absolutely believed that it was possible to change the world through literature. Unable to stay blind towards social problems, El Corno would gradually become more politically involved. Through the magazine, Mondragón and Randall fought for justice, liberty, equality, and respect towards others; reachable through fraternity between artists, and intellectuals who were also socially aware. Such lofty goals determined the direction of El Corno: on the one hand, it paid a particular attention to poetry (at the beginning of its publication, a more spiritual driven poetry, as well as love, existential and descriptive poetry were all being published, but towards the middle [1966-1967], political poetry was favored); on the other hand, as a sort of miscellaneous literature, short story, theater, essays, novel fragments and some interviews were also included. These collaborations were joined with plastic and visual arts: photography, paintings, illustrations, which in most cases were not related with the texts, but did express the aesthetic preferences of the editors. Illustrations by Leonora Carrington, Felipe Ehrenberg, Roland Topor, photography by Nacho López and many more were printed. Also, a place for letters was reserved towards the end. This correspondence between collaborators, readers and editors, now allows a reconstruction of the literary context of the time.

By 1966, El Corno was a consolidated escape valve for writers and artists in search of a place to express their political concerns during a period signaled by revolution, wars and totalitarianisms. It allowed many Mexican poets to be known in the northamerican culture, and for various poets of other times and cultures to come into contact with Mexican readers. The 35 poetry anthologies from 18 different countries published in the journal made El Corno a distributor of international literature in Mexico. Grouping the poems also allows the reader to see a formal and thematic unity in the literature of the American continent.

Some of the most important anthologies were the contemporary Mexican ones. Groups like, La Espiga Amotinada or poets without a group were published. Efraín Huerta, José Carlos Becerra and Octavio Paz decided to share their creative work in the magazine’s pages because they coincided with some of Mondragon’s and Randall’s objectives. The poem “Mexico: The xix Olimpiad” written by Paz, appears with its translation in English as a means to shatter the false image that the government was trying to portray. Through the journal, subversive and critical ideas could reach other places.

El Corno was also the only Latin American journal that translated Cuban poets into English in a moment when the U.S. government had lifted an economic embargo on everything coming in or out of Cuba. Mondragon and Randall decided to diminish the cultural gap distancing both countries by making the magazine, a bridge between both of them. Political Poetry by Roberto Fernández Retamar, Belkis Cuza Malé, the polemic Heberto Padilla, Fayad Jamís, and many more was read by an English audience for the first time ever.

Of the 31 editorials, number 38 marked a watershed. In 1968, Mondragon’s and Randall’s ties with the Mexican government were affected. The editors lost the official economic benefits when they made public their posture against the repression in the Student massacre of Tlatelolco, which in October of 2018 will dress in mourning Mexico’s memory. Although protesting against the Vietnam War or against the military expansionism of the Unites States in Latin America, doing it against the Mexican government meant the loss of the federal subsidies.

As, the “happy years” of El Corno ended, so did Gustavo Diaz Ordaz’s government. Unfortunately, not the repressive system of the State. Which caused the fight towards a democracy in Mexico to carry on. The destiny of the magazine was inevitable; it was forced to close. Its contributions, however, still remain. As a meeting space for exchange and dialogue it became the home of an international community of writers, artists and readers, whom, with a distinct vision, fresh ideas, and thirsty for change and revolution, fed an editorial home stablished for the defenders of freedom of speech.

In Mexico, many prestigious writers supported the journal.  Octavio Paz found a guide in the anthology “Twenty four contemporary Mexican Poets” edited in El Corno number 18 of April 1966, for his own anthology, Poesia en Movimiento. Even with this kind of support, the magazine had some negative critiques; Salvador Elizondo, for example, disapproved the editor’s project in his translation of the first page of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, were to explain the word “Orangemen”, which comes from “orangutan”, that is “little man of the wild”, Elizondo believes Joyce might have been referring to Mondragon and Randall. His critique is acceptable if El Corno’s weaknesses are examined. Many editions contain several orthographic and punctuation mistakes, also, in various occasions, Randall has lamented not having published more women, and finally, some of the translations are not so efficient, Like in Arnold Belkin’s example (num. 19), who translates into Spanish “America” by Allen Ginsberg and in various verses, the word is censured, it is the case of “America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel”, translated as “América voy a poner mi hombro neurasténico contra la rueda”; a closer and more daring translation would be, “America voy a poner mi puto hombro contra la rueda”. But this does not diminish the translation work; on the contrary, it was important because it allowed Hispanic readers to know the black entrails of the “American dream”.

It also must not be forgotten that in the sixties there was not, in Mexico or the United States, a magazine that crossed cultural boundaries or that functioned as a window towards democracy inside a panorama of institutionalized restraint, like El Corno. There were other magazines in Latin America that had close purposes to those of Mondragón’s and Randall’s: Eco Contemporáneo from Buenos Aires and Casa de las Américas from Cuba, but they both took different paths. El Corno, in the other hand, has played an important part in our literature.

El Corno allowed for a free transit of other literatures into and out of Mexico. Through the journal the reader had access to political poetry that sprang from different regions of the American continent, this poetry and the journal itself tried to renew the hope for justice in a time when inflexible, antidemocratic and dictatorial governments were at its peak. Even with the political shakings, El Corno, defied the mainstream culture for seven and a half long years.

 

©Literal Publishing

 

Notes

Padrón, Juan Nicolás. “El Corno Emplumado: Un verdadero proyecto de globalización de cultura”, en La historia del día, blog para compartir temas relacionados a la historia, la política y la cultura. <https://lahistoriadeldia.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/“el-corno-emplumado”-un-verdadero-proyecto-de-“globalizacion-de-la-cultura”/>.

Randall Margaret. To Change the World. My Years in Cuba. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2009.

Correspondencia inédita, fechada el 17 de octubre del 2017.

Ritchel, Elaine. “What´s Past is Prologue: El Corno Emplumado at Site Santa Fe”, The magazine, Nuevo México, septiembre de 2016, pp. 36-39.

Silva Ibargüen, Gabriela. Texto, contexto e índices de El Corno Emplumado (1926-1969). Tesis de maestría de El Colegio de San Luis, septiembre 2017.

 

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