Remembering Alejandra Pizarnik

Flaminia Ocampo

Alejandra Pizarnik was a good friend of my mother, and she spent some time with us at our summerhouse in Buenos Aires, not long before she took an overdose of barbiturates. I remembered Alejandra once when she was drunk (later on I would learn that she also indulged in a lot of amphetamines); she was standing on a table reciting poetry in different languages, finally ending with some of her own. Compared to Alejandra’s enthusiasm for declaiming poetry, we all, even I thirteen years old at that time, seemed like prudent ghosts who understood all too well the dangers of passion and of being excessively alive. I never forgot what Alejandra was reciting while on top of that table: “Vida, mi vida, déjate caer, déjate doler, mi vida, déjate volver silencio, olvido, déjate caer y doler, mi vida.” (Life, my life, let yourself fall, let yourself hurt, my life, let yourself become silence, oblivion, let yourself fall and suffer, my life.) At first I thought it was an appropriate poem to recite while standing on a table. Probably, from my teen perspective, I saw that drunk as Alejandra was, she would fall and hurt herself at any moment. And then, with time I understood what Pizarnik had really written. She had, in a subtle way, played with language. Her “déjate” didn’t mean “let yourself,” or “allow yourself,” but “stop.” Stop life hurting me. Continue your downfall. Become silence, oblivion.

It wasn’t the first time that I was very attentive to Pizarnik. Among the many writers who spent time at my parents’ apartment in Paris, she is the one I remember most vividly. I must have been seven at the time, but there was something in her voice, a deepness, an urge that is evoked for me each time someone pronounces her name. She had also a sort of disagreement with her body that I found disquieting. Many years later she told me, floating on the water of a swimming pool, that of her body, she only liked her green eyes.

Alejandra Pizarnik's first book, published in 1960.

That afternoon in the pool Alejandra spoke with the incredibly dense and accelerated language that she had some times, as if words were overflowing from her lips, and there was something obscene and grandiose about her. I never lost that memory either, because in her presence I felt an overwhelming feeling of despair. I couldn’t explain it back then, but the passing of time and reading her poetry and journals made it transparent. Hers was a despair of wanting excessive love and absolute recognition, and a despair of already knowing she wouldn’t have them. She was a person without a future, and I probably sensed that even as a child. One of the requirements for having a future when you are young (if you are not doomed to die sick or in an accident) is probably to live life on an even keel, skipping or at least minimizing the depths and heights. Achieving this requires a certain talent for mediocrity, for feeling easily satisfied. Something that Alejandra Pizarnik couldn’t do. She had too much pain and too much talent entwined, and these combined characteristics rarely age well, as a matter of fact, they almost never age. For those who have them, death seems always to come first.

FLAMINIA OCAMPO’s stories have appeared in Spanish as La locura de los otros (2003) and in English as Other People’s Phobias (2013). Her other books include the novels Siete Vidas (2004) and Cobayos Criollos (2015), a biographical study of Victoria Ocampo, Victoria y sus amigos (2009), and two books of essays, Deseos y desconsuelo (2015), Un asesino entre nosotros: Eichmann en Buenos Aires (2016).