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Pizarnik, Alejandra (1936–1972)

Pizarnik, Alejandra (1936–1972)

Alejandra Pizarnik (Flora Alejandra Pizarnik; b. 16 April 1936; d. 26 September 1972), Argentine poet. Born in Buenos Aires of Russian Jewish origin, Pizarnik had an intense and difficult life that ended in suicide at age thirty-six. She grew up in Avellaneda, near Buenos Aires, which she left in 1957 to live in Buenos Aires. She studied literature at the University of Buenos Aires, but did not finish. Instead, she began painting under the mentorship of the Argentine artist Juan Battle Planas. Seeking the artistic unity of poetry and painting, she produced in 1955 her first book of poems, La tierra más ajena, under the name Flora Alejandra Pizarnik, later to be shortened to Alejandra Pizarnik. La última inocencia (1956) included one of her most important compositions, "árbol de Diana." Her third book was Las aventuras perdidas (1958). Various feelings of loss (alterity, nostalgia, exile, silence, and orphanhood) became recurring themes in Pizarnik's poetry.

In 1960 Pizarnik moved to Paris, where she lived until 1964. The Parisian experience was hard, both materially and spiritually. She began to fear becoming insane. She confessed in a letter to a friend that she moved between a troubling feeling of wanting to be dead and of wanting to be alive. In 1962 she wrote several critical essays on Antonin Artaud, H. A. Murena, André Breton, Julio Cortázar, Silvina Ocampo, and others in literary magazines of Latin America and Europe: La Nouvelle Revue Française, Les Lettres Nouvelles, Tempo Presente, Humboldt, Mito, Sur, Diálogos, Temas, Zona Franca, Mundo Nuevo, Imagen, and Papeles de Son Armadans. She also translated poems by Hölderlin, Artaud, Yves Bonnefoy, Aimé Césaire, Léopold-Sédar Senghor, and others.

In 1962 Pizarnik published Árbol de Diana, with an introduction by the Mexican poet Octavio Paz. The brief but intense poems illustrate the maturity of her poetic thought as well as her tendency toward condensation. Silence and the night now became constants in her poems, as can be seen in Los trabajos y las noches (1965). This book signaled a new height in Pizarnik's poetic development.

Pizarnik's father died in 1966 and this intensified her fear of insanity. Extracción de la piedra de la locura (1968; Extraction of the Stone of Madness) was the outcome of this period, with its title taken from the Hieronymous Bosch masterpiece. In 1969 she published a plaquette of poems in prose, Nombres y figuras, with illustrations by Catalonian Antonio Beneyto. In 1969 she received a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, and in 1972 she was granted a Fulbright scholarship to participate in the International Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, which she decided not to accept. That same year she published the essay La condesa sangrienta (1971; The Bleeding Countess), a re-creation of Erzsébet Báthory's life, followed by Los pequeños cantos (1971) and El infierno musical (1971).

Pizarnik committed suicide by ingesting an overdose of barbiturates. She is considered one of the main poetic voices of Spanish American literature in the twentieth century. Posthumously published works include El deseo de la palabra (1975), edited by the author with Antonio Beneyto and Martha I. Moia, and Textos de sombra y últimos poemas (1978), edited by Olga Orozco and Ana Becciú.

See alsoLiterature: Spanish America; Paz, Octavio.


Octavio Rossler, Cantores y trágicos de Buenos Aires (1981).

Frank Graziano, ed., Alejandra Pizarnik: A Profile (1987).

Bernardo Koremblit, Todas las que ella era (1991).

Cristina Piña, Alejandra Pizarnik (1991).

Additional Bibliography

Bajarlía, Juan-Jacobo. Alejandra Pizarnik: Anatomía de un recuerdo. Buenos Aires: Editorial Almagesto, 1998.

Haydi, Susana H. Alejandra Pizarnik: Evolución de un lenguaje poético. Washington, DC: Organization of American States, 1996.

Piña, Cristina. Alejandra Pizarnik: Una biografía. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 2005.

                               Magdalena GarcÍa Pinto

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