The ultraist revolution in Madrid | Madrid

The writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986).
The writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986).PABLO HOJAS

Madrid, in the twenties, was a party. At least on the cultural level. Young artists found in the European avant-garde a means to try to change the world with their particular revolution. A new, provocative and groundbreaking conception of art came from Futurism, imported from Italy; of Cubism, initiated by Picasso in Paris with The Avignon ladies; of Dadaism, whose members exposed a urinal as if it were Michelangelo’s David. And above all of ultraism: the first original Spanish avant-garde.

“Engines sound better than hendecasyllables,” wrote Guillermo de Torre, one of the leaders of the movement, from Madrid. The ultraists reflected in their poems the adoration they felt for modernity, progress, machinery. They abolished rhyme and punctuation marks and rejected any display of sentimentality. Sentimentality was, for them, the last trace of a world in decline. They denounced him through shocking images: “I want a seaplane’s turgid propeller for a lover /” (G. de Torre).

They had their own magazines: Cervantes, Greece, Horizon... Y Ultra, which celebrates its first centenary this year. Its initial issue was published on January 27, 1921. On December 15, just 100 years ago yesterday, issue number 20 was published. Three months later, the magazine closed due to lack of funding after having reached 24 issues. Now, Ediciones Ulises – belonging to the Sevillian publisher Renacimiento – has just brought them together in a careful facsimile edition ofUltra with a preliminary study by Carlos García (Buenos Aires, 1953), a specialist in the field of the historical avant-garde of Spain and Latin America. The edition includes the different covers by the illustrators Norah Borges, Rafael Barradas and Wladislaw Jahl.

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Ultra was born with the intention of becoming the “official” magazine of the movement, announced in the first manifesto, which was published in the magazineCervantes in January 1919: “Our literature must be renewed. […] We believe it is enough to launch this cry of renewal and announce the publication of a magazine, which will bear this title ofUltra, and in which only the new will find a welcome. Young people, let us break our withdrawal for once and affirm our will to surpass the pioneers ”. The signatories –among them, Guillermo de Torre, Pedro Garfias and José Rivas Panedas– were linked to the ultraist gathering of Rafael Cansinos Assens, held at the Café Colonial de Madrid, which was located at number 3 Calle de Alcalá and was destroyed in a bombing raid during the Civil War. Currently, in the place of that building is the Pasaje de la Caja de Ahorros.

The gathering was also attended by other poets, such as Lucía Sánchez Saornil, Gerardo Diego and the Chilean Vicente Huidobro, who when the time came rejected the proposal to join the board of the magazineUltra, because he was not quite convinced by the move. He considered it a degeneration of creationism, the avant-garde that he himself had started. It was in 1918 when Huidobro resided a season in Madrid, in an apartment in the Plaza de Oriente. There he held literary evenings in which the cubist painters Sonia and Robert Delaunay and a series of Spanish writers participated; among them, Cansinos Assens himself, who recognized the debt of ultraism to Huidobro’s creationism. Actually, both movements were very similar – rejection of subjectivity and sentimentality, abolition of rhyme and punctuation marks, cult of modernity … – although creationism has a more transcendental conception of the work of art as autonomous entity of the world and of the poet as creator god. In Huidobro’s words: “Don’t sing to the rose, make it bloom in the poem.”

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UltraIt did not have Huidobro among its ranks, but from the first issue it made a declaration of intent including an opening text by Ramón Gómez de la Serna, the versatile writer to whom we owe, in large part, the arrival of the European avant-garde in Madrid. , and that somehow he was facing Huidobro. Ultra’s management team always tried to remain anonymous, as they wanted the magazine to be the expression of the group, of the movement. However, thanks to the correspondence we know that, at least initially, the brothers Humberto and José Rivas Panedas and Tomás Luque were involved. Cansinos Assens, so fundamental in the origins of the movement, broke with the magazine around May 1921 due to a series of disagreements.

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Two ultraistic evenings

Who did collaborate fully inUltraIt was the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who had arrived with his sister Norah in Madrid in 1919 and soon merged with the effervescent literary atmosphere of the capital. In 1921, he wrote in a letter addressed to a friend: “In Madrid ultraism triumphs. All the newspapers talk about him. With irony or hatred, but they speak ”. Indeed, the ultraists were making themselves known. They held two important evenings in the city in which poems were read and part of the public was scandalized. The first took place on January 28, 1921 in La Parisiana, a mythical place in Madrid next to the Moncloa Lighthouse that was reduced to rubble during the Civil War. It was a modernist-style building that housed a luxury restaurant and a party room, surrounded by magnificent gardens frequented by the Madrid aristocracy. The second ultraist evening was at the Ateneo de Madrid.

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UltraIt was written in Monteleón, 7. Afterwards it moved to Goya, 86. It ended in 1922 as an intense but ephemeral dream. The facsimile of Ediciones Ulises allows readers to travel back in time through brilliant and disconcerting texts by Gómez de la Serna, Rafael Lasso de la Vega, Gerardo Diego, Borges, Pedro Garfias, Sánchez Saornil… They wrote: “Everything that is outside of ultraism it does not exist. Poets, literati and painters, grope their way dazzled by the light that comes from our windows ”. In the end, the ultraism was consumed, burning in its own light. But we retain the trail of his memory.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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