Asalto al tiempo / Assault on Time (Giannina Braschi, Ambito Literario, Barcelona, 1981)
“The Poetry of Giannina Braschi: Art and Magic in Assault on Time“
“I want people to feel transformed after they have read me. I want them to memorize me because that is how I write. To be memorized. To be learned by ear. To be learned by heart,” said Giannina Braschi in an interview on the transformative power of poetry. Asalto al tiempo (Assault on Time), Braschi’s first work of poetry, was originally published in 1981 and later became part 1 of the trilogy El imperio de los sueños (1988) translated into English by Tess O’Dwyer as Empire of Dreams (1994). I am interested in identifying instances that unravel a transformational Braschian poetics that speaks to the author’s desire for the reader (and the poet) to become transformed through the acts of reading and writing.
In the first poem of Asalto al tiempo / Assault on Time, the poet-child opens a door to surprise and invites the reader to imagine an animated play space:
Behind the word is silence. Behind what sounds is the door. There is a back and a fold hiding in everything. And what was approaching fell and stopped far away in proximity. An expression falls asleep and rises. And what was over there returns. It’s a way to put the world back in its place. And something comes back when it should remain remembering…
(excerpt)Asalto al tiempo / Assault on Time
Asalto al tiempo / Assault on Time[Enjoy another excerpt of Laura R. Loustau’s essay “The Poetry of Giannina Braschi: Art and Magic in Assault on Time“. To read the complete essay, click here.]
…Alicia Ostriker pointed out that solitude forms a subtext in Assault on Time. Connections are lost and allusions to distance can have different meanings, such as the distance between word and reality and the distance between lovers and the inability to love (xi). The poet maintains a loving relationship with writing, a game interspersed with pleasure, pain, and loneliness. On the one hand, we find the sheer enjoyment of creation, yet this is contrasted with the anguish of loss. In the last poems of the collection, we are nearly bombarded with references to solitude: “Happiness is solitary” (ED 24); “If I have penetrated something, it’s only to be alone with all I see” (27); “Streets are crowding solitude” (27); “Nonetheless, solitude doesn’t span our hands or move like waves” (28); “Solitude has no enigma when it stays alone. But when your heart is a party, solitude becomes crowded with memories” (28). It may be worth asking if the references to the poet-artist’s solitude are related to the overall sense of anguish at the end of the book—of arriving at an unwanted outcome.
Solitude detains us in the now, yet it continues to move onward to tomor- row, opening paths that are marked by the desire to never reach the end of the road, which is to say the end of Assault on Time. Thus, loneliness wanders: “I was coming back through the outcome when I found the entrance. I didn’t want to go back to the same street, so I went another way” (31). The speaker knows that she must cut short this creative path, but no definitive way seems to satisfy: “You still don’t know the way? I can only send you to another one. But I don’t know, I really don’t know” (31). The poet-artist does not know which paths might lead to the end of her writing. For the poet, this is reality: “Here is reality. The hand touches distance. Touches it, nothing more. That’s all. And enough” (31). In these final lines of Assault on Time, the poet-artist suggests that the hand (writing) can only “touch the distance” (the reader, in this poetic project). The poet can only draw the reader’s attention to the countless ways of the poem. The hand signals us to heed the voices that lead us to encounters with our environment and ourselves. Is it possible that, by listening to the solitary voices of this poetry, we can hear our own voices and yearnings? And if we learn these poems by ear and by heart as Bra- schi intended, would the poet and the reader realize a certain mental or sensory transformation?
A quote from Shakespeare’s King Lear serves as the epigraph to Assault on Time: “And take upon’s the mystery of things / As if we were God’s spies.” This prompts us to examine with utter resolve the unfamiliar, the unknown, so that we can discover, perceive, and feel. In this way we may be able to explore our own human and spiritual condition. Similarly, when we are reading Braschi’s poetry, it is possible that the transformation of the poet-reader and the poet-artist takes place in us by assuming the responsibility and the desire to embrace the strange and mysterious, which may free us from the ties that bind, be they mental, physical, or linguistic. There, in that space of consummate freedom, lies the transformative power of Braschi’s poetry.
Asalto al tiempo Further Reading
- Ahmad, Sarah. “A Big Solitude: A Conversation with Giannina Braschi”. Poetry Foundation. (2022)
- Amaral, José Vásquez. “Desterrados en Nueva York: Asalto al tiempo,” Diorama de la Cultura, Excelsior. (1981)
- Crescioni, Gladys. “La poesía es vida para Giannina Braschi.” Encuentro Cultural: El Mundo. (May 23, 1982)
- Martínez-Capó, Juan. “Reseña: Giannina Braschi, Asalto al tiempo.” El Mundo. (1981)
- Loustau, Laura R. “The Poetry of Giannina Braschi: Art and Magic in Assault on Time.” Poets Philosophers Lovers. (2020)
- Ostriker, Alicia. Introduction to Empire of Dreams. Yale University Press. (1994)
- Ramos, Francisco José. “Giannina Braschi/Asalto al tiempo”. Plural, vol. 1. No 2. (1982)
- Review of Empire of Dreams. Publishers Weekly. (1994)
- Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. “Giannina Braschi.” Literatura puertorriqueña: Su proceso en el tiempo. Ediciones Partenón. (1982)