Un país llamado Cadenas / Antonio López Ortega

A Country Called Cadenas

In light of the tribute to Rafael Cadenas that has taken place this week at the PoeMad Poetry Festival in Madrid, it’s worth reflecting on the gravitation of an oeuvre that has represented, why not say it, the most important textual adventure of these times. His poems accompany us like talismans since 1958, with the apparition of Una isla, and it has already been five decades of closeness, revelations, renunciations, lessons or apprenticeships. My generation, in particular, has grown up with this poetry, has drunk from it, has made all of its sonorities its own. He is our poet par excellence, our secret company, our figurehead. Some might say this praise has nothing to do with a poetry that describes humility, that seeks the essential in life, that removes itself from exaggeration, that sees the I sacrosanct institution of the West— as a great trap. But maybe our historical accidents, our political and moral ruin, have seen in this poetry of abandonment, paradoxically, a last resort. Cadenas never thought his poetry could mean so much to so many readers who seek it or find a refuge in it. But once again it has been the circumstances that have labored for this conjunction to exist.

It’s also worth noting that the referent of the country, faced by the avant-garde, has meant very little. It was disdained, it was kept in the vault for lost objects. But this conviction also revealed that no one really values what they already have, like the air we breathe. The country, let us say, is a fait accompli, it’s the closet where we hang our clothes. With that security, with that firm ground, literature advances with complete freedom, concerned with its own evolution, expressing outrage at conservative ideas and planting flowers in the heads of the obtuse. Until, of course, the country ceases, stops, dissolves, which is what is happening now. They are taking away the strip from which we would lift off, they hide certainty from us, they dissolve the culture that explained us and gave us exposure. The freedom with which an oeuvre like Cadenas’s has grown and evolved to critique the sense of possession, the foolish urges, the vanity, the superfluous ways of life today, and has advocated, instead, in favor of transcendence, of the flame that is all being, of a condition that is more celestial and less earthly, while it also ceases or suspends itself without the certainties that have seemed natural, eternal to us. And it has been in these last few years when, surprisingly, without being predetermined, that the work of Cadenas, faced with the lack of a country, grows among adepts and readers to constitute itself as an alternate country, with its own geography, inhabitants, feelings and certainties. This is what happens with great works when the sustenance that postulated them disappears. 

{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 23 October 2014 }


El Cónsul / Tomás Eloy Martínez

The Consul

Now the insomnia had installed itself in his body with such a vigorous sense of belonging that the Consul could only recognize things beyond himself through the eyes of that intruder. Each time he opened a book, insomnia was there, arriving at the letters first and taking them to a horizon where he, José Antonio Ramos Sucre, could never read them.

He looked out the Consulate windows, onto the rue du Rhône, and distractedly licked the envelope of the most recent letter he had written. To miss Dolores Emilia Madriz —his cousin—, in Cumaná, Venezuela: “I still shave each day. I barely read: I discover a radical change of character in myself. The day after tomorrow I turn 40 and it’s been two years since I’ve written anything.”

He had grown thinner. He had so many bags under his eyes they couldn’t all be his: sometimes he thought another person’s bags (the Other?) had descended on his face to torment him. He was getting dressed carelessly, feeling that the shirt was adhering to two different bodies and that the tie was tightening around two necks. For six months now he had wandered from sanatorium to sanatorium, submitting himself to desperate examinations and interrogations, so they might extirpate that company. But the insomnia was (he wrote to José Nucete Sardi in January) “of an unbelievable tenacity”: it would climb onto the same trains as he, stretch out in the same bed sheets, shave with the same hands.

The spring air was tossing a few sad gusts of pollen into the street. In the distance, the twelve arches of the Mont-Blanc bridge, above the Rhône, were dissolving in the viscous light of early evening, and the ringing of a bell, descending from the hill of Saint-Pierre, was bringing the first sounds of insomnia to his room. The Consul’s body tensed up with alertness: he, José Antonio Ramos Sucre, stealthily moved towards the darkness of the curtains so the Other wouldn’t see him. From there, he glimpsed the street. A homeless dog was preceding the parade of the last office workers toward Saint-Gervais, the jewelry shop in front was turning its lights off, and further on, at the corner, the waiters at the Aux Nations were setting up the tables on the sidewalk. Suddenly, the Consul saw insomnia cross the street, dodge two cars, and approach the portals of the rue du Rhône. What should he do now? Once again insomnia would break through the entrance in a single thrust, leave his straw hat on the rack in the vestibule, he’d glance at the remaining files the secretary had organized on the desk by the entrance, and with a malevolent smile then burst into the library where the Consul’s body was preparing itself, tensed, to resist the assault. But even though José Antonio Ramos Sucre had hidden his body in the banks of the window, even though his eyes were closed and his palms were open and facing forwards, using his already exhausted strength to oppose the invasion, he knew insomnia would eventually occupy him, as always: it would breathe for him, it would dictate all the words and gestures of his life.

Since his arrival in Geneva, on the 12th of March, the Consul was plotting to kill his enemy. Leaving Venezuela had allowed him to throw away the last traces of “anthropophagous morality” that prohibited the crime and, now relieved, with his hands free, he was reviewing the means to put an end to his torment. “I can only assure you that you won’t see me sick again,” he had written to Dolores Emilia —his cousin—, on April 8th. By then he had already dismissed a violent death —all the variations of gunpowder and knives—, because he couldn’t tolerate the idea of the body being disfigured in that combat, and that his relatives would have to later hide the traces of his wounds when displaying his body. He was thinking more of a clean and peaceful death, one that would disconcert insomnia and leave it defenseless. He would often ask himself if the Other, who had resisted the infinite assaults of sleeping pills and distractions, would be capable of surviving that final attack: if insomnia would continue to float over the streets of Geneva even after all of reality had fallen asleep.

He had consulted the possibilities of the poison in an old vademecum: he rejected arsenic, due to the horror of convulsions, the ulceration, the risk of wandering; he excluded belladonna and strychnine because he imagined them entering the body in a slow, violent sunset, taken over by a basement of asphyxia, and the mere possibility of that death was even more unbearable for him than dying. He vacillated, how many times he had vacillated! “Only the fear of suicide allows me to suffer with patience,” he wrote. But insomnia itself had been in charge of diminishing that fear, until it was reduced to the size of nothing: he had continued to make fear fade with its nocturnal screams and its servant’s insolence, until he himself, José Antonio, had ended up forgetting it.

Now everything was clear: he would annihilate the Other through sleep, with an overdose of a sleeping pill the doctors at the Stefania sanatorium had taken away from him in Merano and that he had secretly rescued, with the help of some compassionate German nuns. He consulted the vademecum once more: “Individual susceptibility varies” —he read—. “The signs of intoxication habitually appear after five centigrade. A dose of .25 grams (by one means or another) tends to be mortal in an individual not used to taking it.” He took the beautiful edition of Wilhelm Meister from the library shelf, the one that had accompanied him on the journey between Hamburg and Merano, four months ago, and he left the bottle of pills out in the open. He carefully calculated its contents: one gram, maybe even 1.25 grams. It was more than enough to attack insomnia two days from now, when the Consul would have the misfortune of turning 40.

The muddled hopes he had left Caracas with had dissipated by now. For months he had been wrapped up in petitions and procedures so that the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry could transfer him from his duties as official translator to a position abroad. He trusted they would send him to Paris, where the Minister César Zumeta had promised him hospitality and protection, but the unexpected vacancy of the Consulate in Geneva detoured him in that direction, at the end of December 1929.

Upon arrival he had stayed at the Bellevue Hotel, in front of whose windows both Mont-Blanc and Lake Léman spread out and, with a joyous impatience he hadn’t felt since his university years, he had gone out to exhaust himself strolling through the city: he willingly got lost on Rousseau Island, enjoyed the slight sun in the gardens of the Grand Quai, and he was about to explore the suburb of Petit Saconnet when the lashing of the cold pushed him back towards the hotel lobby, in whose fireplace the forms of fire were rousing.

He had thought insomnia, like all the creatures of the night, would resist following him in his displacements. It seemed natural that, the further the boat got from La Guaira, the easier it would be for him to recover his intimacy with sleep, to the point that by the second week of navigation he had been able to sleep for three hours in a row.

The minister Hurtado Machado had received him at the station in Geneva, and after accompanying him to drop off his luggage at the Hotel Bellevue, took him to the Consulate building, on the rue du Rhône, where they confirmed the secretary’s diligence and the good manners of the neighbors. Hurtado confided in him that they were considering moving the offices to a building facing the lake, but Ramos Sucre begged him to not do it: where would they find such silence, such courteous people? And as for lodgings, the departing consul, Luis Yépez would soon find him a placid hotel nearby (Hurtado said). “None of that” (Ramos Sucre stopped him): he only aspired to a house where the kitchen was clean and the guests silent. He told Hurtado about his long months of suffering: he was a victim (he said) of a tropical parasite that didn’t allow him to sleep and unleashed in him nervous crises and intestinal disorders. He had been recommended a sanatorium in Hamburg that was experienced in cleansing the body of those parasites, and after a few weeks of acclimatization in Geneva, he would depart for Germany to begin treatment. He was sure that by March, when Yépez had to return to Caracas, he would be taking charge of the Consulate, with no other disorder besides solitude.

When night fell, Hurtado had returned to visit him at the hotel, with a few letters of recommendation for the doctors in Hamburg, and had explained in detail about the pending problems at the Consulate. Yépez (he told him), who was spending the Christmas holiday outside Geneva, would definitely be back by the 26th. They spoke of him affectionately, and the minister entertained himself with a long sermon about the painful separations to which a functionary of the Foreign Service is exposed and about the need for keeping one’s feelings under control.

It was when the minister left that Ramos Sucre felt once again, while he was crossing the hotel lobby, the sharp pain in his stomach that hadn’t attacked him since his departure from Caracas. His hair stood on end as a current of sweat froze his back. Hunched, he let himself fall into an armchair hoping to catch his breath. Was that pain the thing that opened the doors of his body to insomnia, or was it actually insomnia that, once settled inside him, damaged his guts?

He went up as best as he could to his room and laid down fully dressed on the bed, waiting for the night’s inferno, with no other defense but immobility and a profound awareness of suffering. He was comforted when he suddenly thought that the insomnia was suffering as well: so many times he had felt memories and remorse belonging to the Other enter his body, he had so frequently felt, when he spoke, the words of insomnia flowing from his mouth, that he couldn’t imagine it being removed from his pains. And yet, the idea didn’t comfort him: suffering was there, and it was he, Ramos Sucre, who never ceased to endure it.

He guessed that the following days would only get worse, because he’d be forced into a chain of inevitable social rituals: meetings with Venezuelans from the embassy, conversations with the secretary, visits to the Palace of Nations, and a starched Christmas Eve with Hurtado’s family who would force him to eat hallacas and toast champagne. What sense did any of it make?

At dawn, he wrote a hurried note to the minister, explaining that the disorder of his health was forcing him to leave immediately on his trip to Hamburg and begging him to not worry about him. He packed his luggage once again, left the letter with the hotel’s reception, and wandered through Geneva in a rented car, searching for a modest rooming house. He found it at the entrance of Petit Saconnet, over the slope that opens onto the Saint-Gervais.

He spent three days there, without moving from his bed other than to try some of the food the owner would bring him, concentrated in his tenacious combat against insomnia. At dawn on the 27th of December, in such a pathetic state of weakness that even parting the air required a great deal of effort from him, José Antonio Ramos Sucre took the express to Hamburg. The fields were covered in snow, and the whiteness entered everything gently: even the dark demons of his thought.

He spent an entire week in Hamburg without leaving the Esplanade Hotel, not daring to face the cold on the street. The wind was creating whirlwinds in the main plaza and, through the fog Ramos Sucre could blurrily distinguish the imperial eagle displayed on the tower of town hall along with the chorus formed by twenty emperors sculpted in bronze around the monument to Wilhelm I, in the center of the plaza.

Sometimes, when he managed to gather up all his dispersed courage, he’d go down to the restaurant and drink a little soup, anguished by the currents of air that would arise each time one of the guests entered or exited the hotel. Then he would hurry back to the room, where he’d try to distract himself reading Goethe and Leopardi, or unburdening himself in a rosary of letters to Zumeta, to Luis Yépez, to Dolores Emilia: “… I beg some indulgence for someone afflicted by agonizing insomnia, direct enemy of mental faculties.”

Starting January 2nd he lived attached to the phone: he would call the Tropensinstitut over and over again to set up his appointment with doctor Mühlens, he’d inquire about the type of treatment he would undergo, about the temperature of the room where he would stay, about the remedies they’d employ to combat his insomnia. On the 3rd he called the Consulate of Venezuela to request references regarding doctor Mülhens’s reputation and to ask if any correspondence had arrived for him. He said he was anxious about the confusion that could arise regarding his first paycheck: the director of the Office of Consulates had promised to send it to Geneva, but he needed it in Hamburg, where he would undergo a costly treatment. He spoke with the irritation and anguish of those who by chance fall into the web of bureaucracy and don’t know how to orient themselves. He lived in constant tension, and his jaws hurt from clenching his teeth so much.

Finally, on the 4th he entered the clinic. He felt a certain amount of relief in delegating to others the care of his body and in being able to depend on the auxiliary will of others to keep the assaults of insomnia at bay. With a certain degree of distraction, he tended to think of the forms God used to manifest himself, and he would say to himself that the light rain, the vapors of the sun, the defenselessness of women and the perfume of soap were signs that God chose so men might not forget his existence. He was enthused by the discovery of a theological outbreak in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, and he rushed to confide the discovery to César Zumeta in the first letter he wrote after plunging into the sanatorium.

During all of January he noted with concern that the insomnia didn’t recede. On the first nights of his internment, the nuns of the sanatorium had surrounded his bed, praying aloud for him to sleep. More out of surprise than conviction, the insomnia seemed to let down its guard when faced by the murmuring of the prayers. At that point, sleep, taking advantage of the distraction, ascended to José Antonio’s eyes with the caution of a secret. But once it returned, insomnia took charge of the airs in the room with such force that the nuns’ Ave Marias became tangled and the nurses didn’t know how to soothe the commotion of the pampering gestures.

When he was able to rest, Ramos Sucre would become loquacious. He would write beatific letters to Dolores Emilia and entertain the laboratory analysts with his lessons on morality: “Austere virtue, even when it wears a donkey’s face and a cannibal’s soul, deserves my abomination at each step,” he would explain, euphoric. “The habit of censorship is merely a release for our arrogance, of believing ourselves to be superior to others, and superiority depends on one’s point of view and it is almost always illusory.”

He would contradict himself when speaking of Europe. The initial impressions were dark: “I find Europe in discord, impoverished and relaxed. That spectacle saddens me; I wish for the good of all mankind.” But then he’d be guarded against his own dissatisfaction and would write, moderating himself: “The best part of Europe is the people. Everyone is courteous and cheerful here.”

He was happy to find himself with the strength to once again tend to the gardens of his language, cleaning the weeds that grew in them during his insomnia: he would carefully pull out relative pronouns that muddled the fluency of paragraphs, separate infinitive nouns and idle adjectives. But sometimes, the mere premonition of insomnia would depress him, and in the final phrase of his letters his cards would fall on the table: “Forgive the nuisances that I might cause you;” “I hope that all of you prosper;” “I beg that you forgive these secrets.”

He fearfully observed the succession of the analysis he underwent every day. Each time the results were negative, he would hide desolately in his room, until the doctors opted for going along with him and admitting that yes, the insomnia and the tropical virus were an indissoluble marriage, and that the death of one would drag the other down with it. But he would sometimes let his doubts show through in his letters: “… if the illness possesses an independent existence and isn’t derived from that infection, I’m lost.”

At the beginning of February, one of the doctors told him the virus had been isolated, and that a couple injections would annihilate it. He felt with fruition the adversary’s retreat; he recalled, with all the memories and feelings that had been displaced by the disease, the beautiful deserted field that now opened within his body, free so the winds of sleep might blow and he be occupied again by the houses of thought.

On the 5th they declared him as being cured and advised him to spend his convalescence in Merano. On the 7th he crossed Germany on the Munich express, and there changed trains. In the station he disinterestedly read the news about the alliance of two unknown right-wing caudillos, Alfred Hugenberg and Adolf Hitler, who had come together to bring an end to “the slavery of the German people” and to reject the economic responsibility of the country during the disasters of the Great War. He felt a profound disdain for all the farces of politics, and the defiant march of a dozen young men with brown uniforms along the platforms of the station seemed like a ridiculous prelude to a carnival.

Suddenly, amidst the benches in the waiting area, he thought he saw a dying swallow dragging itself towards the wall. He remembered the myth that he himself had imagined in a poem (“The swallows… rose to the rigorous clime and spoke into the wise ear the solution to the enigma of the universe”). He approached to help it and offer the new warmth of his body. He took it carefully in his hands and tried to caress it. The swallow then turned its head toward him, lifted its beak and outlined the same cruel smile that Ramos Sucre had seen so many times before in the face of insomnia.

When he left Hamburg he supposed there were no longer any corners of his body that hadn’t been taken over by suffering, and to a certain degree, the sensation of having reached bottom soothed him. But in Merano he learned that the worst part of suffering isn’t the size but the intensity of it.

They had reserved a room in the rest home Stefania (he called it the Stephanie sanatorium, making the name French). It was a two story building, in the lower half of the city, about two hundred meters from the Post Office and a hundred and fifty from the Passer river, on whose banks he began to stroll as soon as the cold diminished. He paid fifty liras a day, a third of what a hotel would have cost him, with the advantage that the neighborhood was pleasant and rarely tormented by fascist fanfare.

After lunch, at least during the first days, he would venture out along the via del Portici, until the beautiful Gothic Duomo whose campanile dominated the city. Or, if the afternoon was sunny, he would entertain himself at the Paseggiata Regina Elena, in front of the Municipal Casino, listening to the martial concerts of the bands that arrived from Bolzano to Naturno to compete for the prizes awarded by the Town Hall. One of those walks brought him close to the via Goethe, near the church of the capuchins. Upon returning to the sanatorium, he wrote Yépez: “I’ve discovered a vestige of Goethe here, the street with his name, and I’ve joined this discovery with the memory of Manuel Díaz Rodríguez, who spoke to me once about the ethnic composition of the Tirol. Many Slavs. The German poet must have resided here when he was headed to Italy. I don’t have the means for verifying that conjecture. I precisely recall his stay in Trento, where he only discovered one distinguished building: a palace attributed to the devil, built by him in a single night.”

Each day at sunset, insomnia would present itself punctually. The doctors verified that, truly, the tropical virus had completely vanished, and that the insomnia survived on its own, armed with even more ferocity, now that it shared the possession of that body with no one else. Ramos Sucre felt mortally wounded, waiting for his extreme weakness to lead to consumption. He barely moved. The cold that came down at dawn from mount Benedetto extinguished the last embers of his will and thus, stretched out for hours, he would let his attention drift after the small phosphorescence that opened in the air.

At the beginning of March, tired of the tenacity with which the insomnia attacked him, he gathered the last of his strength and returned to Geneva.

During the first weeks, he was kept busy by his apprenticeship at the new job and the preparation of several reports for the delegation that would attend the assembly of the League of Nations in April. He didn’t sleep, but he would face the nights exercising his mind with the translation of some Danish poet (someone, maybe his cousin Dolores Emilia, said it was Jens Peter Jacobsen) or randomly interspersing verses from the Iliad and the Hymn to Hermes, that, once they were joined, composed another Homeric saga, in which fire was born between laurel branches and pomegranate leaves. Time (now he knew it) cruelly dissolves the identity of men: Homer, who at one time had been many poets, was once again a single poet thanks to that game of Greek verses that would approach the Consul’s mouth from different centuries.

When he got to know the consular files down to the last detail and was left once again with his misfortune, Ramos Sucre felt that murder was his only escape. Each time with less uncertainty he witnessed, as the afternoon advanced, the displacements of insomnia along the rue du Rhône, intrepidly dodging automobiles and stopping at the cigarette kiosk to exchange some vulgar joke with the vendors. The intruder dressed stylishly: a dark suit, impeccable shirt and a stiff straw hat that covered up his long forehead and the slight separation of his ears. That was how he would enter to occupy the Consul’s body, each time the evening fell over Geneva.

He managed to keep his mind removed from the meetings at the League between the 27th of April and the 2nd of May. He would mechanically translate the reports, serving as an interpreter for the Venezuelan delegates with a courteous distraction, and he’d even allow himself the luxury of walking with them along the banks of the lake, entertaining them with his erudite observations about Calvinism and Saussure’s linguistic theories, without for an instant setting aside his attention from the tactics he would soon employ to do away with the Other. He reflected on insomnia’s weaknesses, he’d review the distractions in which he had incurred, he essayed formulas to attack it by surprise and choke its throat until it died.

Little by little, the desire to kill was more solid than the fear of dying. He knew that on the other side there were only empty plains and mirrors in which nothingness was reflected. That he would never again hear another name other than his own pronounced nor would he see any other silhouette besides the horizon.

On June 7th, 1930, two days before his birthday, he wrote his final letters. He knew he was about to take the leap and yet he trusted his body would remain unscathed on that other shore of life, where hands that might console him with tenderness still existed.

At dawn on the 9th he shaved and dressed with care. He felt, under the sad palpitations of his throat, the movement of insomnia: he guessed the framework of his musculature, the ferocity of his appetite, the dimensions of his hate. He walked to the window and contemplated, without the slightest melancholy, the blue vapors that rose from the lake and gently wrapped around the city’s needles, wound through the tires of the automobiles and then advanced toward the foothills of Mont-Blanc.

He suddenly took a hunter’s leap: he pulled from the library the copy of Wilhelm Meister and trapped the bottle of narcotics. Before insomnia could recover from the surprise, he drank the syrup in a single gulp.

It took four days for both of them to die, but when the savage bites of the intoxication gave him some respite, the Consul could happily recognize, in the depths of his body, the clear sea of his early childhood, the white church of Santa Lucía, the arrival of the boats carrying sea salt at the old dock in Cumaná, the smell of the flowers, the color of the walls, the rounds he had timidly rehearsed at the school of don Jacinto Alarcón. Insomnia’s dirty corpse was moving away between the jars of alcohol and the syringes for the transfusions, while he, José Antonio Ramos Sucre, entered a forgotten sky, where things had no name and the rivers went nowhere.


{ Tomás Eloy Martínez, Lugar común la muerte, Buenos Aires: Alfaguara, 2009 }


Rafael Cadenas: “La poesía es poderosa e insignificante” / Javier Rodríguez Marcos

Rafael Cadenas: “Poetry Is Powerful and Insignificant”

                         [Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas. Photo: Álvaro García]

If there’s a poet who is pursued by one of his poems, it’s Rafael Cadenas. The poem is called “Defeat,” a landmark of Latin American literature, written by the Venezuelan poet when he was 32 years old. He’s now 84 and smiles timidly when asked if he’s tired of that litany that seems to follow him, that begins: “I who have never had a trade / who have felt weak facing every competitor / who lost the best titles for life / who barely arrive somewhere and already want to leave (believing that moving is a solution)...” and continues with a first person portrait of someone who thought his father was eternal, who was “humiliated by professors of literature” and who has “been abandoned by many people because I barely speak,” or is “ashamed of acts I haven’t committed.”

Cadenas, a timid man who is more stealthy than silent, picks up the book the journalist has placed on the table, he skims over the verses as though they belonged to someone else and concludes: “I’m not tired of it, but this poem doesn’t reflect who I am today. I wrote it in the middle of a personal crisis... well, a depression. If so many people liked it that was because it coincided with the political situation of the sixties and the consolidation of democracy in Venezuela with Rómulo Betancourt.”

Awarded the National Prize for Literature in his country in 1985 and the FIL Prize for Literature in Romance Languages in Guadalajara, Mexico —formerly known as the Juan Rulfo Prize— in 2009, Rafael Cadenas is in Madrid to read his poetry today at the Poemad poetry festival and to participate on Tuesday in a colloquium on his work at the Casa de América. He doesn’t mind traveling —he lives in El Hatillo, in the metropolitan area of Caracas— but he’s not very enthusiastic about interviews. “It has nothing to do with journalists,” he clarifies. “It’s just that I’ve never gotten used to that apparatus,” he says pointing to the tape recorder that’s running. “It’s best if we chat, you take notes and later improve on whatever I’ve said.” Very shortly, in fact, he will publish a book of interviews —“but most of them I answered in writing”— while he is also finishing a new book, En torno a Basho y otros asuntos. It will be published by Pre-Textos, the Spanish house that released in 2007 the more than 700 pages of his Obra entera (previously published by Mexico’s Fondo de Cultura Económica) and which two years ago also released Sobre abierto, his last book to date.

“Don’t disdain anything. / The frog gave Basho / his best poem,” he writes in that book. The new one, Cadenas says, follows that path: reflections on the Japanese haiku master and, as the title says, “other matters.” Which ones? “We’ll see what appears. Sobre abierto is very tied to daily life, but there’s a side of me that’s very close to thought. As Antonio Machado would say, the great poets are failed metaphysicians and the great philosophers, poets who actually believe in the reality of their own poems.”

Rafael Cadenas is the author of classics such as Los cuadernos del destierro (1960) and Falsas maniobras (1966), the book that includes “Defeat.” These were followed by Intemperie, Memorial (both from 1977), Amante (1983) and Gestiones (1992). “I know that title [Managements] seems like a book about administration,” the poet explains, “but I was speaking about other managements, psychic ones.” And he adds: “One never knows why one writes something, I don’t know what has been for me what the frog was for Basho, what I do know is I’ve continued to lose, what would I call it, exuberance? There’s plenty of mystery in daily life.” Slow and laconic, with the gestures of a wise man —he called himself a tightrope walker in a poem—, Cadenas measures each word and uses his shoulders and eyebrows to accompany his answers. That might explain —“so as to not be pretentious”— why he prefers to say mystery rather than transcendence, thought instead of philosophy and sayings rather than aphorisms.

Dichos [Sayings] is the title, precisely, of the book he’s carrying as if he were going to yet another exam instead of an interview. He opens it and reads: “How many collapsed utopias. This opened your eyes. Be thankful.” It’s more than just a lapidary phrase, in the case of someone whose communist activism against the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez led him as a twenty-something year old to be exiled on the island of Trinidad. “It’s 30 kilometers from Venezuela. You can get there by motorboat,” he says, downplaying the dramatic element of an event that influenced his most famous book, the previously mentioned Cuadernos del destierro [The Exile Notebooks]. “At first I lived off help from my family; later on, by teaching at a school.” He spent four years there, returning to Caracas in 1957 and a few months later he witnessed the fall of the dictator, “who was a 20th century dictator, now they’re not as blatant.” In 1958 he published La isla, a collection of poems that opens with an epigraph by the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz: “Unhappy under tyranny, / unhappy under the republic, / in one we sighed for freedom, / in the other for the end of corruption.” What do people sigh for today in Venezuela? “The margin of freedom is being reduced on a daily basis in Venezuela. The Government shut down the opposition TV stations and now it’s going after the critical newspapers, they’re being left without newsprint paper to publish. That is intentional. That’s why I insist in defending democracy despite its faults. Of course it needs to be reformed, but accusations against corruption can only be effective when there’s a separation of powers within a government.”

Cadenas emphasizes that he has never been afraid to say what he says —“sometimes they insult me, but there’s never been an act of aggression against me”—, but he is skeptical about the social role of a poem: “Poetry is all-powerful and insignificant. Insignificant because its influence in the world is minimal. Powerful because of its relationship with language. Politics empties meaning from words —democracy, justice, freedom—, and poets call attention to that emptiness. Words lose their value if they don’t correspond with the thing they designate. It’s nothing new. Confucius called it “rectification of names” and that’s what a poet is: someone who rectifies.”

{ Javier Rodríguez Marcos, El País, 17 October 2014 }


Juan Guillermo Parra Morales (1941-2014)

                   [El Negro Parra in Cambridge, MA, 1971]

“My father, father of this hurricane. And of my poetry.”
(Vicente Gerbasi)

My father was a direct link for me to the global counterculture of the sixties. He arrived in New York City in 1967 and, as my mother often says, he never quite left that decade. My parents were among the first people in New York and Boston to practice yoga every day, be vegetarian, and make their own healthy, unprocessed food. For his entire life my father lived by certain ideals that, while they evolved, always valued the primacy of direct human relations above commerce and resisted the cooptation of individual and collective freedoms by a banal mainstream culture.

My father was a psychedelic pioneer, as well, and it was through him that I learned that cosmic consciousness exists in every living creature. He also taught me that this awareness doesn’t spare us from our mistakes and suffering. One of his gifts to me was the mantra he always recited, the Diamond Heart Sutra, or Prajnaparamita. When I became a poet in college and studied with Allen Ginsberg, who also chanted the Prajnaparamita, that mantra was one of my links between the private world of my family and the public world of poetry.

He was the person who introduced me to the secrets, wonders and dangers of Caracas, a city that is truly its own country. During the extended visits I made to Venezuela between 2001 and 2011, I was able to immerse myself in the literature and culture of the country thanks to my father’s boundless enthusiasm regarding my exploration of the home I had lost at age 12.

My father was born in October of 1941 in Baruta, which back then was a small town on the outskirts of Caracas. He died in October of 2014 at a nursing home in the Alta Florida section of Caracas, at the foot of mystical Mount Ávila. He saw the city grow from a sleepy capital whose street corners were given names tied to specific events and people, to a sprawling, semi-decaying metropolis afflicted by violence and political strife.

One of my great joys and privileges in life has been exploring Caracas in recent years on foot, by bus, subway and car with my father. It was through him that I gained access to the autochthonic culture of Caracas, beyond the skyscrapers and highways, in the bars, corners, plazas and homes of the city where people still engage in real conversations and where friendship and camaraderie exist for the pure enrichment of each other’s lives.

My parents were disciples of Sri Swami Satchidananda in the late sixties and early seventies in New York and Boston. It was through his teachings that they developed their daily yoga practice. During my first five years of life, before we moved to Venezuela from Cambridge, I caught a very brief glimpse of an imperfect utopia, one that was very real for me. During our many conversations in recent years I would often go back to those years, asking my father about the time he saw Jimi Hendrix play a secret show in a small Manhattan bar, or about when he allegedly did or didn’t attend Woodstock, or how it was he never joined the guerrilla movements that were so active in Caracas among students when he studied at the Central University of Venezuela in the early sixties. (When we went to a book presentation by the former guerrilla commander Teodoro Petkoff in 2007 in Caracas, he seemed to know half the people there, most of them former guerrilla fighters and sympathizers.) He loved talking about the past, but he didn’t live in the past. And he always acknowledged how many mistakes he had made. “I’m not better than anyone else, but I’m no worse than anyone either,” was his response.

During the years I spent researching Venezuelan literature in Caracas, my father was always enthusiastic about my endeavors. I would often tell him about the works I was translating, about the lives of the poets I was investigating, and although he wasn’t much of a reader, he appreciated the value of literature. He knew the importance of my efforts to translate Venezuelan literature into English. I talked to him so much about the poets Juan Sánchez Peláez and José Antonio Ramos Sucre that they became familiar figures to him. Which is why it was no surprise to me that he so quickly befriended Malena Sánchez Peláez when I introduced them in Caracas.

In a very real sense, my father lived his life poetically, far removed from conceit and competition. He appreciated all sorts of people, as long as they were willing to offer respect, share conversation and enjoy life.

With his death, a huge portion of Caracas dies along with him. He represented a city that no longer exists and whose traces I was privileged enough to witness on occasion. I’ve never met anyone with an energy like his: creative, loving, unpredictable and cosmic.

Whenever I thanked him for anything, he would always say: “I’m your father, you don’t have to thank me.” But today I do. Thank you, Negro, for your love, guidance and friendship.

Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha!


Mientras corren los grandes días / Enrique Molina

While the Great Days Run

An ancient terror burns in things, a profound and secret
a proud and somber acid that fills the stones with big
and makes the moist apples cruel, the trees the sun
the rains interwoven with the long hair and its savage
    perfumes, its bland and undulating music;
the robes and vain objects; the tender dolorous wood in the
    tense violins
honored and submissive on the patient table, in the ill-fated
around which the impassive and just angels gather
    to collect their portion of death;
the plaster fruit and the intimate lamp where the sunset
    condenses itself,
and the dresses fall like a dry foliage at the foot of the
    woman undressing,
opening in quiet circles around her ankles, like a
    thick pond
on which the night flames and deepens, gathering that
    sumptuous body,
dragging the shadows after the crystals and the dreams after
    the sleeping aspects;
so that, beside the warm room, the desolate wind moans
    under the leaves of ivy.

Oh time! Oh, pale vines! Oh, sacred fatigue of living!
Oh, sterile brightness that fights in my flesh! Your pure
    threads crawl along my bones,
your soft undulating foam wrapping around my vertebrae.
And thus, through the placid faces, of the invariable turning
    of Summer,
through the immobile and meek furniture, of the songs
    of cheerful splendor,
everything speaks to the absorbed and defenseless witness, to
    the hindermost crawling shadows,
of their uncertain departure, of the hands transforming
    themselves on the estival lawn.

Then my heart full of idolatry wakes up trembling, like he
who dreams that the shadow enters him and his adorable
    flesh is liquified
to a slow and sweet song, populated by floating animals and
and passes the tips of his fingers along his eyebrows, confirms
    his lips anew and looks at his deserted knees again,
caressing around his wealth, without penetrating its secret,
while the great days run along the immutable earth.

Las cosas y el delirio (1941)

{ Enrique Molina | Argentina, 1910-1997 }


El camino / Enrique Molina

The Road

Sometimes the road arrives
converted into demented suns
Or wets its mouth with rain
Or passes clenching its teeth

But it comes with its wounds
Its avid hand strangles
And its errant mouth is stained
With adventure’s laughter

The distant calls of those people
Plotting with the wind
Sullied by the wine of trains
With landscapes in movement

I open the door and the wind moves
A wave enters with its fruit
The dunes enter with a bone
A hand with quick fingers

There are women between the cracks
The white sponge of the moon
Remote breasts like lakes
Passions in dark lands

Ardor thirst vortex
Always fleeing the instantaneous
Its mechanics is flame
Those lips never stop

People born without borders
Tangled in absence
Disdainfully dressed
In feathers and weeds

Characters whose silhouette
Is left with knife marks
Thrown like lightning
In the storm’s circus

Long torch vibratile earth
Caress with no price or pity
Houses suddenly flee
And in their place, a letter

Blood forgets its habits:
Weight sleep fear mourning
The road takes the form
Of everything in the world

Arrogant birds peck
The heart of churches
Its voice reveals to insomniacs
The most beautiful heresies

But the road is a flavor
Snatched from life itself
Let others keep their head:
A pen decapitates me

Fuego libre (1962)

{ Enrique Molina | Argentina, 1910-1997 }


Aire en México / Enrique Molina

Air in Mexico

I have woken under a bird’s feet, covered by an
       Indian blanket,
you could hear the distant bells and neighing.
Is this the last hotel? I’ve said to myself, lost in the cactus,
the people are very ancient, with masks of red earth,
horsemen covered in decorative mirrors, women
standing on the burning beaches of death.
I honor the gods with tequila and chili,
that sea shanty blows here between sugar skulls,
and suddenly so much jubilation in my heart,
the taste of idolatry, the taste for such stars,
       embroidered blouses, steeds,
and the skeleton orchestra making their bones rattle
       covered in punctured paper,
saying goodbye, saying goodbye once more.
Saying goodbye to this solar matter
where I suddenly wake up lost in my memory.

Los últimos soles (1980)

{ Enrique Molina | Argentina, 1910-1997 }


Cálida rueda / Enrique Molina

Warm Wheel

We’ll never be anything
The extinct fire won’t extinguish
Love revolves in its own ashes:
No kiss fades

Bodies loved from afar
And bodies nearby without bridges
The seagull of goodbyes
Immobilized in the current

Faces that pass but turn
—The beautiful human sunflower...—
That light that seems to be night
That night crowded with lighthouses

Because one time will be another time
And the universe is in my blood
Incited hearts
Oh serpents of the sun

Fuego libre (1962)

{ Enrique Molina | Argentina, 1910-1997 }


Juan Sánchez Peláez / Alejandro Oliveros

Juan Sánchez Peláez

Juan Sánchez Peláez was born on August 25th, 1922 in Altagracia de Orituco, which was once the capital of Venezuela, into an old family from the state of Táchira that had been displaced towards the center of the country. Within a few months he was taken to Caracas, where he would begin elementary school and continue into high school. Since 1908, Venezuela had been under the submission of the rigors of a dictatorship of an upstart named Juan Vicente Gómez, who took charge of the government for nearly three decades. 1922 was the year of a new Constitution, that legitimated the lifelong permanence of the caudillo in power. At eighteen, Sánchez Peláez, under the liberal dictatorship of Isaías López Contreras, travels to Chile to study at the prestigious Instituto Pedagógico, where Mariano Picón Salas has studied to be a professor and doctor. The Chilean experience was decisive for the Venezuelan poet and it was the source of his aesthetic formation, and perhaps even his political one:

My face is glimpsed
by the sun and moon
beside the memory
of Valparaíso

profound desires
of youthful intoxication
undulate far off
there in the distance

(Uncollected Poems)

He left behind a Venezuela that was arduously trying to abandon the reality of being a village of consecutive rural dictatorships, in order to incorporate himself into one of the most prestigious democracies of the country, as Chile was at the time. In 1940, the year he arrived, Santiago was a cosmopolitan city with all the attributes of modernity. It was the first urban experience for Sánchez Peláez, a moment that would continue with stays in New York, Paris, Madrid and Bogota, which distinguishes him as the first essentially urban poet of Venezuelan lyricism. The trip to Chile would become an initiation for him, a rite of passage, whose importance in his biography cannot be exaggerated. Its gravitation is reiterated throughout his poetic oeuvre:

That night I said goodbye to the wicked ones. Supreme goodbye to innocence, to guilt, to disenchantment. That night I reached the house of a foreign woman. For me, her body had the taste of bitter splendors.

(Helen and the Elements)

I walked through the black hills of an unknown country.
Herein the spectacle:
I was lucid in defeat. My ancestors
handed me the combat weapons.
I avoided the universe because of a great injustice.

(Helen and the Elements)

Hour among the hours facing the motionless text
or the pupils of Valparaíso

pretty train happy to send off smoke that went to La Guaira
like the vengeful talisman

(Common Traits)

In the Chilean capital, the young Sánchez Peláez comes into contact with the poets of Mandrágora, one of the most active groups groups with ties to surrealism in Latin America, founded in 1938 by Braulio Arenas, Teófilo Cid and Enrique Gómez Correa, with the participation of Jorge Cáceres, Gonzalo Rojas and Ludwig Zeller. In the years that followed, the surrealist affiliation of Sánchez Peláez would be one of the most conspicuous attributes of his poetry. An aesthetic that he himself would assume the responsibility for introducing to Venezuela, where it would be adopted by the greatest talents of successive generations. Two other Chileans would, along with the members of Mandrágora, gravitate over his writing, and whom we could consider his teachers: Rosamel del Valle and Humberto Díaz-Casanueva. A brief stay in Buenos Aires put him in contact with Enrique Molina, the most distinguished and active among the Argentine poets associated with the surrealist tendency, and one of the Venezuelan poet’s closest friends.

Upon his return from Argentina, Sánchez Peláez will teach in high schools in Barquisimeto and Maturín, until, shortly afterwards, he opts for completely assuming his condition as a poet, “You will not devour any more chalk,” he says in a poem from Common Traits. And once again he abandons his native country to begin an improbable errancy throughout three continents. The first stop will be neighboring Trinidad, a not infrequent destination for exiled Venezuelans:

Then, I suddenly go to an island,
And the stores there, the hunting of frogs, the obsequiousness of
a black girl,
Make me formulate happy vigils;

I blow out a great candle:

                  It is the farewell sobbing in my heart.

The anchor that weighs at the bottom of the sea.

(Creature of Habit)

From Trinidad to Paris in the fifties, where he meets Helen Lapidus, who would become his first wife and the mother of his two daughters, Raquel and Celia. In 1951, he publishes his first collection, Helen and the Elements, one of the most accomplished displays of surrealist poetry written in Spanish. From that moment onwards, Sánchez Peláez becomes the most influential poet of Venezuelan lyricism. Juan Liscano has recognized this presence in his well-known Panorama de la literatura venezolana, published in 1973: “Already in 1951, with his first book, Helen and the Elements, Sánchez Peláez signaled a different path that was his own in function of language, of the most sharpened sensibility, closest to the dictates of the unconscious, and to the very conception of the poem, liberated from conceptual traps.” New destinations would take him to exercise diplomatic functions in Bogota and to reside in New York City for several years. In 1959, his second collection of poems, Creature of Habit, appeared, the result of his experiences in Paris and dedicated to the French artist Suzanne Martin, a volume where orthodox surrealism gives way to a poetry of more autobiographical and existential content, and which assimilates his reading of poets neighboring the surrealist experience, such as Henri Michaux and Jean-Pierre Duprey. Upon his return to Venezuela, he works as a radio journalist and spends a year in the city of Valencia (Venezuela) as a founder of the Deparment of Literature at the University of Carabobo. Dark Affiliation comes out in 1966, a return, not completely appreciated, to the hermeticism of his early years. In 1968, he’s invited to the INternational Writers Program at the University of Iowa and in December of the following year, in New York, he meets the Argentine translator Malena Coelho, his partner, and then wife, to the end of his days. In 1970 he returns to Venezuela to live in the Altamira neighborhood of Caracas, where he will receive visits from several generations of Venezuelan poets and of contemporaries from diverse geographies: Gonzalo Rojas, Humberto Díaz-Casanueva, Raúl Gustavo Aguirre, Fernando Charry Lara, Mark Strand, Álvaro Mutis, Sarah Arvio, Nicolás Suescún, Lorenzo García Vega, Carlos Germán Belli, Francisco Madariaga, Enrique Molina, among others. Later on, he will work as the Literary Director for Monte Ávila Editores and in 1976 he receives the National Prize in Literature for his collection Common Traits. That same year he travels to Madrid as Cultural Attaché, where he lives until 1978, when he returns to work on his two latest collections, By What Cause or Nostalgia and Air on the Air. In 2001 he was distinguished by the University of the Andes (Mérida, Venezuela) with a Honoris Causa Doctorate. Sánchez Peláez dies in Caracas on November 20th, 2003. The next year, his widow Malena Coelho was in charge of the definitive edition of his work, Obra poética, for the Spanish publishing house Lumen, perhaps the most representative book of Venezuelan lyric poetry of the 20th century.



Elena y los elementos (1951)
Animal de costumbre (1959)
Filiación oscura (1966)
Lo huidizo y permanente (1969)
Rasgos comunes (1975)
Por cuál causa o nostalgia (1981)
Aire sobre el aire (1989)

{ Alejandro Oliveros, Prodavinci, 30 September 2014 }


El grito insomne / Carolina Lozada

The Insomniac Scream

On October 25th, 1929, José Antonio Ramos Sucre writes a letter to his brother Lorenzo, in which he confesses himself as an unfortunate being and a condemned spirit as a consequence of being raised in an inconsiderate and despotic manner:

“I was locked up in Carúpano. Father Ramos completely ignored the care one should give a child. He incurred in a stupid severity for trivial reasons. That’s why I feel no affection for him. I would spend days and days without going out to the street and I then was assaulted by bouts of desperation and I would spend hours crying and laughing at the same time. I hate the people who were charged with raising me.”

In the same letter he also speaks about his nervous condition: “My mental imbalance is a terror and only fear has stopped me at the threshold of suicide.” However, a few years later, the poet born in Cumaná will lose his fear of death and cross the threshold. In one of his final letters, written to Dolores Emilia Madriz and dated in Geneva on April 24th, 1930, he expounds: “I don’t how I’m doing. But I assure you that I’m not very scared of death;” later on, just a few days before his first suicide attempt, he announces to the same person:

“I will not resign myself to spending the rest of my life, who knows how many years!, in mental decadence. The entire machine has become disorganized. I’m very scared of losing my will to work. I still shave daily. I barely read. I’m discovering in myself a radical change of character. The day after tomorrow I turn forty and it’s been two years since I’ve written anything.”

On June 9th, 1930 he turns forty and tries to commit suicide a second time. On June 13th he dies.

The possibility of suicide as an exit from his tribulations also seduced Kafka, even though it never materialized. On February 15th, 1914 the Czechoslovakian author made a list of what he had done (and wished for) on the previous day; among other things, he writes: “Yesterday afternoon I got my hair cut, then I wrote a letter to Bl.; then I spent a few minutes with Max (...), then, a desire to kill myself.” With a less breezy tone he had noted on August 15th, 1913: “Torments in bed, at dawn. The only solution I could see was jumping out the window.” The constant idea of suicide isn’t the only presence that binds these two writers, there’s also insomnia, the spirit undermined by a nervous frailty. On several occasions, Kafka writes in his diary about how difficult it is for him to get the restorative sleep he needs. In the years leading up to his end he complains, just like Ramos Sucre, about a great physical and spiritual weakness: “I can’t continue writing. I’ve reached the definitive limit (...) This fate pursues me. Once again I feel cold and soulless; there’s nothing left but the senile love of complete repose.”

Conscious of the “mental proximities” between Ramos Sucre and Kafka, Rubi Guerra fictionalizes an encounter between the two in his novel La tarea del testigo (Caracas: El perro y la rana, 2007 / Lugar Común, 2012). The novelist from Cumaná sets both characters in a European sanatorium where they will establish a cordial camaraderie. At the same time he lets himself introduce characters and situations taken from expressionist cinema, such as the recreation of the persecution of the killer in “M,” the vampire from Düsseldorf, the film by Fritz Lang, and the apparition of the somnambulant Cesare, from “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” Through this fictional game, Guerra is able to situate both writers within that spiritual and artistic moment that was created by expressionist angst.

Witnesses during times of war and global terror, Kafka and Ramos Sucre share at a distance the insomniac scream, the uncertainty when facing the tides of their nervous existence. Neither one of them is able to break their fears or insecurities, neither one will recover from his sick body: “the illness forced him to hate his body,” writes Rubi Guerra in La tarea del testigo. In Kafka the enthusiastic and volatile moments of fortitude will deflate: “From today onwards never abandon the diary! Write regularly! Don’t give up!” With his strength overwhelmed, at some point the author of The Process assumes himself as a being “so abandoned by me, by everything.” Pages later he will write: “Dying would be no more than handing over nothing to nothingness.”

Residue” is the title of Ramos Sucre’s last poem and in that text he will begin the path to renunciation, passing through misty places: “I declined my forehead on the plateau of revelations and terror.” The Latin American poet would survive the European novelist only by a few years, and he never renounced the fatalist feeling that marked his life: “I carry in my spirit the desolation of the landscape.”

{ Carolina Lozada, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 24 May 2014 }


Library in Honor of Poet José Antonio Ramos Sucre Inaugurated at UN in Geneva

                  [Photo: Venezuela Mission to the UN Press, Geneva]

Caracas, 24 Sept. AVN. — Venezuela’s permanent mission to the United Nations (UN) paid tribute this Wednesday to the Venezuelan poet José Antonio Ramos Sucre, considered one of the most outstanding writers and intellectuals in the literary history of the country, with the inauguration of a library named after him at the Geneva headquarters for the international institution.

The cereony was presided by the permanent representative for Venezuela at the UN-Geneva, Jorge Valero; Venezuela’s ambassador in Switzerland, César Méndez; and Venezuela’s ambassador in Italy, Isaías Rodríguez, indicated a press release sent by Venezuela’s permanent mission to the UN.

In the library a space was established to display the author’s works along with documents that attest to his presence in Switzerland, where he worked as consul in 1930. During the event a plaque was unveiled as well as a portrait of the author.

Valero commented that this tribute aims to disseminate the work of one of the most erudite lyrical voices from the Americas, and he said that the intellectual from Cumaná is an example of creative discipline in search of the highest aesthetic expression.

Méndez praised the idea of Venezuela’s permanent mission to make known the work of this poet who “left a literary oeuvre worthy of being preserved by future generations.”

José Antonio Ramos Sucre was born on the 9th of June of 1890 in Cumaná and died in Geneva, Switzerland on June 13th, 1930, at age 40.

Some of his texts are gathered in Trizas de papel (1921), Sobre las huellas de Humboldt (1923), La Torre de Timón (1925). In 1929 he published Las formas del fuego and El cielo de esmalte.

{ AVN, 09/24/2014 }


Alfredo Chacón. Ser al decir / Rafael Cadenas

Alfredo Chacón: Being to Speech

We write a great deal of poetry in Venezuela but, to my knowledge, nothing about poetics except what emerges indirectly in articles, criticism or essays about poets. Alfredo Chacón’s book Ser al decir will compensate for this lack.

It is a study done with the care, erudition and depth its author employs when he writes about the topics he has addressed throughout his long career. So it culminates the research he’s been doing for many years. Maybe he’ll tell us about its production tonight.

The book begins with a very encompassing and demanding introduction of an anthropological nature where he establishes the focus through which he will examine the poetics of José Lezama Lima, Octavio Paz, Ida Gramcko, Tomás Segovia, Haroldo de Campos, Alfredo Silva Estrada and someone with whom I don’t get along very well, who happens to have my name.

I’ve spent many days with this book, reading it wherever I could, and I intended to summarize it tonight, but that’s an impossible task even though the book itself is a summary of what these authors think. It has been a defeat of my good will. I’ll try to compensate for myself by outlining a few points of interest in these visions. That way you might be able to appreciate the book’s complexity.

In order to speak about Lezama one must, as Alfredo does, refer to Julián del Casal, Mallarmé and Valéry, each of whom has a cultural background that can’t be ignored. According to the Cuban poet, more than being a literary genre, poetry is “a human possibility taken to extremes” and the poet should write in an ecstasy that’s also “a way of existing.” Our friend Rafael López Pedraza, who knew Lezama personally, told me that the latter was possessed by poetry.

I feel close to Paz when he asserts that “eternity and the absolute don’t exist beyond our senses but rather within them” and what stands out most about him is an invulnerable passion for poetry, to the point that his reflection on it “became second nature.” Alfredo focused on The Bow and the Lyre, and the words by Paz that he chooses give us his poetics in a few pages.

Ida’s poetics is expressed poetically; in that sense it reaches further. It had to be that way. I can’t change her words. It would be impertinent of me to paraphrase Ida.

Tomás Segovia defends the subject “from doctrinaire regimentation, who despite all the airs of an arrogant rationalism, evades” its laws, as Alfredo points out.

Haroldo de Campos is the most inventive of them all: he created “concrete poetry,” which hasn’t been fortunate among us, although part of his work can simply be situated within what we call, with the attending imprecision, modern poetry.

Silva Estrada is familiar to us. He was faithful —Alfredo points out— “to the idea of poetry as a supreme form of existence” and in this direction he had an exemplary constancy, without detours, nor concessions, admirably incorruptible during times of moral failure, blindness, ideologies.

These are a few minimal and embarrassing references for which I’ve apologized to Alfredo, who has absolved me, to my temporary tranquility. I won’t speak about myself, I can only thank his generosity for including me among these creators. I say this sincerely, without a pose, with humility. I think Venezuela needs that. Perhaps it can contribute to healing the country. One hears people speak, especially those in power, with a repugnant arrogance that maybe they associate with the idea of revolution when in my view it is humility that’s truly revolutionary. It is not submission: it coexists with fortitude. As you know, humility comes from “humus” which means earth, as opposed to utopia, from the Greek ou (no) and topos (place), that is, a place that doesn’t exist, a nebulous idea that distances people from the ground they walk on and from the present.

Finally, lovers of poetry, poets, critics should read Ser al decir. This sounds like a promotion, but it’s free and it’s also directed at myself: I intend to continue reading it.

As a tribute to Alfredo I’ll read a short poem written years ago, since it shares affinities with him.

“By means of words
to become
as you were before them.

In order to speak
do you need to be
or do you exist
by speaking?

Being and word
join together
in the space we are.”

Maybe it was written for an occasion like this one.

(Text of the presentation for the book Ser al decir, written by Alfredo Chacón, published by Oscar Todtmann Editores and presented by Rafael Cadenas on August 30th, 2014 at the bookstore Kalathos in Caracas, Venezuela)

{ Rafael Cadenas, Tal Cual, 20 September 2014 }


Gustavo Valle, otro viaje interior / Daniel Fermín

Gustavo Valle, Another Inner Journey

                                  [Photo: Mai Albamonte Pizarro]

Gustavo Valle (Caracas, 1967) had his first migratory experience when he was 17 or 18 years old. That passage through the Gulf of Cariaco later served him when he recreated the landscape in Happening, which won the Multi-Genre Prize of the Sociedad de Amigos de la Cultura Urbana in 2013. A road novel about escape, abandonment, guilt.

“I think escape is a topic that interests me, it’s evident in Venezuela today. Literature doesn’t function like an escape but rather an immersion. Escape translates into a type of unknown map. You don’t know quite where you’re going, but in that movement you might find a few clues.”

The new book by the Venezuelan writer is a story in which the protagonist, a frustrated theater actor, flees after a culpable homicide. An escape that leads him to reencounter himself, his own origins. An existential thriller that is also an inner journey. Like the literature Valle himself enjoys reading and making.

“The main character of my novel confronts extreme situations and the way he finds answers is by going on a trip, or actually an escape, to a remote place. I think that during physical displacements a ferocious mechanism for psychic reflection is activated. My characters are in permanent movement precisely because in that movement they find the answers to those questions that unsettle them.”

Valle is a migrant being. He’s been in Buenos Aires for several years now (before that he spent some time in Spain). His fiction is always bringing him back to his origins. Writing in order to return to memory, to the place he left. His first novel, Bajo tierra (2009), was the product —among other things— of an obsession with Caracas; in Happening, there’s also something of that oppressive city, of that space that expels, or frightens, its inhabitants.

“Writing fiction has moved me to establish my scenes in Venezuela and to imagine the country and its people. More than a reencounter with the country I think it’s a way of surprising myself with it, and of exploring and thinking about it. I mean, it’s an exercise of permanently interpolating my own identity.”

That said, Valle doesn’t write for a Venezuelan reader, nor for any other single nationality. He merely writes, with no other intention.

“Writers simply write for their readers, and before that for themselves, since we’re the first and inevitable reader we have. Readers tend to be a mystery for the writer and writing a book for oneself or for someone else is to aim at a moving target. The best thing is to save that ammunition for the writing itself.”

Valle’s literature tends to evoke memories and nostalgias. Remembering is an exercise of construction, as one of the characters in Happening says. Seeing writing as a form of memory, or —maybe— as a means of remaining through art.

“I believe one of the great tasks of literature and art is to work with memory. And especially in our country, where we’re living through an epidemic of amnesia. But memory, once it’s evoked, modifies itself, transfigures itself, and it moves reality towards a terrain where reflection and judgment can be exercised better. When we turn our glance backwards we’re also imagining our past, which is the best way of looking forward. I mean, without a story there’s no future. But I’m not talking about history’s narrative, which is indispensable, but rather the memory that’s conceived by fiction.”

There’s another phrase in Happening that says, to represent is to be oneself not someone else. Valle thinks writing is also a means of unfolding, of putting on a mask that might be transparent. Or not.

“Not just unpacking yourself, which requires a great deal of bravery, but also unpacking others. Even unpacking everything, if possible: prejudice, power, customs, morality. I mean, when we write we always try to open and unpack. Reality tends to present itself to us in only one of its fronts and the task of the writer is to reveal the others. Just like you on a mask, you can also pull out other ones.”

{ Daniel Fermín, El Universal, 21 September 2014 }


Turba nuestra (o el otro bicentenario) / Eduardo Febres

Our Mob (Or, The Other Bicentenary)

                  [“El Caracazo, 1989” by AVN/Francisco Solórzano]

There’s nothing progress and order fears more than the mob. A belligerent force with no visible head that moves with the infinite power of what no longer fears dying. And in Venezuela, a divinity from which saints emanate.

No one prays literally to the mob: one prays to Ismaelito, to Crude Oil, to Isabel the Kid, who didn’t emerge from the mob, but whom the mob of 1989 spread like the rumor of a coup d’état.

As well as the Our Chávez, which is a product of that mob and has been rejected and prayed to.

Routine. Like the poet Dalton said: “When revolution appears on the horizon the old cauldron of religions heats up.”

What isn’t prayed for to the mob as an entity, is attributed to it as power. The mob of 1989 is the magma that broke the floor of the country’s old story, to eventually solidify itself as a new narrative landscape. That’s why the anti-Chavista imaginary drools at the possibility that the mob might reappear and break what’s been established by the revolution: because all of that was made with the symbolic capital the mob bequeathed it.

Anti-chavismo was wagering on the mob by any means necessary in 2014, and we all know how that turned out. And that’s the possibility that Nicolás Maduro conjures with his so-called Shake-Up (one of the names of the mob) when talking about about political restructuring that fulfills one of Henrique Capriles Radonski’s electoral promises from 2012, to adjust the prices of various regulated products and to announce the imminent increase in the price of gasoline.

Calm down, ladies and gentlemen: there will be no shake-up (no mob), because I’m the one doing the shake-up. No one’s about to come down from the hills because we’re the ones who’ll climb them.

Very clever, but nothing new: the specter of the shake-up has more power in Venezuela than any political party. And nothing explains the economic politics of the Bolivarian revolution (and many other things) better than reading it as an a recurring attempt of that shadow, that seen from a different perspective seems insatiable.

In order to invoke the mob, the aristocrat Leopoldo López chose the most forced and least representative milestone of the bicentennial of the first heroic mob: that 12th of February of 1814, when Venezuelan patriots had their only moment of glory against the armies of servants and slaves who, allied with José Tomás Boves, took over the entire country that year (by the way, the same year the government chooses as its emblem, although Hugo Chávez was thinking of something else).

2014 and 1989 are points of no return in our history when the indisputable protagonist is the mob. But not just any mob. It’s the mob of the people who make everything in this country. The second meaning of the mob [turba] explains it well: “flammable fossil made of residual vegetables accumulated in swampy areas (...) which when burned produces thick smoke” (Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy). A mob that splits history in two isn’t just a group of malcontents on Twitter, hormones and paramilitary friends: it’s the union by contagion of the people that make things move: the fuel of history’s motor.

That also explains the congenital failure of anti-Chavismo in relation to the mob. Two hundred years ago Boves had been in Caracas for two months and he had already recruited the beggars and bums to take them out to work on the plantations, he had given the best positions to blacks, mulattos and “people of color” and he was already intimidating the Spanish crown as well as the flowering English capitalists.

That man (who had yet to read Simón Rodríguez) understood before Simón Bolívar that “the material force resides in the mass and morals of the movement,” and he interpreted better than anyone the desires that were being expressed in a chaotic and dispersed manner by that mob that accompanied him.

Not very different from what Bolívar accomplished in his time, and what the Bolivarian revolution has done in these fifteen years.

And what do you think the 2014 uprising would have accomplished if it had advanced towards the appropriation of the private instead of the destruction of the public?

Only the mob knows.

{ Eduardo Febres, Contrapunto, 17 September 2014 }


Aviso / Heriberto Yépez


I want to make public a decision I took a while ago but that I now want to communicate to my three or four readers, and that I’ve been communicating to my friends in recent days. 2014 marks 20 years since the beginning of the writing project I’ve created under the signature “Heriberto Yépez.” During these two decades I have published over twenty books and written a few more that remain unpublished, for one or another reason. I have decided to conclude this writing project. It can be said that Heriberto Yépez’s oeuvre has concluded. The signature, provisional and only for the following instances, will continue to appear in two places: the weekly column that I write under this name for the cultural supplement Laberinto of the newspaper Milenio and the co-editing of books by Ulises Carrión, in which I share duties. Once these two responsibilities end, this signature also ends. I want to move on to other things in my life and I need to leave behind my phase as an author. I have enjoyed the work I’ve accomplished, but the moment has come to bring it to a close, because life is short and I don’t want to invest time in all that anymore. For professional reasons I can’t stop producing certain writings, but those will appear under a different name and as part of another professional sphere. The only thing left for me to say is that I’m very grateful to all those who collaborated with my work and career, the young man whom you helped accomplish his dream thanks you very much for your help, he’ll always be indebted to you. But that young man is gone. And I must respect his departure, by not taking his name as if it were mine and I, for one, need to take advantage of this event so I can embark on other avenues and, above all, reiterate my gratitude and farewell. A big hug for everyone.

Translator’s note: Yépez has erased his original text at his blog and replaced it with the following words, “I'm grateful for the attention paid to the notice I posted here. Many thanks!”

{ Heriberto Yépez, Archivo Hache, 16 September 2014 }


Sobre Armando Rojas Guardia / Rafael Cadenas

Regarding Armando Rojas Guardia
Words in Presentation of the Anthology Mapa del desalojo

                  [Photo: Armando Rojas Guardia by Manuel Sardá]

What I’ll read tonight are notes. I’ve divided them without following a thread. This will be added by the listeners. My intention was to write a presentation worthy of Armando, who is a classic of our letters, and I now confess that I haven’t been able to, even though I’ve spent many hours in the company of this book. I have read and reread the poems it includes, savoring their rhythm, their expressive precision, their unexpected frankness. I would need more time to explore them and the existential background they speak, in a verbal music, because they are scores.

Armando’s voice comes from deep within. It has a sustenance of Catholic and Christian roots, psychic experiences that are sometimes extreme and a great deal of culture.

That’s where this poetry has emerged from. It’s made with the best words in the language that Christopher Columbus brought us, the one we still speak and which is degraded each day. Above all, the official language of government strips the meanings from the central words of this Republic, which is being dismantled. Nor do we know what language is spoken by those who knocked down the admiral’s statue.

A note on the side. I said “Catholic and Christian” because they’re not the same thing; what’s more, the greatest problem the Church faces is Christianity.

I’m not going to talk about his poetry now: it speaks for itself and I don’t want to interfere in the contact between his poetry and its readers.

I must only warn you that, while it’s true that none of his poems depart from excellence, some of them stand out notably, such as “Falta de mérito,” which summarizes the limitation of language condemned to be a second authority; or number twenty-five of Poemas de Quebrada de la Virgen, where the author fantasizes about probabilities that never took place; “Casi arte poética,” so ironic; “Miro jugar el mundo,” which is about the gratuity of what exists; “Patria,” that summarizes a tragedy, the one we continue to suffer; “La desnudez del loco,” an impassioned defense of difference; but I can’t abound. Now I see that I’ve been unfair to point out various poems, since each one of them communicates so strongly an uncommon experience.

Armando’s words seem to materialize through the strength of what governs them: the corporeal, the physical, the real, names that designate the unknown, since strictly speaking, what do we know? This insurmountable ignorance is covered by the word God, erected as the highest being, what is unthinkable: “An existing God would be frightening,” says Antonio Machado, “God save us from him.” This notion that seems like a joke situates us before an essential matter: the impossibility of that name having an image. This is why Christ is referred to, but no description of him exists either.

Oscura lucidez is a book by Jonatan Alzuru Aponte that I’ve also been reading. It shouldn’t go unnoticed. Besides leading us through Armando’s jungle, it presents the singularity of being multiform: diary, essay, notes, dialogue, criticism are interwoven there, poetically. It makes one want to write that way, without clinging to a form, guiding oneself by means of what one lives. Jonatan’s study, which took him years to complete, seems indispensable to me for anyone who wants to know about his friend’s work as well as his. Both of them are intertwined in Oscura lucidez [Dark Lucidity], an accepted oxymoron.

The prologue by Adalber Salas Herneandez and the epilogue by the author contain other visions that complement those offered by the book.

I coincide with many of Armando’s ideas. I’ll choose one: the importance of attention, which by situating us in the present, is the only portion of eternity we are given, dissolving time. In one of his aphorisms José Antonio Ramos Sucre considers it thus: “Time is an invention of watchmakers.” I imagine very few readers have taken this affirmation seriously, which seems so relevant to our era. Schrödinger, a scientist, says in an unbeatable manner: Eternally only exists now. The absolute is here, where else would it be. Life is not somewhere else, it exists where we exist. According to Hinduism sarigara is Nirvana. Buddha would be what’s happening at this moment, beyond and within ourselves.

Finally, listen to the poems the author will read, enjoy his poetry spoken in his own voice, and afterwards do it alone with the book, slowly, reading and rereading.

When I wrote these lines my granddaughter’s cat approached me to ask for her food, it was what I was writing at that moment. This is another one.

NOTE: The poems in Armando Rojas Guardia, Mapa del desalojo: Poemas escogidos were selected by Adalber Salas and published by Fundación Común Presencia, Colombia, 2014. The presentation took place in the bookstore El Buscón in Caracas, on July 17th, 2014.

{ Rafael Cadenas, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 14 September 2014 }


Poesía por mandato. Antología personal, de Juan Calzadilla / Néstor Mendoza

Poetry by Mandate: Personal Anthology, by Juan Calzadilla

Words don’t reflect us like mirrors, exactly,
though I would hope so.
I write with an obsessive question in my ears:
Is this the exact word or is it the echo of another one
not more beautiful but more speculative?
José Watanabe

I return to Juan Calzadilla’s writing, after several years of opportune silence. I have voluntarily allowed it to become a natural pulse. I stopped reading him with an adolescent fruition: now I approach him with the necessary tranquility so as to not say too much or too little, to not fall for the embrace that compresses or the forced greeting.

As I write these notes I appeal to strangeness. If a poet is capable of resisting second and third readings, after years of rest and forgetfulness, then he has attained the virtue of permanence. The voluntary distancing clears up the arguments somewhat, defines the outlines more clearly. I’ve been able to corroborate this in his poem “Los cazadores orantes” [The Praying Hunters]; the long breath of the versification, the measured and delicate description that renews taste and closeness: “Mystery shelters / and turns the dusk clouds into a prodigy / of the image that while sliding by / leaves only the mobile resonance / of a frond changing colors.”

I warm up, stretch my muscles and prepare myself for this new contact. It’s no longer about habitual topics, about the I that fragments itself or about the city’s contradictory pedestrians. What attracts me isn’t the meta-textual discourse, that tends to seduce at first glance. Now I search the folds and wrinkles, the slight whistling to be found inside the shell. Calzadilla is more stimulating whenever he momentarily eludes the reflections of alterity: when he forgets about the hall of mirrors.

Since approximately two decades ago, nearly all his publications have appeared as anthologies. The texts configure new volumes: they occupy a new place and a new distribution. One might say it’s a game in which the cards (pieces, poems) permute their original positions, in this way achieving new readings and visions. He has expressed this in his own work: “My mobility is what brings it to life.” Calzadilla is a proofreader, incisive and demanding.

We could highlight one thing: in this recent book, our poet has defined his texts discursively and thematically. Poesía por mandato gathers lyrical poems in dialogue with meta-fictional writing; in other words, poems with diverse motives, poetic prose, glosses, microfictions and aphorisms. A book with these qualities changes the critical perspective. You begin to have doubts regarding the borders of genre, the distribution of texts, the prose and the verses. This compilation, as Calzadilla has so opportunely subtitled it, is a “personal” anthology and not a “poetry” anthology. Maybe he’s trying to clear up for us that, besides poems (according to the traditional manner of conceiving them), there are also other expressive varieties that coexist, all those facets he has explored. His writing, varied and elastic, doesn’t transit through one single terrain; on the contrary, it bifurcates, branches and extends. Poesía por mandato is a meta-anthology, a major anthology.

I try to take an inventory of the titles he’s released up to now. There are many of them, no doubt. He’s a prolific poet: the number of anthologies is likewise numerous. Placed in perspective, it’s possible for one to believe that this eagerness for publication and corrections follows a concrete motive: the definitive piece, carved over and over. For Calzadilla, the poem is perfectible and fallible. I can almost recreate a hypothetical scene: an old artisan who isn’t satisfied with the final touches on a piece, who returns to it, with rigor and watchfulness, and displays it generaously for everyone to see.

This Poesía por mandato isn’t dictated by a pack of hounds but rather by serenity and reflection. It tends toward the free theorization of the poem, the ironic precept. Calzadilla argues and orients: he narrates, displays, argues, describes, dialogues, gives orders.

Calzadilla’s oeuvre is tinged by a certain degree of culture: citations, epigraphs, mentions and reinventions of certain passages in art and literary history (Bretón, Balzac, Rodin, Picasso, Pessoa, Ithaca, Ramos Sucre, Reverón). Each one of those presences, in this symphonic colloquium, defines and articulates his style (his styles).

Poesía por mandato accomplishes what Gustavo Guerrero has called transversal writing, which “blends different genres of discourse and often plays with the borders of the literary institution.” The consolidated valorization of him as an urban poet, belonging to the city, becomes diffuse. Calzadilla’s motivations aren’t thematic but instead discursive. The topic lies beneath the great skin of the discourse.

Texts read during the presentation of the book Poesía por mandato. Antología personal, by Juan Calzadilla (Monte Ávila Editores Latinoamericana, 2014); at the 11th World Poetry Festival of Venezuela 2014.

{ Néstor Mendoza, Monte Ávila Editores, September 2014 }


Luis Camilo Guevara (1937-2014)

                  [Photo: Casa Nacional de las Letras Andrés Bello]

Incessant Carriage of Night

In high temperatures I lift the stem
above the contrary winds
thrashed by electronic ghosts very certain
of joining the incessant carriage of night
to the nucleus of what will never be free
perverse fires tied by my vertebrae
smoke carnivorous plants floating countries mirages
ineffable matter of living
in these immediate spaces
with no end to the marine retreat or its voices
Days of July and frogs rule
along with birds and strong crews
I contemplate that debris those geological faults
the dazzling beacons that submit all rigors
to the vice of the unknown
crawling bites of language
my buzzing is an outrageous image rebounding from heaven
This fragile invention hosts me in the earth like a tiger
I don’t rest when I open the door
Foolishness subjugates
my limit sinks but is resolute
Fiesta fiesta for me who love and wager against shadows


                                                      To Wilda

There will always be a hiding place
so we don’t destroy the sky
and leave it there in good hands
I have an exact idea of extermination
but I frequent this absolute joy of you
which is another illusion as perfect
as death
In the dream you have another name another waist
other worthy springs so perfectly white
another poisonous invention another native beginning
sometimes confused with the terrible depths of my
the ones that were my sins for a while
I solicit affection from that time and it exiles me
to the same habitual herbariums
to the single madness
of the already impossible to understand return
When I speak of you reality resists the melancholia
of visible torment and ferments like a liquor
drunk in that indelible Delta.

Translator’s Note: Luis Camilo Guevara was born in the city of Tucupita, Delta Amacuro state, in 1937. During the 1960s and 1970s he formed part of the literary group La Pandilla de Lautréamont (The Lautréamont Gang). He died in Caracas on September 3rd, 2014. These two poems were originally published in the magazine Libre (Paris, 1972).


Alfredo Chacón reflexiona sobre el decir poético / Andreína Martínez Santiso

Alfredo Chacón Reflects On Poetic Speech

             [Photo: Williams Marrero]

Alfredo Chacón confesses that ever since he started to write, nearly sixty years ago, he has felt a strong attraction to discovering the mysteries, enchantments and possibilities of poetry. Throughout his career he has reflected on this in his texts, but those concerns haven’t ceased. On the contrary, they continue to be present each day.

He tries to answer some of those questions he’s asked himself, without finding any definitive answers, in his most recent book: Ser al decir [Being to Speech], published by Oscar Todtmann Editores. It’s his way of sharing his thoughts not only with a specialized public, but with readers who feel an admiration for poetry, but in his opinion feel condemned to remain outside of it because they consider it incomprehensible, distant, directed only towards an elite.

“The idea exists that speech is a somewhat superfluous function of life. People say words are carried away by the wind, but in reality it’s actually the human function that possibly defines us in the most exclusive manner. When I checked the dictionary to seek its definition, I was thrilled: “To speak is to manifest thought with words.” I don’t think there’s a more precise way of saying it,” expresses the poet born in 1937 in San Fernando de Apure.

The author of Salima, Palabras asaltantes and Materia bruta points out that for him it’s more important to emphasize that the word is a responsibility of all human beings and not just of writers and poets. “The poem isn’t just a diversion, a cultural form, it’s also the act of being. There’s a blindness regarding that human possibility that exists in everyone. Speech is an attribute, a faculty, a possibility, while it also gives us an immense advantage in the cosmos, it demands that we be intense, respectful, that we don’t use the matter of speech as something to be abused. Many people think words are there to be used in prejudice against others and that’s a tragedy.”

Chacón doesn’t limit himself to reflecting on poetry from his own perspective. He also establishes a dialogue with the reflections of Latin American writers like José Lezama Lima, Octavio Paz, Ida Gramcko, Tomás Segovia, Haroldo de Campos, Rafael Cadenas and Alfredo Silva Estrada.

“I chose various texts by those authors and I read them deeply. Then, I did something I’d like to see in some books: I placed their reflections alongside my own. In that way, my word and that of other poets are intertwined... I try to speak with what I’ve been taught by the immense experience inherited from Plato onwards, but from my own experience. Knowing that in relation to poetry one is inevitably limited to a not knowing. Because you can say where the general phenomenon of poetry emerges from, but you can’t describe how it happened nor can you calculate why it happens,” adds Chacón, whose work has been distinguished with the prize for prose at the José Rafael Pocaterra Biennial (1980) and the poetry prize at the Mariano Picón Salas Literary Biennial (1991).

{ Andreína Martínez Santiso, El Nacional, 30 August 2014 }