Fernando Paz Castillo: Nuestro poeta metafísico / Rafael Arráiz Lucca

Fernando Paz Castillo: Our Metaphysical Poet

Fernando Paz Castillo was a Caracas native and this, though it might seem trivial, is important for understanding his work. He sees the light of the world on April 11th, 1893 in the valley presided by Mount Ávila. From a young age he suspects that mountain will be a guardian angel of sorts throughout his very long life, regardless of how many periods of time he’ll spend far from the mountain, taken to other metropolises by the fate of the diplomat.

Thanks to his life in Caracas, he studies at a French school, where they combine a religious education with the language of Voltaire. There he develops a friendship with his future companions in a band of poets: Enrique Planchart and Luis Enrique Mármol, with whom the fire of friendship will keep growing under the flame of the poem’s candle.

The Poet and the Circle

But before the capital event of his formative period, Paz Castillo frequents, like all his generational companions the Circle of Bellas Artes. Already, the painters Manuel Cabré, the Monsanto brothers and the rebellious Armando Reverón were battling with the palette, the legendary Circle had broken with the academicism of Don Antonio Herrera Toro, the director of the Academy at that time, they’d taken their colors and had gone into the open air to paint landscapes. The young Paz Castillo formed part of that period of very close relationships between painters and poets, and there actually are some who suggest that the idea for the name of the Circle is the poet’s, rather than one the painters.

The Circle has contact with the members of the Alborada group: Rómulo Gallegos, Enrique Soublette, Julio Rosales and the enormous poet Salustio González Rincones, when he was in Venezuela. But the painters are also in contact with the members of the poetic Generation of 1918. Perhaps the most significant of poetic generations to have existed during the Venezuelan 20th century.

Paz Castillo is a protagonist of that generation, along with his previously mentioned elementary school friends and Jacinto Fombona Pachano, Andrés Eloy Blanco, Rodolfo Moleiro and the uncomfortable José Antonio Ramos Sucre. The year 1918, as we know, refers to the days when these young men offered public recitals and a poetry collection by Enrique Planchart was published. But Paz Castillo doesn’t lose sleep over the magic of publication. His first poetry collection, La voz de los cuatro vientos, was published in 1931, when the year 1918 was already a memory, and its members were scattered across the national and international geography. The poet was thirty-eight years old when he decided to reveal his poems to the public, although many of the texts in that collection had been read in periodical publications and newspapers.

The following year he travels to Spain, this being the first stop abroad in his journey, but the diplomat still doesn’t begin his functions. It was under the government of General López Contreras that Paz Castillo is sent as Consul to Barcelona, to then become secretary for the Delegation to Paris, and afterwards to Argentina and Brazil. Between 1936 and 1938, four countries receive his luggage, in the exhausting routine of the diplomatic functionary. Later on come London, Mexico, Belgium, Ecuador and Canada, until from 1959 onwards he retires and settles his destiny in the city that saw him born.

The Door That is “The Wall”

During his long and exhausting diplomatic itinerary he never stopped writing and publishing, but his best work doesn’t emerge during those years. Maybe the minutiae of his job are a distraction from the poems of longer breath that await him, maybe the careful attention toward his family distances him from the poem. Once he returns to Venezuela the poet occupies himself seriously with his work: he not only gathers and organizes his substantial production in newspapers but he also saves it from oblivion housing it in books. His valuable reflections on the plastic arts, regarding the making of poems, about the figures of our republican history are saved from the ocean of newspapers. Enthusiasm invades the man who seems to live as though he had regained his freedom, and it’s then the poet’s gift reaches its peak. What had been gestating since his second collection, Signo (1937), and had found its nearly definitive course in Enigma del Cuerpo y el Espíritu (1956), precipitates magnificently in “The Wall” (1964).

This text, which I judge to be one of the best in Venezuelan poetry, is the most finished, the most profound work by Paz Castillo. I don’t disdain the ones that came later, but they can’t be explained at all without the door the poet opened with “The Wall.” From his later period a startling poem shines in particular: “Misterio,” included in the collection Pautas (1973), and also resounding in their depth are the texts that make up Persistencias (1975), a collection in which the cleanness of the verses reaches its purest state. But “The Wall” is the sun of the poet’s planetary system. Curiously, it was written and published when the Caracas native was nearly seventy years old and already considered a poet with an exalted oeuvre.

Everything happened slowly with Paz Castillo: not just the beginning of his literary life, when he first published at the edge of being forty, but also the glory of his major poem arrives when he’s in his seventies. His life, seen from a distance, seems to have been structured by the premonition of its expansion.

Between Light and Penumbra

The poet’s ghosts gather in “The Wall.” Death arrives punctual and plants the flag of doubt. The anguish of uncertainty also plants its flag: what will happen to us once we cross the wall, the wall of death; what is there on the other side of life. A bird, this time a vulture (maybe Poe’s raven) passes from one side to the other with no difficulty. We, who aren’t made for flight, remain facing the dividing line, giving shape to the clay with our hands. But the wall, more than an arrow of certainty, is the figure that inquires, the one who asks a single question on this side. The poem cites that other column in Paz Castillo’s work: God, the sacred meaning of existence and, alongside that, the afternoon, the poet’s favorite time of day, the ambiguous zone between light and penumbra. As we see, in “The Wall” he not only manages to express his philosophy of life but also gathers all his ghosts, all the pieces in the labyrinth of his work.

I want to think, and nothing stops me from this conjecture, that the wall in the poem is Mount Ávila, the guardian mountain of the poet’s childhood and youth. For us Caracas natives who love the mountain and, especially, its silhouette drawn by the light of the afternoon, the mountain seems to us like a dividing line, like a wall that preserves us from the world, like a wall capable of building our urban region, like a hulk that separates us from the sea and, in doing so, makes the sea the horizon’s only scene. We don’t know if we’ve learned how to see the mountain in the manner Paz Castillo’s “The Wall” has taught us or if, instead, when we read the poem we think of the city’s mountain. It doesn’t matter what came first: what is significant is that between nature’s creation and the poet’s, the matrimony is reconciled indissolubly.

There are lives that offer extraordinary similitudes: Cabré, ninety years old, devoted to the mountain; Paz Castillo, eighty-eight, a demiurge of the mountain’s metaphysical possibilities. Both sons of the glorious moment of dialogue: the Circle of Bellas Artes and the Generation of 1918.

A Poet is a Reader

Borges alluded countless times to the pride he felt about the books he had read, more than the ones he’d written. As far as I know, Paz Castillo never affirmed something similar, but he could have, since he was a voracious reader. He didn’t just read the words that books offered him, he also understood the grammar of painters. Reading, though this might not seem true, hasn’t been an extensive habit among Venezuelan writers. This is still the case. Venezuela is a country so slack in some paths, that it’s perfectly possible to be an academic of language and to read a book every time a pope dies, or to be a professor of literature and, deep down, to hate writing and hold up The Poem of the Cid as a contemporary poem and yet be considered a writer, or also, a poet, a word for which slackness is absolute. It was rare then, and it continues to be, for a Venezuelan poet to love reading. The majority affirm, with naive brazenness, that they prefer writing to reading. Contrary to that, Paz Castillo’s oeuvre is the work of a reader.

From the confession where he manifests himself as a devotee of Don Quixote, read several times throughout his long life, until the poetry of Antonio Machado, the universe of readings in Spanish of the Caracas poet include Darío, Manrique, Unamuno and, most particularly, St. Thomas Aquinas. In Shakespeare’s tongue, he drank from the pages of Whitman, Wordsworth and Keats. He stopped in Verlaine, Mallarmé, Apollinaire, Breton, Éluard, manifesting a particular interest in French poetry. He was no stranger to the work of Nietzsche and of the Prague native Rainer Maria Rilke. He was also an attentive reader of his generation. He was able to maintain a writer’s life, no matter how many hours the affairs of the office might steal from him. His reading was guided by pleasure, on the one hand, and by the trembling of a search, on the other. His poetry is marked by the anxiety of discovery: from perplexity, the poet elevates a prayer toward the heights seeking an answer. He was touched by the fervor of the awakened.

{ Rafael Arráiz Lucca, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 29 March 2015 }


Arrival of the Remains of José Antonio Ramos Sucre

Painful and solemn moments were lived by the family and admirers of the ill-fated and enormous writer José Antonio Ramos Sucre, at the port of La Guaira, upon the arrival of his remains. The coffin wrapped in a wooden case was transported on the shoulders of his friends to the chapel of San Juan de Dios Hospital, where it would remain while waiting to continue its journey to Cumaná, the birthplace of the artist. A man of strange and profound spiritual talents, José Antonio Ramos Sucre built an extraordinary atmosphere around himself, of an elevated aesthetic quality, that prevented him from easy and multitudinous comprehension. Few, very few people managed to cross the threshold of his intimacy and share, at his side, the noble and anguished fruition of his pondering upon beauty, upon those hallucinating perspectives he tended to digest in slow interminable gulps, from the heights of his resounding solitude. One can still find among the avenues of Plaza Bolívar, those exact syllables that composed his lanceolate and irreproachable words and which his learned tongue set to sail in the transparent air of the afternoons. His arms continue to reel, pushing nervous, frenetic gusts toward his interlocutor... On this painful occasion of his inert return to the Homeland, his disappearance pains us, once again, like a rupture. Élite reiterates to his family and especially to his honorable mother, the expression of its deepest condolences.

Arrival of the corpse in the wagon :: The coffin lying in repose
(Photos by Eduardo Lanz R. for Élite)

Translator’s Note: Thank you to Javier Prats for scanning & sending me this image from Venezuela.

{ Élite, Caracas, July 1930 }


Caracas / Francisco Catalano


                  [Caracas, 2010. Guillermo Parra]

Caracas my Caracas: nuclear Caracas: Caracas overflowing point a valley one kilometer from the water: Caracas cell: Caracas alphabet soup of foul-mouthed corners: bubble Caracas: oxygen explosions Caracas: Caracas village: Caracas of my pedestrian word: suffocated and suffocating Caracas: Caracas... and a sky of ellipses: Caracas sunset on the Fajardo freeway sheltering smoked solitudes at 20%: Caracas furious winged heights: Caracas minutely calculated role of an idiot riddled with bullet holes: Caracas of the Motorized lord: Pontifical Caracas of gangster & police funerals: Caracas schizophrenic girl with psychic menstruation and a blade in her hand: Caracas mother Lionza sacrificing her pelvis toward the sky: Caracas “touch and go”: Caracas Pedagógico, Jachico and Distrito: Caracas of immigrants with no tourists: Caracas and parents from the provinces: Caracas and European grandparents: Caracas childhood to and fro: Caracas 462-0886: Caracas the Cuadrito de San Juan: Caracas, tower C, 8th floor, apt. 84: Caracas Valley of Bullets: Caracas Rotten Town: Caracas Ultrafunk: Caracas Sentimiento Muerto: Caracas Zapato 3: Caracas Desórden Público: Caracas Greenwich Pub: Caracas La Belle Époque: Caracas El Maní es Así: Caracas cubic mountain to the potency and to the potency: laminated Caracas of “Caracas, Caracas... I love this city so much”: Caracas jungle of beasts that repeat and repeat: “everything else is snakes and mountains”: Caracas of “C’mon, c’mon, Caracas / Give me another star”: Caracas Ávila-wave building a wall around us like a totem-compass: Caracas macaw skylight: Caracas infinite paleolithic light: Caracas of vulture archangels: Caracas fat and volatile smog poems: Caracas one more one the same one and always one: Caracas Chromosaturation: Caracas Soto’s Sphere: Caracas mediocre mural of Bolívar crying in El Paraíso: ultra Caracas of the fifties: ultra Caracas of the two thousands: promised ambidextrous Caracas I still dream of: Caracas overpopulated pressure cooker: Caracas of my anti-Caraqueño natives so addicted to Caracas: Caracas without a center, but inside: Caracas Cabrujas: Meneses: Grupo Tráfico: El Techo de la Ballena: República del Este: Caracas of the red tile rooftops, inconceivable today: mythical Caracas of Lions, with unconquered mane: Caracas of chieftain spirits, still the lords of the valley: head of an acephalous country: legalized urbanistic accident: palimpsest of shipwrecks you erase and write and rewrite all its names: fuck: let them bury me in your valley and plant a giant Araguaney above me.

{ Francisco Catalano, Caracas a Cámara, 21 March 2015 }


El último gran surrealista: Juan Sánchez Peláez / Edgardo Dobry

The Last Great Surrealist: Juan Sánchez Peláez

                  [Juan Sánchez Peláez in 1979, by Vasco Szinetar]

The seven books the Venezuelan Juan Sánchez Peláez published between 1951 and 1989 are gathered in a single volume. A baroque union of mysticism and eroticism.

Juan Sánchez Peláez, Obra poética (Barcelona, España: Lumen, 2004)

The recent disappearance of Juan Sánchez Peláez (Altagracia de Orituco, 1922 - Caracas, 2003) gives this book the entity of a final milestone, the solemnity of a closure: with the deaths in recent years of the Peruvian Emilio Adolfo Westphalen, and the Argentines Olga Orozco and Enrique Molina, Sánchez Peláez was the last of the great representatives of the enormous plateau that Surrealism reached in Latin American poetry. Our tenacious baroque vocation —the American tendency of looking at words as if they were carnal objects as recent and astonishing as the world they needed to name— and a certain epic spirit in the cultivation of the 20th century aesthetic Left favored that great impetus of the movement founded by Breton. A chapter that opens in 1928, just four years after the publication of the first “Surrealist Manifesto,” when the magazine Qué appears in Buenos Aires, founded by Aldo Pellegrini. At that time Neruda was in Rangoon writing his first Residence on Earth and a few years later Lezama Lima, in Havana, was announcing the “Death of Narcissus”: “The hand or the the lip or the bird were snowing.”

The word, streaked with divergent senses, strips its own materiality. If the accent in the Surrealism of the Americas is markedly erotic, as for example with the Chilean Rosamel del Valle (an explicit influence on Sánchez Peláez), it is, in the first place, because of that visibility of the word as an unsettling object, dislocated from its reference: “The words sound like gold animals,” writes Sánchez Peláez. He appeared at the beginning of the 1950s in the vortex of that movement that had transformed poetry into a laboratory of rare images: his first book, Elena y los elementos (1951), which opens with an epigraph from Éluard as a declaration of principles, takes hold of the surrealist imaginary almost violently: “Milk bread of the moon, dark drum of cereals / Precipice of clouds that drowned my sleeping face in the waters.” Filiación oscura (1966), Lo huidizo y permanente (1969) and Rasgos comunes (1975) represent the most powerful zone of his voice, in search of a you whose encounter doesn’t, however, alleviate anxiety: “To her, my ritual of drinking at her breast because I want / to begin something, in some direction.”

A baroque union of mysticism and eroticism, as Valente noted regarding Westphalen, with words that also apply to Sánchez Peláez: “He belongs by nature and lineage to a tradition marked by the intense exploration of poetic language.” Eugenio Montejo, relatedly, designs a Venezuelan genealogy when he situates him as a descendant of José Antonio Ramos Sucre (1890-1930): “From him Sánchez Peláez inherits the emphatic and sumptuous tracing of the word.” Ramos Sucre (whose Obra poética, Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Poética, 1999, is available), one of the rare geniuses who appeared after the dissolution of Modernismo, wrote almost exclusively prose poems, in the wake of Rimbaud’s Illuminations and the Baudelairean spleen, but already closer to the progressive abstraction that Symbolism operated on the construction of the phrase. Sánchez Peláez was also a master of the prose fragment, which he alternated with verse in nearly all his books. This barely posthumous compilation of his poetry reveals, complete, the images of a journey through one of the most extreme territories of poetic invention.

{ Edgardo Dobry, El País, 18 September 2004 }


El escándalo del sujeto-concepto: Kenneth Goldsmith / Heriberto Yépez

The Subject-Concept Scandal: Kenneth Goldsmith

On March 13th, the well-known writer Kenneth Goldsmith read a poem titled “The Body of Michael Brown” at Brown University. It was an appropriation of the autopsy report for the African American young man murdered by a police officer in Ferguson in 2014; this lynching has provoked huge protests against persistent racism in the United States. As soon as news of Goldsmith’s poem circulated, the polemic exploded on the Internet.

On his Facebook page Goldsmith justified that the poem gives continuity to his work, based on the appropriation of texts. Then he asked the university to not make the video available.

I’ve already written about my political disagreement with Goldsmith. Now I’d like to make note his conceptual inconsistency.

Goldsmith advocates for an uncreative writing derived from textual appropriation in the era of electronic distribution. But his work is actually a re-creative writing of the manner in which the gravity of reports is destroyed by the neoliberal system.

Goldsmith has transformed into art the kind of appropriations usually conducted by media, corporations and the U.S. government.

A key tactic of this conceptualism is to deny the geopolitics that make this re-creative aesthetic possible; applauded, literally, by the White House.

In the face of the indignation provoked by his re-creation of a report about the cadaver of a victim of racial ultra-violence, Goldsmith tried to allege there were no bad intentions.

This is an inconsistency because Goldsmith himself has insisted for years that his works are derived from concepts removed from the Romantic subject. But by defending himself morally, Goldsmith recurs to the poetic subject he claims to have left behind.

In order for Goldsmith to be consistent with his art he should stop feigning innocence or justifying his re-creations.

If Goldsmith wants to be consistent he should let him himself be completely appropriated by the logic of the U.S. government. He should become a subject-concept ruled by neoliberalism and rigorously embrace the brutality, the looting and the total program of capital.

The legacy of Goldsmith will be to have emptied North American literary experimentalism of any anti-capitalist critique. If he doesn’t want to undermine that legacy, he should take it to its final consequences instead of appealing to personal motivations or retreating into alleged misunderstandings or good intentions.

Goldsmith will make a contribution to the history of poetry if he finishes the job of burying the last remnants of the lyrical I and transforms it into a conceptual-subject predetermined by capital.

Kenneth: you shouldn’t abandon the inner logic of your work. On the contrary, you should allow capitalism to completely appropriate your literary-persona, instead of trying to justify it by means of your moral-persona. You’re a neo-imperial artist. Don’t sabotage that function with a retro-romantic artist’s discourse.

Besides, that literary work and persona already incarnate the desire for beautifying the Capital Concept.

And don’t forget, the crisis will be transnational —or will not be at all.

{ Heriberto Yépez, Archivo Hache, Suplemento Laberinto, Milenio (México D.F.), 21 March 2015 }


La foto como policía del arte / Heriberto Yépez

The Photo as Art Police

The relationship between the writer and photography tended to be retrospective; we knew of a consecrated or dead author through his old photographs; the Internet drastically modified that relationship and today we know the photographs first and then (perhaps) the literary work of writers.

Serious problem: photography is the Great Normalizer, and being photogenic is proof that everything is OK: you love, enjoy, work, consume, rest, exist, wear, sell obeying each clause of the social contract.

A portrait is always the certification of an obedience to control; the police embedded in the retina. The change in the relationship between literature and photography has turned out to be one more factor in the normalization of the writer that characterizes this age of verbal arts.

Note, for example, the function of the photo in experimentalism: writing can desire to be non-communicative, to elude realism and passive-reading; but the person who writes experimentally, on the other hand, wants to be recognizable, real, transparent, present, communicable, familiar thanks to his/her photos.

This is the great inconsistency of experimentalism and all literature today. Its addiction to photography reveals its surrender to capital.

Photography has made commercial literature more commercial and experimental literature more acceptable.

Being a writer today means appearing in photographs. If there’s an announcement for a reading, book or event we’ll see a photo of the writer. Participating in the literary means appearing in a photo.

The book matters less; the main genres are album and pic.

Photography is the most reactionary art of our time; it’s at least 100 years behind contemporary art. However, contemporary art depends on the patronage of the portrait.

The writer becomes a “personality”; the text is merely the product sold by the “celebrity.”

While the book is in crisis, the figure of the writer, on the other hand, has become more relevant.

It’s no coincidence we now have writers who don’t write and are famous in the spectacle of the Humanities.

We’ve arrived at the moment when no radical innovation of artistic form will happen without a radical critique of the spectacle.

The absence of radicalism in the present literary, theoretical and artistic moment, in general, is evidenced by the naturalization of the photo as the author’s calling card.

Photography is the pillar of the spectacle. But through his use of the portrait, the writer undermines the distance, the estrangement of art.

The photo is the writer’s signature with the classes in power and with consumptive taste. The portrait expresses his affinity with those who dominate and his attractiveness and accessibility for consumption.

If the writer refuses to break the photographic contract, writing, nonetheless, will break its contract with the writer.

{ Heriberto Yépez, Archivo Hache, Suplemento Laberinto, Milenio (México D.F.), 14 March 2015 }


¿Por qué el aire está lleno de almas? / Patricia Guzmán

Why is the air full of souls?

If no one answers I’ll drag the fleur-de-lis

If no one answers I’ll drag the fleur-de-lis

I know the forms of the enigma are many

I know I should watch out for what’s weak

There’s a certain vagueness in innocence

The innocents hurry suffering

Who could have told them that roses grow, don’t live?

The lies should be big ones

The lies should have the architecture of the sacred

That way the flowers can grow upward

That way the eyes can grow upward

That’s how we dream ourselves

Canto, augury canto

Canto de oficio (1997)

{ Patricia Guzmán, Con el ala alta: 1987-2003, Mérida, Venezuela: Ediciones El otro, el mismo, 2004 }


Mi esposo me ha dicho que me mire en la copa / Patricia Guzmán

My husband has told me to look at myself in the glass

The glass is not for drinking

The glass is for whetting one’s hair in it

Whoever drinks knows their affiliation

I don’t know mine

I don’t care if the roads end

There’s a wing over there

Who lost it?

The wing fell into the glass

My husband has told me to look at myself in the glass

The bedroom is dark

I’m learning how to keep quiet

Canto de oficio (1997)

{ Patricia Guzmán, Con el ala alta: 1987-2003, Mérida, Venezuela: Ediciones El otro, el mismo, 2004 }


No hablo / Patricia Guzmán

I don’t speak

To keep the bird

in the mouth

I don’t kiss

So no tongue

touch its chest

I don’t sleep

So he won’t get scared

Who’s asking about him?

Canto de oficio (1997)

{ Patricia Guzmán, Con el ala alta: 1987-2003, Mérida, Venezuela: Ediciones El otro, el mismo, 2004 }


Me sangra la boca cuando miro al cielo / Patricia Guzmán

My mouth bleeds when I look at the sky

But I won’t go for water

I’ll bang my head against the rock

I’ll bang my face against the flower

No one will remember the reasons of the bird

Canto de oficio (1997)

{ Patricia Guzmán, Con el ala alta: 1987-2003, Mérida, Venezuela: Ediciones El otro, el mismo, 2004 }


Dónde mi ruina / Patricia Guzmán

Where my ruin

Where the sea

is a door

or a hand

the stones I kiss
kiss and undo

Canto de oficio (1997)

{ Patricia Guzmán, Con el ala alta: 1987-2003, Mérida, Venezuela: Ediciones El otro, el mismo, 2004 }


Recojo pájaros / Patricia Guzmán

I pick up birds

with my mouth

I pick up birds

if they’re dead

if they’re cold

Before the day

I cover their eyes

with wet bread

I open their mouth

so they’ll pray

For me

Canto de oficio (1997)

{ Patricia Guzmán, Con el ala alta: 1987-2003, Mérida, Venezuela: Ediciones El otro, el mismo, 2004 }


Creación y sombras / Antonio López Ortega

Creation and Shadows

                                            [Eugenio Montejo, 2007, by Gorka Lejarcegi]

An essential 20th century Venezuelan poet, Eugenio Montejo, died in June of 2008. Very few friends went to his wake in a dilapidated funeral home in downtown Valencia, a city in which he grew up, studied and cofounded the legendary magazine Poesía, for many years a reference in the creation and dissemination of poetry throughout the Latin American continent. Montejo had also been, in the last stage of his life, a functionary with the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, where he not only directed with the novelist Elisa Lerner the magazine Venezuela, a type of cultural display window for the country, but he also took on with accreditation the task of being a cultural consul in Lisbon. From there he dedicated himself to disseminating Venezuelan literature in Portugal and Portuguese literature in Venezuela. Portuguese emigration to Venezuela during the first half of the 20th century, which many estimate to be approximately half a million inhabitants, spoke of unbreakable ties and presupposed a great deal of exchange programming. However, the sleeplessness of an intelligent and faithful functionary wasn’t enough, nor was the National Prize in Literature conferred in 1998 or the Octavio Paz International Poetry Prize he was awarded in 2005, for the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry or the government that proclaims itself as Bolivarian to send a flower wreath or to even publish a brief obituary in the national press. Those glories, it’s understood, didn’t belong to them, and so the only they saw in the Valencia funeral home was an unburied corpse.

This behavior is repeated almost exactly with other great writers. Neither the novelist Salvador Garmendia (1928-2001), perhaps the most important of the last five decades; nor the fiction writer Adriano González León (1931-2008), awarded the Biblioteca Breve Prize in 1968 in Spain for his novel País portátil; nor the poet Juan Sánchez Peláez (1922-2003), an avant-garde voice par excellence; none of them deserved a single tribute, mention or gesture. For them there was only ignorance, a blemish, non-existence. These are the actions of those who in school textbooks make a capricious selection of historical episodes or who when recounting political history suppress everything that has to do with the democratic period between 1958-1998. In the sphere of culture, moreover, the omissions are embarrassing. No intellectual who has made any critical pronouncement, who has signed any manifesto of denunciation or who in an interview has expressed some type of discontent, has any right to anything: no invitations, fellowships or acknowledgments. Those privileges are reserved only for the faithful, in other words, for those who’ve ended up remaining silent, betraying their old codes and, in some cases, writing praises for the “Eternal Commander.”

Venezuelan artists in these times have finally understood the chessboard where they must or can move. And in that game they know the State doesn’t exist, that nothing can be expected from any cultural policy. They’ve only gained one advantage from this injustice, so as to not call it a disgrace: they’ve become more persistent, more obsessive and even more professional. When survival is threatened, energies emerge from unknown places, but they emerge. It doesn’t matter if there’s nowhere to publish, if the national museums no longer open their doors or if the billboards of the theaters have become banal. In the end one creates for another present, one that is by force alternative, or maybe for the future, when the country or the audiences might be different. Beyond the artists the country has expelled, who also exist, there’s a type of secret diaspora of those who remain in Venezuela and protect themselves from all the plagues: ostracism, isolation, skepticism or self-censorship. The hour invites us to band together in groups, to meet up, to unite our wills, and all initiatives are welcomed, no matter how insignificant they might seem. The only consolation, or the only truth, that floats above these sometimes invisible initiatives is that, when from a possible future someone looks back at these ill-fated hours, they might discover that only the artists of this lock-up will have written the best essays, the best poetry collections; they will have conceived the best works of visual art, the best installations; they will have composed the best plays, the best choreographies. Artistic truth is in the shadows and not in the bureaucratic and even militaristic pomp the Venezuelan government wants to sell as cultural goods.

Any cultural politics that considers itself modern should always guarantee spaces for creation, which are sometimes mysterious and even fragile. Nascent artistic vocations are always uncertain and can make a developing poet waste his talent in other affairs. Who enters that world of fragilities and assures that the artistic condition won’t lose a great voice? Who influences that moment of decisions and avoids major frustrations? We’ve existed very far from these, you might call them exquisite, ruminations but other realities and purposes have understood quite well there’s nothing like pure and free creation for social transformations. This has been understood, even unconsciously, by artists working with very few rudiments and forgotten by any sign of cultural politics in Venezuela.

Maybe the flower wreaths that Eugenio Montejo deserved will arrive in the future. They actually exist in the voices and hearts of his heirs, the young people who read him with fruition and don’t stop admiring his verses. Not every era knows how to recognize its own children and the one that governs us now ignores them all.

{ Antonio López Ortega, El País, 28 February 2015 }


Cuando me quiten / Patricia Guzmán

When you take out

my heart

give it

to my sisters

They won’t know

what it says

who it names

But they will stick

their mouth to it

their hands

they will grope it

Every night

Give it to them

Canto de oficio (1997)

{ Patricia Guzmán, Con el ala alta: 1987-2003, Mérida, Venezuela: Ediciones El otro, el mismo, 2004 }


Alzados a esta hora / Patricia Guzmán

Rising at this hour

Drowned in gold

Tossing dead pieces of me

Canto de oficio (1997)

{ Patricia Guzmán, Con el ala alta: 1987-2003, Mérida, Venezuela: Ediciones El otro, el mismo, 2004 }


Si viajo / Patricia Guzmán

If I travel

I carry an empty cup

If night finds me outside

I have an empty cup

I drink

in the wound of an angel

Canto de oficio (1997)

{ Patricia Guzmán, Con el ala alta: 1987-2003, Mérida, Venezuela: Ediciones El otro, el mismo, 2004 }


Aliméntalo / Patricia Guzmán

Nourish it

with fear

give it bird

with your hand

give it bird

so it might sleep


despite the body

Canto de oficio (1997)

{ Patricia Guzmán, Con el ala alta: 1987-2003, Mérida, Venezuela: Ediciones El otro, el mismo, 2004 }


El peso del mundo y de la noche: Rubi Guerra / Juan Carlos Chirinos

The Weight of the World and of the Night: Rubi Guerra

Without intending to —because a reader doesn’t have a plan or a map of the books in his life— I’ve been reading Rubi Guerra (San Tomé, Venezuela, 1958) for over twenty years, but I’m not sure when I first became aware that he’s one of the great fiction writers of my generation; maybe I’ve always felt this way, even when it was merely a hint. I’ve verbalized this idea several times, in different places and for different reasons; and every time I doubt my words I read, or reread, one of his short stories and convince myself that I’m correct to feel this way. “A singular atmosphere of expectation characterizes Guerra’s short stories,” say the anthologists of La vasta brevedad (2010), the voluminous collection of 20th century Venezuelan short fiction. So then I’m surprised to find myself grateful when I find in that phrase the perfect word to describe the sensation that invades me when I read Rubi’s prose: expectation. And that might be one of the author’s narrative tricks, because if there’s something a reader appreciates it’s when they incite him to keep reading. To be unable to stop: that’s the reader’s vice. The perfect reader would be the expectant reader. Or, at least, one of the most desirable readers for a book.

The novel I want to talk about, El discreto enemigo (2001), is a crime novel, of course, but it knows it can’t be a classic crime novel. In another commentary I’ve tried to explain that Venezuela has a particularity regarding crime or police novels; in a country whose violence has been especially bizarre for a long time now —the violence follows a continuous line that goes from 1810 to our days, and barely presents a few surprising interruptions—, a genre in which a scandal provoked by a specific crime serves as the axis for the narration, doesn’t have much of a future. One single crime scandalizes the society in which it happens; one among two hundred thousand doesn’t. So, Venezuelan novelists, aware of their Western logos, when they find themselves impelled to write crime literature, must figure out how they can stop verisimilitude from ruining their fiction’s party. Some, like Rubi Guerra, are able to achieve it and they offer us works that are worth rereading. Which is what I’ve done this week; I’ve let myself be dragged along by expectation, and because it had been a long time since I’d returned to the pages of this novel, I have (re)encountered several pleasant surprises. One of them is the text’s awareness of its own condition:

“Stop, don’t try so hard. You don’t have to explain everything to me, I’m not the commissary. I believe you” —the wrinkles on his face stretch, like an animated mask—. “You must feel like you’re in a crime novel. (...) Don’t be surprised. I’ve read some stuff. Somewhere in the house I have several boxes of books feeding the cockroaches. You’re the classic hero who’s been falsely accused. Although I don’t think there’s been a formal accusation yet.”
“If this were a police novel, we would have already seen two or three murders a long time ago.”
“You’re right. But this town can’t handle more than two deaths per year.”

It remains paradoxical that the fictitious town —La Laguna— to which the protagonist Medina arrives, in an apparently paradisiacal Araya peninsula, can sustain so few murders, because it’s a nest for all types of crimes and shady events. Like Hammett’s Poisonville, or Thompson’s Pottsville with its 1280 souls —or the Los Angeles of Chinatown—, La Laguna is an infected, rotten place full of secrets. Medina, who’s a journalist with a less than edifying past, arrives in town with the intention of writing an article for a tourism magazine, for which he hopes to learn about the customs and traditions of the area. Useless: in that town, instead of fishermen, the closest thing to tradition is a dive bar and the hotel owned by a German man, Wilhem, a former doctor and drug addict. And this is where we find an expectant atmosphere: perhaps following the tradition of fiction writers like Gustavo Díaz Solís, the author describes for us in the opening pages the ruined atmosphere without a future in which the protagonist finds himself. But he lets us glimpse how that story has more to it than we’d expect: “The girl appeared from behind a corner with a load of firewood on her head. She walked very poised: blue shorts, a yellow t-shirt, black face, thin, pleasant. Her firm, round breasts, with tiny nipples, were visible beneath the fabric soaked in sweat.” It’s not a “classic” crime novel, that’s true; but oh how it seems like one at times. This girl, María, will be the trigger for transformation of the mediocre journalist’s visit into a journey towards a territory that borders the abyss, that human temptation. María will be the recipient of Eros and Thanatos: her body’s sensuality, which he enjoys, will also be the place where the killer’s hands take pleasure.

At the same time, the narrator hasn’t forgotten to give the reader clues so he can add volume to what would otherwise be merely the story of a distorted and flat passion. The author reveals the pit, what helps every story make sense: “I started on the trail going back, or rising, because I knew I was in an underground fortress, in a condemned, sorrowful city, below the river line, supporting tons of stone, mud, dirty water filled with excrement, slime and the roots of trees along the shore, it all gravitated over the building and its inhabitants. The weight of the world. The weight of the night.” And that infinite weight is what forces the reader to continue until the end. He must follow the progress of Medina the journalist, who becomes Medina the detective, in order to find out who has murdered María, his very brief and young lover; for this task he must dig into the past of the town’s residents, especially Dimas Marcano, a chieftain, boss, owner and benefactor of the area. If he risks his life in the attempt it’s something neither he nor us will find out; the only certainty is that in La Laguna the law doesn’t function normally. Neither the police seem like police, nor are the suspects suspicious, and the murderers and victims don’t occupy their positions. It’s as though, while he was writing a police novel, Rubi Guerra dropped his papers on the floor and his characters became fragmented. But that’s not it: what happens is that in a remote place of the Paria peninsula, with the heat, humidity, the literary air and the sea that’s presented as barren, the images are distorted and tremble on the horizon, creating a series of mirages. The mirages that make possible a crime novel with only one crime in a country of twenty-five thousand homicides per year.

This brief novel by Rubi Guerra would be enough to place him among the leading Venezuelan novelists of today, but then, on top of this, he published La tarea del testigo —that second life of the poet José Antonio Ramos Sucre—, through which he’s reached new heights: he has turned expectation into an essential weight of the world and of the night.

{ Juan Carlos Chirinos, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 11 October 2014 }


Reflexión / Fernando Paz Castillo


I never thought
I’d reach such heights
on the road of years.

When I look back
I’m surprised
by the distance of familiar things
left behind on the long path

Seeing so many mysteries
that oblivion has also fabricated,
that were once my present moment
I ask myself: Are you happy?

And, truly!... I don’t know how to respond
to my concern,
to my anguish of having been
and of not being.

Because man
who is always fear and adventure,
will never be able to know at what point on the road
his present stood.

That’s why in his words,
even the most intimate,
even the most trusted,
he will always feel
the salt of bitterness.

We learn to die
when we’re born;
yet, when we start to approach
the moment expected
for so long,
we realize we’ve learned nothing
and our thoughts are filled,
as if we were children,
by an enormous sobbing.

Encuentros (1980)

{ Fernando Paz Castillo, Poesía, Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1986 }


El país en una maleta: Entrevista a Héctor Torres / Daniel Fermín

The Country in a Suitcase: An Interview with Héctor Torres

                  [Photo: Nicola Rocco]

A man who drives the wrong direction up a one way street; a young man who’s a victim of a crime on a bus; pedestrians who are forced to avoid all the obstacles on the city sidewalks; a boy who jumps from the top floor of a mall. Héctor Torres once again explores Venezuela’s national identity in Objetos no declarados: 1001 maneras de ser venezolano mientras el barco se hunde (2014), which has been published by Puntocero.

“The book complements Caracas muerde (2012). It’s another side of the same topic. If in that book I addressed the spiritual state of the citizen, here I focus on how many of us have contributed to the violence and chaos of the country. Earlier I offered a panoramic view, now I speak introspectively about how each of us participates in the disaster. I felt like I needed to finish saying things that were still unresolved from the first book.”

Emigration is the connecting thread of Objetos no declarados. The title is a metaphor of the elements —good and bad— that Venezuelans carry in their suitcases when they leave the country. Because no matter where you go, your origins travel with you, like contraband. The paranoia typical of Venezuela’s insecurity even when you’re in the safest place in the world, the annoyance of apologizing for everything on the outside, the lack of discipline when it comes to following certain laws.

“The stories came out of conversations I had with friends living abroad. The topic of migration has become something very important. One, because of today’s polarization, two, because until now Venezuela was never a nation of emigrants. People are incapable of seeing the person who emigrates as someone who’s looking for opportunities, but rather as someone who gave up, who betrayed something I can’t even define. The very fleeting idea of thinking they escape the problem yet taking the problem with them. Just like the family, the country is a brand. You can say you’re leaving Venezuela because it’s broken but you go somewhere else and run a red light.”

Power is another topic in several of the stories that make up the book. Power reflected in a girl’s manipulation of her mother so that she’ll scold him in a subway car. Or the bad service of clerks in a store or in any institution, as if they themselves won’t be clients or won’t have to run an errand in the near future. Torres narrates anecdotes that reflect how the obsession with authoritarianism among Venezuelans is still manifested today, even within smaller confines.

“I think we have a long tradition of abusing power. First, we’re a people of caudillos, where the figure of the great father is always fundamental. We’ve grown up with the image that there’s one Venezuela who’s superior to all the rest, which is Simón Bolívar. And that contributes to us living like eternal orphans. If you read La escribana del viento, by Ana Teresa Torres, you realize that Venezuelan society in 1640 already had some of the elements we still see today: abusive, despotic power. When we enter a crisis, the true nature of a society is revealed.”

Héctor Torres nourishes his literature with the streets, with the country’s daily situations. Caracas, because of its stories, its chaos and its violence, is an ideal place for writing. Literature as a reflection of what we are, a way of interpreting a nation from the intimacy of its anonymous characters: the old man who runs a tiny stall for making phone calls, the parents who take their kids to school day after day, the different social classes in Venezuela.

“Reality allows that. Here in Venezuela the crime novel writes itself. Crime, absurdity, contaminated power, we see these every single day. One of the few enviable things about Caracas is the possibility of infinite topics for whoever wants to write. Literature slows down life. It allows us to read ourselves, to relive certain moments. Like watching a video of something we already did. Because daily life impedes us from having a critical attitude toward the events around us, more so in a city as chaotic as Caracas. People live with rules that exist but aren’t applied. According to their individual norms, every man for himself. Because of how corrupted institutions have become in the country, it’s a matter of survival. We’ve become accustomed to violence, to resolving things on our own.”

Héctor Torres has already said he isn’t trying to make an analysis or a social condemnation. His interest is simply literature. The Venezuelan writer is very clear about the fact that a book can’t change a country’s reality, that Objetos no declarados can’t do much in the face of the impunity that reigns in Venezuela. He merely shows it, points to it, exhibits it with a glance that is somewhat removed from the vertiginous rhythms typical of a daily routine.

“Literature tries to reflect reality as faithfully as possible. In the hopes it might produce something in the reader. That it might move people. David Foster Wallace said it: whoever’s calm, shake him up; whoever’s uneasy, give him some calm. It’s an epic ambition to think you can modify a city by merely writing. We’ll leave that to the politicians, to the heroes or saviors of the nation. Literature serves as a consolation. Whoever feels like a stranger in his own country can realize he’s not the only one, he can provide a slight feeling of hope. It could produce a factor, that some people might think they can live in a different manner. Literature shouldn’t ever have the ambition of producing a political change because then it becomes a pamphlet. That’s very dangerous.”

{ Daniel Fermín, El Universal, 23 November 2014 }


Comentarios / Fernando Paz Castillo


And I already feel the coming
of what we don’t see, because
before arriving
we’ve already left.

And together we fear it
my shadow and I,
eternal walkers
who have never
faced each other
and yet have been companions.

And the one amid smiles,
praise and anxiety
and the other eternally silent.

And that’s how it is
because I take with me
what I’ve had,
because I take with me
what I’ve waited for,
because I take with me,
what still hasn’t come.

And by the rhythm of this silent
I will approach the peak
or the abyss...

And there will be no more future
nor past,
nor marching nor return,
but only a black branch
—the shadow of a branch—
over the song.

Encuentros (1980)

{ Fernando Paz Castillo, Poesía, Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1986 }


Poesía / Fernando Paz Castillo


The intimate,
distant calm
with the audacious impetus
of the haughty mountain.
The sleeping radiance,
redder than red
and less red
than the red,
over the restless flame
or in the dying flame.
The indefinite
from where the glance returns
after conquering the nothingness
of its origin.
The good word,
the meek word
that after so many struggles,
and triumphs and defeats,
that it can only understand, silent.

Persistencias (1975)

{ Fernando Paz Castillo, Poesía, Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1986 }


Entrada / Fernando Paz Castillo


Poetry is always discovery... Suddenly the walker
(the poet is always walking) is surprised by a beautiful
landscape. He stops. Then continues. And then what
endures amid the ephemeral season and the immediate
past, is a poem. A poem that begins to emerge
instantly, facing the future. Since everything
that achieves persistence, after a fleeting emotion
of beauty: of delight or of melancholy—,
will be a song, if not in reality, then in the
memory of the eternal traveler, that is man.
A generally autumnal song, even if the roses
may have flowered.
It was Paul Verlaine who said:
“I always fear
what will come!”
Such a fear drives our obscured steps
toward mystery. And not merely in pursuit of he who
solicits us, from abroad, nearby or distant,
but instead, more so, of the one who is constantly
being born in the secret furrows of our own consciousness.
Maybe this is why Bergson asks himself —as could be
deduced from his own behavior—, with the glimpsed
answer already in his words: is it not possible
to find a deep nexus between idealism
and reality?

And isn’t the search for that analogy the poet’s
principal mission? That of the man born, in fact,
under the sign of those who have to meddle, with
their own brave words, among the suggestive
turns of the unknown.

This is why St. Thomas Aquinas, fervent
visionary, yet surrounded by clarities,
writes, amid symbols:
“Praise, O Sion, thy Savior, praise thy King
praise your Pastor, with hymns and canticles.”
Of course, anyone who writes a canticle: a
poem— is praising Man and everything that
surrounds him, in visible or presumed reality.
In all of which we implicitly find the intuited will of
a Spirit or higher force.
So those who persevere in denying it,
with perseverance also confirm it. Since
you cannot, by any means, discuss anything beyond that
which, in a real or subjective manner, you’ve acquired with
the passing of the years, as an inevitable right
to persistence.

As for myself, I confess I’m an old Nietzschean traveler,
who reasons, frequently surprised, amid
interrogations; but, notwithstanding, always attentive to
his own shadow. In other words, to the mute eloquent language
of that concealed character, friend and foe at once,
with whom each man sustains his eternal
dialogue, or inner monologue. Which, in the end,
constitutes the suggestion —or true reality—, of
a life, very much one’s own, but also projecting
toward dark insinuating roads.
Though, fortunately, from every shadow, something beautiful
proceeds, at last. As Éluard so clearly suggests:

“In that of the bird who accompanies the newborn child
and who already weighs more than it does on the giant

In all these poems (and it would be my greatest joy
if this were so), some of this mystery might emerge.
Something, like that shadow —nearly fixed in its moment—,
the bird leaves behind its flight. And which,
when not perceived is intuited. Which makes them
nothing other than, at least for me, the inevitable
consequence, with the natural bitter aftertaste,
of walking, attentive, through life and
through art.
Or said in a different mode (I use the word intentionally), of
a poet’s commitment to the intimacy of his
existence. And even more to the suggestion, never
absent, of death.
And the latter, not as an end, which would be a placid
solution, but rather as the persistent unfolding of
what fatally, cannot cease being what it
has been. Because we are, in our existence
and in our ascendance, faithful curators, and faithful
guards of our own origin. And thus, as so eloquently
spoken by Rilke, a daily observer of death:
“We remain in your garden, throughout the years
like trees that will bring such soft death.”
That is, one that has grown sweetly, silently,
with us. And that, when it finally arrives, if it’s
our own, becomes a flower and hides, amid intimate petals,
the seed that will flower, in the harmonious garden
of the future reencounter with the shadow.

A feeling of pride fills me when by
any circumstance, in my most intimate sensibility,
the cult of the word sprouts. Because I think
like Mallarmé, that every word, no matter how simple it
might be, is the seed of a beautiful poem.

I’m certain that the word is the only truth,
among those created by man, that can
fill the immense space that separates him from the infinite.
Whether he’s an atheist or a believer. Since
neither one can ever stop feeling cramped by
death, from the very moment he glimpses the
suggestive attention of whatever could be called life.

Which is why every verse, big or small, according to its
fate, is in the end, like a faithful glimmer,
unexpected, of the poet’s intimate biography.

As it had to be, in this book, though surely the fruit of a
single journey, there are, of course, different seasons.
I respect them. Above all because at its core there exists,
something like a creek, I insist, that runs renovating, despite
its hidden solitude, the freshness of the aforementioned
Rilkean garden, which is always dressed in flowers
when it comes from another springtime.
Naturally there are verses that should never end.
Because beyond their end is the beginning, dark
and suggestive. As in the assumed extremity of the
ray of light, the shadow is born. Or poetry itself which can’t
cease to exist among things, since all that is living,
persists or is renewed, by it, in the
consciousness of man, eternal son of mystery.
This book, just like any book of verse, is a
brief respite, in the eagerness of the walker and
his shadow, to which I’ve referred. In its atmosphere
there is, because of this, a great deal of return. But nostalgia,
sometimes luminous, doesn’t obscure the present. On the
contrary, the present is affirmed in what has been;
and the future is anticipated in what has apparently
ceased to be; and is a persistent affirmation
in the garden, of roses and invisible aromas that surround
our entire existence.

If the book responds to what I feel, many
thoughts will ripen under its influence. While
in the solitude of an afternoon —a reader’s afternoon—,
one feels something like an echo of goodbye, the flight of the wind
through the leaves.

André Breton notes, in his essay on
Mayakovsky: “I think all of poetry is a
game...” It might well be a game. There are so many
games! A game, for example like that of the hidden Being
who handles, on clouds tightened by fears, the
thunder, a type of enormous top, that seems
to have been left spinning in space by the uncoiled
thread of lightning.

And, as Apollinaire has said, the new spirit
inherits the good taste of the classic. But we should
understand —and this is why classics exist—, that this
good sense is, essentially revolutionary.
Man inherits life, but also death.
And between one and the other triumphs poetry. The mysterious
language —expressed or not— that allows for hope to still
exist among men.

Caracas, 1975.

Persistencias (1975)

{ Fernando Paz Castillo, Poesía, Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1986 }


Escribir en el siglo XXI / Heriberto Yépez

Writing in the 21st Century

The 21st century writer faces the danger of seeing his aesthetic critique vanish because of the common laws of government, market, readers, academia and Internet.

The order of these powers varies according to country. But all of them control the literary writer in this new century.

Literary writing distinguishes itself from others by taking control of the art of heterodox form, of aesthetic verbal pleasure, of the difficult link between tradition and innovation in the ludic word.

The writer who’s at the pinnacle of the art belongs to the present, is a contemporary of his era and, simultaneously, belongs to other times.

When a writer belongs only to the past he doesn’t offer anything to literature; when he only belongs to the present, he almost doesn’t belong to literature.

The writer should be unfaithful to yesterday and unfaithful to today. But, above all, he should love the art, which is the sensual project of inhabiting a more intense temporality.

Facing the dead, the artist would seem frivolous; facing his contemporaries, a solemn figure. The artist, in any case, is a traitor to tradition and a traitor to the now.

A writer who agrees with his society is failing.

The writer is a critical innovator. He artistically proposes more complex and less repressive forms —a two-sided impertinence— than those of the social present. A writer always ends up revealing how consensus is mistaken.

For art, even the truth is insufficient.

The writer used to distance himself by means of the book or, at least, the text; but today the artistic book and text are felt to be anachronistic or they’re not identified as being different from any other media or text.

The (e)reader doesn’t care about the aesthetic particularity. For him, everything is text, everything is opinion, everything is media.

On the screen, everything is judged by the same criteria. News, posts or PDFs are consumed by the same set of rules.

Literature is now merely a branch of Publishing.

This uniformity of judgment has impoverished the senses.

But the greatest challenge for the writer happens when he faces himself. On the one hand, to speak of a challenge against oneself implies a paradox in the Telephysical Era of the selfie so that others might see you (as you see yourself... for them). On the other hand, the challenge is to overcome the consensus without falling into ego-morphism (thinking that everything takes on the form of the I) and believing that all form is a signature.

Being in solidarity with the 99 percent from the radical dissent of a 1 percent.

And the writer should know that everything he does will be 100 percent processed by spectacular reactions. Writing in the 21st century is writing within the spectacle.

Everything a writer does today is “read” by the criteria of the world of the spectacle, exercised from the labor market, social media, publishing houses or institutions.

The 21st century is the first century in which literature is a zone within the spectacle.

Starting now, leaving the spectacle is the writer’s greatest challenge.

{ Heriberto Yépez, Archivo Hache, Suplemento Laberinto, Milenio (México D.F.), 7 February 2015 }


Perdido / Fernando Paz Castillo


I have walked so much
I can no longer distinguish my tracks.
I have lost the trail so many times
and I’ve picked new paths so often
I don’t know where I stand now.

My subconscious guides me:
something learned and forgotten,
a primal force.

Only at the crossroads am I a center.
The suns revolve, the stars pass
and I persist because I’m an idea.

I stop to distinguish and I don’t distinguish.
There are stones, cliffs and weeds,
and trails that flee, blend together,
fall apart in the immense afternoon;
yet, though I’ve forgotten my trail,
My subconscious guides me...

Today I feel a force in me
that seeks displacement,
wants to break itself, but is firm;
wants to escape, but is whole...

...And I have walked so much
I can no longer recognize my tracks.

La voz de los cuatro vientos (1931)

{ Fernando Paz Castillo, Poesía, Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1986 }


Libros Lugar Común mide el pulso a lo que se está escribiendo en Venezuela / Hensli Rahn Solórzano

Libros Lugar Común Measures the Pulse of What’s Being Written in Venezuela

                  [Rodrigo Blanco and Luis Yslas, by Carlos Ancheta]

Within a few years, the publishing house Lugar Común has become a point of reference on Venezuelan bookshelves. Contrapunto spoke with the two writers who run the publishing house, Rodrigo Blanco and Luis Yslas.

Hensli Rahn Solórzano.- Blame it on the Venezuelan novelist Francisco “Pancho” Massiani. One afternoon, two graduates of the School of Letters at the Central University of Venezuela, the editor Luis Yslas and the young UCV professor Rodrigo Blanco, coincided at his house.

The common goals shared by this pair moved them to take on the project ReLectura, a type of lab or “training camp” that would help them in the eventual foundation of the publishing house that concerns us today: Libros Lugar Común [Commonplace Books].

“After an exchange of possible names, we were tired and eventually everything we suggested was commonplace,” recalls the writer Luis Yslas about their name. “I thought that could be the name, understanding it as a space for gathering in a common space, of similar interests... playing with the double meaning of the phrase.”

In 2013, Yslas and Blanco, along with other associates, opened the Lugar Común Bookstore in the east side of Caracas. The establishment very soon became a stage for musical groups, a classroom for literary workshops and a space for presenting new books. This is how the “Lugarcomunistas” made a name for themselves in Caracas.

However, “now the publishing house and bookstore proceed independently,” clarifies Rodrigo Blanco, the author of three collections of short stories and an unpublished novel.

Since its foundation until today, Libros Lugar Común has been a witness to the passing of time and the changes being generated in Venezuela. In their own words, they have passed through the contraction of the editorial market in 2012, the paper shortage crisis of 2013-2014, and the devaluations of the bolivar that now affect the price of books. What follows is the rest of the story as told to Contrapunto by the founders of the publishing house.

How did you both meet and how did you decide to start the project ReLectura in 2007?

LY: We coincided one afternoon at Pancho Massiani’s house. From then on, we shared conversations, affinities as readers, beers at the local Chinese restaurants (our first and improvised operation headquarters). Two years later, the novelist Federico Vegas invited us to participate in a project he had in mind. He wanted to promote encounters between readers and writers, by means of gatherings, readings, book exchanges, and also through a webpage that ended up becoming a type of literary magazine. That’s how ReLectura emerged.

Is ReLectura —the webpage, the radio program and the book exchange— the embryo for Lugar Común?

LY: Let’s say it was like a training camp and an apprenticeship, since thanks to the work of literary promotion and the editing of digital content, we established a cordial relationship with a group of fiction writers, poets, essayists, critics, journalists, designers, editors and photographers, all of them from the world of reading and writing. Without realizing it, we were preparing ourselves for the editorial work of Lugar Común, since those years also gave us the chance to measure the pulse of what was being written and read in Venezuela.

In what year did the publishing house begin?

LY: Editorial Lugar Común (which changed its name in the middle of 2014 to Libros Lugar Común), is born in 2011, with the publication of the novel El libro de Esther, by Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez.

Who works for the publishing house?

LY: At the moment, those of us who make up the direction and operation of Libros Lugar Común are Rodrigo Blanco and myself, along with a team of people who participate as collaborators, among them Patricia Heredia, who has been with us at the publishing house for more than two years.

From your beginnings to last year, are there significant changes in Venezuela’s publishing field? What might those changes be?

RB: We think many things have changed. In the last three years we’ve seen how, on the one hand, the contraction of the Venezuelan publishing market has increased. Transnational companies like Random House and Alfaguara have left Venezuela. The already existing publishing houses began to suffer the blows of the paper shortage that considerably diminished production in 2013 and part of 2014.

On the other hand, during this same period of crisis we’ve witnessed the emergence of small, independent publishing houses who have come to do the work that was left behind by the transnational companies. And that’s a positive response to the crisis. Towards the second semester of 2014, the rhythm of publications seemed to recuperate, but not without an enormous cost: we’re referring, literally, to the increase in the price of books due to high production costs.

You mention the Venezuelan publishing houses that have emerged in recent years, such as Ígneo, Alhilo Editorial, Utopía Editorial and Negro Sobre Blanco, among others. With the absence of the transnationals and the increased price of books, did Venezuelan literature become a good business? Or, did it become the only means of doing business?

LY: At Libros Lugar Común we don’t think of literature exclusively as a business. It’s true that we believe in the profitability of books and authors, but above all we trust the quality of the product. And if the product is good, there are reasons for trusting that sales will go well. But very few editors dedicate themselves to this work with the idea of becoming millionaires. Making books isn’t a buoyant business, much less at this time, in this country. It’s a bold business that’s worth the risks.

At the moment, the impulse to write seems to be very high in Venezuela. There’s a growing desire to express ideas, emotions, experiences, and to materialize that desire in books. The complex reality we live stimulates writing and reading (although not at the level that certain enthusiasts would have us believe). In that sense, the publishing houses have a very demanding task of selection, investment and production, in order to guarantee the balance between the value and the price of a book, notions that are often confused in the publishing market.

If making books isn’t a “buoyant business,” why keep printing them? For the love of art?

RB: I do think there are actual possibilities for the book business to become a sustainable endeavor and at the same time that it might contribute to the cultural heritage of a country. Why keep doing it? For the love of art and because we still believe in that possibility.

For an independent publishing house in the current context, how many copies should be printed for each edition of your titles? And, of that number, how many copies do you need to sell in order to maintain a minimum margin of recovery and profit?

LY: We live subordinated to an economy that makes any budget volatile. Each week the costs of production and distribution rise. It’s nearly impossible to maintain a business plan that doesn’t feel threatened by a gelatinous and restrictive economy. Which means that internal administration plays a fundamental role.

The number of each of our titles tends to be 1,000 copies, except for the poetry collection which is 500 copies. In order to cover the production costs, we have to sell from 40% to 50% of the copies of each book.

What are the three books you’ve published that have been reprinted the most?

RB: The children’s book Ratón y vampiro, written by Yolanda Pantin and illustrated by Jefferson Quintana; El libro de Esther by Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez; and Los peores de la clase by Federico Vegas.

In regards to distribution, what do you think of applications like Kindle in the U.S. or Librero ETC in Venezuela? Do you distribute your titles through these platforms? Why or why not?

LY: Any project that contributes to disseminating the titles from our catalog is of course welcome, as long as the distribution agreements benefit both parties. We’re not against digital platforms. On the contrary, the more platforms we have for reading, the more visibility the publishing house, its books and its authors gain. Several books by Lugar Común are already available at the platform Librero ETC.

What books will you publish in 2015? Can you give us a preview of the project El bravo tuki by Jesús Torrivilla and Juan Pedro Cámara?

RB: Because of Venezuela’s situation, it’s difficult for us to anticipate the titles for this year. So we’d rather only mention the ones that are definite for this current four-month period. Those are Ogros ejemplares, by Daniel Centeno, and El bravo tuky, by Torrivilla y Cámara.

Centeno’s book is a compilation coordinated by the journalist Oscar Medina of the artist profiles that Daniel Centeno has been publishing periodically in the magazine Sala de Espera. It’s a compendium of exotic lives, narrated with the rigorousness of good journalism and the plastic expressiveness of a writer like Daniel Centeno, who will surprise readers with this book.

El bravo tuky is, simply, one of the books we’ve most enjoyed reading at the publishing house. It’s the first and up until this point the only serious study (without being boring) of the tuky phenomenon. The work of Jesús Torrivilla and Juan Pedro Cámara combines an academic register of the origins of industrial music, along with journalistic and testimonial work on the protagonists of the tuky musical movement. It’s a book that could have an important impact on the circle of publications about music, postmodernism and cultural studies.

The publishing house is part of Lugar Común Bookstore, located in Caracas. Besides selling books, you also facilitate literary workshops, along with conferences and the presentation of musical groups. Have you considered taking this extra-literary experience of Lugar Común to another city?

RB: Actually, it’s the other way around: at the beginning, the bookstore formed part of the publishing house. At least, that’s how it was first conceived. The publishing house was created in 2011 and the bookstore was inaugurated and joined the Lugar Común project in December of 2013. Now the publishing house and bookstore proceed independently.

{ Hensli Rahn Solórzano, Contrapunto, 7 February 2015 }


Bibliografía. La torre de Timón, José Antonio Ramos Sucre / Fernando Paz Castillo

Bibliography: Timon’s Tower, José Antonio Ramos Sucre

                  [Fernando Paz Castillo (1893-1981) in Caracas by Vasco Szinetar]

This title is an authentic find. José Antonio Ramos Sucre lives in his tower, anachronically in his tower of books, removed from everyday life and modern literature.

“My teachers come from a long way away,” he says emphatically, with a certain Andalusian exaggeration, when someone points out the resemblance or suggestion between one of his poems and those by any number of writers from the nineteenth century to our days.

But this strange, tough spirit, this ascetic soul, has the sickly emotiveness of a modern writer.

For the author of Timon’s Tower the exterior world doesn’t exist. Life for him is a series of more or less arbitrary cerebrations, I say life and not art, because his art is a faithful transfer of his way of living, incomprehensible and maniacal.

The topics of his compositions seem incomprehensible to many people, and they are always suggested by readings, or by those somewhat bookish emotions that, altered by childhood imagination, eventually form a picturesque world of imps and ghosts, that begin by tormenting us and eventually become our best friends. I always note in his poems something from this world of childhood, any one of those superstitions, like sediment from past beliefs.

“The soul is ancient and knows so many things!” said an old philosopher. Yes the world of evocations has no limits in time nor does it recognize a fixed point in space. We’re each born with a fortune which is all of our patrimony: the East, Greece, Rome, these form part of a beautiful past, you could almost say, of our childhood. Sesostris, Achilles, Brutus end up being, as time passes, the same thing as the disobedient child’s broken sled and Juan, the one whose cap is missing the chin strap. Whoever lacks the reminiscences, whoever doesn’t have a literary tradition that begins, at the very least, on school benches, won’t be able to understand the motives of this writer, or better yet, this scholiast of ancient parchments.

His exalted fantasy moves him to situate himself preferably in the Middle Ages. The spirit of his melancholia enjoys the landscapes of such a sinister era that was called “night.” Isn’t the Gothic tower a product of that past? Isn’t Ramos Sucre’s art rather Gothic? Don’t all his writings have a construction of medieval architecture, somber and fantastical?

The dream of this writer is unity, the annihilation of the will in the great theological mystery. Ramos Sucre is a mystic, though not a joyful pantheist who contemplates nature, but rather a superstitious ascetic, gaunt like a Spaniard from the 1500s.

We can’t forget Ramos Sucre’s early childhood in an ancient city, with narrow streets and bloody legends, where colonial life tenaciously remained up until very recently, that his first years were under the shadow of Father Ramos, an erudite straggler from the nineteenth century, and that the first books that fell into his hands, at that point unable to browse them, were those of Massillon, Bossuet and a few Latin textbooks.

In hours of leisure he wouldn’t go out to the countryside to play with his friends, to wade in the placid ocean in Cumaná, a place toward which he always has a deep affection, to swim in the Manzanares river bordered by palm trees like a sacred river in India, to leap with a naked body in the clear water of dawn, under the clean sky of that tropical Greece. An erudite since childhood, he would seek out eclogues of solitude to read, hidden away from everything, with some thick volume of narrative history, or some entertaining novel by Alexandre Dumas.

Many of his poems, since there’s nothing else these texts could be, are reminiscences more than of reading, of the plates that illustrate those books: Gustave Doré, Albrecht Dürer, etc. This is why those who haven’t seen these illustrations find the text obscure, but, thinking clearly about it, this isn’t really the author’s fault.

Is it a duty for the writer to be understood by everyone? I sincerely don”t think so. It’s hard to understand other people’s thoughts. Even in life itself it happens to us, quite frequently, that the people we feel closest to don’t really know us. Many times we imagine we’re proceeding correctly, because we proceed with sincerity, and we’re interpreted wrongly. Interested feelings, selfish stares, these stain the purity of our dreams and it’s much easier to say “I don’t understand” then to take the trouble to understand.

In order to understand someone in life or art you need some generosity and in order to be generous you have to let go of yourself partly. The fact of not being understood is sad, because the person who is misunderstood feels isolated, without sympathy from the world. Only a strong spirit can construct for itself with the spoils of its dreams a Tower of Timon: a tower of isolation and bitterness, a tower of shyness toward other men, like the one constructed by the misanthrope of Athens.

I said he has a maniacal temperament and this is seen quite clearly: in many of his poems the word that doesn’t appear. Some will say it’s a linguist’s virtuosity; but isn’t linguistics a form of mania in the author?

Undoubtedly he’s not the correct type of author, preoccupied with the purity of language, but rather with the purity of an arbitrary language he himself has formed, with outdated rules of Latin grammar. One notes in many of his compositions gallicized words such as miraje for a mirage and escrutar in the sense of investigating. Does Ramos Sucre know these words are incorrect? Of course. He uses them constantly and if someone notices it, he says:

“They’re Latin and I write from a base of Latin. After all that’s an explanation.”

Now in the latest productions by Ramos Sucre we discover new influences. From the sixteenth century ascetic he was, he has now become a pagan of an Adriatic from the seventeenth century. His new poems are motives of the Renaissance seen through a Nordic fog, with a certain sobriety in the strokes of a Pre-Raphaelite painter.

José Antonio Ramos Sucre is a poetic temperament. Except he lacks a mastery of rhyme and that modern form of art that consists of watching. The modern poet can’t discard the landscape, which is for Ramos Sucre an abstraction: thin pine trees, withered lands, skies with blinding light; but no color, no reality, nothing to give a feeling of life, nor the impression of movement.

Timón’s Tower isn’t a book, like most written today, to get in touch with the public, conquer the sympathy of readers, but instead a book to isolate oneself further. Men forgive everything except not understanding. Revenge is inevitable: they nickname crazy and extravagant whoever they don’t understand.

Locked in his tower, in his misanthrope’s tower, he’ll be able to watch everyone who screams as they pass, everyone who vociferates...

Art wasn’t made for those who won’t take the trouble to understand.

Élite, 3 October 1925

{ Translated from José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Obra poética, Edición crítica de Alba Rosa Hernández Bossio, Madrid: Colección Archivos, 2001 }


Diálogos del más allá: José Antonio Ramos Sucre / Natasha Tiniacos

Dialogues from the Beyond: José Antonio Ramos Sucre

By Natasha Tiniacos
Illustration by José Miguel del Pozo

A desire to establish dialogues with creators is presented in a nearly excessive manner in this new series. Without a Ouija board, epiphanies or splitting into two but rather with invocation and appropriation as resources, the Venezuelan poet José Antonio Ramos Sucre (1890-1930) responds to Proust’s questionnaire from his eternal estate. (*)

What is your greatest fear?
Time is a winter that quells ambition with the steady, fatal fall of its snow. It passes noiselessly and with mortal effect: the face awakens unexpectedly withered one morning, the hair without luster and scant, an easy prey to baldness, the splendor of the eyes diminished, the forehead stamped with preoccupations, the semblance bitter, the heart dead.

Your most marked characteristic?
I love pain, beauty and cruelty.

Your favorite qualities in a man..
My colleague, inspired by an equivocal curiosity and by a vehement sympathy for dejected and reprobate beings, was going around arm in arm with a lost girl.

Your favorite qualities in a woman.
I have seen a woman of noble physiognomy, with features sculpted by the memory of grief.

What you appreciate the most in your friends.
My friends, seduced by the party’s racket, left me laid out on a divan. They tried to encourage my strength by means of a stimulating potion. I ingested an unhealthy drink, a briny liquor with green reflections, the very sediment of a groaning sea, frequented by the albatrosses.
They were lost in the turning of the party.

Your main fault.
Since then my soul is critical and blasphemous.

Your favorite occupation.
I was censuring myself faithfully. I wanted to find a slip of ineptitude or apathy in the process of her inhuman pains and I couldn’t remember anything besides my activity and my continuous presence in the room.

Your idea of complete happiness.
I have abolished my eyes and I am free and consoled.

What would be your greatest misfortune?
The years will have passed without dimming this sickly and aching sensibility, tolerable for whomever might only have the occupation of dreaming, and that unfortunately, because of life’s rough assault, exists within me like a cord about to break from painful tension.

If not yourself, who would you be?
The God.

Where would you like to live?
And I will no longer aspire to anything else: I will have adapted my eyes to the ugly world, and closed my door to hostile humanity. My mansion will be for others impenetrable rock and for me firm prison.

Your favorite color.
The vain colors of dawn were indicating to me the hour to assist the offices of the dead.

The flower you like the most.
The gentleman, with a famished face and savage beard, was crossing the old bridge suspended by means of chains.
He dropped a carnation, passionate flower, in the insalubrious water of the creek.

Your favorite bird.
The swallow covers continents in a single day of travel and has known the measure of the terrestrial orb since long ago, anticipating the infallible dragons of myth.

Your favorite prose authors.
The graduate writes a short novel of equivocations and unforeseen cases, occupying the delays of a court where he passes sentence, poorly remunerated and idle.
Cervantes recounted for me the incident of the gentleman restored to health.

Your favorite poets.
I had interned myself in the wild solitude, taking as a companion the jester exiled from the court. He spoke his repartee in the form of an argument, cheerfully parodying scholars and doctors. Shakespeare curses him in one of his dramas.

Your heroes in fiction.
The dwarfs ran to save themselves in the ship of the Argonauts and confessed the origin of their misfortune. They had imitated in a cheerful manner the steps of Empuse, a crippled larva, with donkey legs.

Your favorite fictional heroines.
I have surveyed the territory of Elsinore to gather news about Ophelia. She dares to appear, during the full moon, at the spot where she lost her life. In that very place they cultivate, by my advice, the flowers from her hair and the local virgins avoid profaning them.

Your preferred composers.
The music of the spinet, solace of an impatient soul, flies off to lose itself in the infinite.

Your favorite painters.
Leonardo da Vinci enjoyed painting gaseous, shady figures. He left in the hands of Albrecht Dürer, inhabitant of Venice, a copy of La Gioconda, noted for her magic smile.

Your hero in real life.
I was encountering the companion of my fatigues less frequently. He was the son of a king precipitated from the throne and had come to me after traversing different climes.
He appeared in dreams.
He moaned inconsolably until the moment I offered him my right hand.

Your favorite heroine in real life.
Beatrice contemplates the river, facing the transitory flow and the identical figure.
The young man walks away threatening imaginary rivals. Beatrice uses, to say goodbye to him, a judicious, abstinent courtesy.
The young woman returns, in the presence of an eclipsed moon, to the severe thoughts.

The most deplorable event in history.
History has told me that in the Middle Ages the noble souls were all extinguished in the cloisters, and that the evil were left with the dominion and population of the world; and experience, which confirms this teaching, when it gives me proof of the veracity that Cervantes made his hero sterile, forces me to imitate the Sun, singular, generous and proud.

The food drink you like the most.
The flame of the reflectors would imitate the tinge of absinthe.
A red imp would fly over the empty glasses that had been knocked over.

Your favorite names.
I was opening the windows of the naked chamber and entrusting the name of the absent girl to the errors of an insalubrious gust of wind.

What you detest above all else.
Too late have I come to the world; my position is found in the sombre hideout in a forest, from which I might satisfy my outburst spying on feminine beauty, before making her moan in pain and pleasure. Unfortunately my situation is another and my fate is very harsh. This ardor is not calmed by the inaccessible cloister nor by the desolate desert. With that abstinence, madness would make me a companion of unbalanced and ecstatic saints.

The military act you most admire.
I witnessed the punishment administered by two ushers of the palace, a reed house, to a pastor of the sovereign’s flock. The victim’s resistance exhausted the hippopotamus leather belts.
The army arrived stumbling and falling down, enraptured by the spiritous drink.

The most admirable reform or social change.
No one would be able to investigate the direction of its escape.

The natural talent you’d like to have.
A summer effect.

How you would like to die.
When death finally arrives at my plea and its warnings have empowered me for the solitary journey, I will invoke a spring being, for the purpose of soliciting assistance from the harmony of supreme origin, and an infinite solace will settle on my countenance.

The current state of mind.
The pond of my contemplation had moved to an abyss.

The fault that inspires the most indulgence in you.
Love is impossible when the future has fallen to the ground, and the illness of living intensifies like a sad and frozen rain.

Your motto.
The solitary one entertains his glance through the sky in a lull from his despair.

May Glory keep you in its glory.

(*) Each one of Ramos Sucre’s answers are textual citations selected with a scalpel from his complete works.

{ Natasha Tiniacos, Backroom Caracas, 26 January 2015 }