8.28.2014

Tríptico / Ana Lucía De Bastos

Triptych


I

Today my soul is:
A knot of veins.


II

Hoje a minha alma é:
A pit of liquids my mnemonic artery
spills.


III

Dear ghost:
I flee because I know you’re made of corner and edge
of shirt and skin.




{ Ana Lucía De Bastos, Y ahora extiéndeme al sol, Caracas: Bid & Co. Editor, 2014 }

8.22.2014

A Luis Miguel Navas lo cortaron en pedacitos / Ana Lucía De Bastos

They Cut Luis Miguel Navas into Little Pieces

When we got home there were some men on the roof of the building. Não é teto, é telhado, my uncle said correcting me. This is how the word becomes a border, the face is not a stamp, because it has another name. The parasol, on the other hand, is a parasol from below and from above, just like the carpet: the side that grazes the floor and the other that grazes my feet. The roof and the ceiling are inseparable but different, an otherness found at our back. What covers my head é teto, what protects us from the sun and rain, é telhado.

And what do we call the reverse side of the skin? I stick my finger in my mouth, where it’s no longer cheek but teto: all such living flesh. I bite the inside of my cheek, which is neither gums nor lips. It’s damp and contains my breath, a tunnel with an entrance for light before it becomes throat, which isn’t neck, and we sink into the covered darkness of the dorso, the one that supports blood, viscera and bones.




Translator’s note: The original Spanish version of this poem, along with a recording of the author reading it, can be found at La maja desnuda.




{ Ana Lucía De Bastos, Y ahora extiéndeme al sol, Caracas: Bid & Co. Editor, 2014 }

8.18.2014

Poemas seducidos por el surrealismo / Luana Cabrera

Poems Seduced by Surrealism


Francisco Pérez Perdomo was born in Boconó, Venezuela in 1930. He graduated from the Liceo Andrés Bello secondary school in Caracas and obtained his degree in Law from the Central University of Venezuela, a career that, according to his grandson Miguel Chillida who studies Literature, bored him and eventually led him to dedicate his life completely to poetry.

El hilo equívoco de los vocablos is a book published by Monte Ávila Editores Latinoamericana that gathers in a single volume all the work the poet and writer, winner of the National Prize for Literature in 1980 and a member of the groups Sardio and El Techo de la Ballena, published between 1961 and 2008, before his death in 2013.

The editorial criteria of the book is under the care of the essayist Francisco Ardiles, who points out the relation of the work to the avant-garde movements in which the poet from the state of Trujillo was active.

Pérez Perdomo followed the path of Baudelaire, Lautréamont and Rimbaud, artists who influenced Surrealism and who postulated the need to “widen the boundaries of the field of poetic investigations toward unknown territories,” affirms Ardiles, who identifies him as a man who moved between the edges of the lugubrious hallucination of specters and the oneiric.

The author’s poems are the reflection of a writer who tried to go against all motivating elements of literary production and replace them with horror, scandal, anguish, disgust, along with all the forms taken by the sinister.

According to the poet Luis Alberto Crespo this is the result of a language with roots in the obsessions of the German romantic poets, the exalted poetry of the demonic and the mystery related to the old symbols of epic and tragedy.

De fantasmas y enfermedades (1961), El sonido de otro tiempo (1991), Y también sin espacio (1996) and Eclipse (2008) are some of the author’s most distinguished works found in this new volume.




{ Luana Cabrera, Tal Cual, 18 August 2014 }

8.05.2014

La campaña / Rubi Guerra

The Campaign


     We initiated the war to avenge the affront perpetrated against one of our women and to wash her husband’s honor. For forty five days we laid siege to our enemies’ city; we devastated their fields and took control of their flocks. At night, we would light giant bonfires that we nourished with animal grease to honor our God and to torment the starving defenders with its aroma. One morning the doors gave way to the push of the timbers. We penetrated like a man who claims his rights from a frigid woman, with blood and violence. First the defenders of the walls fell, then the priests who approached to negotiate; then came the men capable of picking up any weapon or tool; after that the elderly, the women and children, some of them disemboweled, cut in half, others slain quickly. Finally, we slaughtered all the animals remaining inside the walls. The blood mixed with the earth formed a thick, hot mud that stuck to our sandals.
     Our victory was not complete. Four hundred enemy soldiers had managed to escape through a secret door that led to a narrow mountain pass where they had hidden. Exalted by fervor and fury, we pursued them through the stone gorges until they were cornered. Then, our general, wise and prudent, spoke from his war chariot:
     “Brave warriors, God has favored us with his blessing; it has been a glorious day, but now the massacre must cease. Those who await death between the stone and the edges of our swords are brothers to us. It is true that they have offended us, but we worship the same God and speak the same language, their hearts beat like our own. We cannot allow their seed to be extinguished.”
     We made vows of peace. We gave them wine and food.
     We initiated a new campaign. Our army went to a neighboring city. We laid siege to it, broke its defenses, killed the soldiers and gathered the survivors in the plaza. Our general spoke once more:
     “Every man and woman who has had the experience of sleeping with a man should be irrevocably destroyed.”
     Then we took four hundred of their virgins and handed them over to our brothers. We slit the throats of all the rest.




Translator’s note: This text is included in an appendix to a novella about the final days of the Venezuelan poet José Antonio Ramos Sucre (1890-1930) in Europe in 1930. This is the last of Guerra’s three imitations of Ramos Sucre. The other Ramos Sucre imitations by Guerra are: “On the Boat” and “The Tavern.” The image above is from the Lugar Común edition of the novella.




{Rubi Guerra, La tarea del testigo, Caracas: Lugar Común, 2012 / Fondo Editorial El perro y la rana, 2007 }

7.27.2014

Un poeta venezolano que sólo conocen algunos poetas / Vicente Gerbasi

A Venezuelan Poet Who is Only Known by a Few Poets

                  [Juan Sánchez Peláez (1922-2003) and Vicente Gerbasi (1913-1992)]


Juan Sánchez Peláez, a young Venezuelan with one of the greatest gifts for poetic exercise, has been working for more or less ten years amidst a silence that is surprising in our circles, where everyone who writes a sonnet or a couplet or a newspaper essay wants to launch their literary career with the publication of a book.

Juan Sánchez Peláez, whom I think is one of the best poets in Venezuela at the moment, is barely known by a limited group of poets, writers and artists in Caracas, the city where he grew up and has spent some of the years of his taciturn existence. He is also known in Santiago de Chile, where he studied and attended the gatherings of the group “Mandrágora”, a circle of young Chilean poets and prose writers, among whom Eduardo Anguita, Braulio Arenas and others stand out.

In Chile, a land of turbulent struggles and good poets, Juan Sánchez Peláez became aware of the troubles of our time, perfectly understood modern poetry, knew how to conceive beauty according to the newest aesthetic currents, and unraveled a concrete and lucid language from his own soul, through which a marvelous subjective atmosphere anoints a real world of wealth.

In his poetry everything seems to be an invention of language, but the truth is that his work adheres to a profound reality of the senses, to a serious resonance of the soul, to a charmed vision of the world.

Sánchez Peláez works on his poetry every day, indefatigably. This young artist is possessed by a true creative passion. For years now he has been accumulating pages, notebooks, books. However, he hasn’t yet been able to publish anything, not even a chapbook. This is the great danger for our young poets. Besides the fact that they find themselves crushed by a cruel reality, often despised by a society only focused on the thirst for gold and a frenzied career of vanity and luxury, they don’t have the possibility of publishing their poems in books, unless it is by means of extraordinary sacrifices.

I continue to believe that we should establish an association of writers and artists that would focus on publishing on a monthly basis the best work being produced in the country. Decent, presentable editions could be made, with quality paper and tasteful typography, to be distributed to subscribers. In this way we could stimulate many of our young poets, writers and artists in a practical manner. That association could also publish music, give concerts and present exhibitions of our most outstanding artists.

Someone might ask: “Well, isn’t that what the Association of Venezuelan Writers is for?” Whoever asks this is correct, but the truth is that organization isn’t doing very well.

We should organize a group of writers and artists, a group motivated by creative enthusiasm, from which a homogenous movement might arise, capable of continuing and enriching our intellectual tradition.

The truth is, at this moment our literary and artistic landscape is quite mediocre. Young people in particular resent this mediocre landscape. Especially certain young people who are truly creators, like Juan Sánchez Peláez, whose temperament is crushed by encounters with falseness, selfishness and the masks of cretins.

In Venezuela we’re accustomed to hearing excessive adjectives when people talk about writers and artists.

Regarding Juan Sánchez Peláez, let us say that he is a good poet, a true good poet.




{ Vicente Gerbasi, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 25 June 1950 }

7.18.2014

New Novel by Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez Narrates the Violence and Corruption of Chavista Venezuela

                    [Photo: Maialen López (EFE)]

The movements of mysterious green suitcases that leave Caracas for Prague, Geneva, Rome or Madrid occupy the nearly four-hundred pages of Los maletines (Siruela), the new novel by the Venezuelan writer Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez. The grey and insignificant little man that carries them doesn’t know what he’s transporting but it must be important since that’s why they watch him, beat him, torture and chase after him, one and all, who are all bad and corrupt because there’s no good guys in this homemade spy story set in the inhospitable and treacherous Caracas of a dying Hugo Chávez, who is never named. “I’m superstitious. I haven’t wanted my blood to turn by citing in my novel the name of this character who poisoned our existence and brought me and the country such bad luck,” says the writer from Caracas who has now lived in Madrid for more than two decades. “But the caudillo’s name isn’t as important as the human situation his power generates.”

The Caracas of Los maletines is a rude and ill-tempered city where one minute you’re alive and the next you’re dead. The perfect setting for a crime novel where violence, stray bullets, brutality, abuse and tense situations, are always a threat, already there. Méndez Guédez acknowledges that his Venezuelan readers see the tragic dimension of his novel, while non-Venezuelans might notice a more humorous aspect that seems to exaggerate the violent gesture of a city that, in actuality, can be even crueler and more aggressive than its fiction. “Something painful has happened in Venezuela,” he says somberly. “It seems significant to me for a country to make horror something daily. You stop for coffee amid gunshots, news of kidnappings, violence, terrible things... and life goes on. My eye is local but estranged. I’ve been in Madrid for many years now, and from here a situation like that really shocks me. It’s also true that from a literary perspective, as a crime novel, that tension seems seductive to me because it’s a genre of viscous atmosphere and ferocious drama.”

“Chávez who poisoned our existence and brought us bad luck”
One of the motivations for Los maletines appeared one day when he was driving through Caracas. A taxi driver confessed a deep desire to Méndez Guédez that seemed fair to the author. “He told me that what he wanted was throw a surprise, make a whole bunch of money and escape from everything with his family, to save his children, to save them from having to live through that hell.” When he got out of the taxi he noticed he had been circulating through the location of his next novel and that this driver’s anger had procured him a topic. The difference between his story and that of the George Roy Hill movie “The Sting,” “with two bad guys who get revenge against two other bad guys,” is found in how it’s anchored in the violent, bureaucratic and corrupt reality of Chavista Venezuela. “I had in mind Agent 86, a bungling spy,” he recalls. “The reality of Venezuelan intelligence agencies today is shoddy. I was interested in portraying the ridiculousness, the cheesy, the soap opera quality of the exercise of power in Venezuela, without ignoring that it remains power and thus it intimidates, even if it seems like a military boot with purple lace.”

Los maletines is a Caracas novel. Its characters bear that city’s traits. Its heroes, two fed-up citizens who end up in a picaresque situation as they take revenge against the system, which leads to an unraveling where the lesser of two evils wins. “I was interested in having a happy ending in a country that doesn’t have them. I liked the idea of at least saving two people via fiction.” At the same time, the author wanted to destroy stereotypes with deep roots in that society. He dismantles the myth of the macho latin lover with a protagonist who fails spectacularly each time he goes to bed with a girl and places alongside him an unconventional gay friend who is addicted to boxing and not to Miss Venezuela contests. “The characters are constructions based on people you know. You mix into one character traits from six or seven people you know and that’s how the protagonists emerge, in this case two friends who’ve been knocked around by life, Caribbean lazarillos with different postures who end up agreeing on friendship and their attempt to escape. There are lots of people like them.” They’re surrounded by characters typical of Caracas: corrupt officials, swindlers, murderers, unscrupulous types, violent people, grifters, arrogant, miserable, frauds, cheaters, santeros, fanatics and, of course, that new national typology that is the Chavista Cubans, characters that push the city —and the novel itself— towards routes of frenetic urban thrillers. “Los maletines is an artifact of fiction,” as its creator defines it, “but it’s based on real reconstructions.”

“I wanted to portray the ridiculousness of the exercise of power in my country”
This is the first time Méndez Guédez, author of titles such as Arena negra, Chulapos mambo, Tal vez la lluvia, Una tarde con campanas or El libro de Esther, so directly addresses political matters in that divided Venezuela, but it’s not his first to portray the Caracas where he grew up, or the return to topics like paternity, love and solidarity amid stories that, while having the political crisis as a backdrop, always move between Venezuela and Spain, their two countries. “I became a writer because I was a solitary child who read a lot and was useless for anything else. When I was young I tried to improve the episodes of El Zorro that I’d see on television, or I’d invent stories in which Bolívar and the Indian chief Guaicaipuro were superheroes. I always say that I became a writer because of a vital rejection. I grew up in a working class neighborhood and I didn’t know how to dance. That marks you there, it makes you different.”




{ Omar Khan, El País, 14 July 2014 }

7.10.2014

Venezuelan Art Collective Wins Public Art Contest in Pittsburgh

                (Israel Centeno, writer)

The Venezuelan artists Carolina Arnal, Israel Centeno and Gisela Romero were the winners of an open call by City of Asylum/Pittsburgh and the Office of Public Art of Pittsburgh for the realization of one of three temporary art projects that will take place in Pittsburgh, PA starting in July, with an interdisciplinary proposal entitled “River of Words.”

Arnal, Centeno and Romero have formed a group that, from different disciplines, has been working together since 2002 as a critical voice in various art projects.

                                        (Israel Centeno)

                                        (Carolina Arnal)

                                        (Gisela Romero)

The project “River of Words” came about from a collaboration between the graphic designer Carolina Arnal, the writer Israel Centeno and the visual artist Gisela Romero, and it includes ephemeral, temporary and permanent art transformed into texts, words, drawings and designs. With the intention of actively involving community residents, they organized a program in which neighbors chose the words they wanted to have as guests in their streets, backyards and homes. Among many other words, there will be fragments of texts by the Venezuelan poets Eugenio Montejo, Rafael Cadenas and José Antonio Ramos Sucre.

                                        (Eugenio Montejo)

                                        (Rafael Cadenas)

                                        (José Antonio Ramos Sucre)

The main idea of the project is the artistic and everyday connection between the neighbors of the community and the Alphabet City Literary Center, within approximately eight blocks of Pittsburgh, on the northern side of the city, a historic district known as Mexican War Streets. Using the layout of contact between neurons, words and drawings, there will be connections drawn between houses, streets and backyards, creating a synapsis and materializing the contact between human beings in the exchange of energy, affection and knowledge.

The project will be installed by its creators, Arnal, Centeno and Romero.




Translator’s Note: More information about “River of Words” can be found at the City of Asylum/Pittsburgh website.




{ El Universal, 10 July 2014 }

7.06.2014

Entre la tendencia a saber jugar con la luz y las visiones del infierno. Reflexiones sobre temas venezolanos / Dayana Fraile

Between the Tendency of Knowing How to Play with Light and Visions of Hell: Reflections on Venezuelan Topics

                     Armando Reverón, “Landscape”


“Adolescents suffer”
[Los adolescentes adolecen].
A true masterpiece of technocratic Caracas poetics. If not for inventiveness, at least for its diffusion. And yet, it can’t surpass in splendor the more popular
“armadillo works for the guinea pig”
[cachicamo trabaja para lapa]
It doesn’t even compare due to a matter of perception. The second one turns out to be more fascinating because the association is destined to remain in darkness. My lack of referents is absolute. I’ve never seen an armadillo or a guinea pig. Except in photographs, videos or zoos and petting stations. I don’t know anything about their habits, the places the live. I don’t know about the relationship between these animals. The mere association leaves me perplexed. Now is the time of Venezuelans who don't understand Venezuelan phrases.
The enthusiastic nationalists inscribed in a purely no-worries vision propose that “Venezuelanness” is nothing more than cultural artifacts like the dance of the guarandol bird, arepas, joropo music and even the industrially-produced beer of the Polar company. This is a mystification that attempts to delineate us as though we were completely westernized beings facing a display of postcards and souvenirs. It is a reification. It creates artifacts. No one thinks of culture as something that is breathed. It’s turned into a corpse and from it surge, as though superimposed on a puddle of mud, those fragile mummies-testimonies that ceaselessly wave their fingers in the air trying to touch you. The cadaverous doesn’t move nor does it move us.
Relatedly,
there’s also that tendency to always think of mestizaje as being of a whitening nature. I’ve witnessed how the sanitizing vision of mestizaje defends the purely Spanish origin of the joropo to the very end and then I’ve been left astonished when I see how they read authors like Winthrop R. Wright, who argues that the joropo is an ensemble of European songs and forms inscribed in the polyphonic rhythms of African music. If we add the pair of shamanic maracas that accompany any self-respecting joropero, we find ourselves in the presence of an all-out interracial super-production. This would represent a more interesting reading,
and also a more realistic one
of the frenzied beat of the zapateo dance.
Even
when it comes to that meticulous, compulsive stamping that takes place in the joropo style from the Tuy Valleys —and if you don’t believe me, watch the videos of El Gabán Tacateño.
Personally, and I’m speculating here, I think that Venezuelanness is to be found somewhere between a fragment from A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolomé de las Casas
published in 1552
and the episode about Tebaldi in search of the perfect yogurt that occurs in the novel El bonche by Renato Rodríguez
published in 1976.
The fragment by De Las Casas constitutes a truly brief aside in A Short Account. Set in a page with too many blank spaces, located between an aside dedicated to the Pearl Coast and to Paria and the island of Trinidad, and the aside dedicated to the Kingdom of Venezuela, we find this short paragraph flowing under the title “Regarding the Yuyapari River.”
And the Dominican begins,
“Through the province of Paria climbs a river called the Yurapari, more than two hundred leagues heading inland...”
And the crystalline peninsula, its luminosity and mangroves all come to mind... "A sad tyrant followed its course for many leagues during the year 1529 with four hundred or more men, and he committed great massacres, burning people alive and wielding swords against an infinity of innocent natives who were in their lands and homes without harming anyone, not paying attention, and he left much of the land in ashes and astonished and fearful..."
The initial beauty plunges toward the territories of the abject. Everything has become a story summarized by a pair of images, flames and ruins...
“And finally...”
De Las Casas continues resigned,
"... he died a horrible death and his armada fell apart. And afterwards, other tyrants succeeded in those evils and tyrannies, and today we see them destroying and killing and damning the souls that the son of God redeemed with his blood..." in this manner outlining it like a never-ending story, destined to be repeated for eternity. I focus on that unknown verb in Spanish, to damn, [infernar]
“to damn the souls.”
What else can these visions of hell be but prophecies. Eternal damnations. I imagine that to damn means precisely the act of making the soul pass through a bit of hell. As though passing through eggs and flour. Becoming inferno, a macabre product of the technology of the spirit. Ever since then, perhaps, we have lived as damned. Irremediably contaminated by inferno. That’s how those fleeting tyrants end up elaborating a version of the story about the bald rooster. That story from Venezuelan folklore that consists of an opening phrase that's repeated forever;
when someone says,
“Do you want to hear the story about the bald rooster?”
“Yes," someone else replies.
“I already told it to you,” the first one says,
and then again
“Do you want to hear the story about the bald rooster?”
And so on
forever
until the other person gets angry or annoyed.
Or they both do.
I was a child the first time I encountered the story of the bald rooster. Dad repeated it to me until he managed to make me feel like I was at the edge of desperation.
Yes.
I.
Wanted.
To hear the story.
But the story doesn’t exist. It’s nothing more than that prefiguration, a hook to catch your lips. A matter for tricksters.
Changing the subject,
the fragment by Rodríguez introduces the “energetic man” in the landscape. An image that circulates, that lives inside a fucked up loop, like the petty tyrant in the boat. But it represents a notable improvement because it comes from the same creators of the “1975 Petroleum Nationalization.” The avatar of the “energetic man,” the political prototype of the oil boom in the seventies, the millions of photos of the presidential candidate Carlos Andrés Pérez leaping over a puddle in an Olympic pose is incarnated in Tebaldi, who like the Wandering Jew seeks the utopia of the perfect yogurt after seeing the movie “The Man on the Eiffel Tower” and discovering Franchot Tone's satisfied expression when “he shoots a yogurt between his chest and back.” Tebaldi understands that this is “the thing,” by which he means, “beatitude, peace, a balanced relationship with the cosmos, the harmonious life” and he gives himself over insatiably to trying all the types of yogurt to be found in Caracas. After buying a cow and producing his own yogurt, he ends up robbing money from the cash register of the company where he works so he can flee to Europe and throw himself into the delirium of travelling on foot throughout the entire continent trying millions of portions of yogurt. However, he never manages to feel what he yearned for, “that beatitude and peace on Franchot Tone’s face.”
Is it the search for El Dorado in reverse?
Venezuelans mount themselves in the libidinal energy of petroleum in order to pursue the fetish of modernity.
We are
the eternal Latin American
positivists.
Caracas was the city of utopia, and that’s why today it seems retro-futuristic to us, with all those beautiful buildings in the modernist architectural style. The streets of Los Chaguaramos, Colinas de Bello Monte and Las Mercedes are an architectural museum from that belle epoque. Even though the streets are sometimes sprinkled with soulless glass buildings in corporate Palm Beach style, the city maintains an atmosphere of a classic cyberpunk story.
Caracas is still the city of utopia.
But the “infernal” utopia of Bartolomé de las Casas.
The city of the reversible utopia. The city of the executive crystal skyscrapers occupied by the impoverished masses always pushed to the limit. The extreme precariousness of cardboard disintegrating in the tropical humidity. The modernity of Caracas is as fragmented, broken, as the windows of those skyscrapers.
Now,
what we know about Tebaldi we know thanks to José, the best carpenter in Galilee. They often run into each other in extremely improbable ways on the roads of Northern Europe. On one occasion when José is getting ready to spend the night around a campfire hidden amidst the trees, he catches a glimpse of a man walking quite decidedly as though he were being dragged by a mirage. Each time he grabs a new portion of yogurt, he fails. The revelation doesn’t materialize and it's hard not to imagine him falling incessantly toward the lower right hand corner of the screen. The petty tyrant from De Las Casas and Tebaldi coincide in the video game recurrence of the story about the bald rooster. Both of them always return from the upper left-hand corner as if they were our telluric versions of the Mario Bros. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to speak of the story about the bald rooster as a philosophical concept that belongs to us. The truncated story. Very truncated. The very new story
that
unleashes desire,
the utopia of progress.
But it seems to be doomed from the very first phrase to the poverty of progress. Paria-story-metaphor of the earthly paradise in the diaries of Columbus. Liberating and seeking independence in the 19th century, Venezuela-unstoppable-magma, the absolute fantasy of republican emergence.
But all of them, unleavened bread.
They flatten
in the oven.
Nationalism as a political concept is not important to me since it can turn out to be misleading. Nationalism isn’t something unitary that can be considered a solution. It can’t be considered positive or negative by simply speaking in the abstract without analyzing each particular manifestation and I,
understand-that-the-country-is-truly-fucked
but frankly: I don’t like the anti-nationalist diatribes that many Venezuelans are willing to share each time they have the chance. Now it turns out that it's in style to be anti-nationalist...
Evidently,
it’s a reaction to the saturation of Chavismo's discursive manipulation, which has kidnapped the referents, the meaning of the spirit of our imagined community. Some in the opposition have made the mistake of waving a flag in response under the figure of a supposed individualism that denies the existence of something as imperishable and nebulous as Venezuelanness. I think it's a mistake because we should situate ourselves in a thought scheme that takes into consideration our reality, our particularities.
I don’t know if thinking about Venezuela from
Love
is being a nationalist.
But I can’t help it: I like love. So I think about that shack I glimpsed on the road between Puerto La Cruz and Arapito beach in the state of Sucre. A fragile shack made of odds and ends prolifically adorned with pieces of blue glass. It was evident that these were pieces of Solera Light beer bottles. Broken. Crushed against the ground. I think of that radiant shack on the hot road. With all that blue glass filtering the light in a kaleidoscopic manner. The landscape transfigured by the rays of the sun that were pounding its humble walls.
What else did Armando Reverón and the artists of Geometric Abstraction do but play with light? Reverón with his humid, impressionist landscapes, elaborated expressive devices inspired by the light of the tropics. The abstract artists with their kinetic art, marked by optical illusions, assembled the movement of a space that was necessarily crossed and modified by light. The fragments of the “Orange Sphere” by Jesús Soto distributed along the Caracas horizon reach the plenitude of
an artificial sun.
So I like to think Venezuelanness has more to do with collections of contingencies such as these, circumstances that provide us with contours. The tendency to play with light. The tendency to transform the tendency of playing with light into a form of artistic expression. Venezuelanness as a way of thinking and being in the world. Not like a concretist corpse. Venezuelanness is not the “Orange Sphere,” it is all the contingencies that limit its creation and the creation of the kaleidoscope-shack on the road to the beach because it never ceases to amaze me that a Venezuelan living in the middle of nowhere, who has probably never seen the works of Reverón or the Geometric Abstraction painters, can share the same instinct, a similar sensibility accompanied by its respective correlative of know-how, because it never ceases to amaze me that a man living in the middle of nowhere, using waste materials and a rudimentary knowledge, arrives at the same results, reaches the same aesthetic.
So that,
the furious masses that are trying to construct themselves as the extreme opposite of Chavismo are a virus of the system.
“Venezuelan music is horrible, man... Arepas don’t nourish you, they just make you fat as hell, man... Venezuelan writers have always been shit and that's why no one knows who they are, man.”
They’re mistaken when they think that Venezuelanness is disposable, as if it were merely a possible option that can be taken or rejected. In actuality, it’s simpler because it's an organic matter. It is merely features.
For example,
in my case it involves not being accustomed to animals because I grew up in a fishing village that was improvised into a oil-producing city. A fishing village with a single street that in the forties began to transform itself into a zone that would eventually have one of the largest oil refineries in the country. Houses built on top of salt mines. Yellowish sand. Sterile. Tenuous breeze facing the sea. Everything flat. A few sand cliffs here and there. Everything scorching. Blue sky like a mirage. A handful of palm trees. Some sea grapes. The purple, sour fruit, spreading like stains on the pavement. Everything so full of space. The grass planted by the mayor’s office languishing and faded to brown on the traffic islands that separate the streets and highways. A life emptied of animals. Some tiny bird, a black shadow on the sidewalk. A pelican on the beach. A macaw at some tourist inn. No chickens. No goats. No cows. No horses. No roosters. No dogs. No cats. Not many trees. Hardly any trees. Only salt water. Small stones. The sand putting pressure on red skin under the shiny edge of the day. Being blinded by the excessive sun. The industrial chimneys expelling black smoke. Ashes. The industrial gas burners.
When I watch people in Pittsburgh
hugging chickens
I’m immediately overcome by a premonition that I can’t do that. I can't hug chickens. But paradoxically, I fondly remember the stories of my dad eating impossible animals during the survival training he received when he was in the army. Dad emerges in my memories in some thicket on the Colombian border, eating grilled long-tailed monkeys and serpents. Or climbing onto a boat and beating the water with a stick to disperse the deadly piranhas. Or riding grey horses that for some reason I imagined being purple.
Then,
the image of dad sitting in Ciudad Bolívar in front of a plate of turtle pie.
The horror.
Then,
the image of the macaws at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas balancing themselves on the campus palm trees in the green spaces known as No Man’s Land. The man who kidnaps the incredibly beautiful yellow-blue macaw that crashes into the paranoid, tall gates of an apartment building in Los Chaguaramos. The bus on the street’s horizon. The electric fences. A dry blow and a blue shadow cracking the pavement. The man who runs and hides the bruised body of the bird beneath his shirt.
The horror.
And yet
I
can't
hug chickens.
So being Venezuelan involves a collection of contingencies,
like having a certain predisposition to playing with light or having certain probabilities of not knowing how to relate to animals and, perhaps, it might also be that repressed smile at the gynecologist's office when she looks for suspicious bumps in my breasts and starts to recommend that I use sunscreen whenever I leave the house each day and I'm suddenly struck, like never before, by the vision of the tenuous paleness of Pittsburgh, kingdom of ice, because I fully remember
the utter intensity of the light in the city where I was born.
So the gynecologist recommends I use sunscreen every day and I,
I immediately think there’s no possibility of me getting skin cancer. If I survived the light in Puerto La Cruz there's no chance the light of Pittsburgh will defeat me. The majority of us don't even suspect such an atrocity could be possible: to become ill because of the sun.
Impossible, impossible to not see it as an eccentricity on the part of the gynecologist, especially when I recall having spent entire weeks sitting on the sand uninterruptedly, swallowing salt water. Without paying the least bit of attention to sunscreen or moisturizing lotion. The inclement sun of the tropics assaulting the strips of my dry and peeling skin. Charred. Impossible to not think that my indigenous blood protects me from these types of things. And then the salt water floods my mouth and nose while I'm lying on the bed with my legs open as the gynecologist holds a metal pincer and I think of how pleasant it is to be dragged by the currents of the sea while my body floats, overcoming any future sinking. I don't need any sunscreen. I have an understanding with the light. I leave her office holding a piece of paper with information about the services I received. I note that the doctor has written in the box at the top of the page, even though I told her I'm from Venezuela, despite my accent:
Age: 29
Race: white
Ethnicity: not Hispanic or Latino.

Really?

White?

Not
Hispanic
or Latino?

It’s impossible to not think that being Venezuelan is also that. Your racial identity is an indecipherable enigma for any foreigner. They project what they know onto you. They dare to guess and are always mistaken.
In contrast, each day I understand less the meaning of that other word: Latino.




{ Dayana Fraile, Eternal Typewriter, 27 June 2014 }

7.04.2014

Su voz es un largo túnel / Francisco Pérez Perdomo

Its Voice Is a Long Tunnel

Its voice is a long tunnel
that crosses the ages
and communicates the extremes.
At its dark points
old skeletons phosphoresce,
bolts suddenly open
and you can often hear
the birds of death ululate.
From its peaks of darkness
decayed moans now descend,
chains grinding in the night,
the whistling of serpents
that reverse time
and make the hours dance.
So the past and the future
alternate with no transition,
move in their immobility
and exacerbate their infinite circle.




El sonido de otro tiempo (1991)




{ Francisco Pérez Perdomo, El hilo equívoco de los vocablos. Antología poética, Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 2014 }

7.02.2014

Estoy fatal / Francisco Pérez Perdomo

I’m Deathly Ill

“I’m deathly ill,”
the old woman was saying to me
curled up into a ball
huddling in her cot,
in her cave,
in her rat’s nest,
she looked like a wreck,
like rubble speaking
through the darkness of the room,
in her lodgings
with filthy and cracked walls,
with holes that opened into eternity;
she was stirring in bed,
breathing with a whistling noise,
she had returned
from her remote time
to a fetal life,
to the origins of the world
and from the nearby cemetery
sharp and hollow voices were calling her
in their language of shadow and sobbing,
they were summoning her
to their secret houses,
their sighing houses
in the countryside and the rain
and the windstorms
that never ceased
blowing through the streets,
and there she was on the cot
knocked down by the years,
circling her memories,
parched, cracked
like the earth
that sustained the longevity
of her naked steps,
her bare feet,
rough, breaking thorns
and leaving a trail
along the dry and crumbled bushes;
a confusing call
from the depths of the town
was crawling to her ears
with an aureole of death,
it was plunging her into sleep
and a decayed horseman with no head
above his skin and bones
was riding a yellow steed.




Ceremonias (1976)




{ Francisco Pérez Perdomo, El hilo equívoco de los vocablos. Antología poética, Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 2014 }

6.30.2014

La depravación de los astros: 16 / Francisco Pérez Perdomo

The Depravity of the Stars: 16

You look at yourself in the mirror. In the glass orb. You do yourself up. You get your neck together, your tie. You touch up your hair. You observe your own image from all angles. Head on, from the sides; from the water, from the fire and the air. With curiosity. You watch time. You consult the abyss. You speed ahead a thousand years. You live. You return. You look at yourself in the mirror. In the glass orb. You do yourself up. You get your neck together, your tie. You touch up your hair. You observe your own image from all angles. Head on, from the sides; from the water, from the fire and the air. With curiosity. You watch time. You consult the abyss. You speed ahead a thousand years. You live. You return. You look at yourself in the mirror...




La depravación de los astros (1966)




{ Francisco Pérez Perdomo, El hilo equívoco de los vocablos. Antología poética, Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 2014 }

6.29.2014

DI / Francisco Pérez Perdomo

DI

I must be rigorously faithful to my mental oscillations. In consequence, my ubiquity should not be seen as a memorable feat. It’s understandable that one day I take a brusque and sudden leap from my room through the window’s emptiness and find myself, at the same time, hanging by a thread from my hair on the haunted slope, just like the acrobatic spider, or floating in a dinghy that simultaneously balances itself adrift from all waters. (The spider’s equilibrium undoubtedly embodies the image of happiness and disgrace and thus its relevant importance for the human race.) Nor is it unheard-of that without having to resort to the manipulations of fraud and other tricks I might be able to descend from the seventh dream, pulled by the vibrating strings of my eyelashes, to the place of the initial delirium, without for an instant releasing myself from my intimate room, now sustained by silence, four precarious walls and another nefarious dream.




Los venenos fieles (1963)




{ Francisco Pérez Perdomo, El hilo equívoco de los vocablos. Antología poética, Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 2014 }

6.28.2014

Salvados / Francisco Pérez Perdomo

Saved

Saved
but still as though dressed
                                      in that black slime
disasters leave in their wake
and that dust and that mark
of having lived for so long
                               in such a strange place
in the room that’s so closed
and for so many reasons so similar
                                                  to that spot
with hands accustomed to darkness
and the ring of dull eyes guarding us
and those masks that seem twisted
by the stigmas of the most
                              diverse circumstances
and now returning and reiterated
                                              like a habit
to the daily illnesses
sweet accomplice
after having lived somber
                          and unpunished by chance




Fantasmas y enfermedades (1961)




{ Francisco Pérez Perdomo, El hilo equívoco de los vocablos. Antología poética, Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 2014 }

6.23.2014

Entrevista a Luis Enrique Belmonte: “El arte une y la ideología divide” / Miguel Chillida

An Interview with Luis Enrique Belmonte: “Art unites and ideology divides”

                    [Photo: Enio Perdomo]

Luis Enrique Belmonte is one of the most prominent poets of his generation. He was born in Caracas in 1971 and is a medical doctor who graduated from the Central University of Venezuela. He specialized in Bioethics at Ramón Llull University and History of the Sciences at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He has received, among other recognitions, the Fernando Paz Castillo Prize for Poetry (1996) for Cuerpo bajo lámpara, the Adonais Prize (1998) for Inútil registro and the Poetry Prize for the IV Mariano Picón Salas Biennial of Literature (2005) for El encanto. Miguel Chillida interviews him exclusively for Prodavinci.


Luis Enrique, Walter Benjamin has pointed out that “The purpose of the calendar was to unite the acknowledgment of a certain quality with the measurement of a certain quantity, since holidays, in some way, leave blank spaces for contemplation. Man misplaced from experience feels as though he is outside the calendar. The inhabitant of a big city gains access to the knowledge of that feeling on Sundays.” It is precisely in your book Inútil registro (1998), where time doesn’t pass and the days even revel in their stagnation, that a poem like “Los domingos” appears. Could you talk to us a little about life in the city and the passing of time from your experience as a poet and musician?

You’re right, Miguel, the topic of displacement is present in Inútil registro and in other phases of my poetry. The sensation of estrangement we experiment when we’re displaced generates a phenomenon that intrigues me. You can be displaced from what surrounds you or from yourself. Undone or depersonalized. Being displaced is a mental condition that reveals and unknown side of the world and of yourself. It seems to me that they have correspondences with the eccentric nature of human beings, that urge that impels us from the center to the margins, bordering the circle, on the periphery.
When we’re displaced we lose certainties and roots. And this, if we know how to assume it, is an extraordinary source of knowledge. Relatedly, Sundays and holidays are times that bring about sensations that are related to drifting, beyond everyday order, at the margin of the productive-consumerist forces of society. During holidays we can experience idleness, slowness, contemplation. They’re days that defy the operative and productive logic of the Western almanac. The eccentric nature and displacement are attributes of a rebellion against the finite, the predetermined, the calendar, the accounting of the days. Religion and political ideology have tried to regulate this matter. That’s why during holidays they impose on us church services, soccer games, military parades and proselytizing fairs. It seems to me that subsistence is richer and more infinite if spaces exist for displacement, wonder, the festive mood, the loss of roots and certainties.

In the poem “Elefantes,” from your first book Cuando me da por caracol (1994), the speaker has a vision of five elephants while he’s looking out a window. The poem says:

They’re looking for the hidden source
beneath the tip of the pencil
that drives this pachydermatous message.

What is beyond, in unreality, is revealed to the poet so that he might be the intermediary between that unreal world and conventional reality. But the revelation is produced in the everyday. Do you think it’s important that the poet learn how to see the extraordinary in the ordinary? What does that consist of?


Maybe seeing beyond the everyday is a natural activity for the imaginative consciousness. The imagination expands the limits of conventional reality and points to the extraordinary. Poetry is interested in the traces, not the evidence of reality. René Char used to say that only traces can make us dream. To imagine, to dream, to see beyond. If I’m walking down the street and I notice the paw prints of a dog in the cement, I could try to explore other realities through that image: Where might that dog be now? When did he pass by here? What did the workers say or do to him when he put his paws on the wet cement. In other words, to imagine, to see beyond the evidence of the real, this unveils a hidden and magical side of things. Many years ago, when I was studying for an M.A. in the History of the Sciences and researching the effects of the bubonic plague on the Medieval state of mind, I stumbled across a great discovery. The medical Galenism of the 14th century recommended avoiding fear and sadness during the plague, since such afflictions predisposed the body to falling into the physical-natural disaster. The medical regimes of Agramont and of Gentile de Foligno highlight the value of the Ymaginatio in compensating for the effects of the plague. A certain etymology attributes the origin of the word Ymaginatio to the predisposition and activity of the Roman sentinels who were stationed at the fortifications at night. The night sentinel has to be capable of anticipating and mentally representing a phenomenon that hasn’t occurred but could occur. From his guard post, the sentinel imagines the beyond, and he interprets, with vigilant attention, the signs that emerge from the darkness (the creaking of a branch, the sound of the wind, voices, footsteps, lights, etc.). The sentinel hast to maintain his serenity so he doesn’t succumb to desperation. I think about this when you talk about poetry’s capacity to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. It’s a predisposition that leads you to investigate the hidden side of what’s known, and to imagine what happens beyond the perceptive walls that habit imposes on us. So we return again to the eccentric nature of the human being, to the movement of expansion from what is ours toward what is foreign. The poet is a nocturnal sentinel.

I like what you say, Luis Enrique. Particularly with the image of the sentinel, which is so present in your work; not only as an image. In “Noches del Bósforo,” from your book Compañero paciente (2012), the speaker seems to be a sentinel who witnesses the passing of time, and that poem, precisely, is permeated by a Medieval imaginary. Relatedly, Georges Bataille has written that “we don’t know ourselves as differently and clearly as the first day we perceive ourselves from outside as an other. And this happens only under the condition that we have already distinguished the other first on the plane where fabricated things have appeared to us distinctly.” Those things, utensils, objects that surround us, are very present in your work, and not just the “useful” things but also the “useless ones.” No longer as “hierophanies”(Eliade), since the speaker of the poems is at his core a profane man. And yet there is an intuition, another dimension hidden behind those objects. Do you think that part of ourselves can be found in that dimension? (I’m thinking of the refrigerator in your novel Salvar los elefantes, 2007.) Could you explain all this to us a bit?

Definitely yes, Miguel, and how sharp of you to see it that way. Objects allow the transition between inside and outside. And vice versa. The object or its mental representation are present in my work as resources and processes through which I explore the relation of a particular subject with himself and with his surroundings. Objects can catalyze an action or catapult an image in a very effective manner. I remember how one time Gustavo Valle told me that my poetry was full of useless knickknacks. I like the word knickknack [cacharro]. Useless objects that have been knocked around and defy functional logic. So the anti-operative and anti-productive dimension of the poetic impulse appears once again. A dimension that’s political and at the same time an aesthetic exploration. The possibilities a knickknack can offer are vert attractive for an artist. Duchamp, Schwitters, Arman, Brossa (who gave me, by the way, his final interview), Boltanski and the entire current that emerges from the Ready Made are constant references for my work. In Salvar los elefantes, objects are correlatives and processes of what happens to the subject. The refrigerator, the fan, the carburetor, etc. Those objects from “outside” are introjected by the character and, like him, they wander off course in a type of existential-situational shipwreck. Maybe the cosmic ecstasy or fusion of the hierophanies occurs, in Salvar los elefantes, starting with the character’s identification with and projection towards the useless objects in his apartment. The domestic objects that surround us might form the most transcendent constellation to which we can have access in this world that is every day more de-spiritualized.

In one of his essays, André Breton said that artists shouldn’t subjugate themselves to any political ideology, but at the same time, as men, their political position, along with the characteristics of the historical moment they live, will be present in their work as “latent content.” Do you think this “latent content” is expressed in verses such as:

My childhood priest
explained the black sheep very well
you can’t swim against the current he told me
and I looked at his big belly and asked myself
if he could even float with that belly

Or in poems from Cuerpo bajo lámpara like “No se olviden de nosotros,” that begins with an epigraph from Carlos Germán Belli, that I reproduce below:

Because above
there are those who handle everything,
who write, who sing, who dance,
who speak beautifully,
and we, red from shame,
only want to disappear
in little pieces


I completely agree. There’s latent content in every act of communication. We can’t separate ourselves from the impression and the contingencies of the time we live in. I think the affinity for the eccentric in my poetry is already a political position. But I don’t think it’s adequate to confuse politics with ideology. An artist should defend the right to exist and create at the margins of any ideology or exploitation of thought. We’re back to the peripheral function of art. The political preacher seeks to convince by means of doctrine, while the artist seeks participation by means of enchantment. The ideological operator speaks to the masses and to the powerful. The artist speaks to beings and to small things. Ideological preaching inevitably leads to vengeance and to the robbery of power. The poetic word seeks communion in the diverse and in the participation of the other. That’s why art unites and ideology divides.

Perhaps that democratic aspect of art is also associated in your poetry with the feast, with the orgy. I’m thinking of Matadero (2002). Relatedly, I think that time has been abolished in your poetry, for example in poems like “Dónde estará mi cuerpo, dónde los días”, from Cuerpo bajo lámpara (1996). Do you think it has to do with what Charles Péguy observed in Victor-Marie, Comte Hugo? (“When he would look at the door to the street, and the doorstep, which is generally a carved stone, atop this stone he clearly distinguished the ancient line, the sacred threshold, because it is the very same line.”)

Wow, Miguel, that quotation is so enigmatic and precious. It reminds me of that verse of Eliot’s that says time past and time future might be gathered in the present. It makes me think of art’s utopia, of the rebellion against the finite, of the search for an alternate and atemporal current.

The experience of the reader is closely tied in your work to the experience of the writer, to the point that they could turn out to be the same thing. One of the images present in your work is “the yellow flower,” always associated with positive, pleasant aspects of life. I recall a short story by Julio Cortázar that’s called precisely “The Yellow Flower.” The protagonist tells his story to the other narrator in a bar. After he meets a child, who is him as a child, he worries that the story of his life will repeat itself. Later on the boy gets sick and dies, under his care; so then he feels relieved that his story won’t repeat itself. But one day while walking he stops to light a cigarette and sees a yellow flower, and it’s at that moment he intuits nothingness in the beauty of that flower. “I suddenly understood nothingness, what I had thought was peace, the end of the chain. I would die and Luc was already dead, there would never be a yellow flower again for someone like us, there wouldn’t be anything, there wouldn’t be absolutely anything, and that was nothingness, for a flower to never exist again.” I read your book Paso en falso (2004) and I stop at a poem like “¿Cuántas veces tiene que morir un hombre para estar muerto?”. The ephemeral, the transitory, even the organic decomposition of things and beings, and also the forgetting of those things and those beings, these are very important in your work. Could you talk to us about this?

My friend, the image of the yellow flower is very potent. I’ve been obsessed with it for a long time. I’m fascinated by those yellow flowers that grow in the cracks of cement in public. The image of a yellow flower is simple and profound. And it’s true that it’s present in my poetry. It has a solar nature, associated with festivity, with the happiness of spring, with pleasures, but at the same time it refers us to tempus fugit, to life’s ephemeral nature, to the fragility of our existence, to everything that happens and moves us precisely because it happens. A simple yellow flower reveals to us the mystery of existence, the celebration of life and the work of death. Reverdy said that at the core what is loved is what passes. The image of a yellow flower can summarize a poetics of transit, the commemoration of the beauty that surges from what is most fragile and ephemeral. I’m very moved that you’ve mentioned it.

Luis Enrique, how do you explain the ego of poets, if art is a struggle against this?

I think the artist’s ego is the consequence of a predictable risk of the job, since writing is a narcissistic exercise. The poet’s laboratory is himself. The images, words or sensations are recognized within, in the corners of the mind, in the basements where the consciousness tied to the real-conventional doesn’t reach. The poetic exercise leads to psychic excursions and to inner searching. Thus, part of the poet’s labor consists of submerging within himself to access symbols or meanings that are “his own” and that he’ll later on transform, by means of the alchemy of the word —and the calculated disorder of the senses— in common and communicable words. The poet checks personal materials in order to make them impersonal. And the deeper we explore, if the search is authentic, the more we find ourselves with the other, he himself. So I think true poetry is impersonal, even though it emerges from a personal experience. And it’s precisely there, in that delivery, where the poet’s ego is annulled to become part of the other. Now, if the poet stays locked in his self-contemplative and complacent shell, and praises himself constantly so as to compensate for certain failures, complexes or fears, well, he’ll probably produce very boring and innocuous poems. The best poets I’ve met don’t seem to be that way: even when they’re aware that writing is a narcissistic exercise, they don’t go around praising themselves and much less proclaiming themselves as special beings.

What about the state of mind of depression, in relation to the imaginative task?

As my friend and teacher Alfredo Silva Estrada would say, poetry is a state of waiting or a vigil for what will come. That state of expectation could, eventually, be associated with anguish, desperation or a terror of emptiness. Depression is an expectant desperation. The depressive constantly returns to what’s not there: he awaits and grows desperate about what will not come. Relatedly, the melancholic temperament leads us to a mood that contributes to a certain poetic vision of the world where life’s fragility and perishable nature is revealed. Thus, expectation and anguish when facing the finitude of beings and things could be related to some moments in poetic creation. Although I’d also like to think that the accomplished poem —a sensorial, expressive, communicable artifact— provides hope, since it gives us the chance to encounter the other.

Another preoccupation of this type among poets has been the Ivory Tower. What do you think about that?

The general notion exists of the solitary poet, removed from society, at the margins of everyone else. This perception has a real basis, which is the writing process, a slow process that demands silence and solitude. The other thing that sustains the notion of the solitary poet has to do with the very role of the poet in society, which for me is none other than to transit and register the margins of the world, the fleeting, the perishable, what we don’t see —or what we refuse to accept— because of the psychic routine imposed on us by the systems that rule human coexistence. But the flip side is that without the other the conformation of the subject is impossible. The poet doesn’t write for everyone else, he writes through everyone else. Without everyone else poetry makes no sense. It would be a sterile and onanistic exercise. And more than everyone else, the us would be the source that nourishes poetic writing and the place to which returns. Poetry begins with everyone else, goes into the self and emerges in the us.

In 2013 the first album by Viralata, in which you play the violin, was released. Tell us about that project and about your experience as “violinero”. (You’ve also musicalized some poems, for example “Cuando me da por caracol.”)

Music has always accompanied me. I think it’s the most spiritual form that matter can attain. In all the cities I’ve lived, I’ve always been taken in by musicians and artisans. Now, I’m not a professional violinist. I’m a violinero. José Manuel Briceño Guerrero used to say he preferred the violinero to the violinist. A violinist aims to exhibit his virtuosity. And he also makes a living from that. A violinero inserts himself in anthropological spaces related to collective celebration or with personal meditation. The violineros of the Andes, for example, pull out their violin after finishing their agricultural labor, and their practice is like a type of meditation at the end of the day. Or they might play when they’re high and they gather to liven the pagan and religious holidays of the town. The same thing happens with gypsy violineros and others. I identify with that social and extemporaneous function of music when it emerges in the contexts of celebration, enjoyment and communion. Recently, here in Caracas, I made an appearance with a great musician, Enio “Chicho” Escauriza, with whom I was exploring some sounds from Venezuela and making music to bewilder the mind. At the moment I have close partners in a psych folk musical project called Viralata, which means street dog in Portuguese. I sometimes think music and poetry are the same thing. And I’m grateful for your generosity in inviting me to engage in a dialogue based on my work with poetry. I think this is the most entertaining and empathetic interview I’ve been a part of. I enjoyed it a lot. Thank you.

Here are some links to access the music we make: the Viralata account on Soundcloud and on YouTube. Or you can listen to the project Magicomio.




{ Miguel Chillida, Prodavinci, 20 June 2014 }

6.20.2014

Calletania, ahora / Salvador Garmendia

Calletania, Now

I thought the novel had disappeared in Venezuela; or that at least it wasn’t around anywhere. The door had been left open, and the aroma remained: but just the aroma, I don’t know if from nostalgia or as a precaution. Actually, we had been the ones (those of us who thought we had it by the neck), who had let it go one day; and it seemed like it would be like that for a while. Then Calletania appeared and it seems like the novel is unexpectedly here again; literature sounds like it’s nearby once more. Reality reappears inventing things; poetry untangling streets, rooms, dawns and empty stages from the fifties; amidst a replay of themes we had thought abandoned by certain types of timeless fiction; sex, alcohol, narcotics, revolution...

That great intruder in bed, as drawn with bitter complicity by one of the threads of consciousness that sustain the plot, the Colonel, in his harangue of despair and disillusion: “We didn’t have anything else to share besides the speeches among friends in common, each time fewer, more fastidious; the places that separated us, those of us who had carried the revolution, that stupid offering, that useless point of convergence, that great intruder in bed...”

Calletania, the novel by Israel Centeno (1958), a work of initiation that is perhaps too acceleratedly brief and yet still feels like it’s left over from something; but a something that remains, making a sound beyond the pages; and in which we imagine ourselves involved by one and many loose threads. It’s a quick hit, one of those that leave a mark and vibrate for a long time. That afternoon, we touch the area where we were hit and say, that kid hits hard. Because Centeno knows the novel isn’t just writing; but it’s mainly writing. That language doesn’t play by itself; but its virtue is a solitary virtue that exercises and sustains itself without leaving, assaulting itself like a lowly thief. This is how Centeno is able to untangle a capable, pursuant, stalking fiction, in control of its secrets, skilled at moving its pieces at the appropriate moment, loose when it comes to humor and irreverent commentary; and above all, intelligent and skeptical, when observation jumps like a spark from the flame that consumes us today and reminds us that “instability, bewilderment, uncertainty, these are all sustained by a system of liberties.”




{ Salvador Garmendia, El Diario de Caracas, 2 August 1992 }

6.06.2014

Autores venezolanos en España / Antonio López Ortega

Venezuelan Authors in Spain

Towards the end of the 1980s, thanks to the efforts of Katyna Henríquez, Siruela published the complete works of José Antonio Ramos Sucre. There are no copies left of that beautiful edition, and today the great poet from Cumaná is once again unknown. A decade later, in an effort that owes a great deal to Ana Nuño, Lumen published the collected poetry of Juan Sánchez Peláez, that served for many years as the point of entry for global readers into that strange and hallucinatory voice of ours. But no trace remains on the bookshelves of that austere edition with a brown cover. More recently, few people have known that an edition of the complete short stories of José Balza, published thanks to the efforts of a top-notch researcher from Granada named Ernesto Pérez Zúñiga, was left trapped in the deposits of the publishing house Paréntesis, after it quietly went bankrupt.

But not all the news is about omissions, of course. Luckily, there is evidence of a sustained though sometimes imperceptible ascent. The publishing house Candaya, for example, which is celebrating its first decade these days, has published books by José Barroeta, Ednodio Quintero, Victoria de Stefano, Marina Gasparini and María Auxiliadora Álvarez, to mention some of the more well-known names. Just a few years ago, Paginas de Espuma welcomed the complete short stories of Arturo Uslar Pietri, edited by Gustavo Guerrero. And Guerrero, for Galaxia Gutenberg, dedicated a beautiful anthology to the poetry of Rafael Cadenas, Vicente Gerbasi, Eugenio Montejo, José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Juan Sánchez Peláez and Guillermo Sucre. The prestigious Anagrama has awarded prizes recently both to Alberto Barrera Tyszka for his novel The Sickness, and to Gustavo Guerrero for his study of the “commissioned” novel La Catira, by Camilo José Cela. Finally, the case of Boris Izaguirre, with several novels under his belt, already enters the circuit of authors who are sought and venerated by the general public.

Special mention should be given to the publishing house Pre-Textos from Valencia, which has been noting the quality of Venezuelan poetry for several years, at first with initial editions of Vicente Gerbasi and Juan Liscano, and more recently with the systematic pulication of works by Rafael Cadenas and Eugenio Montejo, who are already authors of reference for global poetry. In 2012 Pre-Textos maintained that lineage by publishing the selected work of Alejandro Oliveros along with a poetry collection by Luis Enrique Pérez Oramas. For the end of 2014 they’ve announced the collected works of Yolanda Pantin and Igor Barreto.

Additionally, the Venezuelan authors who have migrated to Spain, a type of secret diaspora that’s no longer so, not only publish their own work with Spanish houses, but are authentic promoters of their fellow countrymen. Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez and Juan Carlos Chirinos stand out as perhaps the most major voices, but right beside them are Slavko Zupcic, Armando Luigi Castañeda and the precocious Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles. All of this constitutes a map of powerful voices that continue to add meaning and to open a path for themselves by the force of their talent within a demanding and competitive publishing world. There are many others who, in the field of fiction or poetry, are just starting to make themselves known, but the phenomenon responds to a line of expansion, and not regression.

It’s worth remembering that these Venezuelan cultural landscapes in foreign lands are a symptom of our times. Venezuela has gone from being a country that welcomed immigrants to a country that expels its citizens and their talents. All the effort that can be seen in Spain, by vigorous publishing houses and writers, is the work of a chain of impulses, of enthusiasm and no small amount of faith. On that shore they are reconstructing the face that is being undone on this side. A country that is not the one that is drowning us right now will recognize what these sons of the diaspora did to keep alive the pulse of a culture that refuses to weaken amidst empty proclamations and military parades.




{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 5 June 2014 }

6.04.2014

Israel Centeno: “Venezuela hoy espanta” / Daniel Fermín

Israel Centeno: “Venezuela today is frightening”


Israel Centeno (Caracas, 1958) recreated a post-apocalyptic Venezuela in his new novel. Jinete a pie (Caracas: Lector Cómplice, 2014) is a fragmented love story that takes place in a world dominated by motorcycle riders. There are pedestrians who must survive the hunts imposed by the hordes that wield power, there are voices trying to reconstruct their past, to provide continuity for their memory.

“We are incapable of remembering things that happened just two years ago. The dynamics of Venezuela make us forget what came before. It’s a very toxic atmosphere where everything gets distorted. I see my characters as if they were licing a nightmare within a mirror where they’re reflected in multiple ways. When I look at my country, that’s the type of story that comes out, that’s the discourse I capture.”

Jinete a pie [Rider On Foot] is the beginning of a trilogy in which Centeno proposes a deconstruction of modernity in Venezuela, amid an atmosphere of Gothic realism. It takes place in the Altamira district of Caracas that, according to one of its characters, was at one point the last holdout of the resistance. “Because the country,” Centeno assures us, “is like a mystery, or a horror story.”

“Today in Venezuela rationality is being broken, fractured. We even celebrate death when it takes away an enemy. We witness the apparition of figures that blend into each other, they could be vampires, witches, politicians. The country’s reality is frightening. Much more than the tales of Gothic horror from the 18th and 19th centuries. You see rituals linked to politics. The fact that Simón Bolívar was disinterred, that Chávez and others shouted “Fatherland, Socialism or Death!” at his bones, this is all somewhat chilling. If you place all that in a different scenario it would fill anyone with fear. Imagine that all the powers in France appear and worship the ashes of Napoleon Bonaparte. That would make everyone panic. Hugo Chávez walked to his death surrounded by a bizarre mysticism. Nicolás Maduro slept in Chávez’s tomb. I haven’t seen anything more Gothic than that. There’s a castle at the foot of the mountain, a tomb in a castle. We’ve got enough elements to exploit Gothic literature for 200 years.”

Israel Centeno tries to understand the country through fiction. No one who writes about Venezuela can avoid reflecting our reality, of interpreting it, analyzing it. Because during moments of crisis, of violence, of social confrontation, of deaths, there’s not much else a writer can do.

“Literature can’t assume the role of political parties nor that of their leaders. Literature can only do what it tends to do: establish a connection and links between reality, fiction and the truth. Writing in any field is a means of resistance, it’s a political position. There’s nothing else I can do. Literature can’t save anyone, but I can keep writing. Any publication that appears in this context is a political gesture that won’t free us. I won’t land in Caracas with books, nor will I try to tell people that the more they read the freer they’ll be. You can’t expect the writer to be more intelligent than everyone else, that he construct a truth for the rest to follow. I think it’s been a curse for Venezuelans to believe in Messiahs. I don’t want that type of heroism.”

One of the protagonists of Jinete a pie says that without rights we’re all equal, that this is the only possible equality. There are many voices in the novel that pretend to own the truth. Israel Centeno believes that Venezuela today points in that direction.

“Everyone is equal in a concentration camp; everyone is equal when you’re in a supermarket with no food. When equality is imposed on you in such a manner that your rights are taken away. When you can’t have access to dollars on the exchange market they equalize you. When they kill all of us, we’re equal. Venezuelans are suffering from a flood of violence that is State policy. It’s a way of equalizing. Impunity strips the citizen of his right to enjoy public spaces. No one can enjoy those places without fearing he’ll be killed in a horrible manner.”

In Jinete a pie there was a pact between pedestrians and motorcycle riders. After multiple safaris in which they would kill pedestrians, they arrived at a pact of non-aggression against the weak. Until the rules are broken (including a curfew). And the truce, or dialogue, imposed by those in power is over.

“It’s like those acts of justice that exist in Venezuela. The Supreme Court judges dictate in favor of the murderer, which is the government. Power has become an element that persecutes, that tortures, that hunts, that lays blame on others. The Supreme Court decides when that hunt should be augmented or not. Maduro calls out for dialogue but he breaks it. That’s the reality, the suspension of the safaris is the alleged plan for peace in which they keep killing us.”

Israel Centeno finished writing this novel in 2011. It wasn’t made in response to the recent acts of violence involving collective paramilitary groups at the service of the government. The author, who once watched a group of motorcycle riders in Caracas beat up an elderly man for crashing into one of their motorcycles on the highway, isn’t trying to demonize them.

“It’s not that motorcycle riders are evil. It’s that when Maduro calls them his “gentlemen of steel” he’s giving them blank check. If I give them immunity, I turn them into a criminal arm. It’s not a possible reality to think of a world dominated by them, it’s a reality that already exists. Now the problem is to revert the situation without taking away all their rights.”

The protagonists of Jinete a pie can’t leave the zone, that destroyed Altamira that became one of the cantons into which the country has been divided. Centeno doesn’t want to sell an epic of urbanization. It is merely a vision that comes after a conflict that is suggested. There is also a love that is unable to find itself, that suffers from distrust, from paranoia, from the fracture itself that reigns over society; a pathological love that looks like hate, that alters people and tries to cure itself.

“The reading I would give is to ask, up to what point was the city made parochial to an extreme. Up to what point did each place in Caracas become divorced from the other, up to what point did it cease to be a whole and become small cantons, fragments with no connection. In the story there’s a defeated Altamira, in the shadows, in darkness, in uncertainty, as if they were mere zombies.”


More Books

• Israel Centeno has already completed the other two parts of the trilogy that begins with Jinete a pie. El cruce de los vientos [The Crossroads of the Winds] and La torre invertida [The Inverted Tower] complete the saga of a post-apocalyptic Caracas.

• The Venezuelan writer also has another trilogy waiting to be published. It is a story about Sherlock Holmes that takes place between the United States and Venezuela right during the time period when Arthur Conan Doyle made his character disappear for three years. Centeno has him solving cases in both countries.

• The Caracas-born writer has also just completed two other novels: one about a love affair and another one about social networks and the impossibility of writing. He is also giving shape to a third one about the guerrilla fighters in Venezuela during the 1970s. “I’ve written more than ever during the last few years,” said the novelist.

• Just recently a publishing house in the United States released a translation of his 2002 novel El complot. The process of bringing the book from Spanish into English was under the care of Guillermo Parra. [Israel Centeno, The Conspiracy, Pittsburgh: Sampsonia Way, 2014]




{ Daniel Fermín, El Universal, 25 May 2014 }

5.17.2014

El complot para matar al Presidente / Manuel Caballero

The Conspiracy to Kill the President

The conspiracy to assassinate the President exists, it’s in progress and taking place at least in the fears of the men in the Palace.


Why is this novel by Israel Centeno (El complot, Alfadil, 2002) so disconcerting? In order to explain this to ourselves, we begin with what’s always easier for the lazy: its classification. It is a uchronia; what the dictionary defines as a logical construction adapted to the story of something that hasn’t happened, but could have or might in the future.

The conspiracy to assassinate the President isn’t something that has occurred in reality, but if we pay attention to the warnings, to the fears, to the terrors, to the escapes, to the bullet-proof vests, to the security circles and other such nonsense, it exists, it’s in progress and taking place at least in the fears of the men in the Palace.

A scene. Which is to say, those who suffer these fears could label this novel with another classification: it’s a simple intelligence report, the base for what the pedants and other political scientists would call “a scene.”

We could also say, with all the bad intentions in the world, that it’s a novel of anticipation, an immediate anticipation. Finally, one could, maximizing the mania for classification, say that this is a realist novel.

Israel Centeno’s text impresses us with its masterful ability to immerse itself in reality without being conquered by it. There is, throughout the text, not the least concession to the present such as it might be conceived, for example, by a reporter: the author knows how to establish here the indispensable distance between his fiction and reality, which makes this a novel and not merely an imaginary report. But neither does it distance itself from that reality (or perhaps it’s best to say, from this present) so that the novel becomes a simple game around something that hasn’t happened and will never happen.

My disorganized eagerness. By saying that El complot is a disconcerting novel, I should add that it would be much more if my disorganized reader’s eagerness hadn’t taken me years ago to a series of Irish writers, among them playwrights (The Undertaker, whose author’s name escapes me). Those texts describe the unending spiral of violence in which the characters find themselves immersed.

Of course, and this is seen still in a great part of the Irish situation, violence is a bull that once it’s released is nearly impossible to reign it back in, and sometimes it’s never achieved. The characters in Israel Centeno’s novel don’t just live with violence, they live for violence. There’s no way of escaping it, because they only know one way of life, and thus only one way out: death, given or received.

But it’s not just that, but that the worst hatred isn’t against the evident enemy, but rather against one’s own comrades and friends, always suspected of being actual or potential traitors. This is how Sergio and Gloria don’t escape by shooting their way out from the presence of the identified and hated enemy, but rather shooting against their own friends who are no longer useful to the cause, or who are simply in the way.

They remind us of Chesterton. The problem is that it’s a process that never concludes, and deep down, these tragic characters remind us of those described in a loose tone by Chesterton in his The Man Who Was Thursday; a group of revolutionaries who weren’t that at all, but undercover policemen. In the end, they weren’t spying on anyone but themselves, and if Chesterton had been of a different disposition, they would have eventually, like these Centeno characters, killed one another. Ultimately, as well, and without wanting to laugh on a stage where so much blood has been shed, there is something else that joins Centeno to Chesterton’s tradition: his entire text employs a subtle irony, mocks the frightened and mocks the obsessed, it mocks the ambition for absolute power.

Relatedly, Centeno’s novel takes us to Orwell, to the Vargas Llosa of The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, because it too is, in his own very personal manner and with a nervous but clear style of writing, a bitter reflection on maximalist utopias. The serpent biting its own tail that they all become.

Do these characters have a destination? Yes: Centeno has reserved for them a refuge in that type of valley of the shadows where they will never know whether they’re living on this or that side of dreaming, on this or that side of death; where they will live maybe forever the life they’ve always lived: in the provisional, in the no-tomorrow.

I must conclude pointing out something that’s also impressed me in this novel by Centeno: the transparency of his prose, that continues to astonish in a text that, because of its topic and we might say its currentness, must have been written in a very short time and very recently.




Translator’s note: El complot has recently been translated into English and published as Israel Centeno, The Conspiracy, translated by Guillermo Parra (Pittsburgh: Sampsonia Way, 2014).




{ Manuel Caballero, El Universal, 28 July 2002 }

5.12.2014

A una desposada / José Antonio Ramos Sucre

To A Bride

     Any invention from my infirm numen would tarnish the pages of this album. It would offend them with the discord of an accidental spiderweb in a regal mansion. The tale of venturous nuptials is more alluring.
     I dream that I hear it from a pleasant virgin in a region of improbable Asia; that it was nighttime, and I was intoxicated by the placid expiration of murmurs, songs and perfumes; that the exotic landscape was crowned by the moon and with the retinue of the major stars, because the minor ones couldn’t manage to shine amidst the irradiation of they, their sisters; and I dream that, above the earth and in front of my eyes, a fantastic city of cupolas and towers was sleeping beside the mirror of a fabulous river; and I remember the virgin recounted for me this pleasant fable: I met a princes promised in marriage to the sultan of a remote country. She saw the nuptials as the start of a captivity, because she was discreet and easily frightened, she imitated the jungle gazelles. She sought out my company and later wanted to contemplate herself in the mirror of an ornamental fountain. She was thin, firm and with thick hair that fell down to tough with the water in the shaded marble bowl. A certain errant poet came here one afternoon, a precursor to the nuptial courtship that was closer day by day. He spoke of himself as having departed from his friends so he might entertain the princess during her journey to the fiancé’s capital city. They all gather the next day and depart, when the princess finally accepts the poet’s attention and loves him without manifesting it. The retinue travels through jungles and deserts, amid the murmuring rain and the slow summer, when the sun prefers its cart with white oxen. The poet wields, in his way, a sense of bravery, of being a good conversationalist and of piety. He offends the tiger of regal lineage; he mocks the shameless monkey; he takes to the bland butterfly, made of silk and wool; he reveres the absorbed ascetic. He proves to be a friendly courtesan and a hardened rider. She approaches the end of the journey and glimpses the palaces disposed to welcome her, and notices that she’d rather stay in the desert with the wonderfully nice bard. Meanwhile, he’s disappeared from her side, and she is presented, with her face looking down, to the presence of her owner; but a hidden and very well-known voice exhorts her to happiness. The princess looks up and notices the courteous poet was the promised husband, who had left his monarch’s regalia in order to affectionately win the hand of the beloved, omitting the prestige of his high position.
     This is what the pleasant virgin told me in a distant country, beneath a musical tree; and her tale and my one fortunate dream ended when dawn called, enamored, at my window.




La torre de Timón (1925)




{ José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Obra completa, Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1989 }

5.10.2014

Crónica subterránea / Antonio López Ortega

Subterranean Chronicle

I hear two similar pieces of news in less than an hour. The first arrives via the phone from Mérida and concerns a student in intensive care; the second one I read in a morning newspaper and has to do with the unconscious state of another student. These two clinical cases are supplemented by news of torture, jailings, the faceless wounded, the disappearances. This is our harvest: extermination. Except it seems to be lived on a second plane, hidden from the reality of the surface. In other words, we pump gas while someone tortures; we buy what little there is to be found while someone assaults someone else’s body; we jog in a park while someone shoots to kill. There are two circles that never touch: normality, which shrinks each day, and abnormality, which we start to see as just another habit.

But make no mistake: it’s not just another habit; it’s the negation of life itself, of coexistence; it’s the death of the minimal requirement needed to call ourselves a country, because when it comes to the term republic, we fall into academic depths.

In the second circle, that pulses while we go to the bakery and can’t find any milk, there are mothers who cry, there are families in mourning, there is weeping that finds no consolation, there are victims without killers. Who talks about that chronicle, who brings it to the surface? Who’s keeping count of the abuses, who writes about the pure pain that will never know about the soulless beings who have provoked it? Mothers say they have to be close to their children; students ask to not be left alone; passersby say there’s nothing they can do. Meanwhile, the country bleeds to death, particularly the country of young people, which is like imagining the future and only seeing a blind old man. Everything in Venezuela becomes landscape, daily habit, conversation in the hall. Nothing transcends; nothing moves us. The murders are like trees: obstacles in the road; the deaths are like old news: they repeat our tedium. How can someone smile, how can someone go to the barber shop, how can someone swim in the sea?

Beneath appearances, themselves incomplete, there is a subterranean chronicle (that no one sees, that no one wants to see) that is only shared by mourners. Tales travel from one trench to another, as though carried by anonymous soldiers: the news of a death, the anxious search for a particular medicine, the cure that never comes, the beings that don’t wake up, the girlfriends that won’t see their boyfriends anymore, the mothers that suffer like titans, the fathers left with only tears of stone. The most understanding will ask themselves: What have we become? The most skeptical will tell themselves: To what country of oblivion have we travelled?

The death of feeling, the word, consciousness, of a reason to be. All we are is impulses, compliments, inconsistencies. All we are is servile beings, dead in life, carrying our heart in a wheel chair.

At least the subterranean chronicle brings us proof of life, news about people who are moved, faces of people who have reasons to suffer, suspicions of impulses that might be human. These lines are for them, these empty impulses that would rather be closer to their death than to our own are for them.




{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 8 May 2014 }

5.07.2014

Nunca he sabido de palabras / Rafael Cadenas

I’ve Never Known About Words

I’ve never known about words
as much as I’ve wanted to.

Relegated to a time,
they don’t look for me.

I too, Auden, have
the best dictionaries that money can buy.

Pieces that line up
with distress.

Our life is arduous,
back there,
boiling.

I don’t want style,
but honesty.




Gestiones (1992)




{ Rafael Cadenas | Venezuela, 1930 }