Medioeval / Vicente Gerbasi


What stands out
from the old city
covered in spiderwebs
and migratory birds
is the cathedral of ice
its radiance
and the celestial sound
of its bells.
All the avenues
reach its doors
and its stained-glass angels
and the blue ray of the sun.
Its inner resonance
smells of bishops tombs.
The swallows make nests
in the hanging lamps
in their iridescence.
With the music of the organ
the cathedral slowly rises
to the silence of the skies.

{Vicente Gerbasi, El solitario viento de las hojas, Caracas: Tierra de Gracia Editores, 1989}


Tiempo / Vicente Gerbasi


to the memory of Ludovico Silva

Time past
was leaves
falling in light.
A distant glance
on an Abraham landscape.
I saw the lion of the abyss.
At night I sank
into the anxiety
of the stars.

{Vicente Gerbasi, El solitario viento de las hojas, Caracas: Tierra de Gracia Editores, 1989}


Paseo nocturno / Vicente Gerbasi

Nocturnal Stroll

The poet at night
strolls through his childhood
under fireworks.
The city palm trees
light up in colors.
There’s a sadness that shines
in the fountain.

{Vicente Gerbasi, El solitario viento de las hojas, Caracas: Tierra de Gracia Editores, 1989}


Viajando, viajando / Vicente Gerbasi

Traveling, Traveling

My face sunken
to the bottom
of the Universe
between my being
and eternity.
drink the wine
in space
We would like
to have the unconsciousness
of stars.

{Vicente Gerbasi, El solitario viento de las hojas, Caracas: Tierra de Gracia Editores, 1989}


El sombrero del mago / Vicente Gerbasi

The Magician’s Hat

You keep learning
little by little how to talk.
And you’ve become
a magician who
pulls out from his hat
from the Universe interplanetary
rabbits. We are
the sad ones of space.

{Vicente Gerbasi, El solitario viento de las hojas, Caracas: Tierra de Gracia Editores, 1989}


Luces de selva / Vicente Gerbasi

Jungle Lights


Drops of dew illuminate
sunrise orchids.
The jungle that murmurs
and sings in the blue
of the senses.
Birds fly
through fluvial gardens.
The day returns
to our enchantment
like the sun amid gold trees.


Paradise once again
with mountain roses.
In a day the color of honey
my childhood proceeded
while still
awaiting the star
that lights up
over the roof's
red tiles.
is the birds that sleep
in the dark foliage.


In the rain of the wind
the lightning illuminates
vegetable ghosts
of night.
The doors of the hours
open and close.
I wander solitary in eternity.

{Vicente Gerbasi, El solitario viento de las hojas, Caracas: Tierra de Gracia Editores, 1989}


Ventana / Ludovico Silva


The fence of the mind
peers into your eyes,
sings inside you
like a steel chorus.

Solitude and time
have brought you to this window
facing a sky of lead
carved by disgrace.

Behind the fence, a garden
of mineral roses
is a town of hard white demons
like this marble I write on.

Woman with naive eyes, martyred,
violent and lost
in the fog of time.


{ Ludovico Silva, Piedras y campanas, Caracas/Bogotá: Editorial Rayuela/Editorial Pluma, 1979 }


Nafta y poesía: El Anti-Humboldt de Hugo García Manríquez / Heriberto Yépez

NAFTA and Poetry: Hugo García Manríquez’s Anti-Humboldt

New books of poetry that include a crucial search are rare. Anti-Humboldt: A Reading of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Aldus/Litmus Press, 2015) by Hugo García Manríquez is perhaps the most interesting poetry collection by a Mexican at the beginning of this century.

García Manríquez, additionally, is a systematic translator, as evidenced by his versions of William Carlos Williams’s Paterson and Clayton Eshleman’s Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination & the Construction of the Underworld, along with his participation in an anthology of poetics by Charles Bernstein.

Just for his work as a translator alone, García Manríquez should be more well-known. But we already know how contemporary Mexican literature works: it does everything to cover up reality.

Besides, does García Manríquez belong to the Mexican literary tradition? As I’ve said on another occasion, the first part of his oeuvre does. But Anti-Humboldt is in another orbit.

García Manríquez migrated to the United States and his work is closer to North American experimentalism than to the Mexican “tradition of rupture” (Octavio Paz).

And if someone thinks that one does not exclude the other it’s because they belong to the Tradition of Rupture, which is to say to the PRI political party (the Institutionalized-Revolution).

In Anti-Humboldt, García Manríquez took the text of the NAFTA and chose words and phrases, a few per page, to make a constellation of poems. The technique combines appropriation and erasure. His selection is read in bold and the rest of the text in faint grey letters. He does it with the Spanish and English texts of the NAFTA.

Its first dimension is to offer a form of reading the Agreement; a dangerous form but one that neither defends it nor demonizes it. He makes it speak and stutter, opening fissures in it.

In its other dimension, a writing occurs in which the Agreement becomes a stage to name beings and describe relationships; a screen of interweaving.

The lexicon of commerce, fragmentation and García Manríquez’s vision achieve something that would normally seem difficult: to make poetry by quoting articles from NAFTA.

A paratactical poetry, which at times seems hermetic; as if by highlighting them pieces of NAFTA were shouting something in segments.

It’s not a coincidence that the epigraph is by George Oppen: one can hear him in this book, as is also the case in Language Poetry and appropriationism. (The epilogue provides reading clues and directions.)

Its verbal material escapes Spanish-language lyricism; starting with the cold vocabulary of neoliberal commerce and his editorial technique, García Manríquez makes the transborder agreement itself provide a testimony of the damage.

With Anti-Humboldt, García Manríquez opens a path towards a cruel ecopoetics, a bilingual experimentalism and a new prosody.

There’s something merciless in this work: it instantly makes nearly all of Mexican poetry anachronistic; that it does this by means of the specter of NAFTA makes it doubly macabre.

{ Heriberto Yépez, Archivo Hache, Milenio (México D.F.), 18 April 2015 }


Pájaros / Ludovico Silva


Above the horror of the sea
dance the birds,
mystical scissors,
angels of this world.

Above the marine horror
fly my solitudes
like memory’s lightning.

The wind brings
lost kingdom birds,
memories that spin
like strange signs
over the sea of a recovered time.


{ Ludovico Silva, Piedras y campanas, Caracas/Bogotá: Editorial Rayuela/Editorial Pluma, 1979 }


Bolaño’s Patience

With this letter, the Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño, invited to be a member of the jury for the 2001 Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize in Caracas, Venezuela, provides his blunt disassociation from the Rómulo Gallegos Center for Latin American Studies (CELARG) and its president.

                  [Photo taken from: http://www.enriquevilamatas.com/]

Due to health reasons I couldn’t travel to Caracas. My physical absence doesn’t mean, however, that I gave the jury carte blanche to decide for me. The declarations by the president of the CELARG, whose name and person are unknown to me, were already more than enough reason, at least as far as I’m concerned, for me to attend my appointment in Caracas, at the very least, with a sense of apprehension. The emergence later of rumors of the type such as that I haven’t travelled to Venezuela because the CELARG refused to pay the plane fare for my wife and son, which more than a rumor is slander or defamation, and in other circumstances would have merely made me laugh, simply increases my doubts regarding this case. As a parenthesis I have to say that if anyone owes someone money it’s the CELARG to me: three thousand dollars for having read 250 books, and as far as I’m concerned, needless to say, they can shove it up their ass. Just like that. I don't have much patience for Neo-Stalinists (or pseudo gangsters or corrupt functionaries). So let’s clear this up once an for all, no matter who wins, whether it’s a good or bad novel, it has nothing to do with my criteria as a reader, for the simple reason that my opinion has never been sought and it has never been in confrontation with the rest of the judges. My disassociation from the judges is total. The CELARG lies when it places my name in front of the successive lists of finalists. I haven’t had anything to do with that decision. There are four judges for the current Rómulo Gallegos Prize, not five. The Neo-Stalinist commissaries will surely say much worse things tomorrow, because that’s their job, but if my non-participation in the prize is made sufficiently clear, whatever they might say will merely provoke my laughter.

Roberto Bolaño

I’m happy that Enrique Vila-Matas has won. Regardless, I still hope it’s clear for those in Caracas that I haven’t had anything to do with this decision, which seems good to me, but which, according to how the wind might have blown, could have been very bad. Just like I said in my note: the responsibility of the selection, correct or mistaken, has absolutely nothing to do with me.

{ Roberto Bolaño, Tal Cual, 9 July 2001 }


Uveros / Ludovico Silva

Sea Grapes

Facing the turquoise sea
the grapes of death sing
and gleam like eyes
in the bloodied afternoon;
the bees murmur
in the serene air
as the leaves hum with the breeze.

My soul wanders there
with an amethyst tunic
while my eyes examine
a strange coffin
sleeping in the sea grapes.
High branches that reach the clouds,
grapes of solitude, oblivion stones!


{ Ludovico Silva, Piedras y campanas, Caracas/Bogotá: Editorial Rayuela/Editorial Pluma, 1979 }


Aullido a los 60 años / Heriberto Yépez

“Howl” at 60

Sixty years ago Allen Ginsberg wrote “Howl,” one of the great poems of the 20th century. How can I commemorate it in the minimal space of a Mexican newspaper?

When he wrote it, Ginsberg was a desperate and prophetic young writer. “Howl” captures those poles.

I can’t comment on it extensively. I’ll limit myself to a detail from his first verse that I think tells us a great deal about the entire poem, its form and meaning.

The first line says: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked...”

In an earlier version, the verse said “mystical” instead of “hysterical.”

In a version that followed, Ginsberg described those “best minds” as “starving, hysterical, mystical, naked.” But he finally eliminated the commas and “mystical,” leaving “hysterical” in its place.

“Mystical” had to go because the minds, bodies, images and relationships that Ginsberg noted, even though they seek God and the sacred, suffer their separation; their crisis is based on being cut off from God and not being able to join Him.

As the poem advances, Ginsberg seeks to sing about and to them as a praise that sanctifies and leads to the divine, but the civilizing and metaphysical catastrophe the poem describes prevents the mystical union from being achieved.

Ginsberg knew this and that’s why the “mystical” was eliminated and replaced by “hysterical,” that is, by the unease and inner division characterized by hysteria (less clinical than postmodern), fragmentary, disorganized, exposed.

It couldn’t be a theological, mystical poem, but rather a poem whose parts are trembling from a narco-literary, psycho-political nervous breakdown.

Losing the connection to the divine (the mystical connection), however, couldn’t merely be replaced with disconnected pieces, a total hysterical fragmentation. This is why the commas were also taken out, because when they disappeared they built a great protective block for those minds: “starving hysterical naked.”

The hysterical substituted the mystical but, at the same time, it joined everything surrounding it in the world, since it couldn’t join God transcendentally, while it could fuse with the immediate here and now, regardless of how wounded, crazed and threatened those in solidarity might be at its side.

The title itself “Howl” —as a noun or as a verb— contrasts with another final word —“Who”— that provides order to a great deal of the poem, and with the word “Holy” that serves as a conclusion and that together are the anaphoras (expressions that are repeated at the beginning of verses) marking the poem.

What howls, then, is the hysterical, that which has lost its mystical-religious connection. What howls is the destroyed body that keeps calling the divine.

{ Heriberto Yépez, Archivo Hache, Milenio (México D.F.), 4 April 2015 }


Te recordaba, loco / Ludovico Silva

I Was Thinking of You, Lunatic

Advance, advance further, Ludovico,
towards the dung heap of dreams,
advance like a lunatic amid the night
with no idea where you’re headed nor to what time.

I was thinking of you, lunatic, in these nights
of love and disgrace
where eight refrigerators were singing
the solitude of beer.

I don’t know which is the art
of singing the miseries of the Aurora
nor the art made in silence
for the splendors of death.
All I know is that I live
between two manifested solitudes
and one that accompanies me
like a ray of gold in the shadows.


{ Ludovico Silva, Piedras y campanas, Caracas/Bogotá: Editorial Rayuela/Editorial Pluma, 1979 }


El alba / Fernando Paz Castillo


Today’s dawn
has been very beautiful.

I glimpsed
in the clear
morning shine
an unexpected awakening.

God bless this hour,
in which I’ve felt, something new,
like a hidden reflection
in the fog:
like a bit of sun in my consciousness.

God bless this hour
that will make me have —that’s what I hope—
a beautiful day.

A day of youth
amid familiar voices.

God bless this hour
that has given me the fervor of dawn
to keep living among men.

Because one minute
full of God’s grace
is enough
to resist so many things
that surprise us despite the years!

Encuentros (1980)

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


Misterio / Fernando Paz Castillo



I write this poem
as if it were
the last one.
As if everything I see
around me,
recreates the sign,
and yet friendly,
of thrown-away things,
that were once beautiful:
There are so many
lies I’ve lived!


You’re born,
with crying dust
in your consciousness
and, in the corners
of stars,
you learn the smile.
And the first one,
on our face,
barely sketched by it
in the first sensitive
the first noble trait,
the first confine,
that separates us from other beings.
And opens up the road for us,
the laborious road,
inner soul,
toward its own world,
ignored by oneself,
but it’s so ours
like hands
and like eyes
that touch everything,
or caress
nearby or in the distance.


Will this be my last poem?
is the question
I always ask myself,
when I write.
And I feel
in the penumbra of what’ll be,
illuminated instead of reminiscences,
the fear,
of course entrusted,
of a last smile:
Luminous and
peaceful root,
hidden, nearly all of it,
and still firm,
of what couldn’t be.


But I continue, ignoring
if what I’m writing,
attentive to what I’m doing,
will be my last poem
and maybe,
in the brief silence that will follow it
the most beloved.


I don’t know if this
will be the song
of my songs,
like I also ignore,
even when I know I won’t need any,
its presence,
at the opportune hour,
what face will assume
my final smile,
the most mine of all,
when I no longer hear any men,
my brothers,
beyond just a distant murmur,
of leaves and breeze,
in an immense desolate night.

Pautas (1973)

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


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 }