Dónde mi ruina / Patricia Guzmán

Where my ruin

Where the sea

is a door

or a hand

the stones I kiss
kiss and undo

Canto de oficio (1997)

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


Recojo pájaros / Patricia Guzmán

I pick up birds

with my mouth

I pick up birds

if they’re dead

if they’re cold

Before the day

I cover their eyes

with wet bread

I open their mouth

so they’ll pray

For me

Canto de oficio (1997)

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


Creación y sombras / Antonio López Ortega

Creation and Shadows

                                            [Eugenio Montejo, 2007, by Gorka Lejarcegi]

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cuando me quiten / Patricia Guzmán

When you take out

my heart

give it

to my sisters

They won’t know

what it says

who it names

But they will stick

their mouth to it

their hands

they will grope it

Every night

Give it to them

Canto de oficio (1997)

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


Alzados a esta hora / Patricia Guzmán

Rising at this hour

Drowned in gold

Tossing dead pieces of me

Canto de oficio (1997)

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


Si viajo / Patricia Guzmán

If I travel

I carry an empty cup

If night finds me outside

I have an empty cup

I drink

in the wound of an angel

Canto de oficio (1997)

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


Aliméntalo / Patricia Guzmán

Nourish it

with fear

give it bird

with your hand

give it bird

so it might sleep


despite the body

Canto de oficio (1997)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reflexión / Fernando Paz Castillo


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encuentros (1980)

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


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

The Country in a Suitcase: An Interview with Héctor Torres

                  [Photo: Nicola Rocco]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{ Daniel Fermín, El Universal, 23 November 2014 }


Comentarios / Fernando Paz Castillo


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

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

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

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

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

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

Encuentros (1980)

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


Poesía / Fernando Paz Castillo


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

Persistencias (1975)

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


Entrada / Fernando Paz Castillo


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caracas, 1975.

Persistencias (1975)

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


Escribir en el siglo XXI / Heriberto Yépez

Writing in the 21st Century

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A writer who agrees with his society is failing.

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

For art, even the truth is insufficient.

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

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

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

Literature is now merely a branch of Publishing.

This uniformity of judgment has impoverished the senses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Perdido / Fernando Paz Castillo


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

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

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

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

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

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

La voz de los cuatro vientos (1931)

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


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

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

                  [Rodrigo Blanco and Luis Yslas, by Carlos Ancheta]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In what year did the publishing house begin?

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

Who works for the publishing house?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{ Hensli Rahn Solórzano, Contrapunto, 7 February 2015 }


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

Bibliography: Timon’s Tower, José Antonio Ramos Sucre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Élite, 3 October 1925

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


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

Dialogues from the Beyond: José Antonio Ramos Sucre

By Natasha Tiniacos
Illustration by José Miguel del Pozo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May Glory keep you in its glory.

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

{ Natasha Tiniacos, Backroom Caracas, 26 January 2015 }


Ana Lucía De Bastos: “La poesía es, en el fondo, forma” / Daniel Fermín

Ana Lucía De Bastos: “Poetry is, at its core, form”

                  [Photo: Nicola Rocco]

Ana Lucía De Bastos (Caracas, 1983) was given an illustrated version of Margarita, the poem by Rubén Darío, when she was just five years old. She liked the book so much she began to recite it by memory wherever she might be (at school, at the homes of family members). It was the first experience with poetry for the writer who yesterday presented her book Y ahora, extiéndeme al sol (Bid&Co, 2014) at the bookstore El Buscón in Caracas.

The first poetry collection by the Caracas author is a compilation of her old texts. De Bastos gathered poems that she had in folders, notebooks and e-mails. Until she realized there was a familiarity among them. The body, the skin, the spirit, the word, the verb, love. De Bastos explores these topics in his first publication.

Y ahora, extiéndeme al sol has fictional intentions. There are poems in which the author tells of certain situations. De Bastos believes poetry can always make use of other literary genres. “I use the anecdote as a vehicle that leads to the feeling, the emotion I might want to transmit through the text. Poems are, at their core, form,” said the graduate of the Central University of Venezuela, where she studied Literature.

De Bastos’s collection mentions other authors. Eugenio Montejo, Roberto Calasso, Hanni Ossott, Herberto Helder, among others (“we all have mothers and fathers in literature,” she said). There are also texts that make references to voices, to saying it all in writing. “Some people write because reality isn’t enough for them. I do it because reality overwhelms me, I do it as a means of facing it,” added De Bastos, who received a Master’s in Editing at the University of Barcelona in Spain.

De Basto’s passion for books goes beyond writing and/or reading. The poet is also in charge of an artisanal project (Alhilo Editorial), that for the moment has only published one title in its catalog (Días raros, by Sara Fratini). “I do it as an anchor to Venezuela, so I might have something to come back to,” concluded the author, who currently lives in Spain. Over there, meanwhile, she’s working on her first novel.

{ Daniel Fermín, El Universal, 15 August 2014 }


El hábito / Francisco Pérez Perdomo


What voice that isn’t my own
speaks for me in the suburbs
in theaters
wakes me when I sleep
with long ghost stories
startles me with alarms
when I approach the abyss
what hand that isn’t my own
(I study it and can’t decipher its message)
pulls my ears
and lifts me from certain depths that overwhelm me
like the victim of a shipwreck
what hand scratches itself for me
with nails that aren’t too long
drags me washes from my face
the morning’s impurities
purifies my skin in bathrooms
what steps taken at random
invade and fill my shoes with fever
what terribly fixed eyes
transfer my glances
This is my expiation
I don’t own the leisure of my gestures
You are in charge
I am your slave monster faithful brother
There is no truce in your threat
You kill me

Fantasmas y enfermedades (1961)

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


Confesión / Francisco Pérez Perdomo


I inhabit the zone where flesh and spirit
compete like two old rivals
I survive the disasters
lulled by beautiful specters
My idol! I confide the disorder of my tongue
to the absurd force of your maxims
I speak of the illnesses that concern me
I am my only judge
I am the only auditorium that celebrates my works
The bird that laments itself in the tree of paradise
transmitting its enigma to me
only my ear languishes listening to its message

Fantasmas y enfermedades (1961)

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


Si hay impunidad no hay un coño (o a dónde ir a protestar) / Eduardo Febres

If There’s Impunity We Don’t Have Shit (Or Anywhere to Protest)

                  [Photo by Eduardo Febres]

Was Chávez killed? It’s hard to believe, but the truth is we don’t know. I think that if we find out one day it will be through a declassified file from U.S. intelligence, because the Venezuelan State, as far as we know, hasn’t moved a finger to find out. Nicolás Maduro announced an investigation that if it ever proceeded we never found out about it, and there are people convinced he was killed, just like there’s more people convinced he wasn’t. But in terms of knowing, no one knows.

But we do know very well that the indigenous leader from the Yukpa tribe Sabino Romero, who died two days before Chávez, was killed. After many attempts, threats, warnings, gunshots, blood, and above all after a cascade of impunity, they killed him. When he was traveling from Tocuco to Shaktapa, they shot him dead in front of his wife.
And ever since then, impunity continues to drag other corpses to join them.

There are five people in jail for complicity with the murder of Sabino, all of them sentenced to seven years, none of them are the killer. The person accused of pulling the trigger, Ángel Romero Bracho, hasn’t been sentenced. And the trial wanders from the table to the dining room. Convened for January 9th, it mobilized a few people at the doors of the Palace of Justice. A handful of people (twenty, thirty people) who are following the process and paying attention to it.
Among other things, because the masterminds (who aren’t clearly pointed out, but we suppose with a great deal of precision and elements that they’re ranchers) still haven’t even been touched by the law.

When they arrive at the courthouse they find out there’s no court session. Amidst a muddled and bureaucratic circulation of information, they’re able to find out it had been moved to January 6th, the Día de Reyes holiday and practially an official day off. And in a coincidence that’s quite convenient for paranoia and evil, the street leading to the Palace of Justice was blocked off by security forces. Supposedly because of a graduation (“These motherfuckers are graduating with a degree in corruption,” was overheard).
When they lift the show of force (facing the inoffensive convocation, the suspicious-paranoid version supposes), the protest moves to the Palace, with a bit more intensity.

The protest? Nothing extraordinary in how it played out, aside from a few protestors with their faces painted in tribute to the First Peoples: a blocked street, a few hand-held signs, some shouts, proclamations and demands.
What’s extraordinary are the comments overheard, among the passersby on the sidewalk in front of the Palace.
One: “Go back to the east side of Caracas.” A purée dissociated by the State-run TV station VTV, who can’t conceive how a group of people, most of them young, most of them cheerful, most of them pissed off, would protest, demand, shout, express their indignation in the face of impunity, without being opposition protestors.
Sabino is a symbol of impunity, amid a shit storm where thousands of other injustices circulate. And he is a symbol defended with the conviction that Chávez lives, or you don’t defend him at all. As it’s also a conviction one fights for with the knowledge that in those paralyzed, prudish, rigid, aged, ignorant and comfortable sectors of Chavismo, Chávez doesn’t live.
Another: “Why are these people protesting such a stupid thing, if I just spent four hours today in a food line.” This one not as much of a purée but equally dissociated, by TV but also by his own misery (the inner TV), who can’t put the two neurons together he needs to understand that as long as there’s impunity there won’t be shit anywhere. Not for him and his selfishness, not for anyone.

The poor street vendor who thinks it’s fair to exploit the poor (and his likeness, his brother, the poor man who buys from him); the National Guard who smuggles one, two, three, one hundred thousand kilos of whatever (and his likeness, his brother, the narco or the smuggler who sets up the deal), the exploiter of the dollar exchange system, who looted until the only thing left were empty containers (and his likeness, his brother, the casual exploiter of the system, who takes a few crumbs through his credit card), as well as whoever kills, rapes, steals or tortures. They could all fit in that place, facing those who fight for the symbol of Sabino.
This place is an accomplice and artifice to all of them. This is where all the food lines could end, all the empty shelves, all the massacres, the cases like Simonovis, Afiuni, Danilo Anderson along with some type of answer as to why it sometimes seems like the government wants to and can’t.
This is where the cancer, as well, could end.

{ Eduardo Febres, Contrapunto, 14 January 2015 }


Ginebra, 7 junio (1930) / José Antonio Ramos Sucre

Geneva, 7 June (1930)

Miss Dolores Emilia Madriz.

Very illustrious Dolores Emilia:

Yesterday I received your letter and your portrait in the company of sweet Leonor. I kissed your portrait infinite times.

Don’t be impatient with me. I still haven’t been able to visit Paris. The work for the League of Nations and the presence of Venezuelan diplomats in Geneva have made it impossible for me to leave. I promise I will satisfy you.

I warn you that my sorrows continue as cruel as when you consoled me in Caracas. I won’t resign myself to spending the rest of my life, who knows how many years!, in mental decadence. The entire machine has been disorganized. I’m very scared of losing my will to work. I still shave daily. I barely read. I discover a radical change of personality in me. The day after tomorrow I turn forty and it’s been two years since I’ve written a single line. I can barely console myself seeking out the lives of illustrious sick figures that fatality extinguished in the middle of their youth. I beg you don’t allow the legends that say I’m a cannibal and a savage and an enemy of humanity and women to flourish. That legend is the work of my enemies. You know that, on the contrary, I’m very accessible, very indulgent and I’ve never harmed a woman.

The doctors here in Europe haven’t discovered what ails me. I suppose it is accumulated suffering. You know my chain was always very short and heavy. I was born in the house where everything is prohibited.

I beg you excuse these confidences. I kiss the hands of my distinguished cousins and say goodbye to you the same way.

Write me.

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


S (cuento) / Francisco Pérez Perdomo

S (Story)

Leaving the pillow’s warm melody, when he was barely thirty-two, the man descended through the umbilical chord and followed the steps of his beloved down the astral alleys. A diminutive rain was falling on the inverted heads of the walkers, who would stop for moments as though they were held at their backs by an invisible hand, and then kept walking, leaving sudden statues in their places. Blind, in the neighborhood of traffickers, the woman made her way atop a chord stretched from one end to another of the abyss, evidently seduced by the force of a flute.

Originally published in Francisco Pérez Perdomo, Los venenos fieles (Caracas: Ediciones de El Techo de la Ballena, 1963).

{ Juan Calzadilla, Israel Ortega Oropeza & Daniel González, El Techo de la Ballena: Antología 1961-1969, Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 2008 }


Carta a Ahab / Caupolicán Ovalles

Letter to Ahab

[L-R: Rodolfo Izaguirre, Mary Ferrero, Adriano González León, Caupolicán Ovalles, Caracas, 1962]

I, father of two children
and a wife who supports me
so fucking sick already of so much stupidity
have decided to write to
captain ahab’s widow,
roof of the whale
beneath the wind on the sea.
your kisses please me
tower of the sea to whore in the port,
where we went to live
twenty disgraces for our
on the red hill
because of you
police and ministers
discover treasures and secrets
from the past,
beneath the air of the house we inhabit
five hundred promises of love and twenty defeats.
I, father of two women
and a son to support,
wake up,
irritable, pissed off
by a decree of autumn
and the half orange
on the red hill

Originally published in Rayado sobre el techo, no. 1 (Caracas: Ediciones de El Techo de la Ballena, 24 March 1961).

{ Juan Calzadilla, Israel Ortega Oropeza & Daniel González, El Techo de la Ballena: Antología 1961-1969, Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 2008 }


El gran magma / El Techo de la Ballena

The Great Magma

beneath every structure that intends to enclose a process a seed of rupture already exists
we have less capacity for organizing       this is evident       than for living       living is urgent which is why the whale doesn’t need to know about zoology to live

the roof of the whale is founded in the complete uncontrollable lucidity of the orgasm       that only insomnia verifies because the whale is the only valid prism it’s the only prism its barbarism has

few realities are as exciting as a name that breaks all the liturgies of language       the roof of the whale is more than just a name

under its sway all things will have a point of encounter with the intangible       such is the meaning that’s discovered in what the whale has devoured in the skin of the iguana

on the surface of the painting devoured by its own matter the almanacs don’t register everything that can be said about the whale

it’s the cosmic hunger demanding its scream       it’s a gesture       it’s an attitude       just like the singers in style right now the roof of the whale will enjoy an extraordinary popularity

the roof of the whale is a stone animal that resuscitates for the well-being of its guests
the roof of the whale reigns among the frenetic lovers owner of an unconquered matter

Originally published in Rayado sobre el techo, no. 1 (Caracas: Ediciones de El Techo de la Ballena, 24 March 1961).

{ Juan Calzadilla, Israel Ortega Oropeza & Daniel González, El Techo de la Ballena: Antología 1961-1969, Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 2008 }


Para la restitución del magma / El Techo de la Ballena

For the Restitution of the Magma

We have to restore the magma the boiling matter the lust of lava to place a cloth at the foot of a volcano to restore the world the lust of the lava to demonstrate that matter is more lucid than color in this way the amorphous amputated from reality all the superfluous things that impede it from transcending itself overcome the immediacy of matter as a means of expression making it not an executing instrument but yes an acting medium that becomes an outbreak impact matter is transcended the textures tremble the rhythms tend toward vertigo what presides the act of creating which is to force yourself-leave a record that you exist because we have to restore the magma as it falls... informalism relocates it within the full activity of creating reestablishes categories and relationships that science already predicts because informalism also has its mushroom the touch of an arbitrary matter that runs to the most incredulous eyes is a possibility of creation as real and as evident as the earth and stone the mountains configure because we have to restore the magma the boiling matter Adam’s prosthesis.

Originally published in Rayado sobre el techo, no. 1 (Caracas: Ediciones de El Techo de la Ballena, 24 March 1961), shown in the photograph above. Illustration by Ángel Luque.

{ Juan Calzadilla, Israel Ortega Oropeza & Daniel González, El Techo de la Ballena: Antología 1961-1969, Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 2008 }


Resurrección de El Techo de la Ballena / Oswaldo Barreto

Resurrection of El Techo de la Ballena

It’s not the result of a belated and vulgar pretension to elaborate surrealist texts, nor a desire to evade realities as pressing as the recent meeting of the presidents of Brazil and Venezuela that anxiously turned out to be so poor in actual political or diplomatic results, the imminent restitution of Manuel Zelaya to the presidency of Honduras, or the ferocity that terrorism has reached throughout all borders. No, none of that, but rather, as we will try to reveal, it’s a mere desire to understand one of the most complex aspects of our exceedingly complex sociocultural reality.

This whole matter began, let’s say it without further preambles, when one of my former students thought to send me via email the following official invitation: “The Ministry of Popular Power for Culture, through Monte Ávila Editores Latinoamericana, has the pleasure of inviting you to the presentation of the book El Techo de la Ballena: Antología 1961-1969 coinciding with the exhibit “El Techo de la Ballena: Half A Century Later.” Sunday, 1 November 2009, 11am. National Gallery of Art. With the participation of Carlos Noguera, Juan Calzadilla, Edmundo Aray, Daniel González, Josefina Urdaneta. Dedicated in memory of the deceased members of El Techo de la Ballena: Carlos Contramaestre, Caupolicán Ovalles, Adriano González León, Salvador Garmendia, Alberto Brandt, J.M Cruxent, Efraín Hurtado, Dámaso Ogaz, Hugo Batista, Gonzalo Castellanos, Mary Ferrero, Juan Antonio Vasco, David Alizo.”

After realizing that my young friend, precisely because he’s young couldn’t perceive anything extraordinary in this text, no miracles or surrealist conjuring, and that he couldn’t imagine he was committing an abuse by sending me what for him was an anodyne invitation for any citizen, I had no awareness beyond thinking that I was facing the possibility that the miracle resurrection continues to be would very soon occur. Exactly one day before the date when all us mortals come into contact again with the dead, the aforementioned organisms of the State were, in effect, inviting us to the resurrection of one of the most important cultural (artistic and literary) groups to have existed in Venezuela, El Techo de la Ballena [The Roof of the Whale].

The sponsors of the event, who appear in the invitation as participants, are well-known intellectuals, four of whom work or have worked as functionaries or advisors for administrative organisms of the current regime and are among the most recognized intellectuals of Chavismo. Three of them, relatedly, Calzadilla, Aray and González, share another multiple condition: they are among the founders, the most active members and most prolific creators of El Techo de la Ballena.

The tribute they want to offer with this publication to the members who expressly designate themselves as such, then, is a tribute that the surviving members of El Techo de la Ballena offer to the deceased members in honor of what the entire group represented, and to the work they produced as a collective and as individuals. And this work, in the field of literature, in cultural action at conferences, gatherings and congresses, in exhibits of plastic arts and in cinema, extends throughout eight years, from 1961 to 1969. It is a unique oeuvre in the history of Venezuela’s cultural life because of its qualities and dimensions, but it’s an oeuvre that only remains in the memory of those of us who shared with them the political and cultural life in Venezuela during the sixties and, of course, in the libraries and archives where it continues to await researchers, specialists and scholars. To place those texts within reach of readers today, to reproduce the catalogs for the exhibits they held or to once again show what they did in cinema, there is no other way to describe this than as a resurrection of the group, a resurrection of The Whale.

Resurrections in the field of culture don’t represent anything new or strange. In our era, in particular, an era of information and of an ample distribution of art through media, not only mechanical but also electronic, it’s not extraordinary, nor would it usually catch the attention of someone like me who’s concerned with fundamentally political matters. But this resurrection has something absolutely particular to it: it’s not a matter, as it tends to happen, of a living person who resuscitates a dead one, usually someone who’s from another era and another spirit. Here we find that the resuscitators are part of the being they are resuscitating or, if you prefer, that the resuscitated ones formed part of the same being that now returns them to the world.

And this is the political problem and the sociocultural problem that is absolutely our own, of this era that has begun with the advent of Chavismo. Three of the resuscitators, as we have already indicated, assume their condition of being Chavistas and have responsibilities within the cultural actions of the regime. Now, the cultural politics of the current regime, the Chavista conception of culture is situated in many levels at the antipodes of the cultural actions and the spirit that moved the immense and excellent productions of El Techo de la Ballena. This production is oriented towards the struggle against “old literature, old art, rhetoric, demagogic realism, intellectualism, professors, sectarians, President Rómulo Betancourt’s police and the infantry of the U.S. Marines,” as the novelist Adriano González León wrote. And, what is even more defining of the group, freedom of creation was for them a sine qua non condition for the existence of art and literature. And, by demanding freedom of creation, they always declared themselves as supporters of tolerance and dialogue and rejected all forms of authoritarianism in the field of cultural actions by those in power.

Have the remaining members truly resurrected El Techo de la Ballena today?

{ Oswaldo Barreto, Tal Cual, 3 November 2009 }


Como si la puerta abandonada se cerrase / Diego Sequera

As if the abandoned door had closed

      As if the abandoned door had closed, the state of things comes out on its own; in itself described by means of the exit. Two oblique views don’t coincide along the way. The derivation concludes by pushing the agents that muddle their own common desire; to unify what has been in a new transfer. The essence of escape is found in all objects. Regarding the repulsion of its poles in suspense, fortunately. It’s endured thanks to the imposed tension. But another tension that invades emerging from the peripheries hinders the original resistance of things. The idea emerges forged in careless spheres of the same thing multiplied. Every goshawk sprouts irradiating the restraint of the moment sought. Not arriving. Oh entire genius wearing shoes of broken glass. In this way impatience is nothing more than the fertile surplus. Everything exits through the same coincident door. The measure denounces its own mistake of not truly calculating what the previous words say. Don’t trust. The wings of things emerge letting them fall like an initial nest. Inert, coercive. You can’t put up with too much for so much. So much more, so much worse. While you keep saving wind in a pocket without a hole, there’s no doubt it endures. The sky is oblique according to expectations. For me it’s mere lines. What a marvelous afternoon dissolved itself in the contrast between a space divided along skin and wall. Each ruled by its own constellation, according to temperament. That instant when things gain transparency once the contact with light is defined, how they acquire totality in not saying it, precisely!

{ Diego Sequera, Poemas irresponsables, Caracas: Fundación Editorial El perro y la rana, 2011 }


Bosquejo del 31 / Diego Sequera

Sketch of the 31st

Every thing considered a living entity
Living extension outside its shell
Energy administrator
All things that have surpassed
the road beyond their birth
are survivors

The thing of things tends
to follow the metaphorical fruit of what’s been deposited along the way
(In that, while the poem unwinds
with a heavy breeze in the way, all action sounds
from the edge of the doors
Today is the 31st, 12/31/06
script of the dramatized ritual)

The everything buzzes as everything
a not so machine-like state of debacle
(the infuriating confirmation
of the order of things
The confirmation of the closing and essence
an inevitable fall in each one of them)

(creosote bird and drawing of its shadow that caws)

I am every campesino recently executed by the
Extermination Group and National Guard in Chabasquén the

I’m the confused one caught in the crossfire of La
I’m a threatened social comptroller!
I’m an invader with no house or territory
who strikes back against God!

Ferocious brother (with whom I am)
who lives in the middle of the topographical path and resurrection
and for whom these surroundings the efficient dialect
in full systole of fear, in a full
fight against the neutrality of things
Fear is what burns overcome
in the face recovered and your own

It’s in false triumph (and range)
where the essence of opportune disaster resides
It’s the tenacious silence formulated by
the flesh of the other who lives in the bone
of the skin
Flower of its withered nerves!

(Today for 06 closing
a dog crosses the null cup of this poem:
Beloved be the butterfly of your soul
may we be dogs!)

(Now is when the smoke of a fissure passes through the center of the poem)

Praised be those who conquer general hunger
from the depths of their house
made of life more than roof or walls!

Praised be today so 31st on the corner
without charred and excessive genius
Genius of the last nerves while piercing
the last fall in the ascent
on its own stairs!
Praised be then all stairs!

In the end
they’re the fires
of an eternal instant in its repetition

They’re the intimate mausoleums
cynical like a moon
silent like their own transfer
That instantaneous spirit in favor of distances

New is the ground of nostalgias
Native soil ready
Planting of specific faces

20 to go until the change
as I elaborate this sketch
of the next nostalgia
when none of this will persist in its matter
Everything could be banal if I wasn’t
certain the year is dying
and surely this year I remake myself again

(The ink crab
scratches the
bottom of the poem)

Five minutes
Aqua, Hermes, Benito, Yuya, Beto and the people
(each side its own)
Remake the sad path as they pass
in the pressure of the present poem
that crosses the border
without cartridges
or passport.

{ Diego Sequera, Poemas irresponsables, Caracas: Fundación Editorial El perro y la rana, 2011 }