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

Rafael Cadenas: “Poetry Is Powerful and Insignificant”

                         [Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas. Photo: Álvaro García]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Juan Guillermo Parra Morales (1941-2014)

                   [El Negro Parra in Cambridge, MA, 1971]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha!


Mientras corren los grandes días / Enrique Molina

While the Great Days Run

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

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

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

Las cosas y el delirio (1941)

{ Enrique Molina | Argentina, 1910-1997 }


El camino / Enrique Molina

The Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuego libre (1962)

{ Enrique Molina | Argentina, 1910-1997 }


Aire en México / Enrique Molina

Air in Mexico

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

Los últimos soles (1980)

{ Enrique Molina | Argentina, 1910-1997 }


Cálida rueda / Enrique Molina

Warm Wheel

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

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

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

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

Fuego libre (1962)

{ Enrique Molina | Argentina, 1910-1997 }


Juan Sánchez Peláez / Alejandro Oliveros

Juan Sánchez Peláez

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

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

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

(Uncollected Poems)

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

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

(Helen and the Elements)

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

(Helen and the Elements)

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

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

(Common Traits)

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

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

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

I blow out a great candle:

                  It is the farewell sobbing in my heart.

The anchor that weighs at the bottom of the sea.

(Creature of Habit)

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



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

{ Alejandro Oliveros, Prodavinci, 30 September 2014 }


El grito insomne / Carolina Lozada

The Insomniac Scream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{ AVN, 09/24/2014 }


Alfredo Chacón. Ser al decir / Rafael Cadenas

Alfredo Chacón: Being to Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it was written for an occasion like this one.

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

{ Rafael Cadenas, Tal Cual, 20 September 2014 }


Gustavo Valle, otro viaje interior / Daniel Fermín

Gustavo Valle, Another Inner Journey

                                  [Photo: Mai Albamonte Pizarro]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{ Daniel Fermín, El Universal, 21 September 2014 }


Turba nuestra (o el otro bicentenario) / Eduardo Febres

Our Mob (Or, The Other Bicentenary)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only the mob knows.

{ Eduardo Febres, Contrapunto, 17 September 2014 }


Aviso / Heriberto Yépez


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

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

{ Heriberto Yépez, Archivo Hache, 16 September 2014 }


Sobre Armando Rojas Guardia / Rafael Cadenas

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

                  [Photo: Armando Rojas Guardia by Manuel Sardá]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Poetry by Mandate: Personal Anthology, by Juan Calzadilla

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{ Néstor Mendoza, Monte Ávila Editores, September 2014 }


Luis Camilo Guevara (1937-2014)

                  [Photo: Casa Nacional de las Letras Andrés Bello]

Incessant Carriage of Night

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


                                                      To Wilda

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

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


Alfredo Chacón reflexiona sobre el decir poético / Andreína Martínez Santiso

Alfredo Chacón Reflects On Poetic Speech

             [Photo: Williams Marrero]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mi cuerpo desabrochándose me sosiega / Ana Lucía De Bastos

My Body Coming Undone Brings Me Calm

There are strong voices and texts (fabrics, continuities of words and meanings) that stun me: faced with language I’m a trembling leaf, devoted. Words reach me through my natural inclination towards their truth. In a certain space of my body
—why should I say superfluous, if I don’t know where they hide— they have an impact and bend my speech, which is another way of saying my skin.

Within the madding crowd, you’ll find true speech, language turned outward, silent entrails that are Meaning and allow the world, with all its weight, to keep spinning in emptiness.

I live to read those words. To write one of them, I give my eyes, my ears and my voice.

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


Tríptico / Ana Lucía De Bastos



Today my soul is:
A knot of veins.


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


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

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


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

They Cut Luis Miguel Navas into Little Pieces

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

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

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

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


Poemas seducidos por el surrealismo / Luana Cabrera

Poems Seduced by Surrealism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{ Luana Cabrera, Tal Cual, 18 August 2014 }


La campaña / Rubi Guerra

The Campaign

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

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

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


Un poeta venezolano que sólo conocen algunos poetas / Vicente Gerbasi

A Venezuelan Poet Who is Only Known by a Few Poets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

                    [Photo: Maialen López (EFE)]

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

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

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

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

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

{ Omar Khan, El País, 14 July 2014 }


Venezuelan Art Collective Wins Public Art Contest in Pittsburgh

                (Israel Centeno, writer)

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

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

                                        (Israel Centeno)

                                        (Carolina Arnal)

                                        (Gisela Romero)

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

                                        (Eugenio Montejo)

                                        (Rafael Cadenas)

                                        (José Antonio Ramos Sucre)

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

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

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

{ El Universal, 10 July 2014 }


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

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

                     Armando Reverón, “Landscape”

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



or Latino?

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

{ Dayana Fraile, Eternal Typewriter, 27 June 2014 }