Martha Kornblith: Un poema tan sólo sirve para ser feliz / Rafael Arráiz Lucca

The following text is taken from the book of interviews by Rafael Arráiz Lucca, Conversaciones bajo techo (Caracas: Editorial Pomaire, 1994). It was published shortly before Martha Kornblith's first collection, Oraciones para un dios ausente (Monte Ávila Editores, 1995). Unfortunately, her only other collection was the posthumous El perdedor se lo lleva todo (Editorial Pequeña Venecia, 1997). This text is included in a final section of Arráiz Lucca's book called "Los Inéditos" (The Unpublished), which focuses on emerging young writers.

Martha Kornblith: A poem is merely good for being happy

When Martha Kornblith's eyes look they speak. Few glances reveal so clearly the tense dialogue provoked by the world's contradictions, but few eyes such as these announce victory's honey. If the battles are arduous, the gains are definitive. As difficult as it is to learn how to walk, a memorable poem's light can reach the page in the same manner. Martha Kornblith is the author of "Jesse Jones."

"I'm an average person, but I have a firm conviction about poetry. Maybe this comes from my happy childhood, from the riches I had, from the good people that surrounded me. One is made by one's childhood. I lived within a house, a block in San Isidro. My childhood in that city where I was born is something I always remember. Later, I spent two years in Rio de Janeiro, but life there was harder than in Lima. Although Rio's beauty is incomparabale, Lima was the place of my happiness.

I never went to the beach in Rio. I felt uncomfortable, uprooted. I think my poetry is born out of that discomfort, out of that fantasy-laden and solitary world. My texts come from my wanderings at the ocean shore. Like all teenagers, I dreamed of being someone important. I wanted to be an actress in Brazilian telenovelas. So, I dreamed. This verse of mine comes from those years: I tend to fly like a wounded dove / through an endless beach.

I arrived in San Bernardino [Caracas] when I was eleven. I ended up living in a competitive, snobby atmosphere that valued money very much and dismissed inner values very much. That was all very hard."

And it was this relentless carnival which contributed to the birth of the poetic word: That was a poem I made to save myself, to show to many people and to tell them: read this and stop bothering me. But after I did that I realized poetry doesn't save anyone. What you can accomplish with a poem is that someone will laugh out loud in your face. You can't buy an apartment in New York with poetry, nor can you travel every year to Europe. Poetry only allows us to gather together in a workshop, to have fun and be in contact with beauty. No one is saved by poetry. It's merely good for being happy.

"I don't have that tragic vision of poetry. For me, it's a great pleasure to write. If, for example, I wake up on a Saturday depressed and bored, not knowing what to do with my life and I suddenly manage to write a text. Well, that day is already something else, it's a day that flowered. I hate those torn people who walk around suffering with a poem in their hand. I don't like it, it annoys me because the poem is my happy self."

Chance or hidden laws often create situations which don't have an explanation that follows the rules of logic. Martha Kornblith began to write poems without knowing, exactly, that this is what she was doing. She was looking to save herself from others and from herself, and what she was really doing was writing a text. To undress: Whoever rids himself of everything, whoever is ready for loss, is also ready for winning. Rafael Cadenas has lost everything and has gained everything. It's as though depression turned into something else. It's as though sadness and being deprived helped to fertilize the spiritual life's earth. But what was once a hidden inclination within chance's tracery ends up being a function (a pleasure) to help face the world's vicissitudes. Living in Caracas is a terrible fate. I would like to live in a beautiful city, but I wouldn't be able to leave this place. I'm very scared of starting over again. However, the other afternoon I was driving along the Cota Mil highway and the sky was wonderful and, suddenly, I thought that at my 33 years, I sometimes forget that we're covered by a sky and the sky is inexplicable. The sky is chance, it is God. All this, while I was driving in the car, made me remember some verses by Yolanda Pantin that expressed my feeling: I am close to the world outside myself / it is a miracle this sky exists.

But a woman who can look at the sky and remember the words of another one who also looked upwards, also looks around herself and makes less complacent judgements. She worries about the attitude of many companions from her generation: They look for status before talent; they like to go to readings so that people will recognize them. They like prizes too much and this annoys me so much because, really, I think prizes deteriorate and alienate. But the greatest damage they inflict is they create characters. It's as though we were surrounded by characters instead of people. There are also many who think being a poet means going into a bar to get drunk, but that's how the sensibility for appreciating a good poem ends up being lost. And then you read great praises in the press for some books that are trash.

Perhaps these friends are the same ones who don't talk to Martha Kornblith because she is very reserved, she is silent. They're the same ones—Martha maintains—who on the one hand don't talk to her and on the other write the words silence, uneasiness and who act as though they were helpless. They're the same ones—Martha says— who read Pound and Eliot and who brandish a type of imported uneasiness, of imported helplessness. While credible and intelligent verses definitely exist, there are also many false voices and that bothers me. I sometimes buy ten literary magazines and I don't find a single poem. Months go by and I don't find the poem that I would have liked to have written.

My poets are from here.

At the age of nine, Martha Kornblith had already read The One Thousand and One Nights but her father didn't know this. One day he brought it to her as a gift and Martha, so as to not disappoint him, thanked him and kept quiet. She reread it years later and couldn't put it down. Perhaps everything began there.

Then Jules Verne arrived, with his offer of other lives and other experiences and later on a poet and priest who inspired more than a few in the sixties: Ernesto Cardenal. I was in love with the Marilyn Monroe poem and I read it and read it until I memorized it.

But in these days marked by uncertainty, Martha prefers the voices of her closest neighbors: I'm not going to look for Anglo-Saxon influences. If I want to enrich myself I look for an everyday reading among the poets of Guaire and Tráfico*. I look for a text by [Armando] Rojas Guardia, by [William] Osuna, by Yolanda Pantin or by Blanca Strepponi. Many young poets seek out very distant writers. Some of them even say in their poems that they're tired from so much traveling and, in actuality, they've never been out of the country.

* Translator's note: Guaire and Tráfico were two poetry groups that emerged in Caracas in the 1980s.

{ Rafael Arráiz Lucca & Martha Kornblith, Conversaciones bajo techo, Caracas: Editorial Pomaire, 1994. }

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