Poetas / Alberto Barrera Tyszka


When the poet Nicolás Guillen was a Minister in Cuba, he must have had to face at one time the question about the lack of freedom on the island. His answer at that time was to announce that censorship existed in all societies, but that what was important was "in whose favor" the censorship existed. Of course, for him, in Fidel's Cuba, censorship was in favor of freedom.

That's why any call for any ideological debate seems a bit useless to me. It is absurd to debate about socialism, for example, with a government that has endeavored precisely to concentrate power, to avoid that power be socialized. The real debate is to be found not in ideas but in methods.

I'm going to be faithful to the first line I dropped this Sunday and I'm going to address the theme with another story about poets. Last week, Leonardo Padrón was in Colombia, as an invited participant in Bogota's Festival de Poesía. Two antecedents could have served as warnings for him: it seems it was suggested to the festival's organizers from some high cultural altar that they substitute Padrón with another poet closer to the proceso. The second antecedent is more precise and convincing: going against the festival's tradition, Venezuela's CONAC refused to pay his airplane fare.

During the event, a version was heard suggesting that the poet Miguel Márquez, who heads the CONAC's Dirección de Literatura, had communicated to the organization his disagreement regarding the presence of a politically incorrect poet in the festival. However, there is no evidence to confirm this. A single piece of evidence could be the change in attitude by the Venezuelan embassy in Colombia. Two months earlier, the embassy had shown itself to be delighted by Leonardo Padrón's visit and had committed itself to logistically supporting the presentation of his new collection. Nevertheless, suddenly and surprisingly, the national diplomacy evaporated. The functionaries were no longer accessible. The night of the book's presentation, not a single official representative showed up.

Let's not discuss ideas, not now at least. Let's first debate the forms, the methods. I refuse to accept that we can allow political segregation, judgment and punishment to exist within the creative task. This is an exclusionary exercise of power. I also refuse to accept that the space of cultural affairs become a church where creativity and aesthetics are at the service of other faiths, where beauty is official and depends on the adhesion to a political project. It's not worth it. It's not worth repeating the vices of public management we criticized so often in the past. Whoever judges poets by their stance before a government ceases to be a reader, ceases to read verses: he merely investigates them. He becomes a policeman of the lyric. It doesn't matter if he identifies with the left or the right, it doesn't matter in whose favor he acts. An official who practices censorship is never in favor of poetry.

But the ghost of polarization touches everything, drenches everything, stains everything. To avoid it is a demanding challenge. There are always hysterical and hormonal temptations on all sides, in both tendencies. Fanaticism tends to be very democratic. It shows up anywhere.

For example, it ends up being unacceptable to not applaud when books are given away for free in public squares. In another example, it's impossible not to celebrate that, thanks to Monte Ávila Editores, the poems of Valera Mora, the good and bad words of Rosemblat, the short stories of Francisco Massiani or Renato Rodríguez's Al sur del Equanil all shine in the bookstores, just to cite a few of the classics in that publishing house's collection. However, all this cannot serve to legitimize perverse practices, to justify that cultural management can also be a source of segregation, a machinery for political purification.

A letter from Farruco Sesto to Tulio Hernández, my neighbor below on this page, has been circulating on the Internet. In the correspondence, the Minister of Culture, who by the way also writes verses, resents being perceived by a certain sector as "a commissary." He thinks those who see him as a censor, as an authoritarian, as an official bureaucrat, as a destroyer of institutions and as a representative of a military government that disparages the arts, are mistaken. And yet, he himself, when the time comes to debate a question from the poet Luis Pérez-Oramas, becomes an accomplice to what he denounces when he resolves the conflict by resorting to the simplicity of a political disqualification: "I definitely believe that what defines Pérez-Oramas is his squalid condition. Nothing less than that." This could never be the conclusion to a debate about anything. It is not even a phrase: it is a desert. Let's not discuss ideas, then. Not now. It always sounds good to say that culture is the people. Rather, let's discuss the forms, what the methods tell us.

Distant Star is a profoundly disturbing novel. It was written by Roberto Bolaño. It tells a story that, apparently, seems impossible: a poet who is also a torturer during Chile's military years. I underline this as I write it: I am not saying, nor do I want to say, that the poets who are with the Government and who work for the State are, or can become, torturers. Not at all. The experience of this novel applies to all of us. It narrates the unsuspected possibilities of our own weaknesses, the incomprehensible frailty that sustains us. Let us not confuse ourselves. We poets are never immune to power.

{ Alberto Barrera Tyszka, El Nacional, 29 May 2005 }

No comments: