Obra poética, de Juan Sánchez Peláez / Jacobo Sefamí

Obra poética by Juan Sánchez Peláez

Juan Sánchez Peláez, Obra poética, Lumen, Barcelona, 258 pp.

The poetry of Juan Sánchez Peláez (1922-2003) is part of a rich heritage of Latin American writing with Surrealist affinities. The conections are evident in the magazines that ascribed to the ethics of the French movement, such as the Chilean Mandrágora (1938-1943), the Argentine Qué (1928) and A partir de cero (1952-1954), or the Peruvian El uso de la palabra (1939). Keeping in mind how problematic an explicit Surrealist allegiance can be and attending more to ethical and/or aesthetic connections, with a malleable criterion, one could elaborate a long list of poets. Just for the sake of establishing a point of reference for the reader, it's worth mentioning some of the names that come to mind: Aldo Pellegrini, Enrique Molina, Olga Orozco, Braulio Arenas, Gonzalo Rojas, César Moro, Emilio Adolfo Westphalen, Octavio Paz, Álvaro Mutis, Vicente Gerbasi, Juan Liscano, Tomás Segovia (the list can easily be amplified). To these we could add other poets not ususally paired with Surrealism, but whose work contains certain echoes, images or an attitude which make us evoke it: Vicente Huidobro, Oliverio Girondo, Xavier Villaurrutia, José Lezama Lima.

But perhaps the poet who had the largest influence on the generations that began to publish in the 1940s and 1950s was the Neruda of Residencia en la tierra (1933, 1935). Starting with this text, a Latin American poetry that found its enchantment in the intersection of natural exhuberance and a verbal wealth channeled through surprising images began to take shape. The rhythm of Neruda's long and measured verses, accompanied by a strong eroticism, as well as a bleak condition, returned in various forms among subsequent writers.

Sánchez Peláez's poetry emerges amid this field. At 18 he went to Chile to study and was able to establish a friendship with the members of the Surrealist group centered around the magazine Mandrágora (Braulio Arenas, Enrique Gómez Correa and Jorge Cáceres, who were later joined by Teófilo Cid and Gonzalo Rojas; moreover, we should point out the presence of two other poets: Rosamel del Valle and Humberto Díaz Casanueva). But his books began to appear later, starting in 1951. Sánchez Peláez began to develop a concise poetry, which matured as the years progressed. Sadly, the poet died before this edition was published. Outside Venezuela, his poetry was impossible to find; so that this volume is a revindication while also being a final result that culminates and closes his cycle of creation.

Obra poética gathers seven books and nine unpublished poems. The books are: 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) and Aire sobre el aire (1989). There would not be actual stages or phases in this work, since a continuous line of exploration is sustained from beginning to end. There are different modulations of the voice and modes of expression: the long initial verse, the short poems with images loaded with silence (on occasion marked by spaces between the lines), the prose poems, the interrupted verses that spread out on the page (the style of Octavio Paz in the 1960s) from one side to another. And yet his poetics persists over time: to resist the condemnation to solitude, human misery, injustice, contingency and the anguish of being, through love, freedom and poetry (the famous Surrealist triad). Facing the awareness of failure, language ends up being a balm: "Though the word be shadow in the midst, home in the air, I am another, freer, when I see myself tied to her, at dawn or in the storm. // For the word I live in placid waters and in a foreign seam, outside the immense hole." If the word is a house that rescues him from the abyss, love is "a permanent state of revelation, the only climate capable of returning its magic and vital force to the languid universe" (as his compatriot Eugenio Montejo points out quite well).

Guillermo Sucre is correct when he points out that what predominates in the first book is "the verbal splendor, proliferation even," while in the second one his poetry "makes itself more concentrated and secret." In the same manner, one would have to note that Sánchez Peláez never loses the freedom of association in the image, which is characteristic of Surrealism: "The wheels that rock the sea are geraniums," "Two bodies join together and dawn is a leopard" or "Your fig kiss amid long branches." In "Poem" (from Filiación oscura), the hidden lines of communication are revealed through the surface of words: "From the stone to the flame to the sweet stream they call hummingbird / what term puts me in the unfortunate juncture? // I scratch and bury. The writing of my details in the fist." The Venezuelan's poetry insists on a type of alquemical vocation, a desire or a wish for the transformation of reality, even if he later falls into anxiety: "When I return from the imaginary voyage, I live and lie in the pure desert. Instead of advents and honors, solitude still tolls the bell in the forest."

In Rasgos comunes allusions to an oppressive social environment appear ("Taste the cup without soup / there's no more soup... / try the suit... / it hangs it drags at / the lapel"), although the references are minimal and figurative. This is perhaps the book that most intensely expresses the relationship between daily reality and the magic that underlies it. For example, see the very beautiful poems dedicated to horses or cows. I cite from "Trajectory" (I regret very much not having noticed it before publishing my anthology Vaquitas pintadas [Little Painted Cows], edited recently by Mexico's Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana): "When I see you, vertical and sacred cows, I see you as lush cows, I see you up close and jumping in the lanes, females with those udders for the male, your white liquor falling, Adam's fountain in our paradises."

Aire sobre el aire and the unpublished poems confront old age and death. They are themes faced with irony, parsimony, or with honest terror. In "Tracks," the last poem in Obra poética, the subject is stripped of everything and is made to march alone in front of his fate: "and if there were no one? no one but nothingness?" Álvaro Mutis affirms on the back cover of this volume that Sánchez Peláez "is Latin America's best kept secret." It's a very elegant way of saying the Venezuelan poet is unkown in Spain. This edition should help fight this ignorance.

{ Jacobo Sefamí, Letras Libres (España), June 2005 }

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