Montejo y la poesía venezolana / Antonio López Ortega

Montejo and Venezuelan Poetry

Eugenio Montejo receives the Premio Octavio Paz in the name of Venezuelan poetry and, by extension, in the name of a language that is already over a thousand years old. In his acceptance speech in the presence of the Mexican authorities and the custodians of the prize, he didn’t want to be generous—he has always been so with his peers and with strangers—as much as consistent. We should remember that, regarding aesthetic and intellectual affiliations, Montejo has consistently seen himself as an inheritor. And one assumes the inheritors, at least the grateful ones, always give thanks.

Should we remember that the Premio Octavio Paz, in Montejo’s hands, is the highest international distinction that Venezuelan poetry receives? Perhaps only Arturo Uslar Pietri—with his celebrated Príncipe de Asturias and his not so celebrated Rómulo Gallegos—offers some type of comparison in the wider literary field. But it is good to remember that with Montejo the giants of the XX century also receive that prize: José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva, Fernando Paz Castillo, Rodolfo Moleiro, Vicente Gerbasi, Luz Machado, Juan Liscano, Ida Gramcko and Juan Sánchez Peláez, just to mention those who have left us.

The prize given to Montejo is a reading of the recent past but also of the vigorous present of Venezuelan poetry, as isolated on the continent as it is significant in values and distinct voices. We haven’t engaged other poetic bodies of the language with sufficient intensity but the exceptions, when these have occurred, count in our favor. The cases of Rafael Cadenas and Eugenio Montejo—undoubtedly the two most important Venezuelan poets of the moment—are representative when we enumerate the quantity of editions, anthologies, tributes and translations that have been dedicated to them in the last decade. The bulk of the movement has come from the outside in, as if the centers of criticism and validation, both academic as well as institutional, recognized in both of them the major signs of a crusade.

Venezuelan poetry has opened itself to the world on its own, thanks to the effort, curiosity and persistence of the poets themselves. The range of correspondences, the invitations received, the translations done both outwardly (projection) and inwardly (knowledge), the experiences of young writers in academic centers abroad, all these speak of a diaspora that has nourished interest and erased ignorance. To this we can add the value Venezuela had as a center for the publication of poetry from the continent (Monte Ávila, Fundarte, Pequeña Venecia, Angria) and as a center for valuation (a certain key moment of the Universidad Simón Bolívar, under the impulse of Guillermo Sucre, produced a celebrated anthology of Latin American poetry, which even today is among the major reference points of the continent).

This entire impulse is not lost but instead expands. It is astonishing to see the quality and rigor of the young poets, owners of very singular readings and voices. It is astonishing to see—if the classification is admittedly jarring—the promotion of poetesses, who at least since the 1980s have sustained a range of originality and expressive wager unheard of in the verbal Latin American continent. It is astonishing to see the efforts of certain editorial imprints, those that maintain themselves against hell and high water and without official subsidies. This speaks of a fortitude that belongs fundamentally to the creators and, secondarily, to a living society of readers, promoters and editors.

All of this and more has been represented by Montejo in Mexico. A prize of writers for writers, a prize of literature for literature, a prize that heightens the word through the word. Behind his discrete figure and proverbial work, stand all of us, both those who left the word as a trace, as well as those who continue to cultivate and pierce it. His example is that of all who with rigor, perseverance and engagement see a sense of commitment, truth and durability throughout time in the word, far beyond short cuts, false favors and empty rhetoric.

{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 23 August 2005 }

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