Para Juan Sánchez Peláez / Juan Calzadilla

For Juan Sánchez Peláez

For many of our critics and also for many poets, among which I count myself, Juan Sánchez Peláez is, alongside J.A. Ramos Sucre, par excellence the emblematic figure of contemporary Venezuelan lyric poetry. Not only for having provided an extraordinary contribution to the country’s poetry with his book Elena y los elementos, published in 1951 (and with his subsequent books), but because it was done in a systematic manner, from generation to generation, a required and irreplaceable reference for our poetry when the time comes to speak of genealogies and influences. In particular, he is a reference for poets who emerged between the end of the fifties and the beginning of the seventies. An unavoidable reference when one begins to analyze, as has not been done so far, the effects of that poetic avant-garde which appeared in Venezuela simultaneously with the new art movements and with the renovation of languages we experimented at the beginning of the fifties. Juan returns us, in body and in work, to a mastery exercised with prudence and quickness, a mastery that was also translated, and this was important, in stimulation, fraternity and solidarity with new poets, throughout several decades, until only recently, when he left riding his final horse, the oldest one. For the long journey to the land that some of his verses cursed and kicked. Juan was thus a master, without pretending to be and with the utmost modesty, in front of us who, younger than him and with less experience, discovered in his work, when it was unknown to the rest of the poets, a different language, rigorous and at the same time profound, subliminal, whose new style for that time, forced us to a more attentive and confident reading than we usually gave poetry then. What is interesting about this observation is that the work of Juan Sánchez Peláez was never disavowed nor lowered in esteem under the gaze of the most recent poets who continued to read him attentively, with the same care they paid their own work, through the books he slowly and penitently, at blind and regular intervals, published between 1951 and 1989. In some way, eloquently or tacitly, we poets of the sixties are in debt to him for his own interest, as a great reader, in our work, within a camaraderie that never came close to being an academic pretension, or bearing traces of adulation or complacency.

The preference for his work that obliges us to this tribute is founded, to say something, in the unity and equal quality his work sustains, book by book; a qualitative level maintained throughout all his writing, amidst periods of silence, isolation and seclusion for the poet tormented by inner ghosts and by the uproar of the city. Rigor and temperance not often seen in Venezuelan poetry, before and after him, as corresponds a poet who had a high awareness of his role, removed as Juan was from any expression of vanity, from any marketing display or desire.

In all, whoever thinks the work of J.S.P. is of easy access and is decipherable at first glance is being insensitive, since it is known to be suggestive and, metaphorically speaking, brilliant, concise in its intentionality. Juan was a poet obsessed with verbal alchemy, with the transmutation of the real into a feeling expressed in words, as is expected of a great reader of Rimbaud and a scholar of French surrealist poetry. Paradoxically, he writes in fascination of the associative power of memory (he was a great rememberer), but he doesn’t trust the anecdote, or anything that might end up being too explicit or linear, without renouncing the self-confessional tone, presented directly or hidden, in a symbolically Freudian, existential mode, in many of his texts. In this our poet is supremely contradictory (and Juan used verse almost exclusively to express himself): on the one hand he fights against reasoning, which he tries to drown at the riverbed of the unspeakable, from the persistent innocence that fights to recuperate childhood in his language. But on the other hand, generally automatically, he gives himself over to the nostalgia of real and material fields that seem unreachable through language and whose attainment is only possible within life itself, as are the female body, so physically caressed and desired in his verses, or in general, love’s machinery. Frustrated lover, Juan was a romantic, exacerbated in his explosions of ingenuity and contained anger, celebratory and emphatic in his I, like the master Ramos Sucre. Juan condemns and exalts himself before the cold and neutral beauty of language and prostrates himself before her as though she were the impossible lover, finally satisfying himself, in the kindness of speech to extract himself from the interludes of pessimism and frustration that anguish him, inundate him, especially facing the feeling of death, almost always expressed as a presentiment, like an arriving absolute, in all his books, confronting as it is the anxiety of purification.

{Juan Calzadilla, Revista Nacional de Cultura, 29 April 2004}

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