I'm half-way through Rafael Arráiz Lucca's history of Venezuelan poetry, El coro de las voces solitarias (Caracas: Editorial Eclepsidra, 2003). He spends a substantial amount of time on Fernando Paz Castillo (1893-1981) and Juan Sánchez Peláez (1922-2003), two poets who gird the Venezuelan XX century in very different ways. Then there are the semi-secret or isolated poets, like Elizabeth Schön (1921) or Antonia Palacios (1906-2001). This book provides evidence of an astoundingly rich and varied literary tradition, even if relatively unknown beyond Venezuela. An impetus to continue the project of translating some of these poets into English.
Paz Castillo's decision to wait until he was 38 to publish his first book, La voz de los cuatro vientos (1931) seems to have been a consequence of his patient and expansive style. His involvement in the student protests of 1918 against the dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gómez forced his departure from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, spending several years in the mountain town of Los Teques outside Caracas. Jail, exile or forced silence was imposed on most of his fellow participants in the Generación del 18. Paz Castillo managed to sustain his writing through a large portion of the XX century, as both poet and critic. His later poems continued his philosophical explorations in a direct, crystalline voice:
Faithful to his slowness, Paz Castillo writes his deepest poem, the one that synthesizes the long experience of a serene and contemplative life, nearly 70 years. I'm referring to "El muro," lines previously cited, written once the moving has ceased, when the reduced space of airplanes has been replaced by the house in Caracas. The poet's metaphysical current breathes within this long text: the wall is not the wall, what is behind it is not just nothingness, but rather the mystery shrouding man. (99)
Juan Sánchez Peláez remains the crucial figure of the second half of the XX century, seeming to establish his own separate universe among a constellation of political and aesthetic turmoil, like Paz Castillo setting a slow but rigorous pace of production over a long lifetime, at the height of his powers in his final years. Aligned with a Rimbaudian assertion of renovation and a hermetic endeavor:
The poetry of Juan Sánchez Peláez is so consubstantial to his life that it's difficult to imagine the author did anything anything other than compose poems. Difficult to imagine him amidst the traffic of everyday life, in the labyrinths of labor, in domestic quarrels. His life has been nothing beyond the brevity of his intense work, so that none of his biographical transit contributes to understanding his word, it's as though his transit has been nothing but the expression of his verb. (205)
In the chapter "Elena y los elementos (1951) y la generación de los años sesenta: la iniciación de la intemperie," Arráiz Lucca cites these lines from Sánchez Peláez's final book, Aire sobre el aire (1989):
Los recuerdos son como lobos que
dan varias vueltas en un zaguán
entran de súbito
amarillos o morados a las aldeas natales.