El coro de las voces solitarias

I've been reading Rafael Arráiz Lucca's history of Venezuelan poetry, El coro de las voces solitarias (Caracas: Grupo Editorial Eclepsidra, 2003). The book was written during 1999-2000, when Arráiz Lucca was an Andrés Bello Fellow at St. Anthony's College, Oxford. It's an ambitious attempt to cover two centuries in Venezuelan literary history, beginning with the poems Andrés Bello (1781-1865) wrote as young man in Caracas and later during his exile in London. El Universal's literary supplement Verbigracia published the final chapter of the book in October of 2000.

For me, it's an invaluable resource in my efforts to edit an anthology of Venezuelan poetry in English translation. The book serves as a fascinating map of Venezuelan literature and culture. It reminds us, for instance, that the first printing press only arrived in Venezuela in 1808, much later than in countries like Mexico or Peru. It also highlights the deep influence of Romanticism on Venezuelan literature, as seen, for instance, in certain aspects of Bello's poem "Silva a la agricultura de la zona tórrida" (1826), and especially in the generation of writers that followed him.

As the last two decades have proved, Venezuela still hasn't transcended certain key problems that have plagued it since its foundation, including militarism, corruption and a deeply flawed educational system. Poetry is not an antidote to any of these problems, but it can sometimes offer an alternative to ignorance. I think, for instance, of how Bello went on to help establish the Universidad de Chile in Santiago and served as its Rector for over two decades. Pinochet's recent death reminds us there will never be a shortage of tyrants (with their retinue of sycophants) in Latin America. Poets like Andrés Bello, whose work transcends and defines cultures, are crucial as a counterbalance against barbarism. I look forward to reading the rest of Arráiz Lucca's book and intend to comment on it further over the next few months.

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