In my research on Venezuelan poetry for this anthology I'm slowly putting together, I've recently come across a book of poems by Guillermo Sucre (1933), who is known more for his literary criticism, particularly his famous book on Latin American poetry La máscara, la transparencia (México DF: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1985). The volume I've found by Sucre is a selected poems published by Octavio Paz called La vastedad (México DF: Editorial Vuelta, 1988). It includes poems written between 1976 and 1983 and begins with the following magnificent lines, from "La vastedad":
Escribo con palabras que tienen sombra pero no dan sombra
apenas empiezo esta página la va quemando el insomnio
no las palabras sino lo que consuman es lo que va ocupando la realidad—
el lugar sin lugar
la agonía el juego la ilusión de estar en el mundo [...]
In his history of Venezuelan poetry, El coro de las voces solitarias (Caracas: Grupo Editorial Eclespidra, 2003), Rafael Arráiz Lucca devotes several pages to Sucre, pointing out how unusual it is for a writer to be so adept as both critic and poet. He mentions how Sucre's political activism against the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez in the 1950s resulted in his being jailed, tortured and exiled for several years.
By far, one of the most interesting chapters of this history is the one that recounts the decade of the 1960s, which seemed to house an unbelievable proliferation of all types of poets, many of whom are still writing today. Arráiz Lucca offers a helpful context for the radicalism of the collective of writers and artists called El Techo de la Ballena. One of that group's members, Adriano González León (1931), became a major presence when his novel País portátil won the Seix Barral Premio Biblioteca Breve in Spain in 1968. González León has been writing an excellent weekly column for El Nacional in recent months, which in itself is worth the subscription fee for that newspaper.
There are surely poets that Arráiz Lucca overlooks in this history. But as far as I can tell, he's a generous and meticulous historian, making an effort to mention even those poets who have only published one or two books in their lifetime. My one criticism of his history is that he constantly refers to the American Beat writers as being part of the "beatnik" movement, a term which was merely a media invention, considered ridiculous by everyone associated with that group. The Beat writers come up frequently in this history in relation to their influence on Venezuelan poets of the 60s and subsequent decades.
A fascinating segment of the book comes in his chapter on the 1970s, when he discusses the late turn towards poetry in the writing of Arturo Uslar Pietri (1906-2001) and Antonia Palacios (1906-2001). While Uslar Pietri's two books of poems remain minor, Arráiz Lucca looks at them within the context of his prolific work as a novelist, critic and historian. The poems Uslar Pietri wrote in the 70s and 80s are exceptional in that they were the only time he chose to focus on his own personal experiences. From his early theorization of magical realism in Paris in the late 1920s with Alejo Carpentier and Miguel Ángel Asturias to his groundbreaking novel Las lanzas coloradas (1931) and his prolific career as a critic and public intellectual, Uslar Pietri was arguably the most prominent Venezuelan writer of the XX century. Arráiz Lucca studies his poems as the oddities they are within the context of his prolific and distinguished career.
Arráiz Lucca participated in the now-famous Calicanto workshops Antonia Palacios ran from her home in Caracas in the late 1970s. Many of the crucial figures who began publishing in the 1980s, such as Yolanda Pantin or Armando Rojas Guardia, first began to explore poetry under her direction. Her own poetry came very late in her life but the prose poems in Textos del desalojo (1978) ended up being some of the most important literature published in Venezuela. Arráiz Lucca mentions that Palacios saw these poems as being dictated to her by ghosts, as she sat alone in her house in Caracas looking back on her long life.
Arráiz Lucca offers fascinating accounts of figures who remained outside the various groups of the 1950s and 60s, such as Elizabeth Schön (1921), a poet we are blessed to still have among us. He also identifies the work of Hanni Ossott (1946-2002) as inaugurating an unforeseen approach in Venezuelan poetry, one that investigates the inner dimensions of the poet who engages with his or her own psychological struggles. He writes of her "psychic and ontological nocturnalness" and its manifestation in her poetry.
Alberto Barrera Tyszka was among the Venezuelan poets who began to publish in the 1980s, the chapter I'm now reading. Barrera Tyszka also writes a weekly column in El Nacional, and like González León he offers hope that not all is lost in Venezuela today under the militaristic autocracy currently being implemented by Chavismo. Barrera Tyszka's second novel, La enfermedad (Editorial Anagrama, 2006), has been awarded the Premio Herralde in Spain, the same one Roberto Bolaño received in 1998 for Los detectives salvajes. Many of us feel that Barrera Tyszka's award signals a renaissance Venezuelan literature is currently experiencing, despite the immense tragedy of the country's political crisis. Rafael Arráiz Lucca's history of Venezuelan poetry is surely a component of this exciting renaissance.