El coro de las voces solitarias (4)

A few final thoughts on Rafael Arráiz Lucca's history of Venezuelan poetry, El coro de las voces solitarias (Caracas: Grupo Editorial Eclepsidra, 2003). One of the most impressive things about the book is how Arráiz Lucca avoids partisan judgments. Every poet mentioned is given a fair biographical and aesthetic frame. One example of this equilibrated stance is found in his chapter on the 1990s, a time when he was closely associated with a young group of poets who began their own collective after participating in a workshop he led. This group called itself Eclepsidra, and included fiction writers and poets such as Martha Kornblith, Israel Centeno, Carmen Verde Arocha, Luis Gerardo Mármol Bosch and Abraham Abraham Greige, among others. The last three poets currently run the Grupo Editorial Eclepsidra, which published the second edition of this book. Arráiz Lucca keeps his final chapters short, choosing to merely offer a sketch of the 1990s and what he sees as the healthy future of Venezuelan poetry. Although he has close ties to many of the poets he writes about, this never distorts his analysis of their work. His objective stance helps the reader navigate this complex and contradictory territory of writers.

One of the final chapters is devoted to the unprecedented rise of women's voices in Venezuelan poetry during the 1980s and 90s. As Arráiz Lucca points out, this phenomenon was partly related to the rise in popularity of workshops throughout the country, and it shows no signs of abating today. Some of the most important and compelling Venezuelan poets writing at this moment are women, including figures such as Yolanda Pantin, who was recently awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, Patricia Guzmán, former editor of Verbigracia, the influential literary supplement of the newspaper El Universal, María Antonieta Flores, editor of the online journal El Cautivo, and the prolific Jacqueline Goldberg. Not to mention that pioneers such as Ana Enriqueta Terán and Elizabeth Schön are still producing new work.

Among the many pleasures this tome offers is the discovery of poets who have published infrequently, or whose work emerges very slowly. One of these is Alberto Márquez (1955), who was among the poets who studied under Antonia Palacios in her now-famous Calicanto workshop of the late 1970s. Once they left her workshop, several of these poets formed the group Tráfico, which helped transform Venezuelan poetry in the 1980s with verse that was ironic, urban and direct, removed from mystical or hermetic stances. Márquez has published only one book so far, the brief but powerful Circulación de la sangre (Caracas: Angria Ediciones, 1989). By chance, I was able to purchase a copy of this book in Providence a decade ago, and it remains a text that I return to with fervor. The book opens with epigraphs by José Lezama Lima and Gottfried Benn, and includes the following poem (in my translation):

Exactly in my Spot

I find myself beside the window
on the 4th floor, undoubtedly safer
I don't have a pill today
to tranquilize my legs
My chest is a tangle of cables
And there's no sky tonight
nor at daytime
One grows accustomed to the idea
of a clear-sky
an artificial cupola
that looks at us with no surprise
This is what I see from my apartment
on the 4th floor.

As I've said before, there are definitely poets who are not included here. However, Arráiz Lucca has tried to be as exhaustive as possible. Perhaps future editions of the book might include additional figures. One topic that would have to be addressed in a future edition would be the effect of Venezuela's current political and social crisis on the country's poets and readers. Arráiz Lucca himself continues to be an eloquent critic of Chavismo's abuse of power and its militarism in his Monday column for El Nacional. He also continues to promote Venezuelan literature in his position as president of the Fundación para la Cultura Urbana, an organization that sponsors literary contests and publishes an eclectic range of fiction, poetry and essays.

Perhaps this book's greatest strength lies in its role as an invaluable resource for anyone who might want to investigate Venezuelan poetry. It has a long bibliography that provides an extensive list of critical resources, texts from Latin American and Venezuelan scholars and editors. This book is not just a history of Venezuelan poetry, it's also a rich portrait of a dynamic cultural landscape. Any library that wants to expand its collection of Venezuelan poetry would have to begin with El coro de las voces solitarias.

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