Una poética del claroscuro / Yolanda Pantin

A Chiaroscuro Poetics

I’m an impatient, arbitrary reader who seeks in poetry something I don't know. In a state of permanent anxiety, I pause at the phrases, verses or fragments that let me imagine what’s happening without seeing. I think poetry is written in a language no one knows but which regardless we’re capacitated to understand. Between struggling and stammering, in those spaces, in the attempt at translation, even in the misunderstandings, the poem exists: something happens within us that we didn’t know. That’s how I read poetry, without pretending to understand it, instead allowing that “something” to give voice to our intuitions. There’s an instant in a poem by Walcott where I always pause:

Strange, that the rancor of hatred hid in that dream
of slow rivers and lily-like parasols, in snaps
of fine old colonial families, curled at the edge
not from age of from fire or the chemicals, no, not at all,
but because, off at its edges, innocently excluded
stood the groom, the cattle boy, the housemaid, the gardeners,
the tenants, the good Negroes down in the village,
their mouth in the locked jaw of a silent scream.

I settle on this fragment from “The Star-Apple Kingdom” to liven my own obsessions and if possible to question the stories of foundations and exiles I’ve heard throughout my life. I think this fragment invites us to reconstruct (rewrite), according to our own experience, the mutilated scene.

The photograph speaks of people who lived in a place and in a determined era. Undoubtedly, they existed. The poet doesn’t judge them, he observes them and because of that there’s no space for retaliations or vengeance, as we see at the end of the poem “Verandah”:

I climb the stair
and stretch a darkening hand to greet those friends
who share with you the last inheritance
of earth, our shrine and pardoner…

Nor is there anything to be ashamed of since the people who posed for the portrait surely did so convinced by the value of their positions. Walcott doesn’t condemn them, he sympathizes with the ingenuousness of the subjects and the innocence of those who are in the shadows.

Like a painter (there are numerous references to painting in his poetry), Walcott illuminates a world that we Venezuelans don’t recognize for many reasons. This leads me to think about the fact that our poetry is reticent to light. In the book Una isla [An Island], Rafael Cadenas eludes the temptation of generalizing his experience and in that way erases the painful marks left by Caribbean history. Respectful, unhurried, Cadenas waits for a “clarity without chimeras.”

One sign of Venezuelan poetry is the loss of the landscape of childhood and the maternal home, and thus, of mourning. In this manner, since José Antonio Ramos Sucre, many of our poets are suffused by a feeling of orphanhood: Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva, Luis Alberto Crespo, Ramón Palomares, Juán Sánchez Peláez, Ana Enriqueta Terán are a few of the names. On the other hand, the excess of light implied by the absolute can also be read as blindness.

In any case, what concerns me at this moment, the reason I read and reread Walcott, is being able to articulate a language capable of assimilating the signs that the desire for the absolute, the exotic and the “local colors” distract us from, along with “social neo-realism.” A chiaroscuro poetics. Because just as the splendor blinds us and won’t let us look, it blinds ideology.

“Reality,” says Cadenas, “has demonstrated itself as it is, with its own weight, its strength, its mystery, free from the curtain of ideas that stopped us from feeling it.” The fact is, we are at a crossroads and it remains to be seen what will happen with Venezuelan poetry in the upcoming years. Will we see the light?

{ Yolanda Pantin, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 5 May 2007 }

No comments: