Las otras voces / Antonio López Ortega

The Other Voices

With the recent disappearance of the writer Elizabeth Schön (1921-2007) we’ve possibly lost the last great Venezuelan poetic voice of the twenties. Along with her, just a few years ago, we also lost Juan Sánchez Peláez (1922-2003), whose legacy and influence continue to grow continentally due to the avant-garde accent of his voice, its sonorous device, its perennially fresh and renewed vision. Schön belonged to an airy, metaphysical current of Venezuelan poetry. It has been a marginal current, but a powerful one nonetheless. Poets like Ida Gramcko (1924-1994), Alfredo Silva Estrada or Alfredo Chacón emanate from that current and evolve toward other horizons.

These deaths raise the question of their work’s dissemination, and the situation is uneven in this field. To speak of the projection of Venezuelan poetry is to speak of an uneven process, which when achieved is due more to the efforts of the poets themselves than to the publishing houses or public policies. In 1988, under the Siruela imprint in Spain, an anthology of Ramos Sucre appeared called Las formas del fuego. Beginning with that pioneering gesture, there have been a succession of editions or translations in various countries, with greater or lesser resonance. The complete poems of Sánchez Peláez, for example, was taken up by the prestigious Lumen imprint in 2004 and today it remains the great Venezuelan poet’s definitive text. The thirties generation seems to be living through a stellar moment – especially if we pause to consider the work of Rafael Cadenas and Eugenio Montejo –, since their editions and recognition abroad are obligatory references. But the forties poets – such José Barroeta (1942-2006) or Hanni Ossott (1946-2002) – already have editions of their complete work in important Spanish editorial houses. The list would be longer because of the additional efforts needed in regards to the arrangement and promotion of poetic oeuvres, and not only in the case of Elizabeth Schön, as necessary as they are deserved. Closer poets whose deaths interrupted mature works – such as Miyó Vestrini (1938-1991) or Elí Galindo (1947-2006) – would also deserve this distinction.

The voice of the poets – we’ve known this since Homer – always moves beneath historical currents and vicissitudes. It is the other voice of societies: the one that could be the equivalent of the voice of the unconscious on the psychic plane, always reverberating beneath thought and ideas.

It is the voice that remains, that belongs to deep humanity, and the one that gathers the misfortunes, accidents or phantasmagoria of human desires. The voice of the poets survives while historical pomp disappears or ends up trapped in marble. One could say that History varies, for good or ill, due to intrinsic reasons. But facing variety, which is inconstant by nature, it’s good to hold up the invariability of poetry, the voice that remains.

All cultures, in their most extreme or compromised moments, have known to quench their thirst in those fountains so as to recognize, in their misplacement, what has nourished the past and will nourish the future. This is why we must return to the poets: to recognize the trunk from which the branches flourish, to reconcile ourselves with the word that doesn’t stain or diminish itself each day, to seek refuge in the soul and to understand that suffering, no matter how prolonged it might be, is always fleeting.

{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 5 June 2007 }

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