The poet Natasha Tiniacos was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela in 1981 and is currently a graduate student at the University of South Carolina. In 2004, she was awarded the inaugural Premio Nacional Universitario de Literatura for her manuscript Mujer a fuego lento, which was published earlier this year by Editorial Equinoccio at the Universidad Simón Bolívar. Until I found a copy of her book last summer in Caracas, I only knew Tiniacos’s writing through her excellent blog, Vademécum. I finished her book in one sitting, on the same day I bought it, staying up late to read, write and think about the work in this amazing book.
Several poets have already commented on the high quality of Tiniacos’s verse, including Armando Rojas Guardia, who was asked to introduce the book when it was first released by Editorial Equinoccio last spring, along with Elizabeth Schön’s final book Luz oval. Rojas Guardia commented on the strength of Tiniacos’s voice when contrasted with a master poet such as Schön (all translations from the Spanish are my own):
“When I was asked to simultaneously present Luz oval and this collection by Natasha in public, I was overwhelmed by the sensation that I was dealing with a disproportionate task: Elizabeth Schön is a consecrated poet, of undeniable importance within Venezuelan letters; with Mujer a fuego lento, Natasha begins her literary trajectory, although she has published poems and essays in various organs of cultural diffusion in the country. I told myself that such asymmetry was going to be an obstacle when it came time to present both books. And yet, if one reads Natasha Tiniacos’s collection with rigorous attention, one ends up being as astonished as he is moved: there’s nothing in it to remind one of a beginner’s hesitations. None of these poetic texts were written in immature haste: they posses a rare exactitude; quite often, they aren’t missing a single word or freighted by too many. Nor does the content devour the form in these poems, as is characteristic in so many first works. On the contrary, the symbolic and metaphorical web, adjusted by a deft phrasing and a tempered diction, constantly traps authentic findings, profound lyrical discoveries.
Natasha’s is a poetry with urban roots. Because of that, the historical and the quotidian abound freely within it. Almost colloquial and sometimes conversational turns enrich her vibrant and nervous prosody in a peculiar manner. Also the apparently unpoetic, in other words, what a certain artistic conventionalism deems unaesthetic, is incorporated to the making of the text so as to healthily remind us that there’s no single dimension of human life that can’t be approached and addressed by the poet. Humor and irony also introduce a lucid critical distance when the time comes to work with certain well-worn topics, such as love, granting the matter a rare originality.”
I want to echo Rojas Guardia when he mentions the originality of this book in its exploration of topics that have been addressed to the point of saturation within poetry, namely love and desire. Many of the poems in Mujer a fuego lento [Slow Burning Woman] address the pleasure and suffering of desire, both carnal and spiritual. But what distinguishes the approach Tiniacos takes is her rigorous attention to developing a distinct personal language. Throughout the book, one encounters lines and phrases whose precision and beauty lead in a variety of directions, often beyond the stated theme of the poem. One such example occurs in “Desiderata,” ostensibly dedicated to a former lover but whose lines constantly pull us into various existential states (I quote in full):
I tear you off like the aged skin you are
like time that passes without God’s permission
I tear off the consequences of your kisses my eroded eyelids
erase your name written on my bathroom mirror
that in its fog insists on calling you
I tear you off like bad hair and from the root
I prune you like the damn weeds that infect the garden
where I devote myself to burning you
setting you aflame
until I build a bonfire from your remains
and send you smoke signals
demanding your return
The poems in this book are often addressed to an unnamed lover, who might also be the reader or the daily desires and urges that accompany the poet. Some of the poems remain untitled, but they are all threaded by an intense evocation of a desire that will not be contained by simple definitions or conventions. There’s a persistent spiritual tone among these poems, which leads me to read this desire as allegorical at times, while always maintaining a carnality that’s enacted with freshness, never forced or exaggerated. What holds these poems together as the unitary sequence they definitely are is a sense of fury in the poet’s voice, not based in anger as much as in an impulse to simultaneously encompass various states of being. The reader is assaulted by the poet’s desires and fears while the relative brevity of the individual poems allows a momentary, recurring space for recovery.
At one point in the book, we hear the poet (her twin? other? reader?) say, “I wish I were pentium and not woman.” There’s a sense of the poet transforming herself by force of will into precise fragments that will in turn create other mechanized, hybrid entities. Love, desire, pleasure and loss are all written out in their undeniable intensity and the reader is allowed to share vicariously in these states of being. But the masterful technical precision of these poems sets a stage for the reader to imagine Mujer a fuego lento as a type of blueprint for completely unknown sensory directions. The woman evoked in the title is a constant presence throughout the collection, a self acutely aware of its own limitations and projections. Within the intensity of the passions that Tiniacos invokes, one finds points of stillness that serve as portals for the reader to settle into, gradually erasing distinctions between the poet and her reader. We’re reminded that the speed of a poem is relative to how long a reader is allowed to linger in the text’s system. The 31 poems of Mujer a fuego lento generate a multitude of possible situations and trances for the reader to inhabit. Several of the poems can be read in their original Spanish at issue No. 116 of the online magazine Letralia.