Antologopatía, antologofrenia y antologofilia / Santiago Acosta & Willy McKey

Anthologopathy, Anthologophrenia and Anthologophilia
(El Salmón Poetry Magazine, Part II)

The analysis of the editorial reality of Venezuelan poetry is the focus of this second installment presented by El Salmón as a portion of its particular symptomatic revision of the genre that occupies them. Papel Literario once again provides a space for the reflection initiated in our previous edition, disseminating new readings of our literary present.

No one can be impressed by the affirmation that many of our greatest poets have fallen into oblivion. But we’re not only speaking about literary criticism (which in its most serious expression makes an effort to explore new territories), but rather about the publishing houses, who don’t seem to realize that their catalogs’ titles have gone out of print.

In a country like ours, whose literary tradition has been formed by the force of reduced numbers of editions, the reprint becomes a constant urgency. We know the publishing houses try to fight this problem by elaborating poetic anthologies, but these eventually tend to have no effect besides making the reader miss what hasn’t been included in its pages. In most cases the anthologies, more than an exercise in selection, are one of arbitrary suppression of poems. Normally the editor trues to justify his own injustices, applying the formula of “every anthology is always incomplete.” If that’s the case, what’s the purpose of continuing to produce anthologies? What purpose does a selection of poems serve? Do they think that a collection of poems can be mutilated without damaging the meaning of the group of poems?

The reader, with his hands tied by the tyrannical mediocrity of certain publishing houses, has no other option but to settle with a truncated book whose voids are impossible to fill. We can’t even turn to public libraries, full as they are of false value and absences on the shelves.

It’s one thing to edit a selection of texts by José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Juan Liscano, Víctor Valera Mora or Rafael Cadenas, poets whose complete works can be bought today in several of the country’s bookstores, and something else entirely to publish an “incomplete oeuvre” of a poet whose books are out of print.

For example, if Hanni Ossott is a poet of immeasurable value for our tradition, why does Monte Ávila Editores limit itself to making a mere anthology, when it’s capable of collecting all her books? This edition, which appeared recently in the Altazor collection, could well have been a complete collected poems, but someone thought it would be an exaggeration to add a hundred more pages. The same thing happens (though we don’t know if this is at the request of the authors themselves) with the anthologies of Reynaldo Pérez So, Carlos Contramaestre, William Osuna and Elizabeth Schön. How long will they postpone the publication of the complete works of Ramón Palomares, Alfredo Silva Estrada, Guillermo Sucre, Eleazar León, Eugenio Montejo, Lucila Velásquez, Ida Gramcko, Caupolicán Ovalles, Gustavo Pereira or Juan Calzadilla? When will they reprint Hesnor Rivera, Emira Rodríguez, Miyó Vestrini, Luis Fernando Álvarez, Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva, Pablo Rojas Guardia, Salustio González Rincones, José Tadeo Arreaza Calatrava, Igor Barreto, Jacinto Fombona Pachano or Luis Camilo Guevara, among others?

For these and other reasons it can be such a satisfaction for those interested in Venezuelan poetry being able to once again have access to materials that have been unavailable in bookstores for decades. In this sense, the publishing house El Otro, El Mismo, run by Víctor Bravo in Mérida, has performed a very important task for Venezuelan poetry. Since about four years ago, when the first volumes began to appear in bookstores, we Venezuelan readers received with surprise and gratitude the complete works of poets such as Luis Alberto Crespo, Reyna Rivas, Patricia Guzmán, Márgara Russotto, Armando Rojas Guardia and José Barroeta. For many people it meant the chance to finally read collections that had been out of print for a long time. What has been lost sight of is the value for our literature of a collection of Venezuelan poetry that will decide to publish complete works and leave behind the old mania for compiling anthologies. But we soon realized that the books released by El Otro, El Mismo hadn’t been prepared with enough care. Biographical information printed in dark red ink over a black background (Aún no, by Esdras Parra; Con el ala alta, by Patricia Guzmán); incomplete indexes (Obra poética by Luis Alberto Crespo); dozens of repeated pages (Obra poética by Márgara Russotto); and a correction process plagued by mistakes are some of the blunders to be found without looking too hard in these poetry volumes.

Besides missing a greater care on the part of the editors at El Otro, El Mismo, it’s hard for us to understand the criteria used to select the authors to be published. Why publish José Antonio Castro, Joaquín Marta Sosa, Rafael Arráiz Lucca and not Ramón Palomares, Alfredo Silva Estrada or Francisco Pérez Perdomo? We’re not saying the first group doesn’t deserve it, but an alarming imbalance in the list of that publishing house’s priorities is noted.

The only possible diagnosis is the editorial clumsiness as a national stigma. That’s why mentioning the name of Luis García Morales to any critic is to revive a surprised memory; that’s why knowing Linos by María Clara Salas, or Cruce de caminos by Eleazar León, or Guillermo Sucre’s La Mirada is practically impossible; that’s why Igor Barreto finds only complicity in the beautiful morgue of Los Amigos del Santo Sepulcro (perhaps the best edited poetry titles in the national book distribution scene); that’s why finding a copy of Guayabo by Gabriela Kizer, edited in Colombia by Enrique Hernández D’Jesús, is an impossible adventure. We should recognize once and for all that this isn’t a situation limited to the oblivion of poetry from years ago, but rather a fault we drag around, a cursed dead weight, a bad habit that makes the genre suffer.

Anyone with basic knowledge of editing and international standards knows that an edition of a thousand copies isn’t enough for the book to be considered “edited.” For the implacable effects of market techniques, the state sponsored publishing houses provide evidence of an abundant appetite capable of editing up to a book a day, but incapable of articulating an authentic conceptual and research effort that can manage to provide a structure – without the habitual diaspora of series, collections and mutilated texts – for our poetic tradition. At a time when Latin American integration is being proposed, we only have one basic library of authors (with all the sins we’ve already accused the anthologies of committing) to bring us closer to the rest of Latin American literature: this is happening in the country that conceived the Biblioteca Ayacucho imprint.

Relatedly, marvelous opportunities for stimulating the curiosity of a possible public who would make new editions of these forgotten voices “viable” are lost. In this very supplement, in the October 20th edition, Antonio López Ortega writes of a dossier of Venezuelan literature he put together and which was published – and this should be celebrated – by the Hofstra Hispanic Review. López Ortega points out that our poetry “enjoys a growing editorial projection, which has brought with it a critical evaluation that wasn’t seen before and that depends in great measure on external factors.” We disagree: he marvels at an edition by Siruela of Las formas del fuego by J.A. Ramos Sucre, with Sánchez Peláez at Lumen (overlooking the curious presence of José Ramón Medina in that collection, a title that by the way isn’t available at the web site for the affiliate of Random House, as though it were only sold here in this country), with Eugenio Montejo and Rafael Cadenas at Pre-Textos, along with the deserved, international and belated honor paid to the poetry of Hanni Ossott and José Barroeta. It seems that all this is something with which poetry should strut itself in front of any other literary genre.

López Ortega overlooks that Alfaguara and Random House Mondadori have offices in this country and are publishing the novelties of our fiction writers, while the gestures made by the machinery of the aforementioned transnational publishing house referred to in his dossier only include two living voices: Cadenas and Montejo, with the former not having published poems in nearly fifteen years. Once again the fascination for the legitimating spaces abroad and the slight mention of what the publishing affiliates have done for our country (initiatives that have benefited, among other authors, López Ortega himself).

The summary of the aforementioned dossier published in Papel Literario is, as well, a list of what can and can’t be found in bookstores and not of our literature: he uses 14 fiction writers (10 of them alive and writing) and 11 poets (6 of them dead) in order to define the inhabitants. Moreover, he refers to the voice of María Antonieta Flores (1960) as “one of our youngest writers,” an unfair display of the new poetry if we consider López Ortega’s selection includes a story by Rodrigo Blanco Calderón (1981).

And there we find a symptom that fiction shares: Rodrigo Blanco Calderón’s publicized work (he is the winner of Monte Ávila Editores’s 2005 Contest for Work by Unpublished Authors) owed part of its success to his being able to guard his unpublished condition as a treasure, since this is the only possible strategy for very young writers. Only in this way, if one triumphs in any of the diverse convocations opened for those who maintain their editorial virginity, is it possible to capture the interest of a publishing house for one’s second title. The other road, the route removed from contests, one’s poetic work presented without the necessary mechanisms of legitimization by judges, or without literary godfathers, suffers a perilous trajectory. So, to edit without a prize is almost a favor.

This is why, if something editorially speaking resembles the success López Ortega describes in his dossier, foreign academics and editors found several poetic voices of impeccable quality who, thanks to our editorial oversight, still preserve their potential gold mines of work, exploration and fascination. But only by means of a decent editorial selection will it be possible to develop them here, at home… meanwhile, we continue to depend “in great measure on external factors.”

Todos han muerto, José Barroeta’s complete poetry edited by the Catalonian imprint Candaya, is a faithful example: any of the reviews available on the web page of a publishing house that treats its authors with such care can be a discovery for a student of Letters, for whom the academy and its pensum can make his access to national poetry even more difficult. But that would mean leaving the waters of publishing to swim in those of the academy. And that matter deserves another installment.

{ Santiago Acosta & Willy McKey, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 10 November 2007 }

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