Patología actual de la poesía venezolana / Santiago Acosta & Willy McKey

Current Pathology of Venezuelan Poetry
(El Salmón Poetry Magazine, Part I)

A group of very young poets emerges on the scene of Venezuelan letters. They’ve arrived with a project under their arm: El Salmón, a space for thinking about and questioning poetry, for reading and debating it. Papel Literario opens its pages to the impulse of new energies.

At a moment when our literature is undergoing a renaissance of sorts in fiction, it is opportune to ask oneself about the state of, more than just the new Venezuelan poetry, the national poetic tradition. El Salmón presents a symptomatic reading of the possible spaces for legitimizing our poetry.

There are at least two types of readers of Venezuelan poetry: the academic researcher or professional critic, and another more common one who settles with what he finds in the city’s commercial bookstores. The latter is always satisfied. He feels that poems are songs for seduction, for learning how to live or for cultivating the spirit. In general his taste is instinctively directed towards the poetic discourse that doesn’t hide its meaning, that doesn’t put its own capacity for being understood at risk in order to illuminate what can only be named from darkness, from the hermetic or silence. Although it might be bold to say so, the academic researcher or professional critic of Venezuelan poetry is also satisfied. His work is important and he can speak with authority close to the center of the minuscule circle of our literature, because he knows and has studied and has read everything. His complaints aren’t related to the day to day of Venezuelan poetry; his discomfort is with history and he only fights with ghosts.

At the mid point between them exists a type of reader who is not quite as disciplined as the first but is much more enthusiastic than the second. For him poetry is found between discipline and disorder, between “work” and affinity, between a interest and shuddering. He reads for the emotion, to taste vertigo, the madness in the words, the thorn in the voice. He wants to have the complete works of his favorite poets, but the only thing he finds is crippled anthologies, false heights, empty shelves. This is the reader that suffers the most with the situation of Venezuelan poetry. We’re not just talking about the quality of current production; what really makes us uncomfortable is the absence of spaces for legitimizing the poetic word, the complete oblivion into which many of our poets fall, the silence and disorder of the publishing houses, magazines and literary supplements and the laconic presence of poetry at literary events and centers for academic specialization. These are the symptoms that point out how poetry has been relegated almost to the region of being an accessory, something disposable.


Notable collections such as Altazor, by Monte Ávila Editores, have lost the concept to such a degree that they measure a young voice such as that of Domingo Maza Zavala with the same measure as Sánchez Peláez, Hanni Ossott or Luis Alberto Crespo. The excessive editorial flexibility of El Perro y La Rana clouds its own field of action. Initiatives such as the collection Fondo Editorial Pequeña Venecia disappear without a goodbye. The good intentions of a publishing house such as El Otro, El Mismo are eclipsed in poorly executed editions and with horrible proofreading (Bid & Co suffers from the same ailment). Fortunately, something is salvaged by places such as Editorial Equinoccio, poet editors (like Enrique Hernández D’Jesús and Igor Barreto) and second hand bookstores. Forgive us anyone we overlook, but this is more or less how one puts together a basic library of Venezuelan poetry.


There’s a shade of candor to finding on the Internet the remains of the digital archive the extinct Verbigracia left hanging like an anthropological footprint: “a journalistic space consecrated to the revision and exhaustive and current debate of ideas in the various fields of knowledge.” Papel Literario is the last traditional space for the revision of the literary word (and sometimes the not-so-literary), which precisely because of its nature as a supplement can’t attend to the dynamics of poetry with the necessary concision.

The spaces within independent magazines are thankful towards those individual efforts to keep the faith in the genre… but they suffer in terms of distribution. The institutional magazines (for example, Revista Nacional de Cultura, Poesía) get caught up in an excessively fraternal exercise, dedicated more to an embrace than to criticism. The cultural magazines with high circulation (Plátanoverde, Veintinuo…) mistreat the poetic text in various forms, the most common one being that recent mania for seeing the text as a “graphic element” and not as a functioning discourse.


Being an audience member at conferences and a reader of poetry are vocations that should be taken separately in our country. Except for the convocations by publishing houses for publicizing and making a bibliography of the results of a contest, or the presentations of titles (like Editorial Equinoccio, whose Papiros series has generated a new space for all the literary genres), it’s rare to be able to set up a conference table with poetry as its axis. If it happens to be a posthumous tribute, always late, it’s likely an elegiac discourse will supplant a critical one.

At the recent VII “Mariano Picón Salas” Biennial of Literature there were seven tables dedicated to reflections on fiction: “Horizons of the New Latin American Fiction;” “The Voice of 20th Century Venezuelan Women Writers;” “Around the Short Story;” “Inventions of Reality;” “New Narrative Poetics” (there’s one); “”New Narrative Poetics” (there’s two), “New Narrative Poetics” (and three): three tables devoted to exploring what’s new in the universe of the short story and novel.

For poetry, there was barely the commonplace public reading. Neither a debate to confront new poetics or the horizons of the new Latin American poetry, to mention a space that was thought about with so much interest for the fiction writers invited to Mérida.

It’s worth noting that the biennial was honoring José Barroeta and Elizabeth Schön: poets. On another note, Gabriela Kizer’s collection Tribu won the “José Barroeta” International Poetry Prize, while the “Julio Miranda” International Prize for Short Novels was declared without a winner.


We’re annoyed by the editorial fetish that seeks to stamp everything with the 21st century brand, pretending to pull a “new literature” out of nowhere, as though it were a white rabbit and the 21st century the bottom of a magician’s black hat. New literatures emerge when they deserve to, no matter how much we pull at their ears.


“Read to Understand the World” is the slogan for the Universidad de Carabobo’s International Book Fair. Basing ourselves on this phrase, we should understand the world as a place that’s still divided by the matter of genre [género: also gender] (not in a literary sense, but rather in the strictly biological one): women’s poetry transformed into a required dimension (Edda Armas, Piedad Bonnet and Yolanda Pantin at a reading) and the parody of the male poets scheduled for a different day and location (the women’s reading, moreover, was scheduled to be held in the Ida Gramcko Salon).

Looking at the program for tables at the VII “Mariano Picón Salas” Biennial (and the program for any traditional literary event) shows that this separation of authors by gender is not an accident, but is rather a bad habit for which, it must be said, women writers also share the blame.


Anyone who dares to touch the topic of literary collectives with candor (always at a café and never at the table of a debate) spout this commonplace: “The conditions don’t exist.” Since the groups Tráfico and Guaire [in the 1980s], then, the conditions don’t exist. What those conditions might be seems to remain a taboo, but poetry continues to be inoffensively individual, never gregarious, never common, not even generational.

Occasionally, we see the emergence of some manifestation of the figure of the public reading, that old animal that refuses to die (or perhaps we stubbornly misread what is actually its final shudders). But what should be a constant activity has become a mere sporadic whim. This remnant is the only expression of collectivity that remains for us in poetry. We must recognize that the public reading is a well-worn formula, of a social order and conceived for friends. Even then, the spaces available for that customary ritual of the poetic word (we speak of the reading that doesn’t have as an excuse the baptism of a new collection) are shrinking, with bookstores being the last corners available for the unofficial word.

While young fiction writers have achieved a victory with the ReLectura group, the last thing poetry remembers is a mixture of installation and uniformed performance called Poetas en Tránsito. We haven’t heard of any group of poets who have presented a proposal worthy of attention, a collective that seriously considers the elaboration of an ouvre capable of surviving the limits of the moment in which it is produced, that won’t evaporate within a sterile urban sensationalism.


Fraternity is the sin and omission its indulgence. Book reviews have become ruses full of evasions because the person writing is my friend before he’s my reader. Our criticism has ended up being congratulation, gesture. We are fascinated when Argentines, Mexicans and Spaniards critique a verse by Montejo, the work of J.R. Medina (beyond the idea that “we owe the existence of the Biblioteca Ayacucho publishing house to him”) or Hanni Ossott’s editorial homelessness. We look at the foreigner spellbound while he speaks of his national literature with value judgments based on fundamentals. Naïve, we confuse honesty with audacity. When will we learn that a review is not a blurb.


To many of us the poor treatment our poetic tradition receives is more than evident. The complaints we present today (this tip of the iceberg) are discomforts that appear on a daily basis for any reader of Venezuelan poetry, in his conversations in the hallway or at the café, like a thick and bitter tail that’s dragged around for years. That’s why we’ve decided to occupy a space generously made available to us by Papel Literario for the next month, in order to articulate and leave a register of a need to reread, revisit and recognize our poetry.

At this time it doesn’t seem prudent to take on an Adamic stance in these matters. The renovating gesture always hides the intention of erasing tradition with a pen stroke. We would like to reengage the current of our poetic heritage, for pleasure, for the sake of knowing where we stand and where we should (or could) go. There’s still a great distance to cover on these waters.

Santiago Acosta (San Francisco, 1983) has a degree in Literature from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, where he is currently studying for a Masters in Venezuelan Literature. His first collection, Detrás de los erizos, won the 2007 Contest for Work by Unpublished Authors, sponsored by Monte Ávila Editores.

Willy McKey (Caracas, 1980) studied Literature at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. He made a brief incursion in university editions with the experimental collectives Imprima no Deprima and El Colgado (UCV Student Merit Award, 2005). His first collection, Vocado de orfandad, won the 2007 Fundarte Literary Contest.

{ Santiago Acosta & Willy McKey, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 3 November 2007 }

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