Aimé Césaire (1913-2008)

“To defend oneself against the social by the creation of a zone of incandescence, on this side of which, inside which flourishes in terrifying security the extraordinary flower of the “I.” ”

Aimé Césaire changed my life when I came across his work at the USF library in 1990. I felt an immediate kinship with his writing, probably even more so because I read it outside of any class, undiluted by commentary or formal introductions. Although I don’t read French, Clayton Eshleman & Annette Smith’s versions managed to transmit the indelible magic of his work, a translation of energies that has remained with me continuously since that initial encounter.

When I found out last year that Juan Sánchez Peláez was an avid reader of Césaire, my instincts were confirmed. Poetry, as I understand it, truly helps us create that “zone of incandescence” Césaire identifies and enacts in all his writing. What I hear in poets such as Sánchez Peláez and Césaire is a lineage of furies, hallucinations, specters and blessings. They invoke transformations that teach us how to dissolve the self and understand words as vessels, a form of communion with our inner depths and the strange universe around us.

After his death yesterday, I think of Césaire as the teacher and comrade I encountered amidst the library stacks, whose poems immediately transfixed me, providing the freedom to choose this sacred endeavor whose initial breath is resistance, then love.

“My negritude is not a stone, its deafness hurled against
the clamor of the day
my negritude is not a leukoma of dead liquid over the earth’s
dead eye
my negritude is neither tower nor cathedral
it takes root in the red flesh of the soil
it takes root in the ardent flesh of the sky
it breaks through opaque prostration with its upright patience.”

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