“Los moldes han desaparecido” / Carmen Victoria Méndez

“The molds have disappeared”

Rafael Cadenas, “the poet of silence,” won the 2009 Prize in Romance Language Literature yesterday.

“I never really know if the poems pass the test,” said Rafael Cadenas, by phone, a few hours after the announcement of the verdict that turns him into the winner of the 2009 Prize in Romance Language Literature, awarded yesterday during the Guadalajara International Book Fair in Mexico. The prize, which comes with a $150,000 dollar award, was previously known as the Premio Juan Rulfo de Literatura.

The jury, composed of seven literary critics, presented its deliberation in the voice of the Venezuelan Gustavo Guerrero, who praised the work of his compatriot, according to international news agencies. “Lucid and vigilant, Cadenas has not hesitated in breaking with the forms, genres and discourses most frequently used in modern poetry (...) Today, Cadenas embodies for the very young the horizon of a word that distances itself from traditional lyricism and brings with it the imperative of giving a voice to that which, by other means, can no longer find spaces to speak in our time,” he added.

The recipient of the prize harvests a vast oeuvre as a poet, essayist and translator. His most prominent books include Los cuadernos del destierro (1960), Falsas maniobras (1966), Intemperie (1977) and Gestiones (1992). From his home in Caracas, Cadenas confessed that “the news was a surprise on Saturday, which is when they told me about the prize. They asked me to keep it a secret until today (yesterday). The reading of the verdict was a couple hours ago. Afterward, Gustavo Guerrero put me in touch via telephone with several journalists who asked me questions, which is a bit unusual because I always answer in writing. I’m very laconic.”

Cadenas told the press he feels thankful to Mexico for many things, “including my readings of its writers and poets.” He also mentioned that he would travel to Guadalajara to receive the prize, which recognizes an author for the body of his work in any genre.

Guerrero presented Cadenas as “the poet of silence.” During the conversation with the Mexican press, the author commented that “silence is a characteristic of poetry that I miss in fiction.” He also read a short poem that relates to the topic. “Of course, there were political questions, which aren’t scarce, even if some might try to keep the news of the prize on a literary plane. I said what I always tell my Latin American friends: that they take care of their democracy, even if it’s deficient, so that they don’t lose it and have power fall into the hands of some caudillo.”

The author from Barquisimeto highlights the variety within poetry today. These days “the poet has to invent the form for each poem because the traditional molds have disappeared. In the past, what the poet had to do was choose any of the existing molds and express himself through it.”

It is precisely in that variety that one of the mayor literary virtues of Cadenas is to be found, in the words of the jury, who have qualified him as a poet of ruptures.

Although he prefers to avoid the label, the author acknowledges he has kept himself at the margins of traditional literary canons. “Since I began writing, I adopted what can be called the modern style, and I’ve been quite firm in that respect. In what I write there is no actual meter, rhyme or stanzas in the traditional sense. Besides, I use the prose poem, and what I’ve been writing lately are very brief poems, but in any case, I never know if the poems really pass the test.”

Regarding the relevance of the genre in the world today, Cadenas adds that although poetry is a genre of minorities, that doesn’t keep it from being influential. “Poetry has always been something that is read by few people and even though it doesn’t carry the same weight as the essay or the article, it achieves an effect that influences other zones of the human being. Besides, readers of poetry are very loyal; in a certain way they’re poets as well.”

At the moment, Cadenas is trying to organize a book. “That always goes slowly; in my case it’s even slower because I work the poems a great deal, I revise a lot and wait a long time, maybe too long,” reveals the man who on one occasion said that he “writes from normality with a sense of awe.”

{ Carmen Victoria Méndez, Tal Cual, 1 September 2009 }

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