Voz apagada / Douglas Gómez Barrueta

Extinguished Voice

The poet, essayist and translator Alfredo Silva Estrada died on Wednesday night in Caracas

[Photo: Iván González, 2005]

“To write at the limits: shock, emotion, touchstone: That shock called poetry.” That is what was sought in Al través by Alfredo Silva Estrada, the poet who died on Wednesday night accompanied by the dancer and choreographer Sonia Sanoja, his inseparable wife since 1960, the first reader of all his verse, his essays and his translations.

Silva Estrada was born in Caracas on the 14th of May in 1933, and at the age twenty he published his first two collections, De la casa arraigada and Cercos. A year earlier he studied Art History in Italy. He received a degree in Philosophy in 1957 from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, where he taught for several years. He attended graduate school at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Between 1965 and 1982 he produced the show Homenajes on Radio Nacional de Venezuela. His work also includes the books Integraciones/De la unidad en fuga and Del traspaso, published in 1962 and Literales (1963). In 1964 Lo nunca proyectado, Trans-verbales I (1967) and Acercamientos (1969). In the seventies he published Trans-verbales I, Trans-verbales II y Trans-verbales III (1972), Los moradores (1975), Los quintetos del círculo (1978), Contra el espacio hostil (1979) and Variaciones sobre reticuláreas (1979). In 1986 Dedicación y ofrendas was published, De bichos exaltado in 1989, ten years later Por los respiraderos del día y En un momento dado, and in 2000 Al través.

In 1997, Silva Estrada received the Premio Nacional de Literatura. In 2001, he obtained the international prize in poetry at the Liege Biennial (Belgium), an award previously given to Giuseppe Ungaretti, Saint-John Perse, Octavio Paz and Roberto Juarroz, among others. In October 2005, Silva Estrada was honored at the XII Semana Internacional de la Poesía in Caracas.

He also translated into Spanish the poetry of Salah Stétié, Georges Schehadé, Vahé Godel, Francis Ponge, Fernand Verhesen, Pierre Reverdy, André du Bouchet and Andrée Chedid. The essay “La palabra trasmutada/la poesía como existencia” was published in 1989, and in it he wrote: “Poetry as experience and not merely as formal experimentation, because its material (language) is only manipulable to the degree that it will continue being newborn and incitingly elusive. A diction of what have been called “the great commonplaces of humanity:” love, pain, joy, the consciousness of death... universal feelings that have always been spoken, that always need to be expressed and that each poet, individualizing them, pronounces with the intensity of a first time.”


Alfredo Chacón
Poet, Anthropologist, Essayist
“With Alfredo Silva Estrada, I lose a very dear brother and one of the poets I most admire. Venezuelan readers of poetry can hold on to the inextinguishable part of his life: his books of poems and his writings of reflection on poetry. Poets and critics from here and elsewhere will continue to trust that Alfredo Silva Estrada’s work will attain in Latin America and in Spain the acknowledgment it has received in our country and among French-language poets. May it be so.”

Jesús Alberto León
Poet, Scientist, University Professor
“Alfredo stands out amidts Venezuelan poetry of the second half of the twentieth century as a revolutionary, even though I don’t like that word because of the implications it has today. And he stands out because all his contemporaries, which include those who belonged to El Techo de la Ballena or Sardio, centered their fuss in behavior, their ruptures were existential ones transferred to literature. But Alfredo leaves a trace in language which is the theater of all life. We Venezuelan poets owe Alfredo for liberating us from certain slaveries, for having dared to engage in games, in ruptures.”

Bárbara Gunz
Mathematician, Director of the Fundación Gego
“Alfredo and Sonia went every afternoon to Gego and Leufert’s house to have a few drinks and to talk. From that experience emerged Variaciones sobre reticuláreas. Besides, Sonia danced on many occasions among Gego’s works. I was an adolescent and that was an intellectually enriching salon.”

María Antonieta Flores
Poet, Essayist
“Thanks to him I was able to see that it’s true that poetry saves. In desperation, I stumbled onto one of Gego’s panoramas with a blank book. Each word and each verse by Alfredo stopped me and I never left. The poem “Lo nunca proyectado.” Neither cold nor distant, his poetry is emotion and sensuality suspended in a tense web, and it emerges from the everyday... I’ve lost the last of my three poet friends, the poetic as humanity incarnate.”

Luis Enrique Belmonte
Poet, Novelist, Psychiatrist
“My teacher has died, the great poet Alfredo Silva Estrada, who has outlined one of the most fascinating and dangerous adventures of language in contemporary poetry. He was an explorer of the limits and of the“edges of being.” He wrote from the clearing against hostile space. He was a man who made his house a space where poetry and friendship were celebrated. His word always sought to expand the possibilities of being, opening breaches of light and sound in the gills of the day. He died in his chair, on a Wednesday, and those of us who knew and loved him know what Wednesdays meant: the day of encounter after his lit word. He never lost his sharp sense of humor. The last time I saw him he surprised me because he sang “Alma libre” impeccably, one of his favorite songs. He was a western mage with clear power and a science that possesed the mysterious gift of transmuting the word.

Now his soul flies freely.”


Before Departing

Before departing
Don’t stop to look
At those undone sheets
And that glass
Where you’ve drunk so many times

Seek out instead
The horizons you can sew like yarn
The birds that eat on the shoulders of the blind
And that trail that will lead you
Like a writing

{ Douglas Gómez Barrueta, Tal Cual, 16 October 2009 }

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