Lorenzo García Vega ya duerme en Playa Albina / Edgardo Dobry

Lorenzo García Vega Now Sleeps in Playa Albina

(Photo: Gorka Lejarcegi)
There are those who actually believed a place called Playa Albina actually existed, as Lorenzo García Vega indefectibly called Miami, where he lived for many years as an exile; he had been born in 1926 in Jagüey Grande, Cuba, and he has just died in Florida’s Metropolitan Hospital. He was the youngest member of the Orígenes group, based in the Havana of the 1940s around José Lezama Lima and the magazine of the same name; in Los años de Orígenes (Caracas, Monte Ávila; 1978-Buenos Aires, Bajo la Luna, 2007) García Vega tells of how he met the “Master”: “I was in the backroom of a bookstore and a spectator said to me: Kid, read Proust! It was Lezama Lima.”

But Los años de Orígenes is far from being the typical memoir glorifying the author and his mentors. As with everything García Vega wrote, it’s difficult to define, almost impossible to gloss and because of that an extraordinarily read, very intelligent and free from all complacency —with the world and with himself— since, who was he going to be afraid of and who was the man who had invented Playa Albina going to ingratiate himself with, that place where everything, even desolation, was almost impalpable? Los años de Orígenes was a critical exercise of personal and collective memory, of a bitter humor, in which García Vega manifests his admiration and gratitude towards Lezama, but also his intolerance towards the Catholic whiff of a good part of the group that surrounded him; the rejection of the construction of the Lezama myth, sustained in good measure by writers and critics who never knew him and yet established a thesis regarding the relation between the poet’s asthma and his punctuation; the biting critique of the foundation and ceremonial of Neo-Baroque Havana-Parisian rituals commanded by Severo Sarduy, “Severo also a living marble flower”; in the end, the chronicle (veiled, like an omnipresent perfume) of the difficult situation of those who, after Castro’s revolution, left Cuba to never return again: with all the penury of the exile and, on top of that, without the least bit of solidarity from the Latin American intellectual system, nearly all of it committed to Castro, what he would call “the opportunistic purity of the farcical Latin American left.”

In a quiet, fragmentary way, full of self-irony and implicit laughter, García Vega built the alternative to revolutionary, Neo-Baroque or post-structuralist tropicalism and its carnavals with more or less fortunate adjectives. No mueras sin laberinto, El oficio de peder, Cuerdas para Aleister and Devastación del hotel San Luis are some of the García Vega’s books, almost always written in what we could call poetic prose if we admit here that “poetic” has nothing to do with sentimentalism, coloratura, the magic of instants or the sublime epiphany: “I have just visited the grave of a friend who recently died, in Chacarita, and it makes me desperate to understand that the dead will always be lying down,” he wrote in Erogando trizas donde gotas de lo vario pinto, which his friend the poet Elsa López published last year in Ediciones La Palma; and also: “A sad reality of this Playa Albina where I live. Drums, knick-knacks. What in the end doesn’t sound, even after one spends the day playing the drum.” Playing the drum: writing the poem; persisting in what’s useless and even in what’s absurd as a —unique— form of survival. To create a self-portrait under the figure of one more piece of rubble from the century’s deliriums of greatness and their illuminated guides.

And yet a good portion of the best Cuban poetry wouldn’t be the same, wouldn’t be as good, without Lorenzo: we see it in Antonio José Ponte, in Rolando Sánchez Mejías, in Idalia Morejón, in Rogelio Saunders, in Pedro Marqués de Armas. Because that absurdity of life and of the story from which García Vega brings to fruition in his Playa Albina isn’t far from the tragicomic contortions of Beckett’s characters, or from the meticulous self-destruction of Bernhard’s protagonists, to mention two authors he admired. That is, the assumption of the great Cuban inheritance in poetry but with that unexpected, extemporaneous or unseasonable torsion of Lorenzo’s bitterness, that reduces the sweet aftertaste of Baroque styles that boomed for so many years into prestigious fine dust. In his final book, Palíndromo en otra cerradura, homenaje a Duchamp (Barcelona, Barataria, 2011), he wrote: “I maintain myself without naming myself. For how long? It’s a face that is nothing, a whiteness of the dry. Its lights —it’s a plane— pass over the night. It’s also like a rare stamp. It’s very curious.” Very curious, yes: like his fate, which is partly our own, that of his readers; and like his death now.

{ Edgardo Dobry, El País, 2 June 2012 }

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