José Antonio Ramos Sucre (1890-1930). El poeta insomne / Eduardo Casanova

José Antonio Ramos Sucre (1890-1930). The Insomniac Poet

He was barely forty years old when he encountered death. He literally encountered death, he sought and found it. He committed suicide in Geneva with an overdose of Veronal, a sleeping pill known in the United States as Barbital and in many other places as Barbitone, and which was commonly used throughout the world between 1903 and 1950. Different authors have explained in many ways Ramos Sucre’s will to end his life, but almost no one has noted that his wasn’t the only case in the Sucre family. My great uncle Alejandro Sucre Urbaneja, one of my grandfather’s older brothers, committed suicide in Paris, and several did the same throughout the years. Of course the insomnia that pursued the poet accelerated that decision, but it wasn’t the only cause. Knowing that he was a great poet, an authentic poet, and not obtaining the most minimal acknowledgment from his contemporaries, was also a factor that contributed to his decision. Arturo Uslar Pietri, around the time when I was one of the judges for the Rómulo Gallegos Prize he was awarded (1991), commented to me that in his time Ramos Sucre was considered a simple high school teacher, and moreover a bit crazy, and no one considered him an important writer, and because of that it was a great surprise for his generation when he was exalted in the sixties, when members of literary groups such as Sardio and El Techo de la Ballena consecrated him as one of the most important Venezuelan poets of all time. He was born in Cumaná on July 9, 1890, the son of Jacinto Ramos Martínez and Rita Sucre Mora, who was the grandniece of the Grand Marshal of Ayacucho, Antonio José de Sucre (daughter of Francisco Sucre Sánchez, who was the son of Jerónimo Sucre Alcalá, the older brother of Antonio José de Sucre). When he was ten years old, after having studied his first years at the school of Jacinto Alarcón, he moved to Carúpano, to the house of his uncle and godfather, the priest José Antonio Ramos Martínez (1837-1903), a teacher and historian with an ample oeuvre. There, the child Ramos Sucre attended the school of Jesús Martínez Mata until, because of the death of his father, he had to return to Cumaná, shortly before the priest Ramos Martínez also died. In Cumaná he attended high school at the Colegio Nacional (today called Liceo Antonio José de Sucre) and, at the same time, he dedicated himself to the study of languages and attained a notable autodidactic culture. He was an excellent student, and because of that he was designated assistant to the Principal José Silverio González Rivera. Before graduating with a degree in Philosophy (1910) he already dominated with fluency English, French, Italian and German. Due, among other things, to the closure of the Universidad Central de Venezuela ordered by the dictator Juan Vicente Gómez, he wasn’t able to immediately begin his undergraduate studies. In 1913, after having studied Greek, Danish, Swedish and Dutch, he entered the School of Law, and in 1917 he graduated as a lawyer, and seven years later received the title of Doctor in Political Science. However, he never litigated or practiced as a lawyer. During that time he taught classes in various schools, among them the Liceo Caracas (later called Liceo Andrés Bello). He was also an examiner at the Liceo San José de Los Teques, founded and directed by the eminent educator José de Jesús Arocha (El Tigre). In 1915 he is designated as Translator in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the management as Foreign Minister of General Ignacio Andrade, father-in-law to one of Juan Vicente Gómez’s children. He worked there, at internal services, until 1929, when he was designated General Consul in Geneva. In Caracas, he gained a deserved reputation as a solitary man and even a misanthrope. His name appears among the contributors to the magazine Válvula, which also includes, in its only issue (1928), Arturo Uslar Pietri, Antonio Arráiz, Fernando Paz Castillo, Miguel Otero Silva, Eduardo Planchart, Carlos Eduardo Frías, Luis Enrique Mármol, Nelson Himiob and José Nucete-Sardi among others. It was the greatest expression of the avant-garde in the country. Between 1921 and his departure to Europe he published numerous poetic texts that constitute a unique corpus in Venezuelan literature, and with little relation to the poetry that was being created in Latin America. He was reacting against the scarce originality of the literature of his time and he was seeking other universes, as would be done years later in other latitudes by great writers, like the Argentines Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) and Roberto Arlt (1900-1942), whom he anticipated in time. His oeuvre has been catalogued as “postmodernist” and “pre avant-garde,” but in actuality, it is very difficult to classify, aside from being strictly personalist. Added to the difficulty of classifying his work within one of the literary movements of his time, is another obstacle that is even more important: that of locating him within a determined literary genre. His texts are not exactly poems. Nor are they short stories or narrations. Some have spoken of “lyrical prose” when referring to them. In any case, it is a matter of works with a great expressive freedom and a unique vision in the world, which can perhaps be related to literary movements that emerged in Europe after his death. One of his characteristics is the use of several poetic voices rather than the first person. His direct bibliography consists of Trizas de papel [Paper Shreds] (1921), Sobre las huellas de Humboldt [On Humboldt’s Trail] (1923) and La Torre de Timón [Timon’s Tower] (1925), which includes the previous tomes, as well as Las formas del fuego [The Forms of Fire] and El cielo de esmalte [The Enamel Sky], both from 1929. Monte Ávila Editores and Fundarte published important anthological editions of his oeuvre in the sixties and seventies. In the middle of the European summer, impossibly tormented by insomnia, he appealed to an overdose of sleeping pills to end his transit through planet Earth.

{ Eduardo Casanova, Literanova, 22 September 2012 }

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