Alfredo Chacón. Ser al decir / Rafael Cadenas

Alfredo Chacón: Being to Speech

We write a great deal of poetry in Venezuela but, to my knowledge, nothing about poetics except what emerges indirectly in articles, criticism or essays about poets. Alfredo Chacón’s book Ser al decir will compensate for this lack.

It is a study done with the care, erudition and depth its author employs when he writes about the topics he has addressed throughout his long career. So it culminates the research he’s been doing for many years. Maybe he’ll tell us about its production tonight.

The book begins with a very encompassing and demanding introduction of an anthropological nature where he establishes the focus through which he will examine the poetics of José Lezama Lima, Octavio Paz, Ida Gramcko, Tomás Segovia, Haroldo de Campos, Alfredo Silva Estrada and someone with whom I don’t get along very well, who happens to have my name.

I’ve spent many days with this book, reading it wherever I could, and I intended to summarize it tonight, but that’s an impossible task even though the book itself is a summary of what these authors think. It has been a defeat of my good will. I’ll try to compensate for myself by outlining a few points of interest in these visions. That way you might be able to appreciate the book’s complexity.

In order to speak about Lezama one must, as Alfredo does, refer to Julián del Casal, Mallarmé and Valéry, each of whom has a cultural background that can’t be ignored. According to the Cuban poet, more than being a literary genre, poetry is “a human possibility taken to extremes” and the poet should write in an ecstasy that’s also “a way of existing.” Our friend Rafael López Pedraza, who knew Lezama personally, told me that the latter was possessed by poetry.

I feel close to Paz when he asserts that “eternity and the absolute don’t exist beyond our senses but rather within them” and what stands out most about him is an invulnerable passion for poetry, to the point that his reflection on it “became second nature.” Alfredo focused on The Bow and the Lyre, and the words by Paz that he chooses give us his poetics in a few pages.

Ida’s poetics is expressed poetically; in that sense it reaches further. It had to be that way. I can’t change her words. It would be impertinent of me to paraphrase Ida.

Tomás Segovia defends the subject “from doctrinaire regimentation, who despite all the airs of an arrogant rationalism, evades” its laws, as Alfredo points out.

Haroldo de Campos is the most inventive of them all: he created “concrete poetry,” which hasn’t been fortunate among us, although part of his work can simply be situated within what we call, with the attending imprecision, modern poetry.

Silva Estrada is familiar to us. He was faithful —Alfredo points out— “to the idea of poetry as a supreme form of existence” and in this direction he had an exemplary constancy, without detours, nor concessions, admirably incorruptible during times of moral failure, blindness, ideologies.

These are a few minimal and embarrassing references for which I’ve apologized to Alfredo, who has absolved me, to my temporary tranquility. I won’t speak about myself, I can only thank his generosity for including me among these creators. I say this sincerely, without a pose, with humility. I think Venezuela needs that. Perhaps it can contribute to healing the country. One hears people speak, especially those in power, with a repugnant arrogance that maybe they associate with the idea of revolution when in my view it is humility that’s truly revolutionary. It is not submission: it coexists with fortitude. As you know, humility comes from “humus” which means earth, as opposed to utopia, from the Greek ou (no) and topos (place), that is, a place that doesn’t exist, a nebulous idea that distances people from the ground they walk on and from the present.

Finally, lovers of poetry, poets, critics should read Ser al decir. This sounds like a promotion, but it’s free and it’s also directed at myself: I intend to continue reading it.

As a tribute to Alfredo I’ll read a short poem written years ago, since it shares affinities with him.

“By means of words
to become
as you were before them.

In order to speak
do you need to be
or do you exist
by speaking?

Being and word
join together
in the space we are.”

Maybe it was written for an occasion like this one.

(Text of the presentation for the book Ser al decir, written by Alfredo Chacón, published by Oscar Todtmann Editores and presented by Rafael Cadenas on August 30th, 2014 at the bookstore Kalathos in Caracas, Venezuela)

{ Rafael Cadenas, Tal Cual, 20 September 2014 }


richard lopez said...

this piece by cadenas is a brilliant affirmation of life charged with words, a poetics of humility, that i hope, in my own goofy renderings, and in my own unbalanced life, to share a small part, too. thank you, guillermo, for translating the text and publishing it here.

Guillermo Parra said...

Thank you for reading, Richard!