Rafael Cadenas: la meditación por delante / Antonio López Ortega

Rafael Cadenas: Meditation In Mind

                  [The poet Rafael Cadenas at his home in Caracas, October 15, 2015.
                  Photo: Miguel Gutiérrez]

At age 85 and in full health, the Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas (Barquisimeto, 1930) leads a relatively ascetic life. A resident of La Boyera, a neighborhood in southeastern Caracas, he lives among his readings, his verses and his translations. He rarely gets on the phone, except to honor the friendship of those he’s close to, and his speech is so deliberate, so much the result of a permanent meditation, that it’s always preferable to speak with him (or actually, to see him speak), than to listen to him over the phone. A variant of that routine continues to grow over the years: his evening appearances at the El Buscón bookstore, in the nearby Las Mercedes neighborhood, where Katyna Henríquez, a veteran bookseller, sets up an easy chair for the master. There he sits, reads, talks with visitors and is even capable of signing a copy of one of his books for some distracted reader. That presence extends to the presentations of books by young and not so young poets, as if some sense of duty moved him. In these times when the public apparatus has been completely divorced from artistic creation, artists close ranks and create a common front. Cadenas presents himself in those spaces with his habitual appearance: silent, uncombed, wearing a vest with small pockets and a bag he carries on his shoulder for putting in or taking out books.

It’s curious that a great living poet of the Spanish language, immersed in classics of Asian philosophy, Pre-Socratic authors and English Romantic poets, occupies his hours in thinking about the meaning of the public, so degraded in Venezuela today. But one can’t forget that, towards the end of the 1950s, in Tabla Redonda, the literary group of his younger years, along with the great historian Manuel Caballero and the unjustly forgotten novelist Salvador Garmendia, both now deceased, a great deal was said about the public, and also about the political. Those were the years of the fall of the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez and of the recuperation of democracy, and all artistic efforts were magnetized by renovation and hope. In summary, and going against what his poetry represents, Cadenas is an author with a solid political formation, who is skilled at unmasking demagogues, populists or aspiring dictators. If his poetry continues to explore the unfathomable mystery of existence, the public man, who speaks very little, who listens a great deal, practices with his mere presence, maybe unknowingly, a majesty, an auctoritas, that covers every space where he is present like a mantle.

Can we think of a political reading of Cadenas’s poetry? Undoubtedly not beyond what the circumstance of living in the polis might mean, since not even his poem “Defeat,” whose wide circulation has eclipsed his best work, was carrying out doctrinaire motivations: rather, it was speaking of an individual deception in the face of collectivist causes. In summary, always keeping in mind skepticism or criticism, as an alarm against fixed or unmovable ideas. The statements, contestations (as he calls them) or haikus that have characterized his most recent books, could certainly present us with the soliloquies of the powerful, the proclamations of solitary men or blind speeches, but always as if we were immersed in a chorus of lamentations or nonsense. Slightly in the line of Shakespeare, human madness, or purposeless violence, are incarnated in empty speakers who let loose the most delirious speech. Whoever might think this isn’t meditation as well, beyond how inexplicable beauty can be or how miraculous consciousness can be, will be mistaken.

A Cadenas country that has continued to be created during these ill-fated years, and it’s the one that goes beyond his presence at presentations or his very occasional interviews. It has to do with his spirit, with his word, with his example, with his public acts. It’s something closer to honorableness, to honesty, to civic responsibility. Sixty years of poetic creation speak for themselves; they reflect a summit that all the young people want to scale, even if it’s just to catch a glimpse and see the panorama from the heights. Most definitely, everything has been a meditation, entering into the depths, knowing that the time of being isn’t the time of our life, intuiting that immortality belongs to humanity and death is merely an individual experience. In those edges is where this poetry of debris moves, one that’s always moving closer to a hole that no one can unveil, that always essays an approximation, because poetry is finally tentative, an essay, a feint against the void. The legitimacy granted by all true proposals, every proof of life, is motive enough to feel that in this work there’s also a country, with characters, adventures, destinies and encounters. And this country is sometimes more solid than the other one, the one that should be a reference but is now a quilt of remnants. That’s why the young poets want to walk in the country of Cadenas, along with the not so young poets, as well as readers of all types. In order to find some certainty, to understand that it’s better to meditate than to lie, to verify that the immortal time of poetry is not the present time and its death toll.

Andrés López Ortega, Venezuelan writer and editor, is the author of La sombra inmóvil (Pretextos).

{ Antonio López Ortega, El País, 17 October 2015 }

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