Yolanda Pantin o la poesía ciega / Antonio López Ortega

Yolanda Pantin or Blind Poetry

Last October 27th the Venezuelan poet Yolanda Pantin (1954) received in Mexico the highest award in her extensive and very singular oeuvre to date: The 2015 “Poets of the Latin World” Prize. This prize created in 2007, which is traditionally awarded to a Mexican poet and to one from the Latin American literary world, was also given to Antonio Deltoro, a coincidence that surprised Pantin herself, since Deltoro’s work is always on her radar as she follows Mexican literature. The fact is, with only eight years of existence, Pantin and Deltoro are added to the names Juan Manuel Roca, Rubén Bonifaz Nuño, Antonio Cisneros, Ledo Ivo, Juan Gelman, Alí Chumacero, José Emilio Pacheco, Nuno Júdice and Piedad Bonnett, some of the poets who have won the prize in recent years.

The distinction for Yolanda Pantin, however, reveals an excellent move on the part of the jury, because researching the literary reality of Venezuela today, with books that don’t circulate, with prizes that no longer exist, with magazines no one remembers, is always a frustrating exercise, if not an impossible one. Today’s poets and fiction writers have grown accustomed to this cultural desert, creating their own mechanisms for survival. Names like Rafael Cadenas or Eugenio Montejo, both authors born in the 1930s, already belong to the canon of Ibero-American literature, but it’s harder to identify the subsequent generations from other horizons. To that end, Venezuelan poetry of the last four decades, to say the least, is completely unknown.

Giving a prize to the work of Yolanda Pantin, however, means recognizing lines that are invisible for many readers. For example, it’s a recognition of the obstinate vocation of foundational poets such as Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva (1886-1962), María Calcaño (1906-1956) or Luz Machado (1916-1999), precursor voices who continuously opened the century to that alterity a thousand times buried or erased. It’s also a recognition of a prodigious generation, that of the 1980s, to which Pantin belongs with Igor Barreto, Armando Rojas Guardia, Harry Almela, Santos López or Edda Armas, to name just the poets with an extensive oeuvre. And lastly, it’s a prize for the persistence of a referent of Venezuelan poetry that’s not always dominant, and is associated with metaphysics or with self doubt regarding the essence and value of poetry.

While Pantin has admitted that early on the driving force of her poetry was mourning, or by transposition, the Vallejian idea that one must search deep within to find it, today she admits poetry is an imposition, a mandate, a dictation that’s received and transcribed. “Poetry doesn’t obey any voice, only its own. It’s blind: it doesn’t depend on anything for its existence.” This notion of blindness, which remains fascinating, doesn’t quite lead to a lack of vision but rather to a depersonalization. Because if Pantin’s poetry has played with anything, it’s been the idea of the death of the subject. Her books turn out to be a continuous exercise of voices, a type of counterpoint where discourse matters instead of roles. Poetry is made despite the speakers, who for the effects of the verses are accidents or pretexts.

The recent publication of her collected poems, País (1981-2011), with the Spanish publishing house Pretextos, might aid in the necessary dissemination of an oeuvre that’s now being read in Mexico. The originality of Pantin’s verse is based on the childhood memories of Casa o Lobo, the feminine voice of Los bajos sentimientos, the dialogue of lovers in El cielo de París, or the irony of Poemas del escritor, books that seem like ascending exercises to reach a deeper level of reflection where poetry is subject and object, an excessive and autonomous creature that must be contained in the indelible sense of loss experimented when one reads and rereads pages that are also abysses.

{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 19 November 2015 }

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