words by Jesús David Curbelo
If something bothers me and causes me pain regarding the most recent Cuban poetry is its lack of thinking, its intellectual poverty despite there is and/or “ is produced” a group of noteworthy writers—poets, narrators, essayists, playwrights—plus several well defined trends and pretty visible groups. I have said in other places that, in my opinion, this weak point is the result of the combination of two factors that are one in the end: the harmful influence to our culture of the infamous historic period known as Quinquenio gris. That way of cutting short—or wanting to—any type of polemic and subversive art—in the artistic and aesthetic sense which can be equally extended to political or ideological spheres—made that after censorship then self-censorship thrived and many of our authors will only risk in safe waters. They learned to have it both ways.
The other factor, which in the end joins this one, is the bad way of teaching poetry in our entire educational system. If we take a closer look to books in primary education, we will see the chosen texts are, preferably, those aiming at encouraging historic, social values and for the country, but they do not always stand out among the best written by their authors, even when they are great poets in our language—it is mandatory to mention Nicolas Guillen. Poetry is almost scarce in the programs of secondary education and here it also suffers from an excess of politicization. In universities, except those where Arts are studied, it is barely mentioned. In the specialties of Arts, poetry tends to be, generally, in certain disadvantage with respect to narrative, and in present times, also to literary theory and cultural studies.
If we add to that the fact the above-mentioned influence of Quinquenio gris struck in a much stronger way in the sphere of social sciences— in the end, poetry can simulate that it survives and many times reaches marks of elevation, only using emotions, as it has actually happened before with a good part of the Cuban poetry—we can notice why our young poets also have a poor formation in philosophy, sociology, aesthetic, social psychology, ethic, axiology, logic, economy, political science and linguistics, and all of this makes them feel not only overwhelmed while in the deep waters of contemporary thinking in those disciplines, but because of the way writers—and of course, poets—that cultivate them make clear their position on the language.
This last thing has brought a rare consequence: some misinformed and irresponsible poets, or maybe even unable to think fully about the linguistic processes that conditioned the poetic expression, unceremoniously adapt the universes of their foreign models, but not taken from the original sources but from translations of even doubtful morality. When this happens, the result in Spanish tends to be a poor copy of the intermediary translation and it completely ignores the discoveries that regarding linguistics and stylistics were made by the author in the original language. Then, this poetry does not sound right to us, not because poetry should always sound right but because the authentic revolutions of the sound are usually preceded by a revolution in sense, and if any of these parts fails, then the experiment utterly falls apart.
In Cuba, I repeat, there is a notable poetic movement but there are not too many older poets, those who think big regarding their relation with poetry as a whole, from its origins until today. I am certain there are too many people worried about impressing, about making a space in that land of God which is our poetry, about winning awards, trips and other fiddle little things. And there is also a great amount of writers that compose what Roberto Manzano calls “lyrical storehouses”, I mean, a group of poems written in thus or such date and feeling this or that way which in the end provides “order” to some sections where the most interesting parts tend to be epigraphs. Quotes that, as imagined, seem randomly taken from this and the other book than coming from deep readings because the nice proximity to Baudelaire, Valéry, Pessoa, Eliot, Pound, Stevens, Kavafis, Elitis, Ashbery, Brodsky and others would have generated, even though for the simple procedure of copying models, a bit more of conceptual and formal style in our poets.
Why have I got lost in so much vague explanations? Simple: to stress my astonishment and pleasure of having found—or that it found me—Jesús Lara Sotelo’s poetic work. In this more or less heartbroken panorama that I have just described in outline the fact of finding a poet that has more conscience of the sensorial and emotive transcendence of poetry but also about its intellective and epistemological values is a unique thing. And if that man aspires to be an all-inclusive man—he paints, sculpts, designs, takes pictures, audiovisuals, music—and his scale of interests goes from tai chi to psychoanalysis, then we find ourselves in front of a unique discovery.
That’s why I haven’t hesitated to express my enthusiasm in other notes for other of his previous books, where he goes, with gracefulness and agility, from verse to prose, from lyrical to colloquial, from anecdotic to ontological, and he goes deep into those unsure traces that are so popular in civil and government constructions, and which, once exposed by poets, tend to have them expelled from the republic by philosophers, in a theoretical way, and by politicians, in a practical way.
Those virtues are considerable in this book. The thing is that here, until I get to see it, the thematic range is wider and at first sight it provokes certain despair when moving from the universes of art—painting, dance, music, theater, literature—to the most ordinary realities like hunger, poverty, drug, the sex that does not soothe the original helplessness or the inanity of success which, as appetite, is only satisfied momentarily to return later to torture its victims. But be aware. This man, who has known how to make a curious post-modern reading of the renaissance artisan understands that in present times the several fields of knowledge are so wide that it’s almost impossible to cover and it is impossible to understand and to see the world like Leonardo Da Vinci or Miguel Angel; likewise, he discerns that multiple restlessness to recompose fragments and eliminate borders—geographical and mental—seems like a good way to face globalization and to defend that “vital space” that every individual, in particular, and whole humanity have the right to . In Lara’s case, the needs for that Lebensraum are wider, because that multiple restlessness is obviously holistic and does not find content only with proposing a vision of the parts, but that it takes risks in searching new questions to understand the whole group.
It is this position which comforts me because even though Lara, as he says about Dante, has no time to say it all, not even to know it all, he can then sense and feel that Whole indeed exists and the fact of going and meeting it, deciphering it, hides the great purge or salvation journey that has moved the greatest poets since ancient times until today, and which could be resumed with the Duque of Rivas, in thinking loud, feeling deep and speaking clear, as much as philosophers and politicians intend to prevent this from happening.