words by Jesús David Curbelo
It is not usual for two poets to decide to join their texts in a single book so the reader can judge them as a whole. Less usual is that one of them is one of the most important voices of literature and the other an artist, better known for his performance in a field where poetry is not exactly made with words, but rather is not very widespread the lyrical exercise, despite having numerous titles published in his country and abroad.
What strategy (or strategies) obeys this intellectual gesture? The possible answers to that question would shed enough light on the conceptual approach of a volume that goes beyond the mere authorial whim or the support that Lina de Feria could give to Jesus Lara Sotelo when forming a duet. And I emphasize this because, without a doubt, these two creators, aware of the importance of thinking art, so that receivers can rethink their initial sketches, and can arrive together at an enriching and polysemic dialogue that draws its vortex into the intimate and the external part, the earthly and the divine, they know that no proposal is innocent and that in assembling this convergence they assume a similar risk to that of a couple of lovers: to want to forge in one what in themselves are different entities to which the ephemeral encounter of copulation does not relieve them from the anguish of the split.
This copulation, of course, is less ephemeral as long as the poems remain in the form of a book, but the protagonists try to reinforce the whole by means of another “lover” file: trying to understand and to explain to the other through two portals where they refer to what they have read and sensed in the artistic praxis of the accomplice. Lina, searching in the multidisciplinary universe of Lara as the creator of plastic arts; Lara, in the poetic universe of Lina through highly pictorial observations. However, here the explanations are not the important things, but the anguish of the split, because in the end this leads to a need for a complement, a lost half that may not exist, but which is necessary in order to give the following step in the haze of knowledge.
And there we may find a first answer: this is a two-hand collection of poems about the knowledge of the world, the various parts that inhabit each of us, the other and the others that live in that other. This is a book about the beings who are those lyrical subjects that embody Lina de Feria and Jesus Lara Sotelo; poetic speakers who scrutinize the human aspect, their fragility before the vortex of history, politics, ideology, religion, family, love—and all the plurals these nouns can admit. This is a book about the anxiety of existing, that is, about the anxiety of knowing the now, the ephemeral instant of copulation with the Being, and being punished to reinvent, to fictionalize the past once the emotion needs to be “revived” to become a poem, and to test the future not with the stentorian voice of the prophet, which is so dear to all kinds of romantics—whether it is the usual Blake and Hugo, or others like Dario, Whitman or Neruda—but with the impotence of a decipherer, the awkward alchemist who in vain recomposes pieces that do not fit, as we learned from Baudelaire, Rimbaud or Celan.
That’s why this is a book about growth, seen through pain, from the hard learning that goes from childhood to old age and death, and that is articulated from pieces: “real” experiences, experiential readings, experiments and many failures on all fronts. Especially in that of pretending to tame the language so it serves as a continent to ever richer visions before turning into verses, always better understood by the readers who will come, always ceasing to belong to those who first looked at them to become collective heritage, always splitting with the yearning to get together in the future. Because, in truth, this is a book in which the core part is not the poets nor the poems but the poetry. However, it would be reasonable to elucidate the parts in order to look for the whole and to speak a little about the poets, the poems and how they are modulated to settle in this dual action and they are regulated by it in the precarious balance of unity.
Lina de Feria has stood out for her obstinate—and lucid—resistance to the consubstantial molds to colloquialism, which was the sine qua non condition to judge the validity of poetry in many of her contemporaries, and which could be summarized in the use of the incidental, the explicit and ironic humor as the only possible ways to approach reality. From her first book, Casa que no existia, Lina departs from them—but not from the gains of the conversational tone so rooted in the Cuban lyrical poetry, to which she has never completely renounced—and opts for a script close to the automatic flow of consciousness, sometimes of difficult intellection, full of intricate tropological resources that, at an initial moment, simulate a hermetic attitude. However, a careful reading reveals to us her willingness to delve into the interiorities of the being from the perspective of anxiety, from the agonistic search for an enriched identity and enriching the spiritual experience born of the growth through pain. According to criticism, her work has three fundamental areas: one conceptual, philosophical, another surrealist, and a third closer to the daily and autobiographical nature. It is also profoundly metaphorical and monological, two other aspects that separate it from colloquialism, usually metonymic and with a vocation for dialogism.
Her later collection of poems confirms this. In the second of them, A mansalva de los años, a book of books, a compilation of what was written in about four lustrums of interior exile the author underwent thanks to the swings of the Cuban cultural policy of that time, a vocation of social intervention that was barely mentioned in Casa que no existia. Later, in El ojo milenario, the metaphysical quest, sometimes cosmic, is intensified. In El libro de los equivocos, the intertextuality is expressed as it is the reconstruction of the passion, the delight in the erotic in Absolucion del amor. In Ante la perdida del safari a la jungla there is the spiritual, existential and historical reflection; the appearance of references to the family universe; the clarification of language.
Now, Extraña rosa shows all those conquests, those successive layers, those fragments that testify to growth. Here the short poem reigns, almost always aiming at thinking the world, society, to leave testimony of an era not from the data or the slogan of the mass media but from the tearing the civilizing avatars are leaving in the spirit. Retroversion would perhaps be the best example of this aspect, as it would be Amago of the philosophical research in which the lyrical subject is submerged in search of the original sources of chaos and destruction. And these, I believe, constitute the two central lines of the sample: philosophy and civility in a measured and firm language that appeals to synthesis and connotation as a scalpel to intervene in reality.
Philosophy and civility are also the main keys in La noche del arbol quemado, by Jesús Lara Sotelo. In this, the author has used another compositional record: to make a slection of his own works, to dress up for what it could be to face the privilege but, equally, the immense danger that means to publish with Lina de Feria. We see how he proposes a diachronic journey through some of the essential moments of his lyric production that reaches a respectable number between unpublished and published books. Although, of course, the figure itself, does not matter, what it is really relevant is the thought, the human tremor transmissible to others, the artistic finishing of a language that does not scorn violence, in which the abruption coexists with the exquisite and cultural reference—literary, pictorial, musical, dance—that shakes hands with politics and history to sustain the fragile balance of the poem.
Because that is all about, I insist. About some uncertain balance. From one step behind the other on the loose line of art, looking, thinking, deciphering, and proposing other readings, whether they are paintings, photos, sculptures, installations, performances, videos, poems in verse or prose, aphorisms. Always in gerund, because the attention is perpetual and curiosity is insatiable and renewed. Lara, the same as Lina but for different reasons, has been a marginal, someone who came to the literary Cuban arena—and I love that term because it contains as much of agonistic literary life and its sometimes abstruse processes of conformation—against fashions, generations, groups and trends, and despite the critical approaches of such respectable voices as Rufo Caballero or Virgilio López Lemus, it cannot be said this is what it is known as “a recognized poet”.
Here there is another detail that bonds them—apart from the visible presence in Lara’s poetry of the philosophical, surrealistic, daily, autobiographical, metaphorical and monological aspect: marginalization. And I do not speak of that primitive marginalization that poets suffer—artists, in general, whom I do not call revolutionaries because it has always seemed to me quite redundant: the artist’s concept already involves adjectives like revolutionary and subversive, among others—of the philosophers in a theoretical way and, unfortunately and without pausing in ideologies or social systems, by the politicians in a practical way. No. I am talking about psychosocial and racial marginalization on one hand, and on the other, of the disdain of the guild, whose members are always too busy with prizes, trips, and dinners with publishers, agents—they can be literary or from intelligence—bishops, ambassadors and ministers, and finally, in the unpopularity of those potential readers who go astray in the price of the next contraption promoted by the Matrix or in the complication of the sexual life of the reggaeton singer of the moment.
Those anxieties, those pains, those questions that do not seek an exact answer but the opening to new and increasingly radical questions, are in La noche del arbol quemado in texts in which the speaker delves in discrimination, in doubt, in the challenge, in the Darwinian cruelty of existence, but also in the redemptive power of art as an antidote against stupidity and crime, as a rope by which to continue walking after the uncertain balance of salvation.
At this point, I aspire to have proposed a range of answers to the question about the intellectual gesture of this two-handed adventure. But I would like to recapitulate: knowledge, anxiety, growth, pain, marginality, conflict, challenge and, above all, a persistent hope that poetry, whatever the size of the dose, is at least one of the pillars on which to test the miraculous statics—the uncertain balance, again—of healing.
Havana, April 2016