words by Alberto Guerra Naranjo
To publish is to undress, so it said Leonor Acevedo, mother of Jorge Luis Borges when he arrived with Fervor de Buenos Aires under his arm, recently out of the press, back there in 1923. Those poems, she said, were meant only to be listened by the family, in intimate spaces, at tea-time or mate-time.
To publish is an act of risk, the scream to all and sundry of whoever decides to exhibit, even when he wants or pretends to hide his miseries in those of others, his naked body in front of everyone’s eyes. That concept is very clear to me and I think to Jesus Lara Sotelo too.
To publish in modern times, and above all, starting from it, is inevitable for artists and for writers in particular, but in the case we are dealing with in these pages the definitions announce bigger complexities, because Lara Sotelo is not only a poet publishing just one more book, quite the opposite, he also embodies in his person, in the same body that have just undressed in a book, a famous Cuban black painter, from Havana and particularly, from El Vedado.
To publish Lebensraum (Coleccion Sur, 2016), as a bilingual book of poems—in English and Spanish—is also a plain and simple act of intelligence on the part of the author and the editorial house, which has made possible several sowings in the reader I am today. The first one I already mentioned it before, could a distinguished painter like Lara Sotelo swim in these waters of the written word, without this turbulent literary river turning him into just one more drown man? Another sowing was the following: did I notice, as the sharp reader I try to be, some interdisciplinary concession of the painter to the poet in Lara Sotelo himself, if we take into account that paintbrush, ink and canvas make up, in its instrumentality, in a field foreign to the word, as much as we pretend to relate them?
To publish is to undress, and to do so with a book like Lebensraum implies an extraordinary challenge. Here the author is not the same painter but another one, immersed in the kingdom of words to express his scream and achieve to answer without any predicament the two above mentioned questions I had when I had finished the book. The poet swims well, he does not drown in the turbulent waters of literature, he does so without any concession, with rigor, as if playing with life in every concept and with every word.
To publish is to undress, to be aware of what elements to give priority and Lara Sotelo does so with the difficult condition of existence, the Cartesian doubt turns him into a responsible man, with a social weight, but also with an intimate weight, and we know that weight is talent. “I met an exotic girl who watched carefully a marble statue”, this way begins the sensitive estimate of the poet to slowly tour, calmly and in one hundred and fifty-four pages, a world full of interiorities—“my associations are fanciful”, he says—where love “never reached the form of a city” in its steps, and where “the world is not bad, it is the man who is wrong, I mean, fucked up, sick, crammed of useless flashes, artifices’ fragrances” and “where the applause is seen as one of the most intelligent drugs”, a tour full of demands for a Cuban like this poet, for several reasons, one of them is that “those who were born in an island always have the sea in our heads, spattering our thoughts, sinking some ideals.”
To publish is to undress, with this act the poet shows in his essence part of the arsenal of words to express the scream and in Lebensraum the use of language is seen in a precise, sometimes even emphatic way—“La triste vida de los asnos was my first essay to insert in a different space. I could feel the careful segregation, the secret ecstasies”.—because the poet has another responsibility on his naked body, he is a black man and he has suffered, like all black men, the historic mistreatment, the accumulation of colonial screams, the sugar refinery’s sun and sugar cane plantation, face down and problems in the start of that long race known as life, where in the end “pain is the subject that is practiced five or six centuries ahead” and it did not matter that he was exposed in class “to the collective anger with words that hurt him like arrows”, since “THE fidelity to canvas or paper has made him free”.
To publish is to undress, and the poet confesses us that in the fields of intellect he wants to break canons, to offer them dynamite under the bridge, to make fun of what’s established and little functional; he does not only want to break the canons of plastic arts, which are separated from those of writing; he will also try to blow the canons of the historic moment he is being living, even though it is Andy Warhol and his copies of Marilyn Monroe, the prototype, the lab’s sample, and the thing is “tomato paste bores me and I have decided to move away from useless canons”. In while he tries this with the strength of his art, he takes refuge in stadiums because “they are the perfect place to be invisible”.
To publish is to undress in an fond way, I mean, placing the entrails, first in the display of the computer and then in the pages of Lebensraum, with the rictus of the forensic scientist before the dissection of his brother and this way is executed by the poet before his fellow men, whether in the intimacy, where he lies “with two women in the same bed and they do not get to” accompany him or in the wide sense of relationships, where “being envious is human, enjoying with other people’s infortune is demoniac”, as described Schopenhauer, or where “consecrating horror condemns us to be the authors of said horrors” because after examining the world, the poet has come to the conclusion that “certain factions or gangs has more things in common than differences”.
To publish is to undress, and it is also to aspire to be related to the thought of great people who lived and suffered another historical moment, that’s why Lara wonder “who cares today about gratitude if we all think to be sufficient enough?”, a reader like me might associate this verse to Jose Marti’s phrase from that beautiful letter to Maximo Gomez, to invite him to put his sable to the service of the national independence, knowing the Maestro that El Generalísimo—as Maximo Gomez was also known—would only have that reward and “the probable ingratitude of men”.
To publish is to undress, you were right about this, Mrs Leonor Acevedeo, but today is not your son doing it with Fervor de Buenos Aires under his arm, but a painter, a poet, Jesus Lara Sotelo, with Lebensraum, an excellent book that has just been published.