words by Yanet González Portal
Survivors of the fire in the thickness, of the imposed limits and the deadly metaphor, Lina de Feria (Santiago de Cuba, 1945) and Jesus Lara Sotelo (Havana, 1972) join hands in a book that is well known due to the reunion of both, as for the clarity and accuracy of their poetics.
Lina as a rose, Jesus as a tree. She is strange, withered. He is cremated on a very cold night. They both write with the astonishment of someone who discovers the world or who has found the light amidst the darkness. Each one introduces the other, mixes it with the ardor of the word and with the serenity of the attentive listener.
Lina describes Lara as an island-universe, a mythical and singular artist: “He is the oil of life, oil of smell, the precision of beauty”. It seems the Cuban poet, recognized with the “Nicolás Guillén” National Poetry Award and to whom was dedicated the 25th edition of the International Book Fair in Cuba, would live a perennial fascination with the diversity of Jesus’ creation and, more than that, she is not satisfied with the silence in which the young artist’s work goes through and grows: “The painter experiences his history and the stages continue to develop gradually, but always towards the adventure and discovery: ‘all versions are valid. To deny it is foolish. To understand it is the possibility of introducing ourselves into true art’ ”, she warns.
But Lina is not Lina anymore. When she enters the clothes, or rather the petals of the rose which can be entangled at times but so smooth, she writes with the ease of someone who understands, who discovers. It is in those moments when the poet cannot be separated from the alone meetings with the conscience of those who aspire to a better life: “There are so many things upside down in my homeland / that I would jump back / hopscotch / looking for the beginning to restart”.
In the thickness that must burn at night, Lina notices the necessary presence of the word as a consolation, just like breathing becomes imperative within seconds, but it is also a giver of light. It invites to reflect on the origin, on the original rose that is to exist. “The strange rose is / a gesture of the earth / giving hope to every desert and if the man suffers/ then the dew will end falling / petal by petal / in the eye of the mother”.
In other of her creations such as Los cristales que te hincan, Lina writes about the rose she does not want to be, because there are other events more important than the lightness of a flower. The writer banishes it, for example, from the premises of the pictorial art itself, which is so rich, so audacious. “There is no space left for the rose / and multiple paintings / remain static / in their hangings / until one moment / when the interior / body of the gallery / becomes / movement itself”.
In this collection of poems, as well as in the first one she published titled Casa que no existia, winner of the David Award in 1967, Lina de Feria writes with clarity, a certain wisdom that invites the reader to her living space. As the prologue writer of this literary adventure, the poet and narrator Alberto Marrero (Havana, 1956) states that Lina is the creator of a poetic art “with a vocation of universality that does not distance her from her concrete circumstances. The confessional eagerness of her poems relates her with the best lyrical poetry of our language. There is nothing out of place in her, not even when she describes extreme situations, often the result of her own experiences. Her difficult living underlies in her texts with a dignity on probation”.
This last statement of the prologue seems cardinal to me when we talk about the collection of poems Lina de Feria y Jesus Lara Sotelo. A dos manos. Throughout the book can be felt the thorny existence of both poets, who have placed art and the word over pain or the visions of defeat. Both share the desire to improve, to meet, to try to imagine the meaning of life and the other’s work.
When Lina writes: “I am consumed / by everything around me / consumed”, Jesus Lara confesses: “At night I feel I am being cut and I cannot shout”. For her, the extreme situations are the necessary ones, the ones that can best be explained, such as the confinement: “I know a sandwich / much beyond Poe’s / that eternally launches howls / especially on rainy nights / and no one rescues it/ as armored as it is / under lock and key”. Jesus knows that loneliness is inevitable for Lina and for those who, like him, have set a price on his head: “They were all against the war in Vietnam, / even against hunting lions who like me / are a rarity in the manuals of men”.
As he has been doing in his last literary productions, which already reach more than twenty books, Jesus Lara tells certain stories that can come from his own experience as well as from others seen or learned both, in Cuba and abroad. On her part, Lina enters the poet’s intimacy; she lifts the skin of those nameless characters. Beyond the burst with which Lara describes the shepherds who “carry the silence of the hills in their heads,” Lina asks for “a blaze of fire / to soothe the loneliness of man”. It is as if, twenty pages after his writings, the painter will draw what she explains and vice versa.
But before presenting his verses, Jesus Lara dedicates an aside to Lina. It is not enough to include his poem Rojo tinto, dedicated to her, where she asks: “what to do to have again a tree of cherries without the years crushing us? / The soul does not rest if memory does not commands to do so”. Lara thanks Lina for her existence. He looks at her as if she were a mother, a sister, one of the girlfriends he would have wanted, and sometimes as a girl who prefers to fall asleep between some verses. “The atoms of God are grouping her bones in Lina’s work,” says the painter, “…she is sad but never submissive or bendable. In her pupils there is restrainted crying, but not defeat. So, I portrayed her in a painting. So, I glimpsed her as I moved the brushes over the rough canvas that gradually lit up with her silhouette”.
But the reader will wonder about what joins Jesus Lara and Lina de Feria, and the prologue writer Alberto Marrero answers:
I venture to say that a serene tolerance when facing the pain and loneliness expressed in verses of an unusual depth in these times, but also a rebel look at the existential indolence and an unbearable feeling for the salvation of Man in a world that self-destroys and deserves another destiny.
Let’s recall that when Jesus Lara was born, Lina had already published Casa que no existia, and she was recognized by her unique poetic voice within Cuban literature. Perhaps Marrero knows that from time to time some unique, restless people are born, people who do not give up their capacity, their creative genius, not even in the most terrible circumstances. The first, the cloister and the pain, the second, the illness, the omission. Nothing seems to bring Lina de Feria and Jesus Lara Sotelo down from their lucid mounts of thought and word. Perhaps it was a secret complicity that caused fate and time to gather their hands, become friends, put their heads on their shoulders and write a book together.
For Jesus Lara, the coincidence is clear and necessary: “We are both survivors of what is colossal. We have nothing else but anguish, papers and blood in order to face our monsters (…)”. In both, Lara’s and Lina’s poetry, there is nothing premeditated except faith. Faith and hope without comparisons that give firmness and lucidity to their works. Like Quixotes that exist in time in the Cuban culture, in the universal thought. Lara and Lina need the establishment of a dialogue between men, an understanding between acquaintances and strangers.
Both rely on contemplation and reading as ideal paths for salvation, the sham of the human condition, to jump again the hopscotch to engender change. This is where they are both united, in the loathing of what’s vain, of what does not take time for their sharp looks; as she has written in an review of the collection of poems Trece cebras bajo la llovizna, by Jesús Lara, it is necessary to ignore “what is not tremendously important, tremendously producer”.
Lina de Feria y Jesús Lara Sotelo. A dos manos is, following Lezama’s analogy, a bewitched quantity of two poets who with serenity and freshness until the force and the outbreak of the word join in a book the argument of their existences. A debt, a promise, in short, something that is pending with the other. What Jesus gives to Lina is here: he has the power to turn her into a strange rose, an unexpected and welcome transfiguration. As someone who knows of her power to influence, Jesus writes: “There is something in me that is extraordinary / and I am obliged to wish for that something to exist at any price”.
In this book, published by Coleccion Sur from the Association of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), Lina de Feria’s and painter Jesús Lara Sotelos poetry are already united for posterity. The covenant they have sealed in their commitment to their works is now a common covenant, “without limits for truth or intrepidity of thought, as in a new range of colors, or a flash on an infinite canvas”. The hands of the sculptor, the ceramist, the draftsman join the serene hands of the poet, wrapped in the magic of verse, in their stellar existences.