words by Adis González Sánchez
«A book must be the axe
For the frozen sea within us».
The simultaneity of resources efficiently used and the thematic variety impede to generalize when issuing a judgment on the collection of poems titled Trece cebras bajo la llovizna because it would be to sin of superficial. This motive inspires to write small essays that entirely try to stamp an analysis of the poetic discourse.
The poem, as text, is the search for individuality, debtor to the wide cultural flow of its author. A great part of the book is marked by footnotes that travel from the cultural history of humanity to the intimate voice of a typical language as the mark of the very routes through which the poet’s knowledge has traveled. Synthetic and direct is the message transmitted by the lyrical subject of poetic action when he walks through anxieties, yearnings, moments of happiness and unhappiness.
From diverse culture and geography, the poet manages to anchor us in contemporary debates; he effectively uses the leitmotiv of the “island” as a literary resource and the use of the second person as a speech tool. In Desarraigo it is clear the agony of the overwhelmed modern subject, which is expressed through madness, also recurrent as a literary instrument used to deal with these topics. With a lyrical argument, and a psychiatric hospital as the setting, the man with the clubfoot on the seventh floor expresses:
Look, I am a descendant of Nietzsche, Rimbaud, // Sappho, Seneca, Gandhi, Garcilaso de la Vega // and perhaps also of Tolstoi.// The man with the clubfoot says nothing and a thread of spittle // runs through his chin until dripping on the white sheet // On the seventh floor, bed sixteen, the psychiatrist listens to him // repeating that he does not stand islands nor the meanness of the prosecutors, // or the solitude of winter.
An important topic in the book is related to the current sociocultural context. In his proposal Experto, the first two lines of the poem are based on a succession of nouns and verbs that reveal how someone is proud because he has a piercing on. In a simple way, and moving to the aesthetic patterns of the so-called colloquial poetry, we can understand their interest in placing us in something apparently insignificant:
Gloves, scalpel, cut, cotton, stick, // sanitize, keep the area dry, // cleanse the feces, scalpel again, pierce, // suture, we have finished, the operation has been a success.
Thus, from a hospital setting and an operating room, Lara insists on a lyrical dialogue for which he uses the second person.
A social debate peeks in the pages of this march, the homoerotic thematic has been located from the economic crisis, exploitation and racism. Here are some verses from Travel:
Homophobia does not lay down its weapons // and the gross domestic product grows // but it reduces mouths, it subdues people. // From Europe to North America I traveled // with a Scandinavian woman looking for racial tourism. / / A Caucasian with dreadlocks offered me cannabis, / And then I saw Bob Marley climbing up the mountain // as the cimarron who never ceased to be humming a thoughtful reggae.
An epigrammatic tone also gravitates in these poems, this is not new in the literary construct of Lara; he did it in Domos magicvs and it is evident that such synthesis widens with the history of universal art: the centaurs, Rubens, Ovid, Danae, Caesar, Freud, Egypt, Garibaldi, Mao, Istanbul, Stanislavski, et cetera. It seems to us as if Lara’s map of the world seemed little to him and in unison, as if he wanted to reveal the identity emphasis of his Cuban sense. It is indeed a journey, not only with the experiences of the lyrical subject through his trip around the world, but it also explores the horizon of the author’s expectations. It breaks with the damned anguish of the canon, Harold Bloom’s famous theory The Anxiety of Influence, where the classics and the readings incorporated into thought do not let the newest writer to be born. The poet invites us to explore our own horizons, to navigate in a measured and detailed reading to understand what lies behind the careful vocabulary with each poem. Certainly, as Alberto Marrero predicted, Lara “breaks the limit of his ability” and leaves no fear behind. A few years ago, Rufo Caballero said that before being a painter, writer or sculptor, he was a philosopher and the gnosis makes him grow so that we can receive a collection of poems like Trece cebras bajo la llovizna. The anxiety disappears, and the influence reaches such depth in the writer that the hermetic safe is broken. Wisdom, like the first rays of the dawn, seeks the sky, caelus limitem est.
A poem like Kenia, whose name has apparently nothing to do with its first verses, nor these with the last ones, evidenced that “breaking the limits” moment Marrero refers to. Salvador Redonet named one of his anthologies Los ultimos seran los primeros and although it refers to another cultural context, this title reverberated in my mind; the last verses are the true story, the first that we will remember, the coup de grace to understand why to write on these pages about The Beatles, the Apple Records, Lam or Quintin Banderas. The author does not use irony as a stylistic resource in Kenia,, but he rather shows how reality is, beyond being ironic, corrosive. The prodigious decade, Lam’s aesthetics, the Cuban political imaginary and the pain coexist effectively against clear acts of segregation:
On the roof of the Apple Records, the Beatles sang // Bésame mucho.// In Havana, twenty years before, Lam painted La jungla.// According to Carl Jung my island segregated a warm surrealism.// Quintín Banderas was slashed with a machete by his former assistant // and now his bust is displayed in the neighborhood of Cayo Hueso, // in a park where I played hide and seek as a child.// At forty-two my health is still a mystery // and the utopias are a heavy burden that I drag with ingenuity. / / My first love was mutilated by a subtle act of racism. // She was white and her name was Kenya, as the country of the East African continent.
There is a classic of Cuban music like Bésame mucho, the reference to Wifredo Lam’s La jungla, the Cuban general Quintín Banderas betrayed by the people he trusted, and especially the hurtful critique of a love that could have been but was not because she, Kenia, was white. It is interesting how Lara plays with the individual visions of three dark-skinned men: Lam, General Banderas and himself.
Although “the island” rises as leitmotiv in his work, Havana and his childhood also build and enrich it. Havana will set the tone for his poetry as the capital of the island. The topics that revolve around the island are generally recreated more frequently by authors from the diaspora, so it is seductive the various rhetoric that the master achieves to impress this indelible sign.
The intercultural and intertextual aspect in Trece cebras bajo la llovizna does not only appear in the obvious references and footnotes, but in the first broken border, the island, “with the damn circumstance of water everywhere”. It is evident that, for the author of these verses, the island is more than Cuba. In several verses he alludes to other islands; that of Japan: “(…) He says he fled from Japan because he did not stand the islands…”; another without a name: “(…) According to Carl Jung my island segregated a warm surrealism”; or Lesbos: “(…) it expands like sour milk and on the island of Lesbos // a strange earthquake shakes its 1,630 km surface”. The symbolic beats and underlies an intention to break the agreed conventions to create new symbols. In his leitmotiv he breaks with the established scheme of the paradisiacal nature of the islands and travels from Cuba to others around the globe and his literatures; he insists on the instability of that small piece of land in the immense sea. Lara has proposed in his verses a poetic look at several of the debates of contemporary literary theory.
It cannot be said this is a book that can be divided into plot sections, but it is clear the presence of women as a generic entity in the initial impulse of poetry; so it might be enough to mention the names of Pina Bausch, Yanet, Julie, Danae, Esther, Tifanhy, Sappho, Sofia, Eva, Virginia Wolf, Giselle, Alicia, and even a nameless woman who could be all the women he loved and loved him back: “Idealizing a woman makes me feel// thirst and hunger in a different way”. Or in this other sequence of verses: “A girl romps in the poet’s wounds. // He swears he bleeds; she swears the wound does not exist”.
The reiteration of the feminine and the diversity of her image has made Lara write one of the most accomplished texts of this collection. I am referring to La egipcia de los gatos. Here are the personal experiences of this author and his respect for a thousand-year-old wisdom that does not disdain symbols that define every woman: hence the term cat, anise flower images and fresh milk, and especially, the antithetic construction binding allergy and men.
All the poetic and cultural flow that emanates from these verses has propitiated to sculpt certain conjectures, based, on the scriptural modes of the teacher. And, without fear of being sensitive, I dare to affirm that Jesus Lara Sotelo’s poetry from an aesthetic vision can be located in the batch of the newest ones. He insists on the defense of a lyrical, solid and lucid voice. It seems the writer wants to tell us that he does not forget the readings made to the poetry of the Latin American Boom, especially the one written by Roberto Fernández Retamar and Luis Rogelio Nogueras. We welcome then his collection of poems to the current Olympus of Cuban lyric poetry.