words by Marilyn Bobes
Camouflaged to better observe the world and with the perhaps impossible ambition to redo the bad omens of a crumbling planet, Jesus Lara Sotelo is presented to us as the sharp observer of our contemporaneity in his collection of poems Trece cebras bajo la llovizna, written in 2015, in possession of a full scriptural maturity.
This volume, of sad beauty, shows a universal Lara Sotelo, strolling through a world harassed by the drama of immigrants and what he enunciates as “the limits of faith and disappointment”.
As he warns us in the excerpts that anticipate the reading, he chose the number thirteen—of bad signs—like to restart or to redo everything that a traveler, protected in the mimesis of the zebra as someone who pretends to go unnoticed, finds in his journey, which is not only movement but also a space-time search within himself and what he finds in his path.
The poems are heartbreaking. In them there are “imaginary neon and gardens”, solitude, racism, the “heavy burden of utopias” before the omnipresence of television with its banalities and its commercialized and corrupted sex.
The lyrical subject contemplates, and perhaps as a defense mechanism, ironizes. But he does not really know what to say; for that reason he paints “images instead of answers”. And his images are crude, especially when he ventures into an eroticism that is not solved in subtleties but rather in an eloquent explanation, typical of those “sets” where “porn actors in their anxiety” sell “their pieces as living toys”.
Then, there are the contrasts. Immigrants who harvest their strawberries while being “tortured by executioners” who devour them “in the breaks between one beating and another”. At the same time, there are those who drive their Ferraris on the “paved roads where they roll”.
Everything the critic and writer Francisco López Sacha has called the “portrait of the present world” is combined in these texts of infinite bitterness where there is no alternative but to ask “what hope is”.
Homophobia, racial discrimination, the show presiding over the achievements of an art that—at times is authentic, but in others is detestable—is subjected to that almost surgical dissection where the expressiveness of the images allows identification and empathy with what the author is telling us, however elaborate his language may be.
However, an exhibiting clarity prevails in Trece cebras… leaving no room for certain visions of hermeticism that a superficial reading could sense in poems: always marked by suggestive and unexpected ends that call for active participation, even when the recipient only knows the referents in an indirect way and has never experienced, let’s take an example, the Swedish winter.
The opacity that prevails in this artificial world that is often compared, albeit in a tangential way with that of Cuba’s, is illuminated at times with the sound of The Beatles singing Bésame mucho on the roof of the Apple Records, and with the unexpected presence of Wifredo Lam painting The jungle in Cuba, twenty years before the irruption of the legendary British group in that sort of globalization avant la lettre of which they could be the forerunners.
The poet then takes refuge in his childhood, in his almost hyperrealistic erotic experiences, in the consolation that the labyrinth where he is anchored will always be challenged by men; by that invisible thread which Ariadne tends in moments of despair and unbelief.
Few Cuban poets have been able to describe so deeply the characteristics of this third millennium.
If in his most recent book, Irla, Jesus Lara Sotelo assumes the condition of the insular man transmuting into words a civilian and unrelated identity to all banal picturesque, then in Trece cebras bajo la llovizna he becomes the universal man thanks to a cosmopolitanism that does not dazzle him with its developmental appearances, but summons him to a call, always in tones of great poetic height, to the dangers and miseries that are hidden under the spangles of consumerism and degradation.
It astonishes the great amount of associations that, thanks to its vast culture, this author is able to realize. They are the ones that operate as an essential factor in his poetics and bring it closer, not from the stylistic but conceptual point of view, to someone like Jose Lezama Lima or Alejo Carpentier.
It is not about surrealist associations or of the manipulated example of the umbrella at the dissecting table combined with other unusual elements, but it is about relationships that should be sought in artistic meta-narratives, coming from the visual, psychoanalysis or apparently distant life experiences, surprisingly, condensed in the exposition of this writing.
One of the formal merits of these texts lies in their power of synthesis, in the economy of means and cleanliness. It says a lot with just a little. The poem acquires density by means of ellipsis. What it is suggested predominates. Because as we have already said that Lara himself expresses, he paints “images instead of answers”.
A desperate quest for a peak leads to creativity. And if he shares with the reader his tears, he always leaves records that it is a very personal vision. It seems that he was not interested in being rejected by the receiver.
The tropology is crude and forceful, and the sentences that always arrive interspersed in the verses fulfill the function of making us meditate. All without morals or didactisms, much less with concealed slogans.
Trece cebras bajo la llovizna is a book that brings us closer to the world in which we live more than any means of communication, whether it is the ones that report with a certain objectivity or those that mischievously mislead us.
And the fact is that Lara Sotelo is a witness from his own view. His sources are not the news that can be read in newspapers or social media, but in his vital experience.
There is a rare interrelation in his proposals between the past and the present. As he said, he writes in “the limits of faith and disappointment”. And it is in that thin line we are all living where there is an empathy that is only possible due to the formal virtues given to contents by that rare harmony between signifiers and meanings.
This book reaffirms, in an unobjectionable way, the talent of a poet who should be taken into account when talking about the current Cuban lyric poetry.
Havana, May 22, 2016.