words by Alberto Marrero
I fear the prologues that ambition to say everything, truncating the pleasure of discovering for myself the keys to the book I am going to face. And when I use the verb ‘to face’ I do not do it in a baseless way: authentic reading, as well as pleasure, is also a kind of using the author’s language, his ideas, codes, phobias, false or true speculations, anxieties, etcetera. One may or may not identify with him, agree or disagree with his postulates, even hate him or bless him. Definitely, both writing and reading are mysterious events and involve a pair of opposites that complement each other. Over the years, we often change our minds—“what we think is ephemeral”, said Jorge Luis Borges. That’s why I always bet on rereading certain texts. Thanks to them we can unravel, or better, approach the nucleus that the writer has tried to show us in his work, consciously or unconsciously. I started with this brief and nothing original digression because the book I have to write the prologue for is one of those that need a careful reading, delayed and, why not, a rereading from time to time. It also deserves certain comments that, far from any cloying didacticism, guide the reader in the journey he is about to undertake. It would not be better defined than to name the collection of poems Trece cebras bajo la llovizna, by Jesus Lara Sotelo (Havana, 1972), like a trip.
With the collection of poems ¿Quién eres tú, God de Magod?, published by Editorial Extramuros in 1991 and that the above mentioned critic wrote the prologue for, Lara broke a silence of several years during which he read a lot, matured ideas, he refined his look and renewed faith and life after some emotional setbacks that deeply affected him. He says in one of the poems in this book: “(…) Darkness is prosperous, Oh, tempting!, admirable adversary of luminescence! Wounded, as the rye germinates under the artifact germinates, in exalted lapses the excellencies (…)”.
Visceral stage that, according to the poet, “caused twists and frolics” in his texts. In the amalgam of his proposal, he cauterized wounds and appeared an explosion of reality and sometimes of unreality that shocked some other reader—in a brief essay on José Martí, Gastón Baquero pointed out: “It is the poet who discovers that there is no border or difference between what’s real and unreal”. Perhaps it was the young overflow of a soul that sought its place and only found place in and after the darkness, or perhaps that soul, already affected but not lost, prepared to travel through unsuspected ways, with great strides, as they say Rimbaud walked on his constant pilgrimage from his native Charleville to Paris, or other sites of the French geography—he almost never had money to buy a train ticket. In ¿Quién eres tú, God de Magod? Lara twists the spirit of the flesh. The language is baroque and inhales pride, failure, temptations, what’s forbidden, leading us to an alternate universe that demystifies the plain and creates craters of bewilderment.
The aphorisms were born in parallel and attest to the poet’s versatility and the artist’s, in general. They were later collected in the book Mitología del extremo (2009). In the presentation I made of the book, as soon as it was published, I said:
Lara is not afraid to tell the truth, even when he confesses that we all have a devastating fear of the truth. He further asserts that whoever forges his spirit puts a price on his head. The compendium includes the best aphorisms and, sometimes, short poems conceived during the artist’s stay in hospitals, the result of an addiction that, like other creators, could have led to the scaffold of his talent. Fortunately, this did not happen. The meditation exerted as a wall of contention against his own demons, led him to delve into intricacies, to overthrow inhibitions, to question many things that for most were unquestionable, to investigate and turn upside down what they usually call ideals.
“In good company I see myself when I admit that I am well alone,” says one of the more than seven hundred aphorisms. Just words, assimilated knowledge and the sense of paradox mold the nakedness of the speech, because “What I say is what I really say and I am?” The voice demands; it demands values that regulate human sensitivity and behavior. But it is not about repression or moralizing sanctions, but about judgments that help to rethink what it’s established and to enrich the spirit. The humanist, moral, and existential concerns, reflected with remarkable lucidity in these poetic aphorisms, reaffirm the philosophical vocation that Rufo Caballero refereed to. They even reaffirm the condition of continuity that links ¿Quién eres tú, God de Magod? and Trece cebras bajo la llovizna in an evident evolution that corroborates the maturity reached by this author, whose literary history gathers more than ten books, some of them still unpublished. I highlight the collections of poems: Paradoja: Capitulo al extasis (1994), Zen sin Sade (1999), ¿Llagas inéditas o enojo insomne? (2003), El cuarto paso (2005), Ojo sencillo (2007), Mitología del extremo (2008), Alicia y las Odas prusianas (2011) and Domos magicvs (2013).
Trece cebras bajo la llovizna precedes three of the collection of poems that still remain unpublished, and I am certain that they possess similar lyric and intellectual rigor. At 42, the artist does not need to be legitimized. He has successfully ventured into literature, visual arts, and the so-called performance. Recently in his exhibition Irla—as part of the 12th edition of the Havana Biennial—one of his aphorisms was, on an acrylic, in the center of the room. “(…) the one who seeks to be renewed, by pressing need and not to pretend, does not stop in styles: he breaks them to shreds, reforms them and throws himself beyond the certainties, in short… he has to create or he starts to die spiritually…”The sentence is the emblem with which Lara assumes the artistic creation every day, without which his existence would have no sense, as he confessed to me in one of the many conversations we have had over the recent years. This new proposal has a vertiginous rhythm, fast, that places us as consumer users of images on the internet. The visual signs and fantasies that emerge from a settled and sustained (re) reading appropriate undoubtedly the cultural hybridization of our times. Hence the speed of the messages emitted which, apparently, lack some connection. In fact, dramatic imbrication predominates over the lexical aspect. “(…) Dependence fattens the bankers and television is inhaled by the nose. I often wonder what hope is (…)”. This stylistic resource works as a mechanism that baffles, but at the same time surrounds us in the network of language and, why not, of the alluded referent. Intensity combines with fluidity and the laconism of expression, while it connects with a “psychic automatism” that seems to underlie the verses. As if the instinct and the reflection of the unconscious restrained the interference of reason, one sees the profuse and sterile image of the postmodern subject when he finds no place in the world and ignores the meaning of his existence. “…We must consume until the bones are worn out …”, says the artist with bullet-proof sarcasm, and later he says “I dream of a huge field where my team breaks out before the passionate crowd and their favorite football player kicks a long ball against the windows of the world”. As a spokesperson for the ravages on which today’s human being jumps on, Lara catapults anxiety, suffocation and above all, the sociopolitical gear as characteristic symptoms of the stress of contemporary civilization. In Algo de cinismo no viene mal and Somos tan débiles he reflects with an excellent synthesis these and other problems.
The collection of poems as a whole does not aim at a general thematic unit. However, the freedom of the human being is its common denominator and one of the author’s major concerns, a motive that articulates the philosophical profile of the compositions. In one of his most strange and visceral poems it reads:
An Eve with Adam’s apple shows her breasts / before a frenzied audience; / another one shows her biceps, the powerful tendons of her thighs. / Are we mutating? / I join the cheers of a freedom / that rises with gusts of smoke.
“There is no reason to hide my thinking,” the artist says without fear. His gaze loses his faith in false idols, in blind and inert obedience and blames the absolute power. The multiplicity of themes is abundant and this is one of the cornerstones of the book: its desire for entirety, his cosmopolitan avidity, and the desire for inquiry in human behavior of all times— something I also notice in his plastic work, if I can be excused by the experts in this area. It is also notorious the power of synthesis reached by these poems. The casual accent endows the book with a profane spell that shoots directly into the reader’s face some deep ethical implications, and so it expresses: «My first love was mutilated by a subtle act of racism. She was white and her name was Kenia, like the country in the eastern African continent”. Or more incisively, when he states that “(…) the Pentagon chokes stars in order to survive …”
Sincerity and, above all, the poetic efficacy with which Lara penetrates the sensitive areas of the socio-political scene, saves him from the pamphlet that, as we know, very much damaged the poetry in the 1960s, when the illusion that it could change the world prevailed. The commitment to his reality and his history, which at last is the history of all, raises the importance of the collection of poems. In one of the poems we read: “(…) Computers are protected with air conditioning in an adjoining entity, and it is logical although the heat and nostalgia are killing me…”. “What I do not understand is why they test our ability for resistance in the dark.” The subtle transit the artist experiences between one poem and the other, the changes of registers that go from the passionate to the torn mirages or paradoxes of reality, assure the intention of the lyrical subject’s omnipresence. The unity of poetic discourse lies in the voice of this subject that moves in present time, with repeated incursions into the past, but in the end with eyes on the possible catastrophes of a not too distant future. That is why, he deliberately breaks all space and time boundaries—for Octavio Paz, “whatever happens in a poem, be it the fall of Troy or the precarious embrace of lovers, is always happening”—recreates myths, overlaps seemingly distant themes or opposites. In this line are dealt, for example, the issues related to childhood as an influence, appetite or defining state that printed his seal of life: “(…) No one stalked in the garden of my childhood and my friends from back then respected the cease-fire”; or themes such as Facebook, Google, Playboy, Penthouse, Reality Show, Bondage, etcetera.
The renowned poet César López, National Literature Award winner, expressed about the poetic work of the author: “Lara, just like in his plastic work, shows in poetry the ups and downs of different aesthetics and shades”. Without admitting siege to his creation, this poet and artist is one and many at the same time. His true identity seems to be the ease with which he unfolds in different ways of artistic expression, whose essence always goes through the experience of what’s known or the mystery of the unknown, or in other words, the subjective construction of the world, as I once heard saying the poet and essayist Roberto Manzano on the occasion of the 70th birthday of Lina de Feria, one of the essential voices of Cuban lyric poetry. On the other hand, how could humor or sometimes sarcasm be absent in his poems? Although the poet expresses in one of his aphorisms: “I am no longer ironic and if I do so, it’s in the depths of my cleverness,” in Trece cebras bajo la llovizna abound the wounds of a playful nature, incisive background and questioning. Something equivalent I might say about the constant and subtle eroticism in the book. References to sadomasochism, bondage, striptease, and other carnal or merely pleasurable practices attempt to explore rather than to denounce. In the poem Levitacion, the humor and the erotic aspects merge with extraordinary grace.
Who are you, who are you?, the author desperately asks God of Magod. In Trece cebras…, the interrogation still stands, but Lara already penetrates into other abysms of restlessness, perhaps distant from certain desires, to do and to undo in poetry with the spirit of the one who has lived and traveled the world, and knows that this is not a pleasant place and existence is precarious, mean, despite the fact that the media in capitalism try to sweeten it. Titles such as Agujero negro, El instituto Tavistock y las zanahorias and Deseos, peluches preferidos are no longer mere flirtations of gravity, but the result of a personal cosmogony, an awareness of what has not been proved efficiently and it harms Man, and overshadows his conduct. In several poems he launches a ferocious attack against some of the inconveniences that overwhelm humanity, fomented from a destructive power. In the poem Tentaculos says:
Groupies loot pharmacies for antidepressants. / Heroes fall on the lawn and an own goal settles the difference, / for now, in the final game of a rainy World Cup. / But who says that the Reich of the one thousand years ended on April, 1945, in the middle of the spring thaw? / Who said that suppressing stress takes up agendas? / Who said that suffocation ceased to be a problem, / that eviction, debts with banks or unemployment / aren’t forms of mass extermination under other circumstances? / Who, in the old Europe does not take antidepressants to forget about the Third Reich, the threat of hunger or misleading agendas?
In the poem Oración a las borrascas universales, belonging to the book Domos magicvs, Lara expressed that “(…) It is not the laws that say: Save yourself (…) It is not life that says: Save yourself (…)”. The intensity of the text resides in a sort of cry or psychological portrait of the human behavior drawn from uncertainty, or from a damaged faith. Does the subject hate to review his own existence or is it that foolishness consumes the spirit’s vitality? The 66 poems gathered under the suggestive title of Trece cebras bajo la llovizna are not cheap answers or explanations that poetry should never expect; they seek the cathartic magnetization starting from the experience and the mental torments of a creator who privileges a conciliatory look towards the human being.
Cuban poetry is enriched with this collection of poems. Cuba has a strong poetic avant-garde that sinks its roots not only in its rich tradition, but in others no less relevant. No poetics, no matter how exotic or distant it might be, has been ignored by Cuban poets. Its vocation of universality has defeated the cursed circumstance of water everywhere. The spiritual history of the country can be followed through its poetry. This is stated by more authorized experts than I am. Amidst so much wealth are the poems from Trece cebras bajo la llovizna, written by a tenacious poet and artist who never ceases to create, because he appreciates his time and he feels the commitment to express himself as a fire that consumes him from within. Should I add anything else?