words by Alberto Marrero
Poetry was the genre chosen by the poet and artist Jesús Lara Sotelo (Havana, 1972) for his incursion into literature. Three titles stand out, published and unpublished, to show a remarkable evolution in the poetic maturity of the writer: ¿Quién eres tú, God de Magod?, Trece cebras bajo la llovizna and Amaranto. Undoubtedly, the differences become visible when we remember the first one was written just when Lara was twenty years old, while the other two texts are recent productions—both from 2015. And it is precisely this continuity that leads us to the recognition of leaps and transitions in his creation.
I am not the only one who has closely followed the work of this creator. A critic as sharp as late Rufo Caballero wrote about this author’s work in his beginnings. Others, like poet and critic Virgilio López Lemus pointed out more recently:
(…) This is a poet who does not want to express himself with words, but also wants words to express ideas, it seems to me that Lara is on the road, he is a young man, an artist in the peak of his career, he is on the way to becoming a creator of a poetic art, a poetics that generalizes his work, which captures all his work, both lyric (…) and pictorial, I believe that a poet who manages to assemble a global work through a poetic art, then he is doing a remarkable contribution to the culture of a nation where it is not usual this type of game between the word and the painting (…)
In the presentation of Mitologia del extremo, a book published in 2009 and which includes more than seven hundred aphorisms of the author, renowned narrator Francisco López Sacha said:
This is a book not to be read in a hurry; this is a book that should be read like sipping a cup of boiling chocolate, I mean, sip by sip, slowly, line by line, sentence by sentence and if possible, to read it again because it is not built to know the destination or the end of a history, but to create in our conscience a thought of affinity, and in order to achieve this thought, then a deep reading is necessary.
With ¿Quién eres tú, God de Magod?, Lara’s poetic incontinence enters the border states between body and soul, in a kind of literary irreverence that is reaffirmed in the density of writing. The baroque language is linked to a psychic automatism that seems to dominate the verse, reinforced by the hallucination or trance that cry out for peace and serenity. The tone is visceral, curly, like a mirror of the soul that writhes and expels them through sensations, feelings and, above all, disenchantment. On its part, Trece cebras bajo la llovizna—whose prologue and edition were for me, besides a personal challenge, a true feast of the intellect, as Paul Valéry said—already expresses some lexical controll, although it does not abandon the explosive and desacralized tone, but always from an ecumenical perspective that rescues social criticism and, at the same time, a corrosive intimism, often with the air of self-reproach.
In Amaranto, which is the book we are dealing with today, the view continues to be multiple and reaches different areas of the current reality, but unlike the previous one, a more decanted work with the language is seen as well as a wider exploitation of poetry’s resources. The discourse breaks barriers and its place in the world we live in. The treatment of issues related to racism, homophobia, sex, omnipotent power, drugs or irrational consumption, among other issues, do not dismiss the lyrical inspiration of the book. There are frequent changes of registers and an alternation of the tropological language with the direct one, the colloquial with the lyrical, the poem in prose with the poem in free verse. There are many short poems but sententious, with an extraordinary sense of synthesis and economy of resources which, like the amaranth tree, do not wither easily.
However, in the last poem of the book he declares with pure irony:
Poets ask me for brevity, and when I give it to them, / they say: no, it’s too much. / Deep down I’m a boring rebel man / they have not been able to cross out their lean lists, / which does not stop them from drinking rum and playing billiards / in nights as insipid as their aesthetics of concision. / The victims do not pose before the cameras and the future / they smell of quick money, a rotten shot in the greenhouse. / They ask for brevity but I live with what’s extraordinary.
The twist is also noticeable in the thought of the lyrical subject, although it maintains its capacity to become other characters, whose disquisitions are now lucid and not a few times creepy. See, for example, the poems entitled Teriformismo, Testimonio de un recluso and Hercules. Distant experiences to the author come alive as well as spaces outside the island. Contextual factors and their immediate consequences as learning, carving the spirit, sacrifices and experiences, have deeply penetrated into every word, every verse. Lara’s commitment to his present and his history is based on a questioning air that declares, from the sinuosity of a clear syntax, effects of purification on the recipient, of psychological and emotional encouragement.
Lara becomes a reporter of contemporary world in this new collection of poems and, why not, of certain island circumstances. The narrativity of his poems is evident. There is a story told with an allegorical vision in many of them. The range of political, cultural, scientific-technical and historical references is every time growing and becoming more dazzling. Always clinging to reality—this does not mean the poet does not make up, and even, some verses denounce his avant-garde or, more specifically, surrealist influences—he tries a seismic movement that disassembles pre-determined concepts, subverts coercive norms that impose themselves as natural and it discredits expressions of abusive power over men and things. Once the sensitivity of the receptor is removed, it becomes the object of cognitive emancipation that allows it to generate new knowledge, or perhaps not necessarily new, but on a different scale.
The heterodoxy with which Lara captures the reflection of the human society as a whole, with its socioeconomic, political and cultural differences, is symptomatic of the harshness of our times, of the philosophy of absurdity and of the “logic” of the other end that, in its fluctuation, consume our daily dynamics. That is why the author denounces, debates, prosecutes, judges. The images support the explosiveness of the ironic, the arbitrary, and paradoxical.
The critical approach is not paralyzed in a state of contemplative interpretation. Lara investigates options that are emerging, in the eyes of the common man and in others that enhance the intellectual dialogue. His purpose is to dismantle the programmed thinking and the behaviors that nowadays range from the confiscation of the word (opinion) to the concept of collectivity that invades the territory of the individual. It is a long and tangled road of roots that complicates its path throughout the world, but Lara prefers to warn, to prevent, to dust thoroughly the causes of things in order to warn about questions that put the truth in an emergency moment. What the artist achieves with this collection of poems surpasses the text itself. The work transcends the margins of literature to become a gesture. A gesture of aversion, discontent, insubordination. In the poem Ordenanza, he says:
Melting the ice of the order is a foolhardy step.
However, few would hesitate to swim in the waters
Of small crimes if the dividend glorifies.
I’m not willing to move a pin or shut up
Before any exigency that causes pain.
Someone cuts my throat and smiles,
As someone who knows orders are orders and executes it
With the expertise of a surgeon who does not want to damage,
But also who does not want to fail in the sad role set for him.
This author has credited a writing poetics that, although being part of the human existence, can be deployed in infinity of slopes, edges or spheres. And if a feature unifies this heterogeneity, it’s its rejection to be defined. That is why, perhaps, the chosen themes put into crisis the (evolutionary?) development of today’s societies: the legacy of the previous cultures is marking its end and the continuity then becomes a term of obscure resonance.
I do not pretend to cram future readers, but I must add some more elements around the book that I am sure you will enjoy. The human condition is complex and contradictory. Every true artist knows it and strives to reflect it one way or another. No one should believe the fact that whatever the poet expresses is the total fruit of his experience—writers take over other people’s experiences because their own are not enough and, moreover, they are usually boring—much less, that everything that he affirms is not refutable. In fact, that is one of the keys to his poetics in general. In that sense, his heresy is pathological, almost obsessive. Universality is its essential objective, and no wonder he returns to it over and over agina with more urgency, or more slowly, without vain folklore or nationalism at all costs—this notion is also appreciated in his pictorial work. Seen this way, then Amaranto is an imperfect book, whose imperfection is worthy of analysis and unprejudiced confrontation.
His verses reveal the ailments and paradoxes of an era of burdensome technological advances and ever more abysmal injustices. I must point out the book rightly defends the poem of social, even political, style, something that most poets—here and there—abandoned during the last decades, perhaps for the fear of falling into the so-called pamphlet.
Jesús Lara is an indefatigable being, with a posture of discipline and rigor in front of Art. His creativity makes him an unpredictable, enthusiastic, comprehensive artist, as poet Lina de Feria calls him. His cognitive pentagram is constantly boiling; he never ceases to look for other arpeggios that lead him to change the old skin, like a snake. After reading the book, one understands the poet is always moving on a tightrope without a protective net underneath. In one of his memorable aphorisms that I remember now, he says: “When it is necessary to say, one must shave the tongue well.” And in another one, not less perceptive: “So much the devil wants his children that he ends up taking his eyes off”. In short, this collection of poems, far from the superficial caress, makes us rethink what we have already thought, and forces us to verify the meaning of what is known in an incomplete way.
We all know that differences stir up suspicions and that the price of being controversial and diverse is head itself, which in this case would not be the gallows but silence or disdain. In Amaranto, we find the reasons of a casual mutant who is willing to lose his head. I conclude with the poem entitled Natacion militar, where the reader can appreciate these and other statements that I have formulated, more or less effectively, but with full sincerity and faith in what I endorse.
They accuse me of being a heretic; even of promoting a certain terror (metaphors and color also make us shudder).
In a nudist beach I feel at ease because nothing prevents breathing, being oneself. Temptation can be defeated,
But we must understand the chaos that proves us. I kiss the mouth of the gun, its burning lips (“happiness is a warm gun,” Lennon said).
My avid finger on the firing pin, my ink-stained finger. We adversaries know each other better than friends, that’s why we weigh strength and learn to swim in blood.