words by Alberto Marrero
Two poets embrace each other in a book: Lina de Feria and Jesús Lara Sotelo. The first was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1945 and the second in Havana, in 1972. Although there are three poetic generations between them, there are certain aesthetic and ethical similarities that I will explain in the right moment. When Lara was born, Lina had already published her book Casa que no existia, David Prize winner in 1967, along with Cabeza de zanahoria, by Luis Rogelio Nogueras. Then, it would take twenty years to publish her second book titled A mansalva de los años, a text that meant what some scholars have called—and with all due respect—the “thaw”, like Ilia G. Ehenburg’s homonymous novel.
This is not the first time I write about the Lina de Feria’s work. Years ago, I wrote a review for Antologia boreal, a volume that collects the most significant of her poetic work until its publication in 2007. It did not include, of course, Ante la pérdida del safari a la jungla, which appeared later and won the Nicolás Guillén Poetry Award in 2009, as well as other more recent books like Jaque a la muerte (2015) and Las nuevas soledades (2016).
On the occasion of the 25th International Book Fair of Havana, which as we know was dedicated to Lina and also to writer, ethnologist and folklorist Rogelio Martínez Furé, 2015 National Literature Award winner, were republished some of her books, including Casa que no existia, Ante la pérdida del safari a la jungla, La belleza de lo entendible, the latter an expanded selection of her texts, where there are some writings after her first anthology and others, unknown, belonging to unpublished books like El libro de los espejismos—a beautiful collection of poems dedicated to the Palestinian people—and Sobre Ernesto Guevara y el resto de los hombres. So, readers already have at their disposal the almost complete work of this exceptional creator for more than forty years, to which is added this brief book entitled Lina de Feria y Jesus Lara Sotelo. A dos manos that publishes Coleccion Sur.
Many prestigious critics, poets and essayists of our country and other latitudes have written about Lina’s poetry. Without exception, all coincide in describing her as a singular poet, with tense writing, inquiring, demanding with language, now distressing, now with a surprising vitality, always in a tone that suppresses the impudence and free iconoclasm, with a vocation of universality that does not distance her from her concrete circumstances though. The confessional eagerness of her poems links her to the best of the lyric poetry in 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 arduous living underlies in her texts with a dignity against everything. From Casa que no existia until Las nuevas soledades, Lina maintains a gradual rework of her capital topics, among them the one of the loneliness, perhaps the most relevant one of her poetics, according to words by recognized critic and essayist Enrique Sainz in the prologue to Antologia boreal, an exegesis that very well can be extended until the present time. In more than fifteen collections of poems, there is a constant search for a spirituality that I do not interpret as mystical—perhaps there is, but surreptitiously—but as an outbreak of feeling when facing loss, frustrations, aggression to privacy, isolation and other terrible paradoxes of existence. The latter brings to my mind those verses in Casa que no existia, when the then very young poet expressed: “although there is something alive in everything / I think I will never end up understanding life”.
In all of Lina’s collections of poems, the reader will be able to appreciate her great power of association; the multiple cultural, philosophical, historical and even mythological references that her verses possess; the flow of transcendental, illuminating images and metaphors; also the frequent use of allegory as an expressive resource. In my review of Antologia boreal, published in La Gaceta de Cuba in 2014, I affirmed—and I maintain it today—that Lina has the gift of opulence and the perpetual strangeness, the vision and lucidity of the amazing poets who do not stop creating, even in the most hostile circumstances. With the trade of the word and a restless imagination, she knows how to put together what she wants and to find the necessary balance to achieve the desired effect. I dare say she always knew, from her first book.
In her last two books, Lina does not lose her strength. It is enough to cite a fragment of Las nuevas soledades—an evident tribute to the great Spanish poet Luis de Góngora—so that it my statement is understood:
Searching the boundaries of Earth / I thought of the fragile things that still live / and there was no calm to my mind. / Glum fall of the iconoclastic gulf that shatters / and alters the map / with a century of fire inside. / Ask me the things / it is to mature my life / with ideas that are born of the deep disturbances / of my ramble./ Góngora was centuries ago / in the circumcision of the word / and while tasting time / he divided his barcarole in half fish and half water.
In this new book, written we already announced with poet-painter Jesús Lara, she says in the poem Blindaje: “Sometimes / not only in war / there are shields: / I know a sandwich / beyond Poe’s / That eternally / howls / especially on rainy nights / and no one rescues it / armored as it is / under lock and key”.
At the age of 70, Lina still manages to maintain the freshness of a speech with soul, flesh, bones, desolate landscapes, bitter reflections, bold metaphors and sometimes cheers of fleeting joy. It is obvious that she is no longer the same person who wrote Casa que no existia, but a lot of that tenacious, brave girl with eyes hidden by an indecipherable distress, which was not fear or resignation, remains alive, indelible, everlasting.
Regarding Jesus Lara Sotelo’s poetry I have to say that I have also written reviews and several prologues to his books which are already over twenty, including published, unpublished and those in the process of edition, inside and outside the country. Although his pictorial, sculptural and photographic work has been more visible, his poetry has gradually been imposed. Others, such as poet and critic Virgilio López Lemus, pointed out more recently: “This is a poet who does not only want to express himself with words, but he also wants words to express ideas; it seems to me that Lara is on the right path; he is a young man, an artist in his peak, he is on the road to becoming a creator of a poetic art, the one that generalizes his work, that gathers all his work, both lyric (…) and pictorial; I think a poet who achieves to bring together a global work by means of a poetic then he is making a remarkable contribution to the culture of a nation where this type of play between word and painting is not frequent”.
This author has credited a writing poetics that, although part of crucial experiences, can be deployed in infinity of slopes, edges or spheres. The lyrical subject of his poems is multiple. Through the pages of any of his books, maladaptive characters appear: mad, suicidal, desperate, alcoholic, murderers, masochists, pyromaniacs, artists, women, and so on. Each one has its own history that counts on acute brushstrokes, without extending too much, going straight to the core of the tragedy that tears them. I believe that in this sense Lara—like all poets who have read it, almost without exception—owes it consciously or unconsciously to the Spoon River Anthology, by American poet Edgar Lee Masters, one of the most influential books of the first half of the 20th century and in general of contemporary poetry.
The lyricism that comes from many of his poems is another aspect that I would like to emphasize. A lyricism that is neither pleasant nor oversweet, sometimes crude, heartbreaking, shaped with the entrails. Read, for example, the excellent poem entitled Treboles:
I will pass when the clovers are cut off / (They say that mixed with hay it nourishes the cattle) ./ What do the clover flowers smell? / I have pain in my knees. / I have been enduring the pain / of walking on imaginary grass for centuries. / I have been wise but also naive. / It all lies in the way of drawing the spirit into the light. / Pale, under the first downpour of summer, / I collect a four-leaf clover. / Can a four-leaf clover save me?
I have witnessed—as far as this is possible—the parallel creative processes of Lara. That is, he paints, models and writes at different times of the day. He does so because according to him what he takes to the canvas or to the clay can have its equivalent in words, and because the images that appear in his poems or hybrid texts are so plastic—drawable, modelable—that it would be a crime to leave them without the magic support of the language. “Everything can be said, molded or painted, although we will never reach the fullness of what we feel,” he told me with a broad smile, as if he were expressing an elemental idea. His personal exhibitions Yo también sueño con serpientes (2013), Seda y acero (2015), or the most recent series entitled Por los aires, were conceived alongside several of his books Trece cebras bajo la llovizna, Amaranto and Lebensraum itself, to name just a few.
The twenty poems by Lara that appear in Lina de Feria y Jesus Lara Sotelo. A dos manos under the title La noche del árbol quemado are just a small part of the work of this talented artist gifted with an extraordinary imagination. His poetry penetrates almost all contemporary themes with a language that moves between the colloquial and the lyrical, between clarity and certain secrecy, between abruptness and verses of high quality. Little or nothing escapes the incisive gaze of this restless, audacious creator, irreverent not a few times, fantastic, realistic, heretic, dreamy, playful, lascivious and, above all, committed to his time.
In short, one might ask: what similarities unite these two poets who are so distant regarding their generations? I venture to say that a serene connivance when facing pain and loneliness expressed in verses of an uncommon depth in these times, but also a rebel look towards existential indolence and an incorruptible feeling for the salvation of Man in a world that self-destructs and which deserves another destiny.
February 8, 2016