words by Elisa Alvarez Delgado
It would be arrogant to begin this text by focusing on Jesus Lara Sotelo’s poetry towards the current literary panorama from the highest index of contemporaneity that is hinted between its lines. Although you should not believe that I am overdoing it. I do not want to outline sentences that fall into empty absolutism, lacking in strength to support my arguments. The truth is that I am faced with a creator who knows no limits in art. He is hard to fit in styles, trends or fashions of the moment, he runs between them only ready for the demands of his conscience as an artist.
Without hesitation, discovering a Jesus Lara in the middle of the 21st century is enough to decipher the truth of the universe and attenuate the popular sentence “know yourself”. Because when we think that with enough ability we colonize “virgin lands”, one turn of events causes a confusion and “the I is another one”, very far from the one we use as a mask every day. It is curious that amidst a context that enhances the experience of uprooting, dislocation and alienation, a man has been forged who favors a redemptive look that turns to the human being as a reflective center. But it’s not as easy as I say, not as difficult as you think, but believe me when I tell you that Lara is a true taster of mental torments.
Jesus Lara is a man who from an early age consolidated his way of thinking and seeing himself above fears, misunderstandings and what’s disconcertingly human. The convictions that painfully hardened in his conscience make a deconstruction of the individual who recovers in the deepest and most moving meaning of his existence. Reasons like this one gives him the quality of philosopher that critic Rufo Caballero quoted some years ago and that it is verified in the anthropological, sociological, and psychoanalytic profile that glimpses his creations. I refer to this last aspect on purpose of this author’s new proposal: Trece cebras bajo la llovizna.
Poetry was the genre chosen by Lara Sotelo to enter literature just when he was nineteen and twenty years old. ¿Quién eres tú, God de Magod? was the praiseworthy lyrical poetry that reconciled the youthful overflow with the torn incontinence that twists and absorbs the man’s sorrows. He exclaims in one of his sentences: “What a lion’s will to be a lamb! (…) What a will of the bee to be a lion! (…) And I, through the walls, what a seraph of flames I am! (…)”. Perhaps it was in his amalgam of shame the wound cauterized in ashes and an explosion of irrefutable truths scandalized prose. They were, without doubts, the twenty years of a spirit that lacked peace, serenity and that it increased its nature in the limit states of language. However, those moments of retreats, denunciations and torments found in their otherness the nod to the author’s literary irreverence.
The aphorisms that in parallel were born attest to the versatility of the alleged confinement. In vain, I would try to extract from the scope of my simple written words the right term that manages to condense the smallest part that could be contained in the multifaceted capacity of this artist. All those who know him, like I do, will know what I mean.
The aphoristic collection—later added in the text Mitologia del extremo (2009)—succeeds in its brevity and concision and they are sententious and doctrinal principles that rejoin with the wisdom as a result of the vital experience. “Selectivity demands renunciations,” says the author. The words are fair and the rationed knowledge molds the nakedness of the discourse, because, as he says later, “discipline is not punishment”. His voice complains, demands moral values that regulate human sensitivity and behavior. It is not a question of the payable retirements that are far from the growth to be anchored in the self-limitation. Lara speaks of sacrifices, of the cost of learning, of the price required by the working of the spirit that takes its own way.
The minimal of the expressions agglutinates the reflective meaning that does not notice the clarity of the words as emission, but in the metonymic process that leaves the lexicon as an interpretative code. The humanist, moral, and existential concerns of Jesus Lara in these aphorisms evoke the philosophical meaning to which Rufo hinted. They even reaffirm such condition in the continuity that connects to ¿Quién eres tú, God de Magod? and Mitologia del extremo, and later in time the text Domos magicvs (2013), as overlapping both literary genres.
I quote these three texts prior to the collection of poems we are dealing with for the following reasons. The first (¿Quién eres tú…), according to Rufo, was a test of intellectual honesty, the second (Mitologia…), according to his perspective, the author’s creative summit. On the other part, I give Domos magicvs a state of transition to connect these two aspects, either from the poetic flow or from the aphoristic maximum. In fact, in his foreword, César López, National Literature Award winner, commented that “the drizzle turns into rain” and on this fountain that floods us, from Trece cebras… comes the great evolutionary leap that corroborates the poetic and lyric maturity of the writer.
According to such statements, at the end of 2015 I would dare to judge by the word, and consequently admit, that there are no longer creative peaks in the reading of Jesus Lara. Everything has been equated. The artist has managed to trace the patterns of his intellect and once again slips through our hands.
The weight of erudition is felt in equal measure when we collect the literary history that Lara houses in more than seventeen titles that also include criticism, essay, narrative, among them several unpublished works. Regarding these ones, I would like to cite the poems Paradoja: Capitulo al extasis (1994), Zen sin Sade (1999), Llagas ineditas o enojo insomne? (2003), El cuarto paso (2005), Ojo sencillo (2007) and Mitologia del extremo (2009). So far, only Alicia y las Odas prusianas (2011), a poetic work dedicated to ballet and to the outstanding dancer Alicia Alonso, have been published.
Trece cebras bajo la llovizna is preceded by five collections of poems with the same intellectual rigor, say, Grand Prix, Piercing en la pupila, Luz de loto, Amaranto and El escarabajo de Namibia. Enough reason for critic Peter Ortega when he asserted that Lara’s work is bullet-proof. His variety of vocations implies diverse appetites that are not manifested as a struggle of opposites, but as the superposition of alternating exercises that complement each other. Lara never abandons these practices because, as he expresses, “I do not possess the already inhabited, defeated bodies. Since they are already predictable and what can be imagined reduces the ability for surprise and discovery that helps art in general and poetry”.
His incursion into the dissimilar areas of plastic arts, audiovisual and performance establishes fluid, dialogic relationships, as communicating vessels that transcend defeat and conformism. It is an alternative that frees you from appearances, lethargy and sleep that reduce the effectiveness of thinking. And he states in one of his axioms: “(…) I do not know if art can still save what we have lost as humanity, I would like to think so. It is scary to think (…)”.
The author definitely becomes unclassifiable. From a visual composition he takes an aphorism and from an aphorism, a poem. Well, it is cataloged by poet Lina de Feria, Nicolás Guillén Poetry Award winner, when she said that Lara “is a genius of the contemporary Cuban poetry” on the occasion of the homage paid by the Association of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC, after its initials in Spanish) to the writer for her 70th birthday, on August 17.
Trece cebras bajo la llovizna is based on critical investigation. In this sense, three fundamental nuclei are seen between the lines, three central ideas that traverse the content as core components: the human, the political and the power.
To get into the first section, I prefer to return to the exhibition of visual arts Boxing citadino the artist presented in May of 2012, during the 11th edition of the Havana Biennial. The exhibition focused on the crowded spaces of the cities and how these, encrypted in a media context, destabilize the human being. In the exhibition the human being is represented by asphyxiation, consumerism, uprooting, paranoia and snobbery. With Trece cebras bajo la llovizna Lara does not stop questioning the reality, the variation lies exclusively in language.
With the same density as in Boxing citadino, the collection of poems appeal to a truth as a mirror that does not sweeten the face of reality. “(…) Homophobia does not lay down its weapons and the gross domestic product grows, but it reduces mouths, it subdues people…,” he says. Lara sends signals that deconstruct experience and reveal deeper meanings and mechanisms. His insubordinate gaze resigns from false gods and power.
Later he says: “…He says the true homeland is the journey, the expedition, the incessant search for an identity in the feet…” The author makes us spectators and protagonists. We are those images that he draws with the words, as if the language were the life that was made when painting it.
Lara’s commitment to his present and to his history, which at last is the history of all, considers the documentary value of the collection. In a text like Esfera he refers: “She was diagnosed bipolar and hospitalized in a common room while spitting to an imaginary stove (…)”. The signs of reality, acting and changing, reveal the process of dehumanization suffered by our history. But, Lara is a faithful disciple of the extreme, of the limits that give the reader margins for the deliberation of his own criteria. For this reason, the love themes, with certain touches of eroticism, make a gentle act of presence. When he tells us: “(…) By letting you shave me, I felt myself rising to the juicy abyss of your mouth,” even if they believe it, Lara does not a neglect intelligent, incisive, questioning commentary. The theme of women occupies in his work a favored and sensitive area to the reviews that consolidate studies of their nature. The enjoyment of the feminine uses an analytical background that recognizes the concept of beauty. The author moves away from exteriority and appearances. When he tells us “… Idealizing a woman makes me feel thirst and hunger in a different way…” I would even say that it is not a question of macho or anti-feminist positions, but of the risk he detects in negotiations, exchanges that flow like alibis, as double-edged weapons and without fear hide the masks of impartiality.
Taking into account the transit between one subject or the other, in the changes of registers that are distant from the passionate to the torn mirages of the innocuous reality, we can capture the omnipresence of the same lyrical subject in the narration. From this is derived the discourse to have a self-referential tone, in addition to the added information illustrated by the stories.
From the voice viewpoint we can see then that the collection of poems uses a unifying aesthetic force that imposes coherence. Time is pointed out in the present time, although the past imposes its remembrances as influences. It is more accurate when the poet approaches a nostalgic reaction, from retrospection, to the lost freedom of childhood. “(…) No one stalked in the garden of my childhood and my friends from back then respected the cease-fire”.
We can identify in the poems an exhibition structure that consists of alterations. Replacing the ambition of the poetic, Lara breaks the tendency to regularity with a libertine gesture that expresses, by itself, a feeling, an idea. The author does not pretend to be masked by the continuity and transitions from one level to another, quite the contrary, he tends to produce at all times impact effects on the receiver, of psychological and emotional shock that will make more vivid the expressed idea.
The platform of the political—without being the most exposed—shows us facts and experiences in hasty succession. This way is stated in one of his sentences “(…) Imaginative people speculate with a mythical life, in a red house that is only white in winter (…)”. The comment is meager, subtle, but in its growth ensures a result. Lara gradually increases the pace and rhythm of the action in the content and then points out: “(…) The dentist manufactures very useful prostheses to bite meat…” In these poems there are no elements that lead to a linearity, the events shown do not respect a logical order, neither chronological, nor a before and after in history.
The author establishes strident parallels between syntax and contemporary society and renounces to hide the truth, although he knows that saying it will bring consequences. He puts it exactly like this: “Art must pull the hides off mutism, expose their viscera and give indigestion until the very stones are vomited. Regardless of reality, truth and only truth is above all consideration”.
Reality and its themes saturate writings. In this sense, Lara maintains a commitment to literature, which is at the same time his exorcism. He says it in every poem, in every word where he transports that capacity of observation that places him at crossroads where nothing is impossible: “(…) Perhaps my addiction is to escort ghosts and deny the teaching of heaven on earth …”, he says in one of his postulates.
Effectively and speedily communicating messages of various kinds presupposes a challenge that embodies the dynamism of our times. However, rescuing the past in the midst of a reality that is based on the here and now is a hard task. In one of the lines of the poem Con aire bizantino Lara tells us: “… It was neither Mein Kampf nor Mao’s vermilion manifesto which settled fields of evil or false concord on both sides of the world…” Later, in the same text: “(…) Analgesics help me to deceive pain and erase the differences between black and pink humor (…)”. Here the questioning does not hide behind the irremediable sordidness of daily life, nor after the sensible ease of words in language. Lara does not have fears and he unearths dark passages, rugged areas of history that fit the exact expression of our inner and outer reality.
When we get to the third and final nucleus, that of power, we cannot lose sight of the context that molds creation. We are in a society in which the media have acquired a central nature and the development of the multimedia scenario has made media positioning in the new scheme of values and relationships. Globalization as an alternative of development has confronted us with new models of life, and alienation leads to unsuspected bonds of cause and effect. The dramaturgy of the psychosocial scenario is consolidated in drugs, homophobia, extreme sexual practices and the solidity of the mass, considerably increases its weight.
According to the considerations by French theorist Michel Foucault, “the power is constructed and works from other powers. Power relations are closely linked to family, sexual, productive; they are intimately linked and playing a conditioning and conditioned role “. About these guidelines, Trece cebras bajo la llovizna recentralizes the man’s autonomy as the initial engine that moves things and, however, wields its essence from the opposites: hegemony / subalternity.
Undoubtedly, the collection of poems can be read as a mark of the historical process that we are living today. When Lara refers that “Perhaps Hugh Hefner’s Playboy has the answer to the vehemence that women suffer from…” he accentuates once more that privileged look the female sex directs with joy, but its scope does not narrow these contours. The author collects identities, irrational consumerism, limits, excesses, uprooting. It happens in the same sense when we talk about Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, social networks that—among their disadvantages—subject the individual to a disconnection with the real life, an exhibition of his private life, an addictive state that favors leisure as a life choice.
The universality of the topics is covered in a desecrating gesture that directly triggers the reasoning of an informed reader towards a discourse of deep ethical implications, and so he expresses it: “The end of the Cold War bequeathed video games to the boys, so they never stop thinking about war … The world described by videogames is not so abstract and its favorite color is the gray of ash”. The narrative, determined by the visual parallel that creates reading, is constituted by a strategy whose purpose is to seduce and to catch that receiver from punctual procedures like impact and speed.
I refer to the term speed because this is one of the aspects that captivate the visual perception the most, and although cinema or television does not constitute the phenomenon of our analysis, Lara’s literature, in this case, consists of bursts of images that look like the consummation of an advertising spot. The public clashes intellectually with the idea drawn by the author. The effect is direct and precise through the confrontation of various “images”, the articulation of the story is continuous, varied and dynamic. The discourse, conceived from a coexistence of divergent realities, has the capacity to present that reality in its dynamic development and at the same time, to show as much information as possible. These are precisely the elements that allow us to state the discourse is born willing to impact. And so it is stated in the poem Evocando las jirafas de Dalí, when he says: “(…) The BBC believes that Google has Solomon kidnapped in the Amazon. Giselle was silent when Nero sat in the Senate and other Romas burned away from their public concerts”. But how dares he! Lara leaves us no choice other than a smile on our faces intermingled with a gesture of perplexity.
As if looking at a work by Paul Valéry, the strong intellectual and esthetistic content can be seen in the sinuosity of reading. Free verse, as a constitutive condition of the text, is not affiliated with rhythmic patterns or footage. This is stated by César López, National Literature award winner: “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, Lara Sotelo is a full, complete man, who diversifies in the dissimilar branches of art, but does not lose the essence that constitutes it. He just visits the styles; he does not make them home. How could the air of humor be absent in such a diverse work? Without hesitation, he manages to triumphantly walk in the nuances of humor. A poem like Apagones seems to fool us, to let ourselves be carried away and we hardly noticed. The body text has a channel, a hue and, suddenly, it changes the color difference and we are making a trip to the Electric Company. How clever.
Lara wants to awaken the spirit of the reader. His style has no styles and his art, just like him, has been forged into the lights of spirituality, as weapons that seek their strength in the lineage of pain, sacrifice, detachment. Due to his condition of investigating the depths, it seems profane his feat of aversion. “There is no possible salvation for the man attacked by art,” he says in Humano, that too human poem that he wrote in Domos magicvs, refering to the text of the German philosopher Nietzsche. And it is precisely what we are, human, that is why the poet is so keen to remind us of that aspect when he refers to Hitler, Stalin, Al Capone, Napoleon, Freud, Garibaldi.
Ever since from God de Magod Lara was questioning: who are you?, the sign has transcended two decades later and look how curious it is, we are still with no answers. Will the book Trece cebras bajo la llovizna be the riddle that conceals the hidden meaning of the question?
But the titles reveal indexes of references and why not, they honestly question us, who are you, proud obstinacy? or multitudinous loneliness?, or bitter wisdom? I think I outline the maturity which I mentioned a while ago in these sentences. In Trece cebras… Lara loses his inhibitions from worldly pleasures, from the legendary cravings to do and undo in poetry like the mischievous spirit of the child he has inside. Titles such as Algo de cinismo no viene mal, Nuevo corte universal, Ejecucion, Tentaculos and Solo por hoy are already flirting games of syntax that, ironic, demand attention. They are romp in space, wisdom, cosmos, that, accompanied by insight, delight over good and evil. So what to do?
Trece cebras… has brought the poet’s trade to its fullest expression. Exposed to apparent paradoxes and contradictions that support the literary corpus, Lara Sotelo has blurred the boundaries of art because he likes intelligent action that leads to contradictions. At this moment I can reaffirm that he never ceases to amaze us. Just now that I considered issuing a critical-value judgment, I dwell in the human condition as a reflective summit that intervenes in this entire creator’s work. However, I notice the zebras, the stripes of the zebras, the animal condition of zebras. Is the author suggesting a close metaphorical link that betrays human regression? So, going back to Kant’s question, what are we? I leave the task to the reader. The 67 poems will be able to clarify the questions, but, the receiver already trained in the exercise, will be able to throw some light on the traces of the zebras, erased by Lara or by the great storm.