Cuban poet Jorge Enrique González-Pacheco makes every word stand for a hundred or perhaps a thousand others
Photo: Andre Helmstetter
Bajo La Luz De Mi Sangre/Under The Light Of My Blood
Jorge Enrique González Pacheco
Trafford Publishing, 2009
Reviewed by Gavin O’Toole
DELICATELY crafted poetry can appear to shimmer gently, as if what is not there and said is trying to surface constantly beneath the words that do appear anchored to the page, bumping up against the letters impatiently and making them bob to and fro with hidden meaning.
A poet chooses his or her language to represent all those concealed connotations, sounds, rhythms and colours. Each word is a delegate, there to stand for a hundred or perhaps a thousand others, their constituencies a whole chapter of life or lore. That is why economy, well managed, can speak so voluminously.
The Cuban poet Jorge Enrique González-Pacheco understands this great and noble form of linguistic politics, selecting only the very finest examples of symbol and sound to serve as senators of the written word.
An intricate economy shapes this writer’s work which both gives voice to the many whispered meanings trying to push their way from beneath the surface of the page while at the very same time hushing them kindly, almost like a lullaby.
Take this, from “Del Pesebre, Madre” (“Of The Manger, Mother”) and directed like most of the poems in Bajo la Luz de Mi Sangre/Under the Light of My Blood to the memory of his late mother:
Sílaba que reina lo materno
sobre mi hombro definitivo y blando,
va a librar infinita
un extravío lejano.
“A syllable that rules things maternal
on my definite, soft shoulder,
will liberate forever
a distant loss.”
This stanza delivers a mournful message at several levels, speaking superficially to the history of the protagonist, to the poet’s memory of her, to her continuing role in his life, to the language that she spoke and so on. It is a rare talent, and one that the publisher Trafford has thankfully recognised.
González-Pacheco was born in Havana and moved to the US in 2003, eventually settling in Seattle. He is co-founder and programming director of the Seattle Latino Film Festival (www.slff.org). He has been widely published and is the author of a number of books and anthologies including Antología de la Décima Cósmica de La Habana (2003).
Bajo la Luz de Mi Sangre brings together a series of poems, some previously published in Latin America, which are dedicated to the poet’s mother, “woman of branch, softest woman, diffused”.
Pain and desolation emanate throughout, and the poet takes refuge for a loss so keenly felt in memory, in God, in his own beautiful verse. He displays sensitive delight in his new circumstances, alongside all the longing of the disconcerted displaced, writing of Havana (“Habana”):
lúcida eres, sombra que retorna jardín
en infinito desvelo
para abrigar el alba.
única todas las razones,
marcan el paso, frescor,
acuarela tus ventanales.
“Lucid, shadowed reminiscent garden
in an infinite insomnia
harnessing the dawn.
following the beat, freshness,
watercolor eyes of the city.”
Observers draw attention to the piercing lyrical aesthetic of this work, which Spanish poet Diego Ropero Regidor suggests derives from the selfless, forceful role of protagonist that González-Pacheco assumes to convey grief but also to resist fad and fashion.
The ceremonious or epic language, he suggests, combines the diverse but always classical influences of San Juan de la Cruz, Juan Ramón, Lorca, Cernuda, Blas de Otero, Eliseo Diego and Serafina Núñez. Ropero Regidor writes “These long-lined poems feed on themselves; they filter their mood with the skill possessed by the one portrayed. In the mildness of his time, he condenses – as if it were a memorandum – the complex and coarse substance that flows or bursts from the human species.”
For Martin Boyd, one of the translators along with Vanesa Cresevich, the poems in this collection also resonate with echoes of the masters in Spanish literature – particularly Lorca and the Generation of ’27 – while establishing a prosody that is clearly the author’s own.
Boyd and Cresevich have certainly done immense justice to this heritage, with translations that are both accurate to the register and alive with the sentiment expressed in the original.