Landfall (1 septiembre 2018) Rogelio Guedea could easily pass for a character in one of Roberto Bolaño’s elaborate fictions. A celebrated crime novelist, poet, journalist and academic who spent a decade teaching Spanish at a university in the lower antipodes, Guedea produces a dizzying output. His bio note tells us he is ‘the author of more than fifty books of poetry, narrative, interviews and translations’. I’ve long been a reader (and sometime poor translator) of Latin American poetry. I admire the unabashed romanticism, the ad hoc surrealism, and the fearless (often life-threateningly dangerous) political consciousness expressed. Poetry in these parts of the world, it seems, is as vital to life as air and bread and butter.
Punctuation is a bilingual collection of twenty-one poems, gracefully translated into English by poet/translator and publisher of Cold Hub Press, Roger Hickin. Guedea writes in a simple, declarative language. Reading him, I’m reminded of the same emotive power found in the late Jack Gilbert’s work. And while philosophical in nature, these are deeply felt, accessible poems:
I have nothing in my hands
and yet all things
I have nothing in my heart
and yet in my heart
who do not suffer.
There is a hand that writes our
story from somewhere else.
Even if we hide under a table
or under the bed, our story written
by that hand will go on being written, regardless.
In one of the collection’s bravest poems, ‘The dead of Colima’, Guedea addresses the political corruption in his homeland and the genocidal murders perpetrated by drug cartels, members of which the government both empowers and seems powerless to stop:
If we lined up all the dead who’ve been murdered in Colima in the last four months,
the head of each one touching the feet of the next
et cetera, et cetera,
there would be enough of them to encircle the whole state,
as if they were a wall or a rampart.
This is exactly the kind of unflinching commitment to exposing political injustices as found in the works of Pablo Neruda, César Vallejo and Ernesto Cardenal. Guedea’s lines show a measure of restraint too, even when the emotion guiding the poem is anger, as evinced in the poem’s concluding lines:
Many things can be made with death, it seems:
walls and ramparts, bridges, ladders, strikes and protests.
Perhaps that’s why nobody does a damn thing to stop it.
Guedea is mindful of the futility of the poetic moment to define reality in words. Many poems are concerned with the implicit gap between experience and language:
My words seek reality
but only sometimes does reality seek my words.
What reality is is not well known
nor is what my words are made of,
but sometimes my words and reality are found
in a place that resembles my body.
(‘Words and reality’)
Still, other poems infer that the source of poetry is some external, and at times intangible, force:
The word is full of the infinite:
or at least of a measure
made from something higher
than the clouds.
But this is a love poem, too. And this perhaps is where Guedea is at his finest – deftly tethering his metaphysical concerns to the world of the actual:
Perhaps that’s why when I write your name
the world shimmers.
Perhaps that’s why when I let
a few of my words fall
on your shore
I’m hesitant to draw comparisons between Guedea’s and Lloyd’s books because they are so different, but both authors seem to be guided by a need to set down their unique poetic truths with honesty and empathy. Both have succeeded in this pursuit, and our poetry is richer because of it.
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