Saturday, October 25, 2008

Venezuelan poetry: Rafael Cadenas - Las Paces

The results of the 2008 Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry Translation were published today in The Times newspaper and, unfortunately, I didn't win.

I wanted to raise the profile of Venezuelan poetry and in particular the work of Rafael Cadenas, a poet from Barquisimeto who has produced a really outstanding body of work.

I'll have to try again next year with some more Venezuelan poetry.

In the meantime I thought I might as well post my entry to the Stephen Spender Prize for anybody interested in learning a bit more about Cadenas.


With so much great poetry coming out of Venezuela and so many poets from the past and present to choose from it was hard to narrow my selection to just one text, but I was determined to translate a poem from Venezuela because so few works are accessible to non-Spanish speakers.

In the end, this piece by Rafael Cadenas (born 1930, Barquisimeto) stood out from the rest because it illustrates quite beautifully the sometimes fraught relationship between the poet and his creation.

Cadenas often uses internal dialogues like this in his work, sometimes as observations on his surroundings or imaginary conversations.

In some cases these are reduced to enigmatic or disjointed phrases but this poem is more immediately accessible and illustrates the poet's playful side.

The title "Las Paces" is shorthand for the Spanish phrase "hacer las paces", which means making peace or making up after an argument or a tiff between lovers.

Cadenas uses the "tu" form throughout, which is typical in informal conversation in Venezuelan Spanish and illustrates the closeness of the relationship Cadenas has with his poem, which he talks to as if it were an old friend.

It is also clear that the poet is at the end of his tether when he says: "We have wrestled so much", and then "free yourself from me now".

The creative process is a difficult one, as anybody who has stared at a blank white page will know. Frustrated by his attempts to create something inspired, Cadenas urges the poem to take over and "force your course on the writer".

The final line is almost pleading. It can be read in a number of ways: quietly, like a lover so tired by squabbles and fights that he wants the whole thing over; or loudly, like a woman in labour screaming for the baby to emerge.

On a universal level, the poem expresses the eternal battle between the creator and his or her creation, which if successful, takes on a life of its own.

Las Paces - Making Peace

Let's make a deal, poem.
I won't force you to say what you don't want to
and you won't be so resistant to my wishes.
We have wrestled so much.
Why this insistence on making you in my own image
when you know things I don't suspect?
Free yourself from me now.
Flee without a backward glance.
Save yourself before it's too late.
Because you always outdo me,
you know how to say what drives you
and I do not,
because you are more than yourself
and I am only someone who tries to recognize himself in you.
I have limits to my desire
and you have none,
you just go where you wish
without seeing the hand you move
and which you think is yours when you feel yourself emerge from it
like something that springs forth.
Force your course on the writer, he
only knows how to hide you,
to bury the novelty,
to impoverish you.
What it shows is tired
leave me.

("Poemas selectos" 2004)

Las paces

Lleguemos a un acuerdo, poema.
Ya no te forzaré a decir lo que no quieres
ni tú te resistirás tanto a lo que deseo.
Hemos forcejeado mucho.
¿Para qué este empeño en hacerte a mi imagen
cuando sabes cosas que no sospecho?
Líbrate ya de mí.
Huye sin mirar atrás.
Sálvate antes de que sea tarde.
Pues siempre me rebasas,
sabes decir lo que te impulsa
y yo no,
porque eres más que tú mismo
y yo sólo soy el que trata de reconocerse en ti.
Tengo la extensión de mi deseo
y tú no tienes ninguno,
sólo avanzas hacia donde te diriges
sin mirar la mano que mueves
y te cree suyo cuando te siente brotar de ella
como una sustancia
que se erige.
Imponle tu curso al que escribe, él
sólo sabe ocultarse,
cubrir la novedad,
Lo que muestra es una reiteración
apártate de mí.

("Poemas selectos" 2004)

1 comment:

Ada Klein said...

An absolutely masterpiece of a poem. Your choice is right on the mark with an excellent translation.

I just read and translated another poem of Rafael Cadenas' "Venezuela? Venezuela me Hace Falta." "Venezuela? Venezuela I miss it."
Spanish original (Too long to paste here)

Please read:

Venezuela? Venezuela I miss you.
Rafael Cadenas

If you ask me where is Venezuela, I would say it is in Mexico,
Miami and other US areas.

It is in Colombia, Ecuador, Spain.

In Panama, Chile,
up in the United Arab Emirates.

Venezuela is located between any meridian and parallel of the World
where the good Venezuelans had to go to live, seeking to procure a
better quality of life.

Chasing a little peace and security,
just a little future for them and theirs.

Venezuela today is a country scattered around the world.

Wherever the talent, intelligence and work of the Venezuelans settle down,
there is Venezuela.

Venezuela is in each oil company in the world which has seen its
production increase and its performance improve thanks to the talent and work of Venezuelans who were hired.

Venezuela is found where there is a TV broadcaster, a newspaper,a radio station which programs and productions have been improved and increased thanks to the creative work of Venezuelans who help to grow free media in other lands.

In countries that are not theirs.

Where editorials benefit from the imagination and creativity of ingenious and original Venezuelans with formidable stories often imbued with the nostalgia and despair of exile.

There is Venezuela.

Venezuela will be in those countries where everyday honest Venezuelans arrive to deliver, in distant and strange lands, all their hard work to make this world a better place.

Venezuela will remain in those countries where the young people will settle all those young people who presently are looking for the best way to leave, to go to a land that will offer more than just a sure gunshot, an ominous discrimination, a chain of insults.

What remains here
surrounded by Colombia, Brazil and Guyana,
across this beautiful and stunning Caribbean Sea.

this backyard north of South America.
this second class republic of thieves, assassins and evildoers.

is no longer a country but a parody of a Banana Republic.

is not Venezuela.

This well of lead and blood
this endless mourning
this crying that does not stop,
is not the country sung about in “Gloria al Bravo Pueblo”.

this plot of land of famished tame-tails is not the land that gave birth to independence heroes.

is merely the bolivarian republic of venezuela.

Like that, with lowercase.

Diminished and impoverished.

Shadowed, debased and sad,
the way it was bequeathed to us by a megalomaniac man who believed

himself intergalactic leader and immortal.

A vindictive being,
who they now attempt to turn into a deity.

October 23, 2014

Spanish Original