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
("Poemas selectos" 2004)
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)