Poetry at the center of the flame

By: José Antonio Michelena


Choosing – it is a saying – literature as an office is almost nonsense, an aberration, because of its solitary condition and because it walks alone and untethered, by a very weak rope; underneath the writer is the void and nothing guarantees that it will come safely to publication, readers, recognition.
However, when writing is a necessity, a vocation, a marked destiny, then face the void, walk on it, is not an option. Therefore, the first statement must be formulated in reverse: literature chooses you and the scribe has no choice but to face the challenge. And although a tip from the Navajo Indians says, “Jump, the ground will appear,” what to do if he doesn’t show up? Keep writing.
This was understood by Virgilio López Lemus from his early youth and not to fall into the dreaded circle of “they do not publish you because they do not know you, and they do not know you because you do not publish”, he has not stopped writing and publishing in almost half a century, so that several dozen books, among poetry, essay and literary criticism, have carved a prestigious site in Cuban literature.
During the first half of 2018, the Development-born writer, Sancti Spíritus, received two relevant awards: the Havana International Poetry Festival and the Andalusian Charitable Societies of Cuba awarded him the Rafael Alberti Prize for Poetry; while the Academy of Sciences of Cuba conferred on him the status of Academic of Merit.
Just between poetry and academia, a good part of his work has elapsed. The queen of literary genres has been the source of the poet, the researcher, the essayist, the critic, the teacher, the translator, the editor. And in recent years, not a few of his books have woven poetry, reflection and speculation, as praise shows. Love, Friendship and Joy (2000), Tax Waters (2003), Narcissus, Waters and mirror (2004), The Eternal Age (2005) and Gravitation of Poetry (2015).
In this gravitational arc, López Lemus has paid special attention to two poetic forms: conversational poetry and the tenth. Anyone who wants to know them in depth, in the Cuban context, cannot fail to read the books he has dedicated to them.
Words from the background. Study of Cuban colloquialist poetry (1988) is a rigorous analysis of conversational poetic discourse from all angles and stops at each of the included authors. The judgments present in this work on the figures that make up it have been left as a mandatory reference for the explorations in that section.
For its part, the national stanza has found in López Lemus a punctual scholar who has collected in The Tenth Constant. The oral and written traditions (2000) and The Tenth Renaissance and Baroque (2002) all the accumulated knowledge about this composition. In such a way that they are mandatory a source of consultation for those who wish to approach the history and concepts of the most popular of the stanzas cultivated in Cuba.
As proof of the esteem professed by Cuban decimists to Virgilio López Lemus, in July 2008 Cucalambeana Culture Week, the largest national festival destined for the tenth dedicated its annual event in Las Tunas.
As a result of his interest in the knowledge of the various poetic structures, and much appreciated by poets and students of letters, is his book Metric, free verse and experimental poetry of the Spanish language, with editions in 2008, 2016 and 2017 that are always insufficient.
The vocation to history of poetry has compulsed the essayist both to the formation of numerous poetic anthologies as well as to volumes containing wide panoramas of the genre. The most illustrative books, in both cases, are: Two hundred years of Cuban poetry: 1790-1990. One Hundred Anthological Poems (1999 and 2002) and The Whole Century. The poetic discourse of the Cuban nation in the twentieth century (2008).
The examples referred to in the previous paragraph refer to Cuban poetry, but López Lemus’s eagerness is not limited to national letters, his radius of action also includes multiple authors of the Spanish, Portuguese and French languages.
Virgil’s bulging academic record, his voluminous essayist’s résumé, should not hide that his work in the verse is also appreciable, as evidenced by the thirteen books of published poems. On the most recent, entitled Hipno, an elegy where love and death are linked, the Cuban poet Dulcila Cañizares stated that “it is a refined milestone within her poetic work and offers a unique contribution to Cuban poetry”.
López Lemus’s publications grow at the rate of three, four, five… books per year. Translated into a dozen languages, his texts have reached publishers, magazines and newspapers in more than thirty countries, confirming that it is a case of exception on the island, where writers do not usually show such an exuberant work. I only know one as hard-working as him, and he’s also born under the pound sign. It seems that the pursuit of balance has something to do with that will and that discipline to deploy talent. The other writer is the National Prize for Literature, he deserves it. Ω

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