Lengua de señas by Enrique Winter

Lengua de señas. Enrique Winter. Santiago: Alquimia Ediciones. 2015. 88 pages.


Because muteness impedes speech and deafness is of no use from behind, we perceive messages with our eyes. So it goes in Lengua de señas [Sign language] by Enrique Winter (Premio Pablo de Rokha, 2014); the image is the predominant element of its structure, along with the absence of meaning and the fragmentation of language. Out of this arrangement, the poet activates a composition of subjects that, even with all its parts, could scarcely be put together into a cohesive whole. It is not an exercise of opponents that explode toward the end - it is the intervention of spaces and planes that spur the reading on toward a meaning that is sometimes lacking and sometimes implied such that its completeness is an essential part of this metonymy, even on the more radical level of romantic love:

the majority emigrates in the night
when two butterflies are one again
their strings stretched like Oriental noodles
instantaneous is the vibration of those
who cannot find each other as if they didn’t know each other
everyone heard each other since before
on other loose strings the tightrope walkers
          and without a place as well
there will be a common place
                    the olives are the eyes

(Two are the people, 19)

The spaces of Lengua de señas are registered meticulously, as if by a photographer or painter who knows in the end that whatever is seen at a distance will not be the same up close, since movement will forcefully generate another vision. Eduardo Milán tells us that this writing “elides the I and any syntax to liberate what remains from the senses,” nudging us toward certain premises of objectivism, which - although it is certainly present in these 88 pages - is not the most preeminent element. That position is filled by the intimacy that we can appreciate from different angles in the writing. Perhaps, if we must discuss Winter’s use of synesthesia, it would be more appropriate to talk about the tension that the texts generate based on the confrontation of diverse spaces, as in the works of Lucio Fontana, who - when he cuts through the monochrome curtain - generates an expression situated beyond the mere materials employed. Creating, essentially, a syntax directed toward the conceptual, Winter does not forget that the poem must also contain life. The image is present, and the representation of the image, but also that which is reflected upon it.

I hope the images are enough to themselves
but what they say is and must be
something else

(Here we sculpt with heard eyes, 8)

Another Enrique - Enrique Lihn - also converged, through his experience as a precocious visual artist and student of Fine Arts, upon a poetic in which architecture is anecdote, but what is conveyed between the lines is, in the end, the poem. Lihn himself, in his conversations with Pedro Lastra, remembered the sagacity of Hernán Loyola when he considered La musiquilla de las pobres esferas [The tune of the poor spheres]: “a poetic conscience turned upon itself, examining itself in the very process of its task.” In my opinion, these thoughts are apt not only in their moment, but also in the context of this commentary. The frame of reference of Lengua de señas can go from conceptual plastic artists to authors of the contemporary Chilean tradition or United States literary movements like L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E  (we should remember the wonderful translation by Charles Bernstein, “Standing Target”). But, if there is something that these previous publications and Winter’s text have in common, it is their intention to revise textuality, addressing its dimensions as a communicative act while stressing the right of every author to choose his own way to make poetry. Also in this proposal, and doing justice to his own work, the author allows himself to open up, as the frame of reference I mentioned previously could be an appropriate current for theoretical navigation, but he does not go beyond the bounds of the text as a necessary signifier.

In this environment, the generation of biography is extremely prominent - in particular, allusions to infancy as the axis of the process that generates the present. While noticing the narrative nature of this writing, we are struck by the articulation of characters as a story of convergence between a place - cosmopolitan, as Valparaíso could be - and a man who arrives there to take charge of the present and the past in a way that only one who observes and feels observed can successfully define. For the same reason, every sign takes on importance, as in the style of a special effects movie in which the ending discovers the many clues that finally made it evident. It’s not too much to say that this writing handily controls cinematographic techniques already present in the novel - we could even argue that Lengua de señas is a well-plotted montage of diverse planes of reality that can only be expressed through poetic language.

For Ezra Pound, “verboseness” was a path that all poets should avoid. Perhaps Enrique Winter’s control of this subject falls by the wayside in certain texts; we even find a sonnet among these pages, whose fine execution justifies the text in view of the tone he has constructed over the course of many pages. These texts are compositional resources that sometimes forget the complexity of the plot, interrupting the message that he was carrying under such control toward the book’s greatest element: emotionality in crescendo.

Perhaps this - the justification for the book’s title through speaking to our emotionality by means of images generated in the gaze of the author-poet-photographer-painter through the repetition of the spaces that enunciate the point of flight - is what finds, precisely in that flight, the point at which reality surpasses reality. 

the planets a boy thinks before an empty plate

moments when he is only bone and meat moments when he is not
when a mirror moves maybe moves to what it shows

that is what he looks for and looks like
if he aspires to the footprint of a footprint that which the sea leaves where it steps on the dog

(Rust and rain dogs cover up under paintings of dogs, 54)   

The final act is that of uniting the poems’ diverse titles to form a collage that closes the structure and that can be read as the will to return the parts to the whole, as if their meanings had been free from any commitment to act on their own behalf and now had to return the intimate comprehension to the body, turning back to Pound for a verse that defined his taste for good poetry: “Only emotion endures.”

Sergio Rodríguez Saavedra 

Other Reviews in this Issue

Esencial 1982-2014 by Andres Morales
El amor es hambre by Ana Clavel
Aries Point by Nancy Bird


LALT Vol. 1 No. 1
Number 1

The first issue of Latin American Literature Today features a dossier of Argentine writer Ricardo Piglia, who passed away in January of 2017, and short stories by the outstanding young Mexican author Nadia Villafuerte.