Luz negra by Noel Luna

Luz negra. Noel Luna. San Juan: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. 2017.

Luz negra, by Noel Luna (Puerto Rico, 1970), is a book that was lived before being put down in written form. The plastic texture of these poems is extracted from myth and dream-like notions of the poetic reality to formulate a composition by fields, or the motion between elements in a poem, or between multiple poetic texts. Awarded the National Poetry Prize of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in 2016, Luna's collection of poems threads the unmanageability of feelings, as expressed by a lyrical voice that, on the face of emotional contrariety, finds meaning through a dialectical commerce with Luis Palés Matos’s life and poetry. The voice conflicts with logic and causality, and can only be accessed by the poetic vocation of the author–poet. Only in the language of poetry love is sublimable; only in poetry is love domesticated.

Noel Luna is one of the most important voices of his generation in the Puerto Rican literary scene. The refined craftsmanship of his verse has earned him solid critical acclaim since the publication of his first book, Teoría del conocimiento, awarded at the Ateneo de Puerto Rico Poetry Contest in 1995 and published in by the University of Puerto Rico Press in 2001. Years later, Luna initiates a cycle of tangent minimalist poetry with Hilo de Voz (Terranova, 2005), awarded by the Institute of Literature of the Ateneo de Puerto Rico, and followed by Selene (Folium, 2008) and Música de cámara (Terranova, 2009). More recently, Luna published La escuela pagana (Folium, 2014). He is also the editor of Piel fugada: Antología Poética de Luis Palés Matos (Editorial UPR, 2008). And thus, the disciple honors his master.

Following the footprints of the great Luis Palés Matos, Luna simulates a voice that emanates from Palés’s own "Puerta al tiempo en tres voces", a poem where the object of desire is a woman concealed under the name of Filí-Melé, a beautiful green-eyed mulatta that Mercedes López Baralt has called the Caribbean Medusa. In Luz negra, the truncated desire for the filimelian Eros is reversed and it is the mulatto light that triumphs over the poet exhausted by the disaffected who suffer until the luminous moment where his hunter arrives.

No esperaba que fuera/ ni corto ni benévolo el invierno/ que cala y persevera/ ni que una claridad de primavera/ brillara en el infierno,” the lyrical voice beseeches in poem I, and then adds: “Me sorprende que ahora/ que daba por perdida la existencia/ llegara y que la ciencia/ de su alma cazadora/ prendiera en mí la súbita querencia.”

As in the sequence related to the Dark Lady in William Shakespeare’s sonnets, Eros is texturized. A woman –the dark light or luz negra– arrives in the lightness of a breath. She is the "divine hunter" who fully reverses the Palesian myth, where the poet is the hunter and Filí Melé, his "bread of light", is the hunted, the persecuted, the escaped one. Indeed, if in the Filí Melé cycle we sense loss and anguish, in Luz negra there is possession, and its cost is fear.

Of love as a hunting experience we have no greater representation than that of Cupid with his bow and arrow. In classic poetry, the idea resonates in Ovid and​​ Francesco Petrarca, whose Sonnet 190, “Una candida cerva,” envisions the object of desire as a doe that vanishes in the unsuccessful attempt of the desiring subject to apprehend his prey, an idea appropriated loosely by Sir Thomas Wyatt in his poem "Whoso List to Hunt." Palés, the hunter poet, fell prey to the inescapable trap of an impossible love for a green-eyed mulatta who was much younger than him. Palés’s love resolves in longing, in that instance of knowledge that cannot be found or known, but, like everything solid, vanishes in the air. In Luz negra, love appears in its ontological character. It keeps everything together and the loss of its faculties disregards the orderly.

In this phantasmagorical projection, the speaker in Luz negra looks for himself in the other. Without the otherness, Eros does not exist. Love –figure diluted in our reduced conception of space, or agile search that dissolves upon its completion– is generated as the minimum unit of meaning.

The speaker in Noel Luna’s poems is the hunter that pursues the nymph, just as Phoebus stalks Daphne. Love is light. Sublime body. Numen and lumen. And what continues to this encounter is predictable in the weak –or rather, seductive– resistance that the woman, the prey, offers. Here, the tree woman in Palés’ «Puerta al tiempo» is alluded to: «from the background of a dream the breakaway / Filí-Melé. The flowing hair / Fronda grows, of swarming bees; / The trunk - crystallized nudity - / It is nakedness in light so naked / That when looking at it one looks at the look». Love seems to be accompanied by something mysterious, which is not utterly known, and can only be explained in truncated ways. That is, through myth. Luna seems to interpret the search and the inconsistency of an unrequited love that the poet can only placate on the poetic plane. Luz negra is written from the Palesian numinous, where, as noted by critics like Julio Marzán and Mercedes López Baralt, the love poetry of Palés Matos dwells.

In Luna's poems, then, reality deserves the language of the dream and can only be understood by images and sensations that provoke us and distance us from that other language that Samuel Taylor Coleridge identified as the language of the day: the language of reason and its desire for representativeness. Luna thus reappropriates the oneiric language that overflows Palés's verses. From the romantic metaphysical imaginary, where the uncertainty of the dream reigns, the limitations of the word also portents the redeeming capacity of the imagination.

Unrestricted within its metric, the poems of Luz negra are organized into 25 units of 5 stanzas that amount to 125 liras –the versification form that Bernardo Tasso innovated in his work Amori–, elevating Luz negra’s scaffolding to the structural perfection of a musical composition. Indeed, the book can be read as a series of particular poetic impressions or within the larger context of the placid musicality of a long poem, as if it were composed on the pentatonic scale of the black keys in a piano, a progression of popular use in tropical music. In effect, Luz negra is also salsa music.

After all, in the realm of the visible, the strongest and most visible light is the one that burns the most.

Elidio La Torre Lagares
University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras Campus

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Number 8

The eighth issue of Latin American Literature pays homage to Nicaraguan writer and politician Sergio Ramírez, winner of the 2017 Cervantes Prize and an important voice in a country currently gripped by crisis. We also feature poetry from Octavio Armand, as well as special sections dedicated to four indigenous writers of Mexico and Guatemala, bilingual sci-fi from Worldcon 76, and the poetry of Marosa di Giorgio, Olga Orozco, and Elena Garro. 

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