Speech of Ricardo Rivero, Rector of the University of Salamanca, during the presentation of the XXVII Premio Reina Sofía de Poesía Iberoamericana to Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas
Your Highness, eight hundred years after the foundation of our University, we thank you for the opportunity to hold this ceremony here in the Parainfo. Thank you, Your Majesty. We are gathered here to honor Rafael Cadenas, poet and professor, artisan of language and its words, critic of civilized barbarity and ever a defender of the human being, from a vantage point of calm reflection, with the simplicity and restraint of one who knows his uncertainties and frailties. The most celebrated prize for poetry in Spanish or Portuguese goes in its twenty-seventh year to a Venezuelan born in Barquisimeto some eighty-eight years ago—a fruitful period of time for humanity. Eighty-eight out of eight hundred, not one less. He still has the spirit and energy to take a plane from Caracas to come here, through Madrid to Salamanca, where he knows he has real friends to reunite with once again. Congratulating him today is a pleasure. We invite him to recall the happy moments that took place in this University. His record includes many prizes, but the times with those that one really cares for are what stay alive in memories. It is emotional to think about all the good times, including the difficult biographical moments that are equally necessary for creation. As the poet has said, “la sombra…que abriría camino hacia mayores ahondamientos” [the shadow… that would open the way to greater profundities.] Continuing from his Apuntes sobre San Juan de la Cruz y la mística: “En este proceso es posible que surja el sentimiento del misterio, lo cual, sin ser la iluminación de que hablan los místicos, bastaría para contrapesar los males de un mundo que tiene mucho de monstruoso” [In this process it is possible that a feeling of mystery will arise, which, short of being the illumination that the mystics speak of, will be enough to serve as a counterweight against the evils of a world that traffics in monstrosity.] His poetry is an antidote against the absurdly rational nightmares which mingle with dictatorships to pervert Venezuelans’ dreams of liberty. Participating in a students’ strike against another Dictator carried him into exile 66 years ago. That was when he wrote his Cuadernos del destierro, as well as La isla. Those works reflect his unequivocal position:
País mío, quisiera
una flor sorprendente.
[My country, I want
To bring you
An amazing flower]
Mi libertad había nacido tras aquellas paredes. El calabozo núm.3 se extendía como un amanecer. Su día era vasto./ El pobre carcelero se creía libre porque cerraba la reja, pero a través de ti yo era innumerable.
[My freedom had been born between those walls. Dungeon nº 3 spread like a dawn. Its day was vast./ The poor guard believed he was free because he shut the grille, but through you I was innumerable.]
Augusto Roa Bastos affirmed that without the experience of exile he would not have become a writer. Reading Yo, el Supremo, is deeply startling. The prison also explains primitive poetry, the “Cántico espiritual” [Spiritual Chant”] of San Juan de la Cruz, an artist molded in the classrooms of this very University to which he dedicated his touching Apuntes. This orientation towards Castilla from Venezuela partially explains his predestination for this moment.
Illumination is San Juan (and Friar Luis); obviously it is also Rafael Cadenas. We can say of him what María Zambrano wrote about San Juan: “…la poesía parece nacer en él con la naturalidad del agua en el deshielo…” [poetry seems to be born in him as naturally as water from melting ice.]
Un día los perseguidores no encontraron víctima, pues ella asumió todo, se plegó a sus acusaciones, aun las más absurdas, hizo suyas sus demandas hasta quitarse, hasta casi no existir. Ya no había nadie a quien torturar. Cansados de sus crueldades, decidieron irse.
Vieron que su víctima formaba parte de ellos, o ellos de su víctima
Ahora sólo vienen raras veces.
[One day the persecutors couldn´t find a victim, because he´d admitted everything, yielded to their accusations, even the most absurd, made their demands his own until he´d removed himself, until he almost didn´t exist. There was no longer anyone to torture. Tired of their own cruelties, they decided to leave.
They saw that their victim was part of them, or they of their victim.
Now they come rarely.]
The civic position of Rafael Cadenas is exemplary. He is a poet that defends humanity before authoritarianism. I have heard Rafael Cadenas say the following: “Venezuela ha padecido cuatro positivismos, liberadores y limitantes a la vez: el de la ilustración, el de la generación propiamente positivista, el de los marxismos y el más reciente, el moderno. El alma tendrá que cruzarlos, recobrarse y ser.” [Venezuela has undergone four sorts of positivity, liberating and limiting at the same time: that of illustration, that of the positivist generation, that of the Marxists and the most recent, the modern. The soul will have to cross over them, recover, and be.] If poetry can carry out a liberating mission, of souls and of people, let us ask today for the recovery of Venezuela, a land named for its grace by Columbus; our brotherhood with the Venezuelans.
May Justice reach Venezuela, may those who have been forced to flee return, may the prisoners leave the jails and the students be allowed to express themselves, and may the people understand the points of view of their compatriots; may survival be possible and may all be able to rise up to continue laughing, criticizing and/or protesting freely without fear of being condemned to oblivion.
May the sense of verbal and poetic justice inspired by Rafael Cadenas be achieved, his living anaphora:
Que cada palabra lleve lo que dice.
Que sea como el temblor que la sostiene.
Que se mantenga como un latido.
[Let each word carry what it says.
Let it be like the tremor that sustain it.
Let it maintain itself like a heartbeat.]
Your Highness, we celebrate your return to this Parainfo seven years later on the eighth centennial with the best possible cultural motive. After all, extolling poetry is the most perfect means of reclaiming humanity, with all of its sublime expressions.
Sólo la limpia obra.
Sólo el escondido esplendor.
Only the clean lines
Only the hidden splendor.]
Today, the Ibero-American Alma Mater embraces an upright, capable, conscientious and reticent man, at the appointed time. In my opinion this is true, even though the excellent poem by Rafael Cadenas for which he is always remembered first–“Derrota”–says that it is neither what it is nor what it is not.
Here it is; it is America, it is Venezuela, it is every woman and every man in their own land that receives our solidarity and our conviction in the power of poetry and of the future.
Translated by Michael Redzich
Poems translated by Rowena Hill
Ricardo Rivero Ortega is the rector of the Universidad de Salamanca. He is the author or coordinator of twenty-four books and over a hundred research projects published in journalists and specialist volumes on Public Law.
Michael Redzich is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He earned degrees in Spanish and Letters, and intends to pursue a legal education upon graduation. Michael came to OU in 2013 from Jackson, Wyoming, where he grew up with his parents and one brother. He spent the past two years living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and looks forward to seeing more of Latin America: the places, the people, the literature, and more.
Rowena Hill lives in Mérida, Venezuela. She has taught English Literature at the Universidad de los Andes in Mérida, and she has published several verse collections in Spanish, as well as poems, essays, and translations in Venezuelan, Colombian, Indian, and US publications. She has translated some of the best known Venezuelan poets into English.
Latin American Literature Today begins its third year of publication with an issue that takes in Venezuelan poetry, the writing of indigenous women, and the strange worlds of fiction. We open the journal's second volume with a dossier dedicated to Samanta Schweblin, an Argentine writer whose work tests the limits between the fantastic and the real, and then we shift to the poetry of Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas, winner of the 2018 Premio Reina Sofía de Poesía Iberoamericana. We also pause over Mapuche poetry, with a special selection of four young women poets who write in Mapuzungun and in Spanish, and we also stay up to date with the present debates surrounding one of the central figures of twentieth-century Latin American literature, Pablo Neruda, with an exclusive interview of his biographer Mark Eisner.