Speech of the Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas, winner of the XXVIII Premio Reina Sofía de Poesía Iberoamericana
This is an immense honor.
I should say once more: thank you. These are very important words. They are used to express appreciation, as in this very moment, for something that comes directly from the Queen of Spain.
In another realm, that of politics, I hope that I might be permitted to reference something other than what brings us here today. There are some deeply fundamental words, like the ones above. For example, liberty, justice, democracy, civility, honesty: those that, when absent, make it very difficult for the citizens of a country to really live. Furthermore, those words should mean what they stand for. If they do not, we would do well to return to what Confucius called the “rectification of names.” I don’t know if they follow this bit of his wisdom in China, which is similar to our “adaequatio.” In Venezuela, it urges us to establish a normalcy that can only be democratic. Nevertheless, I am not going to pursue this point now because I would have to go very deep and this is not the proper occasion to do it. I wish only to point to the significance of language in the exercise of politics.
Now I will tell you about my connections with Spain. I am connected deeply to her by language. This relationship does not require much explanation. Less evident is that which I have had with her literature. I began to read it when I was very young; I believe that I was fourteen when it captivated me. The parade began with the generation of 27. Rafael Alberti, Federico García Lorca and Pedro Salinas were the first that I spent my time with. I should also mention Miguel Henández, whose poetry adheres to both memory and to León Felipe, who made a pilgrimage all about Latin America, just like Walt Whitman in North America, reciting his poems and who, as I see it, aided in the expansion of the poem in Spain, tying it to prose. Let us remember that Lorca called Salinas’ poems “prosías.” Later, I read Jorge Guillén and Luis Cernuda. I moved onto the authors of 98: Miguel de Unamuno, Antonio Machado, and Juan Ramón Jiménez y Azorín. Since I am a lover of prose (what lover of language isn’t?), I enjoyed all of their work. Upon my return from Trinidad, where one of our habitual dictatorships had chosen to exile me, (which was later toppled by a faction of the people and the military), life took me by the hand to study in the Escuela de Letras of the Universidad Central de Venezuela. Afterwards, I taught classes for more than thirty years, during which what of the principle focus of my position was Spanish poetry.
I’ll continue this story. With my wife and thanks to her, we have traveled all throughout Spain, initially on our own and later by invitation from the Residencia de Estudiantes, Casa de América or festivals like Poemad. At each step along the way, we encountered the flourishes of our ancestry.
Now I shall refer to a capital fact of our story that is often forgotten: the arrival of Spanish exiles to Venezuela during or after the Civil War. There were thousands, including professors, scientists and writers that contributed enormously to our culture. Among them were Juan David García Bacca, Pedro Grases, Manuel García Pelayo, Marco Aurelio Vila, Juan Nuño, Federico Riu, Manuel Granel, Mateo Alonso, Santiago Magariños, and others. All of them left an enduring mark upon us.
I would like to name others, but they are too numerous. In reality, Spanish men and women of all the professions came to Venezuela.
Many years ago, in Caracas, a book was published in two volumes with brief biographies about them (though not all of them). A similar one was just released by Tulio Hernández, now a Venezuelan exile, in the same spirit. I will give you an idea of what is said there: I went to school in an interior city, Barquisimeto, originally called Nueva Segovia de Barquisimeto, and I took classes from three Spanish professors. That is to say, they did not just work in the universities but in education, in the high schools of Caracas and other cities.
Before finishing, I must thank Professor Carmen Ruiz Barrionuevo for what she has done for those of us here. Years ago, she founded the José Antonio Ramos Sucre Chair in order to make Venezuelan poetry better known. She deserves great recognition from us.
I end with an untimely observation: I believe that all nationalisms are abominable; they bring hatred, conflict, and war; friendship is preferable between nations. To that end, I have invoked the history that exists between Venezuela and Spain. I must remind those that attack this country, that they do so in Spanish.
Translated by Michael Redzich
Rafael Cadenas (Barquisimeto, 1930) is a Venezuelan poet, translator, and educator. He formed part of the "Tabla Redonda" group in the early sixties, when he was active in the Communist Party of Venezuela. He was imprisoned and exiled during the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez, and he took refuge on the island of Trinidad until 1957. He has published the books Los cuadernos del destierro (1960), Falsas maniobras (1966), Memorial (1977), Intemperie (1977), Anotaciones (1983), Amante (1983), Dichos (1992), Gestiones (1992), Apuntes sobre San Juan de la Cruz y la mística (1995), and En torno a Basho y otros asuntos (2016). He received a Guggenheim grant in 1986 and an Honoris Causa doctorate from the Central University of Venezuela. His work has been awarded several important prizes, including the Premio Nacional de Ensayo in 1984, the Premio Nacional de Literatura in 1985, the Premio San Juan de la Cruz in 1991, and the Premio Internacional de Poesía Ciudad de Granada Federico García Lorca in 2016.
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.
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.