Featured Author: Eugenio Montejo
Works by and about Eugenio Montejo in LALT No. 7:
In a poem meaningfully entitled “Creo en la vida” [I believe in life], Venezuelan poet Eugenio Montejo (1938-2008) affirmed: “but I am an atheist of nothing / except death.” This was his way of registering the deep rootedness he felt in what he himself called “terredad” or “earthness,” that sort of affective consubstantial experience of life on Earth. Nonetheless, ten years ago, with great resistance, a fast-acting and untimely illness kept him from carrying on among us, at least physically.
Eugenio Montejo (1938-2008) was not only a poet, a creator of poems. He was, above all, a man who sought throughout his life to make of life, and of his poetry, a full and continuous communion with the mystery of existence. While he found in heteronomy a path to form the distinct intonations, daydreams, and rhythms that would combine into the polyphonic chorus of his poetic creation, made up of his curious pseudonyms or colígrafos (Sergio Sandoval, Tomás Linden, Jorge Silvestre, Lino Cervantes, Eduardo Polo, among others we will never know), he was also one among them, the most discreet and dedicated interpreter of the teachings of the master of Puerto Malo, his venerated Blas Coll.
The fact that Montejo’s aesthetic took shape in the seventies and eighties―when he was already the central poet in his country’s canon―is significant. Not only because his lyrical work, which is fueled by myth, nature, and memory, seems to contradict the “Saudi” Venezuela in which the author was formed, but also because his essayism adds to this the meticulous formulation of a conception of subjectivity that denies the idolatry of the modern.
Throughout the writing career of Eugenio Montejo, spanning some forty years – nearly fifty if we include the early and largely disowned Humano paraíso [Human Paradise] (1959) –, the figure of Orpheus is a constant. This is hardly a novel observation; numerous critics have commented on the importance of Orpheus to Montejo’s poetry: its aims, its emphasis on harmonious, lyrical construction, and its belief in the possibility of the Poet’s return in these poetically bereft times all point towards and are rooted in this cipher for the ultimate lyric voice.
"So the Song Remains: Cosmic Orientation and Landscape in the Poetry of Eugenio Montejo" by Luis Enrique Belmonte
The civilizing character of the poetry of Eugenio Montejo, its constructive and binding desire, has a close relation to his cosmic vision of landscape.
Any inhabited territory becomes a cosmos. To give a territory cosmic orientation is to cosmicize it. It is impossible to civilize a territory, to imprint it with a truly human significance, if it has not been consecrated through its cosmic orientation. As Mircea Eliade says, “it is important to understand well that the cosmicization of unknown territories is always a consecration: in organizing a space, the exemplary work of the gods is reiterated.”
The earth turned to bring us closer, / it spun on itself and within us, / and finally joined us together in this dream / as written in the Symposium. / Nights passed by, snowfalls and solstices; / time passed in minutes and millennia. / An ox cart that was on its way to Nineveh / arrived in Nebraska. / A rooster was singing some distance from the world, / in one of the thousand pre-lives of our fathers. / The earth was spinning with its music / carrying us on board; / it didn’t stop turning a single moment / as if so much love, so much that’s miraculous / was only an adagio written long ago / in the Symposium’s score.
Nowadays, anyone who feels drawn towards an apprenticeship in poetry, despite the many impediments which might dissuade them from it, whether for good or ill, can finally embark on their vocation by means of a poetry workshop. The experiment is something new among us but, as in many other cases, it can count on a large number of defenders and detractors. Though operating in a more or less identical form (i.e. the gathering together of a guide and a select dozen participants) poetry workshop can produce results as disparate as the groups of people they are made of.
What will leave, in the end, will be life, / the same life that has taken our steps / without pause, at the speed of her desire. / (...) / When it’s time to go –life will leave, / life and my quick music in my veins // life and her melodious geometry / that invents the chess of these words. / (...) / Yes, perhaps no one moves away from this world, / even if everyone is extinguished in due course. / –We will leave without leaving, / no one is going to stay or go, / just as we have always lived / on the banks of this indecipherable sleep. / where one is and is not and no one knows anything
The brief messages transcribed above, which Eugenio Montejo wrote to me in August of 2005, account for the beginnings of a project conceived of by the author of Terredad [Earthness] himself, who invited me to participate in its completion, postponed until now. The project consisted, first, of putting together in a book a selection of interviews done over the course of his life and, second, of preparing a “choral interview” in which the voices of different interviewers and Montejo’s responses, in distinct circumstances and over various topics regarding his work, his poetics, and his principles of life, would flow together.