Readings from the Diaspora: A Selection of Recent Venezuelan Poetry
Giving any name to this selection of Venezuelan poetry might generate a biased, if not reductionist, perspective of the writing of a few poets born in the eighties and nineties. Nor does it help much to say “diaspora,” since this term places the writer and the writer’s circumstance at the same table, and these are two quite complex visions—as complex as the very act of writing, the external conditioning that motivates and permeates the area of biography, and, even beyond that, the interactions of the writer in constant confrontation with his or her immediate surroundings.
Any selection, whether or not we accept it publicly, implies choices. Any selection, I insist, also deserves to be justified, not by the desire to appease all possible readers but rather by an act of self-clarification, like an exercise of annotating that which unites and separates us from each selected poet, as well as each poet left off the list. It is easy to add names, it is difficult to remove them. It is difficult to lay out a list and, little by little and not painlessly, remove layer after layer, in this case of poems and poets, ultimately leaving a list of nine voices. With this, we make one thing at least halfway clear: the evidence of joining that which was not united before, something like a brotherly encounter in a common space, an encounter that had to happen in order for us to understand ourselves and each other in a possible generational scene. In the end, a necessary pause to watch and read others—and ourselves—our peers, who strive to tow a sustained and highly differentiated line.
Each of these poet’s concerns are manifested in the thematic and stylistic plane: the effort to name a reality common to us all, the introspective gaze, inclined toward ontological dimensions, the return to the paternal image, states of mind, prudent experimentation, individual torments, religion seen through everyday acts, ludic writing; from contained, distilled language, passing through an intermittent and fluvial extension, these nine poets reveal a poetic vocation exercised from Venezuelan cities such as Caracas, Valencia, Coro, Mérida, and Maracaibo, as well as cities outside Venezuela such as London, New York, and Rio de Janeiro. For the Venezuelan poet writing today, the city is not fixed along the lines of national borders; for many years now, as has been dramatically accented in the past five years, we have seen how the diaspora grows ever more generalized.
Generational affinities, at least in terms of the critical appreciation of Venezuelan poetry, is not limited only to this poetry’s compilation in journals or literary groupings. Such was the almost exclusive dynamic of the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties, decades when resistance to the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez, the dawn of democracy, armed insurrections, and the establishment of cultural institutions provided arguments and scenarios for dialogue with art itself, through periodical publications, expositions, and creative workshops. We had a shared patio, the territorial nation, and from there we wrote, we published, read, and discussed. Now we must read each other and ourselves through the lens of a foreignness that, far from dispersion, from so-called “balkanization,” offers us a wide window, a window that opens toward a landscape that is at once sorrowful, yearned for, beloved, and hated. A landscape we try to understand. We don’t know if there will be a Vuelta a la patria [Return to the homeland], in the style of Pérez Bonalde, one of our great exiles of the nineteenth century, but in these poems we can certainly visualize a return that is interior, creative, and insistent.
Translated by Arthur Dixon
Néstor Mendoza (Mariara, Venezuela, 1985) earned his undergraduate degree in Education, specializing in Language and Literature, at the University of Carabobo. He has published three verse collections: Andamios [Scaffolds] (Equinoccio, Caracas, 2012), winner of the Fourth National University Literature Prize in 2011; Pasajero [Passenger] (Dcir Ediciones, Caracas, 2015), and Ojiva [Ogive] (El Taller Blanco Ediciones, Bogotá, 2019). He was a finalist in the First National Rafael Cadenas Young Poetry Contest in 2016. His poetic work has appeared in collections both inside and outside his home country, including Destinos portátiles. Muestra de poesía venezolana reciente [Portable fates: selection of recent Venezuelan poetry] (Vallejo & Co., Lima, 2015); Tiempos grotescos [Grotesque times] (Ritmo magazine, UNAM, México, 2015); Nuevo país de las letras [New country of letters] (Banesco, Caracas, 2016); Lyrikaus Venezuela. Nochbleibtuns das Haus [Lyrics of Venezuela: the house still remains] (Hochroth Heidelberg, Alemania, 2018); Antología de poesía iberoamericana actual [Anthology of current Ibero-American poetry] (ExLibric, Málaga, 2018); and Nubes. Poesía hispanoamericana [Clouds: Spanish-American poetry](Pre-Textos, España, 2019). He is part of the editorial board of Poesía magazine and a frequent contributor to the multilingual journal Latin American Literature Today. His poems have been translated to English, French, German, and Italian. He currently lives in Bogotá and forms part of the editorial team of El Taller Blanco Ediciones.
Arthur Malcolm Dixon is co-founder, lead translator, and Managing Editor of Latin American Literature Today. He has translated the novels Immigration: The Contest by Carlos Gámez Pérez and There Are Not So Many Stars by Isaí Moreno (Katakana Editores), as well as the verse collection Intensive Care by Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza (Alliteratïon). He also works as a community interpreter in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a 2020-2021 Tulsa Artist Fellow.
LALT No. 6 goes from the gripping true stories of literary journalism to the strange worlds of fantastic short stories and graphic literature. We highlight chronicles by Colombian journalist Alberto Salcedo Ramos, speculative fiction in a dossier curated by Mexican writer Alberto Chimal, and Yucatec Maya poetry and prose in our ongoing Indigenous Literature series.