tienda de descuentos en San Juan

como pienso en ti esta noche, Andy Warhol
vagando las góndolas de Topeka
amándote en la canasta de metal
como arqueólogo en busca de fósiles;
amándote así, letal y sobrio,
con hambre de todo y apesadumbrado,
buscando quince minutos de fama;
que no invento mi código de barra
Y ni siquiera sé si yo existo.

te vi, Andy Warhol, príncipe del pop
con tu póster de Marylin, buscando
un chico dulce que prestara el cuerpo
tu pelo argentado por las estrellas
flecos de platino apuntando en todas
direcciones de la rosa náutica;
que es tu corazón tan eléctrico,
ecléctico, dialéctico, irónico.

¿adónde vamos hoy, Andrés Warhola?
¿traes contigo ese teléfono de Dios?
llevas en el pecho una cruz de balas
y vendas ceñidas como cinturón.
pero tu lata de sopas orienta
hacia esa rola crasa de Lou Reed,
bajo un cielo pintado por Basquiat,
cielo negado de Manhattan.

¿dónde brindaremos con Coca Cola?
dime, Andrés, ¿iremos a The Factory?
¿pintaremos de verde las aceras?
¿me harás un par de zapatos carmesí?
¿pondrás mi rostro en un billboard santo?
¿masificarás mi lamento en arte?
mira que sí: el dinero es una musa,
y mis labios se mueren por su beso.

--2008 Elidio La Torre Lagares

Tres nuevos poemas aparecen en la edición de agosto de Ariel Chart: «empire of grief», «fall with landscape» y «summer awakening». 

«in a matchbox
all possibilities might
catch fire»

Sy Albright entrevista a 
Elidio La Torre Lagares (poet/author/professor)
Publicado el 27 de julio de 2018 en Sincerely Art: The Interviews Series.

Mr. [Mark] Rossi (editor and publisher of Ariel Chart) informed me your “Urgent Poems for a Humanitarian Crisis” was one of the most read poems he’s ever published at Ariel Chart. He also mentioned he nominated you for a Pushcart Prize for Poetry and you received a 2nd nomination for another publication. That’s a major sum of things to deal with emotionally and artistically. Did you come out of it a better artist?

I must start by acknowledging Mr. Rossi’s initiative. I was truly honored. I’m grateful because both the Ariel Chart and The American Poetry Journal nominations came at a time of emotional loss. I, by no means, intend to attribute pharmacological properties to artistic accomplishment, but I did find comfort in poetry. By the time I wrote these poems, Puerto Rico had been devastated by a major hurricane. I had lost my father, and I was taking my daughter to a coffee shop where we sheltered every day, charge our phones, drink a hot coffee, and spend the day in a city that had no power, no communications standing, and lots of people without a home. At times we dealt with the situation telling ourselves we were in a post-apocalyptic novel or movie. But in general terms, we were indeed helpless. We didn’t have a whole picture of what was going on in the country until three or four weeks after María. We knew it was bad, but didn’t have an idea of how bad the situation was. Or still is, for that matter. Hence, the urgency of these poems under a humanitarian crisis. I think that, to some extent, the nominations to the Pushcart validated the honesty of the work. These poems were crafted, yes, but they were also felt. I don’t know if I’m a better artist, but I do know that I’m trying to be a better human being.

as you look to the camera in frozen awe,
holding on to the languid limb of a tree,

and in the picture, you and I are together
again: I am the piece of dead wood

These are the lines taken from the poem “A Theory Of You In the Flood” published by Ariel Chart 11/3/17. Please expand upon the meaning of these sad ironic verses.

The lines refer specifically to an old picture of my mother. The picture was taken by her godmother, I guess- I’m not sure. But it’s a portrait of my mom, stuck in the New York snow, and holding on to the limb of a tree that seems to come out of the ground. Mom has this funny face, like, “What am I doing here? It’s cold and I’m falling.” I always wondered what was going on in the photograph. I imagined stories of what could’ve been happening there.

I lost my mother six years ago, and when I lost my father, I must admit I felt lonely. An orphan. The piece of dead wood, if you will.

During hurricane María, I had substantial amounts of water coming inside my house, and I found Mom’s picture drifting in the flood. It was sad. I cried: ergo, the flood. I saved the original picture.

The whole poem “A Theory of You in the Flood” is almost literal, but it’s not, because it’s all a metaphor, a transfer in meaning, which I needed to bespeak, to voice and shape into poetry. It’s a painful poem. But that’s how I must deal with it.

If you look back in the average literary journal in America forty years it would be very difficult to find a Hispanic writer published. Have you felt in your own life a larger movement to include different voices in literature?

Yes! Absolutely. As a Puerto Rican, I was raised with many traditions crisscrossing and nurturing my personal formation. I’ve learned to include and accept, not to exclude and reject.

You know, when we talk about literature we usually add a modifier: Hispanic literature, Caribbean literature, American literature, European literature, and so on, but I like to refer to literature as one thing. Of course, there’s Irish lit and there’s Columbian lit, but it’s still literature. I think this is one legacy of the Avant Gard movements: it was one art, one literature, one manifestation, one artistic language, but it was plural, multilingual, and it evolved. Yes. It must. Of course, it carried contradictions, absolutions, cancellations, but it still was one thing, one attitude, a unity in multiplicity. Like a musical composition. Or geometry. But the Avant Gard was something that happened simultaneously in Zurich, Berlin, Paris, New York, and then it spread over to Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico. It was happening in many languages and voices.

For example, I read Puerto Rican literature, but I also consume Nabovok, Gogol, Kafka, Joyce, Poe. I love Flaubert as much as Alejandro Tapia y Rivera. But I’m also fascinated by Mark Strand and Paul Hoover. I follow Loretta Collins and Safiya Sinclair’s work in the Caribbean. I treat myself with Vicente Aleixandre, Pessoa, Blanca Varela and Julia de Burgos; they are all in my reading list. You see, it’s the vanguard’s attitude; it’s still among us, although in a less recognizable way. It’s been normalized.

When it comes to literature, language is just the code, and the code, some might argue, is what determines the cultural context, but what remains unalterable is the literary fact. That’s my belief. While I consider the current literary landscape to be more inclusive, I also think there’s so much yet to do. Plurality in literature (and in our current society) must be granted in equal terms.

Do you have occasion to mentor younger writers? And if so, what you do instruct them to work on?

Yes, I have. Sometimes they’re not much younger than myself, but I treat them just the same. In the early 2000’s, I helped many writers of my generation to see their first book in print and succeed. It’s their success, I’m not going for bragging rights here, but I think I did what I had to do at a given moment in the history of Puerto Rican literature. That’s it. I used to work for a multinational publisher, then I worked for the University of Puerto Rico Press, then I founded my own press, and then I started a writing atelier. And teaching. Some of the young writers have confided their work to me: they want to hear what I have to say, what I think, and I’m grateful. Trust is a big word, particularly when it’s about art.

I’m only a mentor when the mentoree is ready. But what I always tell them: learn the rules, play by the rules, if only to then break them.

It’s a sort of Emersonian self-reliance, if you will. Awareness of what one does -whether it’s poetry, fiction, or criticism- is quite important. Awareness requires discipline. Awareness requires to be grounded with your immediate reality. See where you’re standing, what you’re doing, and who/what you’re doing it for.

I have spoken to numerous writers from around the world. Some allow politics to influence their writing. Others use culture or religion. Many believe their artistic philosophy is one and the same with these influences. Others believe there is a separation. Do you have a distinct artistic philosophy to share with us?

I can’t separate one from the other. I mean, I’m a political person- I breathe and live in political tensions. I teach for the University of Puerto Rico at a moment of crisis when my job (and others) is at stake because of the political situation we live in as a territory of the United States. The population of my country is diminishing. The younger generations are leaving so the future of education in Puerto Rico, registration wise, is at stake. The hurricane unveiled a lot of up-to-then-invisible situations at a societal level. Even when I’m not in Puerto Rico, I become a stranger in some other land. Yes, it’s inevitable. I’m political, which I equal to philosophical restlessness. The search. The quest. That’s the job of all writers. Art is not natural (that’s why it’s art, of course), but art is what gets us closer to understanding our humanity. It’s necessary.

It seems to be nearly an even split of families whom have supported artists and those that aggressively refuse. Were there artistic influences in your community or family that played a role in your early writing?

Actually, even though my mother was a school teacher, and my father held administrative positions within the Department of Education, they never really said anything about my art or my decision to become a writer, for that matter. They separated during some crucial time in my life and that’s when I made the decision to become a writing artist.

But books were always around me in my house, whether in my room, my father’s library, or the living room, where an open book always sat on the credenza by the main door: The Bible. You don’t have to be a believer to realize that this was a house of opened books.

I owe a lot to my godfather and uncle Wilberto Sierra, who still to this day asks me what I’m working on, when I plan to publish, or what’s going on with my writing. Wilberto was my teacher as well. I owe him a great deal. He led me into this journey. I don’t think he likes what I write (laughter), but I know he cares.

What are your thoughts about creating ways to keeping poetry relevant in the 21st century?

Poetry is more relevant than ever. The fact that poetry, more than a literary genre, is a state of mind, allows us to magnify the role of poetry in our lives. We speak in poetry, we feel in poetry. Life is a poem full of beautiful (yet sometimes incomprehensible) metaphors. We dwell in poetry; the poem is just the house. I think that as long as we let that surface in our work, poetry will always have something to offer.

I read somewhere that poetry is the only genre that remains uncorrupted by ambition since no one makes money out of it (laughter). What I mean is that poetry doesn’t have a utilitarian function beyond its mere coming into being. It can’t be monetized. And yet, poetry is what gets us together. People don’t realize how many forms of poetry they run into every day wrapped in forms of social media and through quotes, messages, proverbs, etc.

It’s part of the ritual.

On-line publications (like Ariel Chart, or the APJ, which adopted a hybrid paper & electronic format) incite new readers and promote new writers. They keep poetry accessible. That’s the task. To make poetry resound with vivid language and imagery. I’m particularly fond of poetry that works with images and defy the imagination/ intellect

Please share with us your past and present writing influences.

I’m reading a lot of poetry lately. My main influences, as I mentioned before, come from different traditions. For contemporary poets, I admit my major influences have been Mark Strand, Paul Hoover, and Frank Bidart. The best poet right now, I guess, is Ocean Vuong. I feel I’m more of a Víctor Hernández Cruz meets Frank O’Hara. Also, the poetry of Paul Auster, Julio Cortázar (both of which are rarely referred to as poets) and a Puerto Rican poet named José María Lima are always with me. But I guess it’s Eliot, Plath, Whitman, Neruda, García Lorca & William Carlos Williams the readings I go back to when I’m lost.

publicado originalmente en Nagari.

Le cuelga el ruedo a la luz en su esmero por acordar el atardecer. Se me ha hecho tarde muchas veces y ahora que me sorprende la noche, pienso que el tiempo no tiene caso. O sí lo tiene, pero se me antoja ahora, ahora que el silencio se ha apoderado del viento caliente del verano por unas horas, que no tiene caso. El silencio a veces es tan fenomenal que acapara todos los movimientos y los ruidos.

Al pie de la playa, rememoro una joya de Salinger: «Un día perfecto para el pez plátano». En el cuento, el pez se abastece de guineos maduros y los deglute hasta el punto que luego no puede escapar de su guarida. Consecuentemente, el pez banana muere. Kōan o alegoría, no importa. El asunto es que el pez muere, pero es solo una historia. El protagonista, Seymour, también muere, pero puede que esté loco. O iluminado. El día es perfecto, en todo caso.

Pienso que, a una distancia relativa de las cosas que he tenido en mi vida –la pérdida es la única certeza-, la memoria parece resolverse en su lugar. Las caricias sin causa, como decía la Storni, o los anhelos que se deshojan. Ya no tiene caso saber quién los recogerá. Se queda uno siempre aplazado por las secuencias del sol. El mundo no es sin sal. Vaya por una gramática de la metafísica. En el horizonte, un bote banana lleno de pasajeros se vuelca.

Alguna vez importó poco el afán del tiempo, no porque me sobraba, sino porque, tras varios encuentros personales con la muerte, me parecía en sobreestima. Si de algo se debe morir uno, es de todo menos de poca vida. La poca vida no es causal de la muerte, porque la poca vida no es vivir, es morirse. Y morirse no es la muerte, sino el camino hacia ella.

Digo yo que hay tantas formas de morir. Se muere uno como gente, como ciudadano, como amigo, como amante, como poeta. Se muere uno de tanto morirse. Muerte. Repetición. Tiempo. Un corolario blanchotiano. La demora es morada y espera.

Recuerdo que una mañana fría de diciembre, el cáncer apagó a mi madre y desde entonces, pues, nadie en la casa fue igual. La orfandad obra de maneras misteriosas. El año pasado le tocó a mi padre. La casa en la que aprendí a soñar se redujo. O yo crecí. No sé qué sucedió primero. Lo que sí sé es que ciertas muertes no tienen que ser literales. Hay muertes conceptuales también. La muerte es un nombre extraño para cambio o transformación. Mi hija lee un manga a mi lado: Banana Fish. De Akimi Yoshida.

Ya le pedí que, cuando yo muera, se encargue de deshacer mi cuerpo debidamente sin ceremonias religiosas, sin velatorios ni luto. Mis cenizas no darán mucho que resolver, le digo. No habrá gentío dándole el pésame a nadie. No habrá familiares cercanos al pie del féretro. Mis cenizas le serán entregadas a mi hija y luego dispuestas de la mejor manera posible en algún lugar remoto donde se devuelvan a la tierra o se hundan en el mar. Entonces, ella cantará «Con te partiró», la obra maestra de Andrea Bocelli.

O quizá haga sonar la versión jazz de Chris Botti. Será lo mismo.

Quando sono solo sogno all'orizzonte e mancan le parole. Faltas las palabras.

Yo, que crecí justo al lado de una funeraria, puedo imaginar el sinsentido, aunque me agrade la idea de que alguien me recuerde en música.

Es una canción sobre soledad y la luz que queda en la memoria. Muéstrale a todos el corazón que llevas encendido, dice al momento de la partida. «Time to say goodbye» dice la versión en inglés. Por ti volaré, promete la versión en castellano. La canción es un poema que habla de la despedida que se va en compañía. Uno nunca parte solo. Se va con las memorias y con el aliento lleno de cosas por decir pero que nunca logran salir. Como el pez plátano.

En la canción de Bocelli, el viaje es hacia tierras que nunca se han visto. Es un viaje en donde el que parte no se hace acompañar físicamente, sino en el corazón. Aun así, siguen siendo muchos los signos en el mundo, como escribió Hölderlin.

Una barbaridad. O un ocaso afable.

Entonces, ya no se sabe con qué fichas se aprende a comerciar. Ni cuántos guineos se come el pez. Sobre todo, un pez que no existe; un pez que es una invención.

Hay que aprender a recoger las misas de lo irreparable. Hay que aprender a ser lobo, de los de mar o de cualquier otro. Esa es la epifanía.

Como la muerte es un viaje al que se parte solo, me parece una canción donde la memoria se sobrepone como una extensión de la existencia. Como un libro, ¿no? Un texto que no se dice ni se escribe, sino que se recrea. Así, se arma uno, como en los mejores momentos, de lápiz y libreta y comienza a escribir para darse cuenta de que la escritura es un misterio y que la literatura siempre se vuelca contra sí misma. Le llegan a uno los planteamientos del arte y del lenguaje, y se agota todo en la orilla de lo que no se acapara ni se apalabra porque precede a la materia y que no hay monismo ontológico.

Total. El árbol de Josué no sabe que se llama así, ni que sus ramas en medio del desierto de Mojave le parecieron a alguien los brazos de un profeta que implora a los cielos.

El asunto es que, como diría Rilke, las cosas no son todas tan comprensibles ni tan fáciles de expresar como generalmente se nos quisiera hacer creer.

La hondura de estos días es una playa serena y con todo eso nos sumergimos con flotador por miedo a ahogarnos. Un pez plátano pasa por mi cabeza. Y es verano.

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