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Cohen, Guitar and Poetry

March 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Cohen on receiving the Prince Asturias Prize in Literature 2011

At the end of the Havana Book Fair, a friend showed me the Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen, recently published in a sober binding. On asking him at which stand they were presenting this book, my friend told me, “You must be joking! Our publishers barely know of it Cohen is the guru of those of us who enjoyed the music recreated in the most authentic and experimental poetry. This collection was given to me by a Spanish friend married to a Cuban colleagues.

As I’d barely read Cohen, and only listened to a couple of his records and enjoyed his thank you speech in receiving the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature 2011, I borrowed the Book of Longing and, after reading it, I now share some notes with readers about this great contemporary artist.

Always original, the poet and singer expressed another dimension of gratitude upon receiving the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature 2011. He said that Spain marked him from the beginning of his career, has having started with a Spanish guitar — he now has a Conde — he also discovered his voice reading the poetry of Garcia Lorca and learning the first chords from a Andalusian guitarist in Montreal, who committed suicide after giving him three lessons.

“All that you find favor with in my songs, in my poetry, is inspired by this land, and so I offer you my enormous thanks for this hospitality you have shown me and that is reflected in my work, because it is yours, and you have allowed my to put my signature on the last page.”

Accustomed to being in front of the public with an orchestra behind him, Cohen, now 76, is recognized as one of the most fascinating figures of our time, both in music and in lyrics, although he is more famous as a performer than as a writer, despite the 1956 publication of his first book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies. Since then he has published twelve books, including two novels, The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers.

Cohen transcends with his poems set to music. He has recorded over seventeen albums, including classics such as Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs From a Room. According to the creator: “Poetry comes from a place that no one controls, that no one conquers, so it is difficult to accept an award for an activity that I do not control, that is, if I knew where the songs came from there would be songs would more often.”

For some critics he as “one of the best poets of the twentieth century” because “his musical talent has always been accompanied by an astonishing verbal dexterity.” As a performer, he is identified by “his broken and woody voice in which he has sung all the misery and the greatness of the human condition for over forty years.”

Cohen’s ego, that is, his poems set to music and recorded his own voice, has found its existence in life and can express no regrets defeat “in the strict confines of the dignity of beauty. In his Book of Longing, edited by Lumen in 2007, “he has given voice to all his knowledge, his doubts, his fears, his thoughts on love, old age, the world around us, death; accompanied by suggestive drawings by Cohen himself,” which complement his songs.

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March 15 2012

Theatrical Virgilio

March 9, 2012 Leave a comment

More than two decades after the postmortem repair of the literary legacy of Virgilio Piñera (Cardenas-Havana, August 4, 1912 – October 18, 1979), most people who speak of the author have barely read his stories, poems, essays, dramas and tragedies. What are they talking about then? His homosexuality and aspects of his personality such as his verbal duels with the critics, his sarcastic answers, and even trivia about the suit he wore, his umbrellas, cigarettes and even his fear or, better yet, his intellectual honesty in front of the Commissioners of Culture of the Cuban military regime.

Except for actors, playwrights, storytellers and those knowledgeable about our literature, Piñera is an echo of echoes, a literary myth, a protean creator, experimental and challenging, who merits a re-acquaintance with his writing and the staging of his dramas, tragedies and comedies.

The year 2012 could be a propitious occasion because it his the centenary of his birth, and there is a program of  tributes, complete editions of his works, and presentations of his theatrical pieces, which is appropriate because from 1961 until his death he continued writing which he supported himself as a translator of French, but his plays ceased to be performed, his stories, poems and essays were not published, until his name disappeared from the magazines and newspapers.

Virgilio Piñera represents the antithesis of José Lezama Lima, another famous writer excluded from the literary pantheon for political rather than aesthetic reasons. To the censors, they were both troublesome because of their contempt for the myth of violence and the so-called Socialist Realism. Paradoxically, both would be reinstated after death. Lezama as a symbol of the “writer’s-writer,” that is “unencumbered” or just committed to artistic creation. Virgilio, less baroque and more colloquial, became the paradigm of contemporary Cuban theater.

Like all celebrated creators Virgilio had his black legend: famed for being clownish, intolerant and hypercritical to tradition, not with his disciples, to whom he offered his human profile and the keys to allow us to enter his narrative and theatrical legacy. The playwrights who perceived his mastery and meaning were attracted by the echoes of “his disdain for the official world, his corrosive humor, his position as a sniper, his iconoclastic rebellion and even his dark legend of countless literary duels.”

Virgilio, essentially theatrical, used the scene as a mental exercise, valid to relieve the poverty that marked his family and the provincial insular environment. “I am the one who makes the serious more serious with humor, the absurd and grotesque.” To justify himself he adopted the role of rescued scapegoat and divided the human race into the elected and neglected, settling among the latter.

He lived nearly a decade in Buenos Aires, but his plays are essentially Cuban, a Cuban identity that comes not from the comic or didactic and moralizing theater, but from the handling of Creole issues and circumstances and from dialogues and phrases coined by the populace.

Prior to 1959 published three parts and released four: Garrigó Electra (1948), Jesus (1950), False Alarm (1957) and The Wedding (1958). Later he represented five titles, edited nine books and two periodicals. In 1960 his Complete Theater was released, expanded and reissued later by Rine Leal. Outside the island Garrigó Electra and Two Panicked Old Men were staged, winning in 1968 the Casa de las Americas prize; Cold Air and An Empty Shoe Box.

Anyone wishing to know the work of this author should get the anthologies Virgilio Piñera Complete Stories of Anton Arrufat, published in Havana in 2002 and 2004, Complete Theatre, arranged and introduced by Rine Leal-Cuban Literature Library, 2002 and 2006; volumes that will appear again in the Havana 2012 Book Fair , with collections of his poems, essays and articles, and testimonials written by friends and followers of Piñera, described as a belligerent intellectual, sharp conversationalist, and creator of the theater of the absurd — his Garrigó Electra predates The Bald Soprano accredited to Ionesco.

On the occasion of the centenary of his birth it is nice to return to his dramas, tragedies and comedies, to the incessant throbbing searches and expressive experimentation, as well as to his apparent simplicity, achieved on the basis of Cuban dialogues so sharp, full of tragicomic and absurd situations, sometimes gritty realism, like Cold Air, inspired by his family.

Rine Leal described Piñera as a transitional dramatist who influenced the later playwrights and elevated the Cuban scene to levels reached before in music, poetry, narrative and visual arts. The critic puts the great playwright in the aesthetics of denial and value as he enters the absurd paradoxes, the game of mirrors and the ritual of the masks, in sharp avoidance as a means of resistance to the stresses of his day .

We recall, for example, that Garrigó Electra was considered by Maria Zambrano in 1948 as “the most beautiful work, brave and capable by a Cuban author premiered in Havana … performed with consistency and fairness, and the honesty of that terrible suicide.” In Jesus, Piñera weaves a poignant parody of an allegorical value, where the main character, the barber of 33 years Jesus Garcia, a resident of Havana refuses to work miracles on rumors from neighbors and authorities, to whom he represents a challenge to absurd expectations.

We could continue with notes on the The Philanthropist, False Alarm, Two Panicked Old Men and other memorable works by Virgilio Piñera, but we prefer to let the reader come to him though reading or attending theatrical performances of his legacy on the occasion of his centennial of life.

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February 19 2012

Sailor on Land

March 6, 2012 Leave a comment

At 56, Enrique Babastro Batista, a native of Guantanamo, admits having been one of those kids who joined the human tide growing up under slogans, sheltered by the “bright future” that engaged his generation from the speakers’ platforms and posters with which they redesigned the urban environment of Cuba in the sixties of last century.

Although he stumbled several times because of his frankness with school officials and with officials from the Fishing Fleet, he joined the latter in the early years to earn a living and channel his passion for the sea, never imagining he’d end up an “incorrigible” for shouting some truths and letting go of “the libertarian dream” that he’s been infected with by teachers and soldiers who influenced his military training.

Now, with half a century on his back and more frustrations than means to live, Enrique  is a member of the payroll made up of graying men who take three drinks in cheap bars of Havana and talk about their personal and collective past, surrounded by a pair of friends who are all gray.

In recent days, seeing me make some notes in an institution of Vedado, where we met in a line, Henry asked me my profession and insisted on telling his story. To put any doubts to rest he pulled from his pocket a portfolio in which preserved as an archive, several certificates and official documents that corroborate part of his truth.

“When I came in Guantanamo I settled with my mother and brothers in Campo Florido, near Guanabo, then we moved to the center of the capital. All went well until in 1983 when I was taken prisoner for the first time in the face of the eviction of my mother at Aranguren and Final.

Then I knew that Cuba was a huge cell bounded by its shores. I went through the Combinado del Este prison, the Cinco y Medio in Pinar del Rio, two prisons in Camaguey, Guantanamo, Guanajay, again Pinar del Rio and the 1580 San Miguel del Padron. I met Antunez, several prisoners of the Black Spring of 2003, Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina and others  like me who witnessed beatings, hunger strikes and untold problems. ”

“In Pinar del Rio I met Captain Orlando Rodriguez Pedraza, who shot at close range a prisoner who tried to escape. I also met Cornelius from Santiago who killed Chapman for burning the flag on July 26. In the Combinado del Este, the largest of all, better not to say. I remember, for example, the major Darius, who supported the first lieutenant who killed Rey, resident of 31st between 31 and 35 in Playa “.

“Yeah, those things don’t happen if the authorities respond to complaints but they did not think of prisoners as human beings. At Guantanamo, in March 1997, the major Yoel Casamayor and Pablo Reyes, from Internal Order, along with Vito Reyes, chief of rehabilitation, nearly killed  Nestor from Baracoa, whom I supported in his protest against bad food, a kind of animal feed.”

Enrique is free now, but he doesn’t have his own home, nor children nor wife, although there is a monthly check and he survives through work on commission that barely pays for rent and food. Perhaps that is why he tells his story and shows the documents that he was, above all, a prisoner of conscience “on Dr. Castro’s island.”

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February 23 2012

Country of Pixels

March 6, 2012 Leave a comment

On the evening of Saturday, February 4, at the headquarters of the State of Sats audiovisual project (number 4606 1st Street between 46 and 60, Miramar, Havana), the Country of Pixels Exhibition was held, promoted via the Internet since early 2011 by Cuban Voices blogger platform.

“Thank you for everything, we can’t remain indifferent before the pixels that an impossible country, little by little made possible,” the writer and photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo told the audience. Orlando organized the exhibition for which his virtual site received hundreds of comments on the photos displayed.

A Country of Pixels brought hundreds of photos from amateurs and professionals  of Havana and other cities of the island, at ten per author. Also participating as guests were Cubans living in the United States, Mexico, Spain, etc..

From 700 images chosen previously, the jury chose 40 that were mounted and displayed to the public, which voted for the Popularity Award, which went to the work number 18 (Bodega), by Jorge Luis Perez, who expressed his gratitude.

The jury, chaired by Saili Borrero, presented the awards and mentions, provided by anonymous donors emerging community, contacted through the Internet. The mentions went to:

  • Caset William Diaz, author of The Hope of the World.
  • Alejandro Menendez Vega, Acts of nations series.
  • Claudio Fuentes, mounting faces.
  • Alina Guzman Tamayo.

The Awards went to:

  • Alexander Sanchez Riva, photographer of Holguin.
  • Martha Mayra Rodriguez, Cienfuegos.
  • Ernesto Blanco, Holguin.

The award ceremony was a celebration around the displayed photographs, almost all urban and of artistic value and anthropological sense. Amongthe attendees were Antonio Rodiles, host and spokesman for the State of Sats, the blogger Yoani Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar, Dimas Castellanos and Eugenio Leal, Wilfredo Vallin, leader of the Cuban Law Association, the musicians Gorki Aguila and Ciro Diaz, of the rock band Porno para Ricardo, actress Ana Luisa Rubio, the graffiti artist El Sexto, independent journalists, writers, painters, photographers and dozens of representatives of alternative civil society .

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February 19 2012

Poetry Festival Without End

March 6, 2012 Leave a comment

From December 15 to 30 the 13th Havana Festival of Poetry Without End was held, sponsored by the sociocultural project OMNI ZONA Franca, according to the program catalog given out by its managers on Saturday 10 during the press conference before the cameras at the audiovisual space Estado de Sats.

Poetry Without End is poetry at home, defined as outside the institutions, that is in squares, parks, gardens and other urban places, where poets, orators, singers, painters, photographers and audiovisual promoters interact to make poetry in a fiesta, like those of the ancient Dionysian celebrations.

It started in 1997 in Alamar, east of Havana, where OMNI ZONA FRANCA emerged in the mid-decade, and has spread to various public spaces in the Cuban capital. Similar events are also held in Germany, Spain, France and in U.S. cities like Miami, headquarters of the Cuban exile.

As OMNI ZONA FRANCA consists of poets, musicians, actors, dancers, designers, painters, photographers and producers of audiovisual performances who socialize ideas and alternative actions in city spaces, Endless poetry expresses this diversity under the slogans “If two people look at and recognize each other the world changes” and” Change us, change the world. ”

The 2011 program includes these activities:

  • Spontaneous reading in the Bar de la esquina on Thursday, 15, 4 to 6 pm, the bar is located at Teniente Rey and Aguiar, Habana Vieja.
  • Dark Room: poets in action Puerta 1, the 16the at 5 pm, with Lina de Feria, Orlando L. Pardo, Grisel Echavarría, Daniel Díaz Mantilla and others.
  • The Pilgrimage of Scribble to the Rincon de San Lazaro, the 17th from the Sports City, for the Health of Poetry.
  • Spoken Word, the 20th, with Mesa debate, Show and Video poem.
  • The Cuban Joint Exhibition, the 21st at 5 pm, with Photo poems of  OL Pardo, Nilo J. Damian, authors of the events Country of Pizels and A Big Sign and Another Small One.
  • The Dark Room Day, the 22nd in the Casa Templo del Arte Cubano; Rotilla-Electrospoken, the 23rd in the afternoon; the Spiritual Fair the 25th in the morning: Poets in action Puerta 2, the 28th at 5 pm, with Reyna Maria Rodriguez, Desiderio Navarro, Victor Fowler, etc.
  • OMNI Poetic Cabaret, the 28th at 8 pm; the Cultural day for racial integration and diversity, the 29th; the Day of Dark Room: Fiesta Poetics (30), and Voices in Endless Poetry, the 31st at 7 at night, with the presentation of the magazine.

The organizers of such an unusual poetic look dedicate this Fiesta “to the community of Alamar, to the light of the nation and to the Holy Family of Cuban Poetry” as well as to their relatives and friends.
December 20 2011

Fiesta of Plurality

March 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Host Antonio Rodiles and members of Omni Zona Franca

Over a hundred people attended the Fiesta of the Plurality on Saturday December 10, held at Primera 4606 between 46 and 60, Playa municipality, Havana. The meeting was convened by Yoani Sanchez, leader of the Cuban Voices blogger platform and Antonio Rodiles, spokesman for the “State of Sats” audiovisual project and host of the event, turned into a space of freedom despite the steady rain and police espionage.

The event coincided with the celebration of Human Rights Day, banned in Cuba by the Castro military regime, whose political police arrested dozens of peaceful opponents in the previous days and prevented meetings, parades and concerts in the capital and other cities of the island.

Coming together at the Fiesta were representatives of various alternative projects, those who interacted with those present through exhibition stands with posters and brochures, CDs, meetings and journals. There were lectures, poetry readings, songs and other activities far from those touted by government spokesmen.

The promoters of OMNI ZONA FRANCA spent most of the session with their poems, songs and audio while displaying their beautiful posters for the Endless Poetry Festival, whose 2011 edition will be December 15-20, for which they conducted a press conference at “State of Sats” with Rodiles as moderator and questions from the audience, as well as the presentation of the program catalog.

OMNI ZONA FRANCA is a socio-cultural artistic project born in Alamar, east of Havana, in the mid-nineties. It is composed of poets, musicians, actors, dancers, designers, painters, photographers and producers of audiovisual performances who socialize ideas and actions in urban spaces. Endless Poetry was established in 1999. The slogans “If two people look at and recognize each other the world changes” and “Change ourselves, change the world,” lead their 2011 projects.

Among those attending were the writers Ángel Santiesteban and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo; the singers Gorki Aguila and Ciro Diaz, arrested on Friday the 9th to prevent the concert of Porno para Ricardo; the journalists Reinaldo Escobar, Víctor M. Domínguez, Jorge Olivera and Pablo Méndez; and the graffiti artist El Sexto, the cartoonist Nile J. Preval Gonzalez, photographer Claudio Fuentes, the librarian Omaida Padrón, the lawyer Wilfredo Vallin, president of the Law Association of Cuba, the former diplomat Pedro Campos Santos and artists from OMNI and other projects who sang, recited and painted during the evening.

One of the most interactive projects was TalentoCubano.net, a group of young people dedicated to “promoting Cuban music inside and outside the island,” a sort of virtual map with various integrated projects.

The Fiesta of Plurality held in the evening of Dec. 10 included a raffle with umbrellas for the winners and donations of magazines, CD, films and other audiovisual media and graphics given by Yoani Sanchez and friends of the site. It was reported by twitterers and bloggers in attendance.

December 19 2011