El color del Egeo. Armando Romero. Málaga, España: Miguel Gómez Ediciones. 2016. 80 pages.
The work of poet, author, and literary researcher, Armando Romero (Cali, Colombia, 1944) has unfolded on the fringes of multiple traditions. The anti-establishment tendency of his Nadaist roots would be strengthened when Romero relocated to Venezuela and came into contact with the former members of El Techo de la Ballena [The Roof of the Whale], a group of Venezuelan avant-garde writers and authors. Romero’s move to the United States, and the international perspective that it provides him would accentuate, over time, his distance from the new Hispanic avant-garde and other established aesthetics, alike. This lucid serenity is seen in Romero’s poems beginning with Hagion Oros (2001), and is particularly distinct in his El color del Egeo [The color of the Aegean] (2016).
One of the notes that Romero, in the style of T.S. Eliot, adds at the end of this poetry collection breaks the pattern of brevity of the others. Such a change in tone forces us to reexamine a text that loses its ancillary role while inciting the suspicion that we gain access to the book’s central mystery from its margins. I am referring to Poem XXII’s commentary, where the author picks up a story that he published many years before, whose narrator recalls a walk with a friend through a Colombian town called Calima. This indigenous name rings with converging echoes of meaning: a variant of the word calina, which in turn comes from calígine, fog; and, no less, the seafaring term calima, which traces back to Classical Greek and, by happy chance, is inseparable from the subject matter treated in El color de Egeo (κ ά λ υ μ μ α meaning “net,” which has come to mean in Spanish a certain type of buoy). In the town called Calima, the calina or calígine envelopes and traps his friends, until a vision, “strange and dreamlike that doesn’t end in a nightmare or an enchantment,” is revealed before their eyes. It is vision of a white horse. “Its large eyes reflected the running fog and its lips moved in small spasms.” Shortly after, it is stated bluntly: “He was the light, and us, the darkness.” I have written that the note XXII seems to house a mystery: the almost mystical contrast of the previous image confirms a religious subtext. Even so, such is the power of his symbols, that understanding them in no way means to unraveling them, as the meridional clarity of the Aegean maintains in a good poet like Romero the depth of the arcane.
Other artists have portrayed such moments in which the ineffable is openly depicted without lessening their hermetic nature. William Blake called them “memorable fancies,” whose adjective is not lacking in logic, as the evocations in El color del Egeo take us where personal memory becomes a fable stripped of its moral by sheer lyrical force. The “fantasies” or “memorable visions” to which I allude coincide in various points; their language – irrational and common – allows us to divine the archetypal. We need not look beyond Fellini’s Amarcord, which made us simultaneously see and dream the apparition of peacock that fans the troubled pupils of its tail in a snowfall. That the foul has perch on a fountain contributes greatly to the enigma of the work. In one of his poems, “Late Night with Fog and Horses,” Raymond Carver refers to indiscernible happenings of the here and now, which spill over, nevertheless, from other times and spaces: “Whatever was / happening now was happening in another time.” And Fernando Pessoa, on whom Romero has reflected considerably, was also obsessed with ghostly fogs, subjected to the hasty scrutiny of Mensagem [Message], from them one day a hidden king (O Encoberto) would rise, who would restore to the nation a body of collective myths: Ó Portugal, hoje és nevoeiro [Oh, Portugal, today you are fog]. What strengthens Romero’s position in such a rich tradition is the discovery of the fog in the Mediterranean heart of light. From there the appropriateness of the antithesis that the note to poem XXII outlines: we are before the chiaroscuro of a revelation.
The careful reading of El color del Egeo could point to a dialectic: multiple expressive conflicts longing for a resolution. The poles between which the verses are displaced constitute almost incompatible worldviews that instantly and crucially arrive to a synthesis. In one regard, the rhapsodic impulse of ascent toward the solar or the decent toward subterranean darkness, regions from which known forms are excluded; in another, the willingness to integrate oneself in the spheres of material or social experiences, the realm of perceptible immediateness and intellect. The result is a sustained dialogue of the eternal and the historic mediated by words and his capacity to articulate a sensory experience. In such an exchange, the limited human being glimpses the infinite.
A poem crucial to understading this project is Poem VIII, whose simplicity delineates the matrix of the series to which it belongs: “Mar / tres letras simples / y un color / que se transforma” [Sea / three simple letters / and a color / that is transformed]. What comes before, surpasses, and maintains in its cosmic vastness beyond man’s reach, once translated to a language and perception, surrenders to change and with the latter the period with which the poem’s existence comes to an end, as if absolute meaning flowed only from the senses that grasp the universe. The poet’s sensuality is one of intelligence that links the immemorial to consciousness: color indicates this will of history installed in spheres that transcend it.
The book’s next poem takes these feelings even further and betrays a poetics hidden within the structural observation of the real. Its initial verses are explicit: “Con una sola mano / podemos hacer del mar / sitio para la escritura” [With a single hand / we can make of the sea / a place for writing]. In that writing there will be “trazo” [line], “letra” [letter], “sílaba” [syllable], “frase’ [phrase], a continual act of language whose mission, until the final lines, will be to move the exterior to the interior, the immense to the intimate: “Y todas ellas, / en su concierto, / serián tu sola voz / en mis adentros” [And all these, / in concert, / will be your voice alone / deep inside me]. This poem charts a map of a land of encounters.
In some of the book’s pieces, society, events, objective reality, and even the geographizable unfold; in others, contrary elements prevail, whether they originate from myth or nature. At times, this produces a sudden and dramatic comprehension of the root problem profiled from Poem I:
Estas aguas no se quedaron
para siempre. Estas aguas regresaron
con el tiempo. Sin embargo,
saben los filósofos, basta un parpadeo
[These waters did not remain
These waters returned
the philosophers know,
a blink is enough
and they disappear.]
Conflict quickly yields to the singing of that which is intertwined and “transforms,” absorbed in the eternal noww of materialized divinities. Romero’s intelligent sensuality also can also be described as metaphysical eroticism. The reading of Poem XIX is enough to prove this:
No es la ola que perdió
su camino entre las islas,
no es el ave que se detiene
en un rayo negro,
las que abren mis ojos.
Son estas diosas
que hoy temprano el día
se posan en la playa
y de piedra dejan el viento.
Todo color del mar
en sus cuerpos.
[It is not the wave that lost
its way among the islands,
it is not the bird that pauses
on a black line,
those which open my eyes.
It is the goddesses
who while the day is new
rest on the beach
and stonelike abandon the wind.
Every color of the sea
on their bodies.]
From this and other points of view, there are nothing cliché in El color del Egeo. We are before a collection of poems that recovers the ritual search of a center, which could be considered an ethical and even political attitude in current “globalized” times, when “postmodern” secularism disperses fierce hegemonic ties in order to better hide them. The idealization of a Greek and Mediterranean space of initiation, a remote, lyrical past, that constitutes at the same time a cultural unconsciousness in which it is necessary for the poet to immerse himself, suggests, moreover, the revitalization of the irreducible values of mass customs that threaten to change us into a pathetic multitude of zeros.
Although there is an indisputable religiosity in Romero’s pages, this does not yield to a ironic distance with respect to doctrine. His revelations, his siege of the divine, favor a confident style. This perhaps explains why, in his oblique wisdom, these poems recommend that we resign to be “the darkness,” to move within a world of fog in which the resplendent Aegean at times insinuates itself as unreachable. This does not oblige us, despite this last statement, to renounce the contemplation of the “the light” and its perfect creatures: poetry, he seems to suggest, constitutes a privileged vantage; a laboratory of desire, no matter if it remains always unsatisfied. “Eternity is in love with the production of time,” our already quote Blake once declared. El color del Egeo inverts this conclusion; in its verses, the works of time love what they will never be able to embrace.
University of Connecticut
Translated from the Spanish by Auston D. Stiefer