Entre el aliento y el precipicio: poéticas sobre la belleza / Between the Breath and the Abyss: Poetics on Beauty. Edited by Keila Vall de la Ville. Madrid: Amargord, 2021. 347 pages.
The recent publication of the anthology Entre el aliento y el precipicio: poéticas sobre la belleza / Between the Breath and the Abyss: Poetics on Beauty, edited by Venezuelan writer Keila Vall de la Ville and released in two tomes by Amargord Ediciones (2021), is great news because of everything it implies. Firstly, because it gathers thirty-three poets of great stature, the majority Latin American, who elaborate on what beauty is for them—that “elusive value,” as referred to in El libro de la belleza by another Venezuelan, María Elena Ramos (2015). Secondly, because the edition has an ample temporal dimension, since the chosen theme goes beyond the immediate history of the day-to-day and the urgencies that call to mind the suffering and short-term imagination of Latin American societies. It approaches an exploration of a different sensitivity towards beauty, a distinctive feature of today’s time, thought about in the long term. According to the editor’s introduction, there is an attempt to overcome the typical associations of beauty initiated in modern times under the tyranny of reason, which separated it from the sublime and unfathomable to domesticate it into what is agreeable and pleasant. Thirdly, because this edition has an international reach: it aspires to have readers in many countries, as the anthology is bilingual. We find texts in Spanish and English, transported from one language to the other by an excellent group of translators—themselves also poets with recognized works, since in order to be able to translate poetry, it is necessary to be a poet, as Rafael Cadenas, maestro de la palabra, demonstrated in his translations of El taller de al lado (2005).
Finally, this anthology is an initiative by a migrant Venezuelan writer, Keila Vall de la Ville, who, although mostly recognized as a fiction writer, has been awarded important prizes inside and outside Venezuela, and has explored different genres and founded Jamming poético. She is an example, proving it is possible to confirm that migrant Venezuelan writers are becoming visible because of their creations and that, alongside them, Venezuelan literature is sparking interest beyond the country’s borders. It is also relevant to highlight the convening power of this important project that allows for dialogue between Venezuelans and poets of different latitudes.
The great themes dealing with the deepest of human experience, such as good, truth, and beauty, lie beyond logical reasoning, structured discourses, and narrow definitions. To speak about beauty is necessarily to establish a connection with language beyond language, meaning, and poetry, with the images born from the most intimate dimension of feeling, which suggest multiple meanings: they touch, challenge, and move the reader without satiating them completely. Like Venezuelan poet Igor Barreto accurately states, beauty is “a half-way speech,” “a sound I cannot reach.” The poets in this selected group write brief essays on beauty and pair them with their own poems in a sort of dialogue with themselves and others, since the entire volume in and of itself weaves a concert of voices that form an exquisite tapestry so as to get lost in the most diverse perspectives of beauty and enable encounters, synchronicities, and coincidences.
The authors anthologized are: Raquel Abend (Venezuela), Odette Alonso (Cuba), Octavio Armand (Cuba), Edda Armas (Venezuela), Mary Jo Bang (US), Igor Barreto (Venezuela), León Félix Batista (Dominican Republic), Charles Bernstein (US), Piedad Bonnett (Colombia), Eduardo Chirinos (Peru), Sonia Chocrón (Venezuela), Antonio Deltoro (Mexico), Mariela Dreyfus (Peru), Jacqueline Goldberg (Venezuela), Darío Jaramillo Agudelo (Colombia), María Gómez Lara (Colombia), Silvia Guerra (Uruguay), Patricia Guzmán (Venezuela), Darío Jaramillo Agudelo (Colombia), José Kozer (Cuba), Juan Luis Landaeta (Venezuela), Chely Lima (US), Gonzalo Márquez Cristo (Colombia), Amparo Osorio (Colombia), Yolanda Pantin (Venezuela), Cristina Peri Rossi (Argentina), Mercedes Roffé (Argentina), Adalber Salas Hernández (Venezuela), Charles Simic (US), Diane Wakoski (US), Enrique Winter (Chile), Lila Zemborain (Argentina), and Raúl Zurita (Chile).
The poet translators are Aníbal Cristobo, Mariela Dreyfus, Israel Domínguez, Patricio Grinberg, Adalber Salas Hernández, María Vásquez Valdez, Enrique Winter Anna Deeny Morales, José Delpino, Judith Filc, Adam Giannelli, Ellen Jones, Kelly Martínez Grandal, Carol Maier, Robin Myers, David McLoghlin, E.M. O’Connor, Guillermo Parra, Annabel Petit, G.J. Racz, Margaret Randall, Mary Ellen Stitt, Nicolás Suescún, Will Tamplin, Keila Vall de la Ville, Christian Viveros-Fauné, and Christopher Winks.
Some reiterations are found in the poets’ voices: beauty is often depicted as a sudden understanding, the association with wonder, with flashes, like glimpses into the depths of reality, even if a poet separates beauty from deep knowledge of reality. Beauty is repeatedly conceived of as grace. This is probably the idea with the greatest consensus, although some poets contradict it. Beauty is also illumination, detachment from the self, absolute happiness and total perception, awareness of being, but it is likewise uncertainty, bewilderment, revelation, an encounter with the Void. Beauty is sublime, ephemeral; it is also silence and time. For some poets, beauty lies in the eye that looks beyond the object being looked at, in the poet’s subjectivity in seeking it, in self-knowledge. Some poets do not conceive of beauty without ugliness, the terrible, or the atrocious. There can be beauty in horror. Beauty entails both light and shadow.
Applied to the poem, some perceive it as practice of language, the right word, an attunement of the senses, a search for knowledge, to make something poetic of the mundane, from sufferings to joys, the totality of life. The conception of beauty in the every day repeats itself frequently in the poets’ voices. That is what Julio Cortázar reminds us, speaking about how fissures in reality can be seen in the mundane. Within those fissures, poets see beauty. It is “the highest moment, in the fulfilled summit of the poem,” the “singing music sheet” or the “poem that hurts,” the “language blow,” “excavation”. Poetry restores something lost. The content of the poem determines its form. For one of the poets, beauty is an order that one builds. For another poet, beauty is a living being, active, that breathes, and that is intertwined with the rhythm of the poem.
Beauty entails harmony and, in the same way, inharmonicity, imperfection; it can be dissonant, grating. There are those who say that it is music followed by words. It can knock us out. It cannot be possessed, but it can be recognized because it is also memory. Beauty gives way to emotions, not always pleasant. It can provoke anguish. It is also the form of expression of the poet’s truth.
Over the course of their searches, some poets resort to dialogue with poets, such as Rilke or Breton, or philosophers, from Plato to Nietzsche. Beauty slips through, turns evanescent, escapes, but poets surround it, question it in this fascinating anthology, and capture it in the poems that follow their thoughts and intuitions of it. The reader meets with the wonder of convergence. Each poet, from their own intimate experience, finds themself alongside the others to affirm or dissent. In the end, all of them end up coming face to face with beauty.