Esencial 1982-2014. Andrés Morales. Santiago de Chile: RIL Editores. 2015. 154 pages.
(Mis)fortunes of Prophecy
Published in June 2015 as the inaugural volume of the series Selección Personal [Personal selection], with which Revista AErea and RIL Editores opened a new editorial line for Latin American poetry with the goal of helping writers find themselves through their own work, Esencial 1982-2014 is the fifth anthological installment that Chilean poet Andrés Morales has produced from his extensive poetic work over the course of more than thirty years of writing. But perhaps, strictly speaking, it is the third installment, since Poemas/Pjesme [Poems] (2011) and Poemas escogidos/Poezii Alese [Selected poems] (2014) are bilingual editions – including Croatian and Romanian text, respectively – with an educational goal, relying on a relatively small corpus of Morales’s canonical poems that have been analyzed frequently by perceptive critics. This being the case, in order to find an appropriate reference point for the volume in question, we would have to turn to the wide-ranging and generous Antología personal [Personal anthology]. Poesía 1982-2001 [Poetry], which, sponsored by the Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago and RIL Editores, was published more than fifteen years ago and was, without doubt, a crucial milestone in Morales’s writing. In the interim, the Antología breve [Brief anthology] published by Mago Editores in 2011 is a smaller-scale introduction to the poet’s work, barely letting the reader catch a glimpse of the most characteristic elements of the new volume from RIL Editores.
In any author’s writing process, the anthology is a genre that lends itself to multiple uses and diverse justifications. An anthology can be an exercise in self-criticism in which the author becomes a reader to select the best of his work; it can be a synthesis of a period, style, or thematic series with which to reopen closing possibilities, but it can also be an opening of completely new paths, a possibility to create balance in the characterization of the personal voice discovered in writing, but also an evaluation of what has been written previously. The anthology, as a genre, has various uses. If it is articulated by the author himself, it acquires personal traits that complement its existence as an object of simultaneous criticism and reading and, all at once, a reflection on what it means to experience in time, to pass: somehow, a poem that we see as valid or justified acquires, in the anthological exercise, another density, another space, and, sometimes, even an uncomfortable silencing. As a re-reading exercise under parameters that do not necessarily obey the particularities of the individual books it cites or employs, the anthology is a representative milestone in the development of a writer’s writing: it takes the writer’s pulse, and it can also help the writer take a new breath.
I believe these reflections are valid when considering Esencial – valid in terms of what it implies to read a set of poems that become meaningful over the course of their reading, but that are not enclosed by explicative limitations or unilateral rules. Without a doubt, the volume is ordered chronologically – any reader of Morales’s poetry would notice that – but without the pressure to include timestamps or bibliographical information that would only refer us back to his editorial immanence or the circumstances in which the texts were written. The continuum is impressive: an encouraging tension that lets us glimpse a tonal and thematic persistence that goes from poem to poem, articulating a vision in the widest sense of the term – that is to say, as an indispensable apparition of thought, emotion, pleasure, and linguistic architecture the like of which has existed only on rare occasions in the Chilean poetry of recent years.
It is a continuum that leaves no space for superfluity, anecdotes, or mere testimony: here, the poet disappears behind the poem, his biography becomes a faint reference, and the voice that emerges from the text repeats again and again that silence and experience are as interchangeable as the extreme necessity of speech that neither straggles through everyday contingency nor becomes a prisoner of the unexpected. What we have here is an intensification of the obsessions that Morales’s poetry has been expressing for over thirty years: a desire to grasp the concept of beauty beyond the curse of its evanescence; the sometimes serene, sometimes bitter reflection of the passage of time; the uncertainty of the objects that surround us and wound us with their wonder; the pain and perplexity of the apparently irrefutable violence of History; the eruptive fragments that make up our images of youth; and the dense intrigue of self-reflection over the poetic task itself, which finds no satisfactory answers, if such answers even exist.
But this swift “thematic” enumeration of Morales’s poems, although they may help to understand them as a plot or as discourses created from their verbal mass, a significant habit, they do not exhaust – much less explain – their radical goal, which is rooted in spirit, in an eloquent animus that is far from circumstantial: it rests on the tension between disenchantment and transcendence as opposites that, instead of cauterizing the wound of reality, open it more and more, making much of this poetry a verbal and imaginative act that discovers itself on the border of the very possibility of its pronunciation. This phenomenon has a name, a simultaneously joyous and tragic denomination: the misfortune of prophecy. Because Morales’s poetry, from its origins, as the poems in this collection assert again and again, takes communion with clairvoyance, with the immemorial need to see beyond, to announce and refer, to foresee and warn. But, like Cassandra, his voice – the poem – is not heard. Even his own assertion is called into question: first, by the very language he invokes in a paradox of cruel modernity, and second, by the uselessness of the poetic act when faced with a stage devoid of meanings, when between us is the inhuman face of the fragments of History that attack and wound us on a daily basis. Senselessness has forced poetry to bend over itself and wonder about its own emptiness. A message has arisen that announces nothing to no one, transforming into an agonizing uncertainty before the almost absolute requirements of disenchantment.
Morales’s poetry – at least the parts of it that I see as most significant or relevant – thereby becomes a tour de force of the mythic imagination, creating, instead of a complete, secure image, a fragmented remnant of meaning diffused by contemporary violence among the smoking nooks and crannies of the rusted cities in which we suffer after forgetting the epiphany. In poems like “Las visiones de Tiresias” [The visions of Tiresias], “Lázaro siempre llora” [Lazarus always cries], “Escrito en el vacío” [Written in the void], “Los elegidos” [The chosen], “Oráculo” [Oracle], “Los videntes” [The seers], and “El canto de la Sibila” [The song of the Sybil] among others, the poet lays out the verbal duel that this implies, in which language – carried to the limit of its euphony and of the skillful elegance of its verse-like syntax – refuses again and again to fall into insignificance, into the total ruin that no longer pronounces words. And so, the beauty that rises off the linguistic architecture of Morales’s poetry shows us this suggestive paradox: a poetry that cannot and does not want to give up on its act of profound mythic necessity, not even in the precariousness of its context or its suffocating indifference, nor in the lucidity implied by knowingly announcing that certain “something” that disenchantment can only see out of the corner of its eye.