Hotel Sitges. Rodrigo Arriagada Zubieta. Buenos Aires: Buenos Aires Poetry. 2018. 64 pages.
Hotel Sitges is a critical, hermetic, prophetic verse collection. And it meets two ideals that the genre of poetry has set aside in recent years, slowly and gradually: that is, an ideological and aesthetic commitment.
Beyond these aspects, which together compel both the project and the very formation of the author, there is another component here that enriches the genre: the dialogic relationship that Rodrigo Arriagada Zubieta establishes with other poets and artists (Rimbaud, Lihn, Baudelaire, Hopper…).
Conscious of his status as a South American poet, and living a season in the academic world of Spain, he exercises the experience of damnation along two lines: one official and difficult, that belongs to tradition, and another more localized and specific, all the more personal and painful for it:
De los otros es la vida
y lo demás que está fuera
nuestra gran ansiedad:
árboles que existen sin otoño
creciendo en medio de la paz en extinción.
[Of others is life
and the rest that is outside
our great angst:
trees that exist without autumn
growing in the midst of peace in extinction.]
These are the first lines of the collection, which give rise to the book’s central conjunction, which is quite simply the project of transforming life into poetry, or of distinguishing the image of figure of the poet from that “of others.”
So things go, in what at first seems set to be a long stay in the Hotel Lautréamont (I refer to the closed and dark text by John Ashberry, that never leaves itself or its own metaliterary game). Over the course of the book, all these layers and projections will be moved, one behind the other.
In accordance with the order of the poems, it is possible to speak of three moments—arbitrarily distinguished—that are particularly remarkable and successive.
At first we find the project, the definition of what a poet is or what a poet does. What we could understand as a statement of principles, or perhaps the opening of his deck of cards.
The movement takes place on a truly experiential level, playing on great impulses, from the aesthetic point of view, over the dark art and trade of poetry (“the poet already lives forgotten / under a dead sky of doves”; “He preferred, instead, to disappear in a dark chamber (…) / and grow winters old inside / on the margin of his time”); and, taking less comfortable, more prophetic leaps, approaching those of Rimbaud (“Beautiful are the centuries that will come. / Everything expands, dragged by a drunken boat”; “A new season approaches”).
A second layer, or movement, takes place in the very formation of the author. Here we find Mallarmé, or the creation of a poem from the origin of a painting by Hopper (Soir Bleu, 1914). Even more representative is the mask he appropriates, in the mode of a dramatic and self-referential monologue, from Charles Baudelaire in “Baudelaire, 1845: Homo Duplex”:
Poeta-persona, mi doble naturaleza:
una espada de los ciervos en el bosque,
animales salvajes que se ejercitan en la esgrima
[Poet-person, my double nature:
a sword of the deer in the forest,
wild animals that play at fencing
A third layer, interrelated with the project as much as with the author’s formation, comes from the very cornering the poet receives, not only from his “unpoetic” existence but also from the experience of living in another country, in Spain.
The poet exists at the same time in two places, beyond his “Poet-person,” and no longer remembers if he was “held back” in Santiago de Chile, or if it was the city herself that went ahead of the false clarity of his memory (“Carnaval de Sitges”).
Confidently, having proved himself with clear rhythmic and aesthetic examples, Arriagada Zubieta takes the risk of playing with the deepest fire of all, still represented by the only gradual and effective residue of colonization:
Nada se arriesga aquí en decir lo mismo en otras lenguas
a Europa le queda poco de Madre,
apenas un líquido amniótico
al que dirigirse a oscuras.
[I risk nothing here in saying the same in other tongues
Europe has little left of Mother,
just the amniotic fluid
to walk towards in darkness.]
Without entering into more details, and giving the reader the freedom to read for himself a book like Hotel Sitges, I would like to recall the appendix written in Literatura Argentina y Política [Argentine literature and politics] by David Viñas, an Argentine critic, on the horizon of writing of a “possible” socialist literature.
There, the author materialized a concrete way of making known a literature other than the “bourgeois,” with neither heroes nor allotments, without private property.
For David Viñas, and for Arriagada Zubieta, the ideally “socialist” book will establish communication without a master writer, nor an inert and submissive reader. In “Epílogo al siglo XX” [Epilogue to the twentieth century] in Hotel Sitges, and perhaps with this a new season really does approach, we read:
Estuvimos a punto de ganarnos el espacio, poetas,
no era asunto de la letra
sí de geometría.
Había que medir la tierra,
ocupar uno a una, a presión, su lugar
como cuerpos arrinconados en fosas comunes
y no dar nunca nombre
a lápidas distintas,
existir como los muertos riéndose del polvo
y conservar el paso ganado para oír
la voz del futuro.
[We were about to win the space, poets,
it wasn’t a matter of words
We had to measure the ground,
to occupy, everyone, at pressure, their place
cornered in mass graves
and never give names
to different tombstones,
to exist as the dead laughing at the dust
and hold on to the step we won to hear
the voice of the future.]
Translated by Arthur Dixon