Inscripción de la Deriva. Ismael Gavilán. Valparaíso: Ediciones Altazor. 2017. 218 pages.
Ismael Gavilán (Valparaíso, 1973) has published verse collections like Llamas de quien duerme en nuestro sueño [Flames of he who sleeps in our dream] (1996) and Raíz del aire [Root of the air] (2008), but he is also the author of a considerable body of critical work that seeks to shed light on areas of recent Chilean literature that still lie in darkness, and to reread—which is the same as rethinking—a certain wake of authors who have been rejected or forgotten, whether due to generational change or a shift in concepts and customs, although all of them certainly still have value. I’m talking about writers like Luis Oyarzún (1920), about whom Gavilán published the article “La escritura fracturada o la transgresión de lo cotidiano” [Fractured writing or the transgression of the everyday] in 2009, and who is now going through an interesting revival, propelled by two key concepts or tracks that run through his ledgers, his masterpiece, I think: ecology and homosexuality. Another author, in an orbit distant from, if not in opposition to, Oyarzún’s—especially in political terms—is Martín Cerda (1930): a theorist of the essay, Barthesian and stylistic, to whom Ismael has dedicated a brief essay called Martín Cerda: fragmentos de un mapa escritural [Martín Cerda: fragments of a writerly map] (Inubicalistas, 2015), the sprout from which another longer book, still unpublished, will grow. De Cerda has not published much. His main work, La palabra quebrada: ensayo sobre el ensayo [The broken word: essay on the essay] (1982), is one of the loveliest pieces ever written on the subject in Chile. Executed with calm and erudition, and strategy, it allows the reader to mentally sketch a map of the essay, as a relatively new genre that always demands certain guidelines to differentiate it from other millenary genres with which it must share paper. He has published little else, at least in Chile. It’s worth mentioning a compilation of brief, wide-ranging texts by Alfonso Calderón, who died before seeing it published by Universidad Diego Portales in an edition that leaves quite a lot to be desired.
Forgetting often covers dead authors and their works with an interesting patina, leaving no need for an eager editor who, in order to create literary characters, dredges up an author in the process of obsolescence, invents their myth, and then sells it. The problem comes either when said character really did have an interesting life, but didn’t produce interesting work (which does no good for literature, I think) or when their work is manipulated to the point that it becomes unrecognizable.
In Inscripción de la Deriva [Inscription of the Drift] (Ediciones Altazor, 2017), the latest incursion into literary criticism from Ismael Gavilán, at least in terms of the material’s organization (the oldest essays are from ‘96 and ‘99), the critic’s eagerness is relieved by an attentive exercise of reading, analysis, and contextualization of authors, and of a quasi-scientific order. This book collects a series of texts (some previously unpublished) read at book presentations or included in print or digital journals. The interesting part, for me, lies in the order and the intentionality that runs through the set.
We need only glance at the authors reviewed in order to realize we are not at the center, but rather at the periphery.
And here I would like to pause and make a connection to what I said at the start: this periphery is not only a geographical space, but also a mental landscape, the border between rereading a work or forgetting it for good. The rural province is a place where times goes by more slowly, or where everyone seems to take more time than they need. Forgetfulness lives in the provinces. And this book picks up a lantern and a headlamp to plunge into that region.
Inscripción a la Deriva is just that: a record of what happens when you take a detour, on the highway, on the dirt road, down a heterodox path, perhaps more dark and difficult for it, and so you drift, on the edge and in danger.
In this well considered chronological survey, we see the dead poets first, and the youngest at the end; the organization of the texts itself seeks to assemble a panorama, to propose another schema of indispensable or fundamental authors, and what we understand as “canon” is disarticulated here such that we find ourselves before a novel organization of pieces on the tabletop, of column-poets and of meteor-poets. There is still a possibility of getting confused and simply seeing a totalizing and deliberate essayistic desire; and, faced with that, it’s basic to counterargue that only less than a quarter of the poets cited are from Santiago, since metropolitan authors tend to predominate in current anthologies. This could be understood as a geographical bias, even as the result of prior filtration, under a certain epistemology. Nonetheless, the subtitle tells us something else, it says exactly the opposite: “essays on contemporary Chilean poetry.” Not rural, nor regional, nor small-town.
Nor do I think this bias is due to a visceral uprising of the author before the capital-based panorama of Chilean poetry; I mean to say, the organization of this new canon, or anti-canon if you like, is already hierarchized, organized; its genealogical tree is drawn; we can see parents, daughters, sons, cousins, siblings. In this sense, I don’t want to present it as an alternative, but as another.
Divided into four sections, Gavilán’s book welcomes us with his forked or combative mind: two poets as the face and seal of the canon of the Chilean provinces: Ennio Moltedo (1931), the poet of the sea, and Ruben Jacob (1939), the poet of the interior. The first has an ethical concern (especially in his later works) and Jacob has a plastic and formal concern (whether in literature itself or in reference to music). They are followed by essays on coetaneous authors and members of the same generation, “of the nineties” as they say, including Sergio Muñoz, Marcelo Pellegrini, Marcelo Rioseco, Enoc Muñoz, Cristian Cruz, and Roberto Onell, among others. Then, presentations of verse collections by younger writers, with Diego Alfaro Palma, Gladys González, and Fanny Campos among the most outstanding. He finishes with three texts that lay out a canon and a theory on this canon. That is, we have three generations and a plan.
Inscripción de la Deriva could be thought of as the twin brother of Confróntese con la sospecha [Confront suspicion] (Universitaria, 2006) by Marcelo Pellegrini. There is a sort of canon of nineties authors reviewed in both books, with provincial poets standing out in particular; only two capital-dwellers are included, Roa Vial and Onell. Nonetheless, the curious thing about both poets is their visibility on the map of the metropolis: almost nonexistent. Armando Roa has paused his production after putting together the book reviewed by Gavilán, Ejercicios de filiación [Exercises of affiliation] (Universitaria, 2010), his complete and re-written work. The case of Onell is decidedly ghostly. The relatively little knowledge of both poets (Roa Vial is read more as a translator) is owing, perhaps—and maybe this is its fundamental motive—to the fact that they border but do not touch the scenery of Santiago, making them, in a sense, provincial.
“De cómo un poeta provinciano charla con un poeta citadino” [On how a poet from the provinces talks to a poet from the city] is the title of a poem by Cristian Cruz (1973), whose work is discussed by Gavilán, and I think the phrase summarizes this book’s spirit; a necessary counterpart and obverse side to Chilean poetry that demands a reader.
Translated by Arthur Dixon