Viña del Mar: Altazor. 2021. 241 pages.
In his Anotaciones a la poesía de Garcilaso (1580), the Golden Age poet of Seville, Fernando de Herrera (1534-1597) dedicates the following words to the problem of representation and beauty in art: “born of the election of good colors is that pleasant and lovely beauty that dazzles and does sweetly gorge the eye […] gives forth that smooth loveliness that does suspend and stall our senses with marvelous violence, and not only is the choosing needed, but much more the composition.” Before the resplendent landscape evoked by Herrera’s poetry, the brilliance of the sun that reflects and extends sparkling across the fields and the waters of a crystalline river, this voice recognizes the deceit that makes up this image, the illusory specter that both consists of and is given off by that luminosity, its golden ruse: “That gold that has me fresh deceived,” “But from my true deceit I cannot / free myself; for the fire yawns flaming, and while this ill keeps me alive, in good I die,” says the Spanish author.
The poetics I quote here serve to summarize, one way or another, the foundation upon which the lyrical writing of Chilean poet Ismael Gavilán (Valparaíso, 1973) has been erected and manifested over the course of its first twenty-five years of development, from his debut work Eurídice duerme en nuestro sueño (1996) to Claro azar (2017), passing through Fabulaciones del aire de otros reynos (2002), Raíz del aire (2008), and Vendramin (2014), as well as the final two as-yet unpublished books that complete the present volume, Voz de ceniza and Rompiente. Along this line, and in light of Herrera’s proposition—made explicit in turn by Gavilán in one of the very significant epigraphs that open some of his poems—the keys to the poetics of an essentially metatextual pursuit converge: a pursuit of the revelation and reach of the poetic, of that which is perceived, observed, or thought to be glimpsed nearby and in the distance, but that nonetheless is lost in the interstices of language “like water that slips,” like a “sleepwalking star / that falls fleeting,” “the instant / sated on its intangible purple.” Nonetheless, beyond this desperation, said pursuit is incessant, constant, and palpable in the journey and edification of these verses, and it reveals to us, truly, in the paradoxical (un)fulfillment of its purpose—which it likely neither wants nor accepts—the following truth: the visible world as the hinge of that which is hidden and unfathomable, as the image of another time we try to reach through figures that summon up a natural landscape of classical splendor and celestial arcades—Euridice, Dido, and Apollo stroll through these gardens—gleaming in its modernist air, along—in apparent opposition—with the clean, frank, and austere gestures of the everyday. Likewise, the revealed truth of this visible world brings with it other truths that the verses of the present offering admirably uncover, gradually but also pristinely and pointedly, to the reader’s happy eyes: the correspondence between the visible and the invisible, behind the translucent veil that falls off the former, implies perfection: the exact correlation of one dimension to another. Perfection that, in turn, necessarily and univocally comprises pleasure and pain, existences absolutely indefectible from the precision that contains them. It is “the suffering perfection of the beautiful,” “the Garden’s perfect Rose,” that through its image, the domain of the visible, opens—or seems to open—the doorways that give access to that other reality, invariably longed for and evoked by the lyrical subject, his liminal footstep that leads to the brownfield of this simulacrum. This border-crossing movement—as border-crossing as its pursuit, its straying, and its nearing—and the continuous progression of these verses make up in Gavilán’s writing an eminently dolorous process, a wound that bleeds irremediably into time, perennial, inasmuch as “pain is proportionate to the perfection of the being,” the acute affliction that pierces the subject and places him before the irrevocable impossibility of any and all revelation: “Sores grow on the center / of his inexplicable calm,” “he bleeds at the mere presence of longing,” “every flight will be ruined blood, / bruised bodies / charred loveliness,” “like ice in the wound / that opens my skin again and again.”
Crossing the threshold emerges, thus, into this poetry as a failure foretold, a boundary projecting only the image of that invisible world, a mirror or a mirage, the sign that points us toward the nothingness on the other side of the doorway. The indolence of the image and, in this case, of the word as sign and transparent, divisory veil become the speaker’s flesh as he hears the crash of his fall, the overturning of a desire that leaves him stranded, having lost sight of the ship that was meant to carry him across the vast waters, the boundary between one stretch and another: “when he defines its indolence, intense as seaglass,” “after language come catastrophes: / ghosts of a shipwreck that rejoice in not being executed.” The wind takes its place, likewise, as an intermediary between realms; in its fleetingness it allows for uncertain movement down the line, the tenuous breeze and incorporeal gale, the presence of a colorless absence, “visible and invisible, / subject to touch as smoke and fleeting / in the permanence that augers progression.” The wind accompanies the subject in this journeying, and in his unbreakable attempt to annul the fine line that divides one world from another. The senses also collaborate in this mission, lending shape to the translucent frame that foretells the illusion the image projects: an inaudible constellation that borders absence/presence, ineffable melodies, blue perfumes, “the sun’s warmth,” “insatiable thirst,” “violet clarity.” All of these, nonetheless, are merely tracks of an “inexistent kingdom,” of a “perfect writing” that reveals its impassable distance through the visible sign, the only path by which to access beauty, the definitive evocation and sighting of illusion and (poetic) deceit, as Fernando de Herrera foretold, edified through the image and the exact word as instruments of representation. In Ismael Gavilán’s Poesía reunida this word is constant, everlasting, found insistently in every bend in these verses and their reading: happy encounters with signs from that—or this—“visible world” that holds up the lyrical subject and the reader: “There is no other way: / symbols, inscriptions, or representation of Lethe.” The “perfect figure that encloses recognizable signs,” within which, the poet pronounces and reveals, is found the deepest and most genuine part of the self, its fathomless face, the irrenunciable effort to unveil the poetic that, in the end, goes no further than ourselves.