O futuro. Abraham Gragera. Valencia: Pre-Textos. 2017. 100 pages.
It seems that Fernando Pessoa has a soothing response for every person, for every doubt. He has one for our uncertainties regarding creation and the hollow spaces in our lives. Or that’s what we think. He says it himself, or one of his other voices says it; one of many voices so numerous and complex that we can only follow their tracks from a long distance. His heteronymic universe has a lot to say. It was in one of his books, The Book of Disquiet, where I came across a phrase that has never left me, and that, on the contrary, is reinforced, or extolled, in my written reasoning. The quote goes more or less like this: “rhythm unfolds fully not in verse, but in prose.” Each fragment of that book, at least many of its fragments, is carried away by a rhythm that is drawn along, or rather shifted, by the everyday motivations of the poet of Lisbon, his office diligences or his self-exile in some refuge of solitary writing.
In prose, rhythmic boundaries vary. They are at the service of the writer’s capability and desire to go further than the normative pacts; the phrase can grow longer indefinitely, there can be juxtapositions, omissions, subordinations, sudden closes, and enumerations, not as an undefined and imprecise list, but as the prolongation of pleasure. Brief, delimiting phrases also have their place, their seat at this table. A gerund preceded by a colon, for example, produces a sonorous, stimulating echo, that’s for sure. One by one, and without prior warning, words bind together and move each other along through their sound, which pushes forth meaning. Hearing is a complete sense that also has its own semantics. An acoustic semantics, we could say. We can find some of these intentions in O futuro (Editorial Pre-Textos, 2017), the third publication by poet Abraham Gragera, who has earned, with this title, the prize for “Best Book of the Year” in his native Spain.
Besides O futuro, Abraham Gragera (Madrid, 1973) has published the titles Adiós a la época de los grandes caracteres [Goodbye to the age of the great characters] (2005) and El tiempo menos solo [The least alone time] (2012). He has also worked as a translator from English and French (Louise Glück, William Stanley Merwin, and Pascal Quignard are a few of the author he has translated). He has earned a degree in Fine Arts from the Universidad de Salamanca. From the distance between his books, we can infer that the poet engages in his craft with relative patience.
The epigraph of O futuro is two lines by British poet Stephen Spender: “But perhaps hope lies in a different direction from that in which we have been accustomed to look.” Gragera centers his intentions on this search, which implies land transit and the habits of our vision. He searches, of course, for hope, his own and that of his own; the result is tested in this series of poems that doesn’t shy away from the throbbing of a heart, from the very passing of life, from family experience, the dramas of exile (as in one of the book’s final poems) and subtly named sociopolitical quarrels. In O futuro, ontological plastering occurs so spontaneously, so naturally, so plainly, that it fully adjusts to the structural hinges of the poem, fortifying its paternal intentions (subtle autobiography). In the romantic realm, new emotional connections also come at the hand of matrimony: here, conjugal love is named by the poet with a sobriety and distance that leaves no room for sentimentalist spillage, much less for a landslide of passion. What we find is a picture composed of prudent and moderated colors, not irregular brushstrokes: the text’s voice speaks from a civil marriage: a union between two beings who say “yes” and who desire each other under the natural elements, that domesticated green of any city (“and happiness, more than my strength / is being here, unprotected”).
In the midst of all this, Gragera takes into account the dimensions of the verse: long or short, length doesn’t matter, for the verse is at the service of the intentions of sound (resulting in the alternance between free verse, prose, mid-length verse, and very short poetic lines, so visible in the poem “V. 19 de noviembre,” in which one, two, or three words are enough). The self-referential resource is treated rather cautiously, without excess, without revealing its machinery: metapoetry arrives, like a brief announcement, perhaps as an ending or closing, in the final strophes. Gragera is aware of this, and also of the will not to forget hearing: “I wrote verses for the occasion / they sounded good / but you couldn’t understand them.”
Abraham Gragera goes from clear, quite readable discourse to discourse dominated by the game of chiaroscuro, of gray or lead-colored notes. The speaker is a mature voice, with the maturity typical of those who have passed the age of forty, with a defined marital status, with a professional career and the necessary instruments to operate in poetic language. We can read O futuro as a retrospective. As a balance or a settling of scores with experience itself, perhaps, or with its lessons and privations (“…from so much accumulated injustice, so much resignation, so much indifference, and so much compassion that nothing could be done”).
Translated by Arthur Dixon