Puerto Rico: Distancias. 2021. 196 pages.
Often, writing means vanishing. We might call it a different kind of world-building: that which exceeds the will’s limits finds its materialization in language. Adding to the complexity of this artifice and its assembly, every book is vulnerable to rewriting. Like a body whose heart beats with the awareness of death, a book’s silences and forms evolve. For the French writer Paul Claudel, the revision of one of his most emblematic works was, above all, a work of simplification. Perspective grows with each rereading, making new structures and expressions accessible.
The fourth edition of Raíz de la ausencia, written by Puerto Rican poet Carlos Vicéns, explores this malleable characteristic of writing through dialogue with its earlier editions in a forceful expression of its evolution. Thus, by way of epilogue, the text includes an index of first verses that suggest the continuity of their ambitions. In this space, the text relies on a particular closeness to the reader, to whom it offers hints and literary references, which, beyond completing the book’s verses and themes, thread together a reverence for the genre of poetry as a whole.
The project, which began in 2009 and was praised by critics such as Luce López Baralt and Noel Luna, stresses a classical perspective, which, in turn, allows for the examination of the new routes taken by Puerto Rican poetry and contemporary poetry in general: a context in which the deterioration of concrete experience prevails. Besieged in this way by the transparency of an increasingly uncertain environment, the book’s titular root speaks of the primeval seat of experience. This is something that barely emerges; the territory of desire not only speaks of a failed romantic encounter, but also of a vital and aesthetic desire. Silence, like the root, is hidden in the earth, but can be seen in the sprouting of its branches and its perennial prayer. The poet endures a deprivation of the world. In this way, unchanging things, such as silence and darkness, become a body for language. In this body, desire becomes manifest and its differences are vindicated: “realizing the exact lie and believing in ourselves / this immense knowledge that, at last / we have arrived at who we are.” Far from being emptiness, absence imagines the dissolution of boundaries. The speaker’s route outlines this rupture in the place where desire unites with its purpose, thus finalizing the encounter.
In this book’s verses, clarity and transparency are synonyms: the machinery of a body that, when summoned, outlines its arrival in the form of a permanent threshold. In this way, the forms of absence—which are desire and waiting—channel the encounter. Like all roots, with seeming invisibility, the beloved dwells within the speaker’s intuition. The poetic artifice is the coronation of this certainty which, far from rationality, is sustained by the will of the creative act: “I close my eyes / and a portal of light opens.”
During these online and isolating times, true realism has the task of establishing reality, as the critic Eduardo García affirmed, also emphasizing the countercultural mentality of the contemporary poet. The concrete experience of a book begins with the dream of its maker. Because of this, Raíz de la ausencia, differing from the author’s other book (La dicha de lo inacabado, 2020), is conceived as a self-directed project, as a metaphor for that fertile solitude in which verses are born. The speaker’s will is an act of defiance in the face of the norms of an antagonistic world. The territory of absence, the root of all desire, grows along the margin like an invisible tree where intimacy is possible: “Let’s call our searching future / though time names it waiting.”
The text’s architecture calls for a fragmentary reading. There are the remains of plentitude, where “memory does not silence what it has known.” The root of absence outlines the call for a new shift in perspective. At the margin of signs and dates, poetry happens. To write is to dig through soil, searching from within for the presence of another: “pull me into the realness of you, of our being in the world / so that only you, whoever you are, are me.” Reality, like a coin, randomly changes faces. Mistrust of the world remains the only certainty: “the poem is a poemless world.” With this aphorism, the book allows for a new system of language to function: silence as the currency of a reconciliatory perspective, one which the poem does not try to name; instead, the poem is composed of that which is named. Here is precisely the fold that characterizes the text as a form of resistance to uncertainty and suffering: “I translate the invisibility / of your presence / […] / like another voice that I see / and which turns you into a star.” If everything in this emptiness is depth and possibility, a serum of seed for other trees, the root is the expression of that which awaits, unchanged; that place between hideout and sanctuary, between liberty and prison, which sustains the creative impulse. As María Zambrano affirmed, the life of the word peers into its failure. With that, Vicéns’s work revitalizes the role of astonishment, from which logic and perception flee, like the manifesto of a new creative consciousness: “how strange that you are no longer where I found you / and how clear the image of having never lost you.” In this sense, beyond being a sacred route, the register of absence is presented in its truest form; the song of the word which joins its references with the incompleteness of lived experience. Like that madness that Matos Paoli named from the opposite of captivity, it says: “I only know / that even light passes / and the shadows barely play tricks.”
Finally, it is noteworthy that this latest edition of the text is structured around the number nine, the quintessential number of existence’s evolutionary nature. It takes nine months for a human being to be born—one who, clad in a body, experiences love and absence. Through birth and destruction, the book also replicates a novena, which evokes death’s inevitable cycle and its ritual of words. With the remains of perception, the poet gambles their creative willpower to complete the image of what they seek. If the root is the flowering of the unseen, the work of the artist is to cultivate flowers and ventilation on its behalf. With this intentionality, a landscape is constructed by that which is hoped for. When impossibility becomes another form of hope, a book strings together the furrows of different presences. Trusting in that vitality, the creative act that bespeaks these verses becomes a call. It is up to the reader to add themself to this ritual of aesthetic reflection in which human feelings do not perish, but evolve. Far from being emptiness, pain is an inextinguishable vital sign. Nothing is as absent as it seems. Life brims from the cracks of language. And so, like one who calls to another body—and for the sake of putting the infinite first—the speaker of these pages knows what they must say to their shadow: “may the corpse of your voice rise.”