Bogotá: Fondo de Cultura Económica. 2021. 482 pages.
In an interview published by the newspaper El País on September 5, 2019, Colombian poet Ramón Cote Baraibar says his first book, from when he was only twenty years old, was meant to be titled Hábito del tiempo. After a later and unanticipated reading of Borges—a voice we sense in his more mature poetry, in the symmetrical precision of the adjective in the metaphysical understanding of things—it ended up being called Poemas para una fosa común, published by Arnao in 1984. As he tells it, the reason for the change in title was due to the Argentine master’s following verse: “La noche, ese otro hábito del tiempo” [Night, that other habit of time], which connects with that way of lodging poetry within the man that became an unmistakable part of his poetry.
As readers will notice, this initial title has an aura of protest and politics that does not belong to the work; the author rescinded it as it sent the wrong message to the reader. Indeed, nothing could be further from his social foundation, as he states in “Noticias de los libros,” which serves as an epilogue to the collection of writing by Cote Baraibar reviewed herein. I refer to his anthology, Temporal (2021), published by the Fondo de Cultura Económica, in which the author configures a careful selection of all his poetry books published in chronological order, from the aforementioned to the successive later titles: Informe sobre el estado de los trenes en la antigua estación de las delicias (1991), El confuso trazado de las confusiones (1991), Botella papel (1998), Colección privada (2003), Diecisiete puertas (2004), Los fuegos obligados (2009), and Como quien dice adiós a lo perdido (2014), including scattered poems not contained in any of his books.
Throughout all of his collections of poetry, Ramón Cote Baraibar’s voice stands out, not only for its precise and resonant adjectivization, but also for the fidelity of the poetic image in the act of approaching the landscape it explores and reveals; he thus intensifies the rhythm of colors in pristine evocations and recovers epiphanic meaning through the intact image.
Memory and window are the words that Cote Baraibar mentions most often throughout his work—others are door, tree, bird; they are hinges on doorway of his diaphanous language that is forged with a rhythmic veil of reminiscences, surfaces that memory caresses with a light that does not return. The sensation of epiphany is perceived through the veil of memory and the window, baptizing the city from an absence that becomes a dwelling.
“HÖLDERLIN’S ASSERTION THAT MAN MAKES POETRY, THROUGH THE EARTH, HIS DWELLING PLACE, FINDS IN COTE BARAIBAR’S POETIC WRITING A FAITHFUL DEVOTION”
In the manner of the French poet Francis Ponge (1899-1988), a legendary standard-bearer of object poetry and an acerbic critic of the surrealists for automatically speculating on an object as if they knew it per se, Cote Baraibar teaches us that language consists of looking at things anew, as if we had never known them before. Thus the foundation of poetry in Cote Baraibar’s work is discovery, revelation, the unexpected nakedness of the gaze that unveils the reality of the world.
In a review titled “Los fuegos obligados y el fulgor oculto de los días,” Ángel Castaño Guzmán makes an observation that allows us to identify the immediate influences on the young Cote since his first book, as well as his objectives within the realm of poetic expression:
Also present is the proverbial triangle of the time made up of Aurelio Arturo, Álvaro Mutis, and Alejandra Pizarnik. There is not just the appropriation of literature, however. A stranded sedan near Bucaramanga or a cemetery in Suba give him the opportunity to capture a very Colombian reality and a very Colombian environment, where the landscape is felt to breathe.
This can be consistently confirmed in each of the books he has published throughout his literary career, in which one can sense, in tone and rhythm, a skillful confidence in poeticizing the instants of the spaces and objects that make up his own generic world, articulated between Madrid and Bogotá, the latter of which constitutes an immanent center of his obsessions. This is represented in his urban book, Botella papel (1998), whose motifs are the coal deliveryman, the gardener, the boilermaker, the cobbler, the tie seller, a butcher’s shop, cabs, and a laundry van.
Hölderlin’s assertion that man makes poetry, through the earth, his dwelling place, finds in Cote Baraibar’s poetic writing a faithful devotion, even reaching monologic, rhetorical, everyday, historical, essayistic, urban, aesthetic, photographic, epistolary, anecdotal, and autobiographical landscapes, consistent with his idea that everything can be turned into a poem, as if the extension of his gaze encompassed all planes or horizons.
Through the light of recovered memory, it seems everything is born again, as it should always have been perceived, inaugurating a window that is language itself. With Temporal: Obra reunida, justice is done to a patient work dedicated to the word, in which we value how poetry—in its evocative perception of the epiphanic—is revealed and cultivated as an asceticism of the gaze, from a certain melancholy that reconstructs the return of the individual erased by the farewells of the lost and the return of cities from the glorious days of childhood. Thus, existence is illuminated by a memory that becomes translucent when it caresses the reconquered present.