Una casa junto al río (Antología). Clemente Riedemann. Edited by Carlos Almonte and Juan Carlos Villavicencio. Santiago: Descontexto Editores. 2016. 130 pages.
The same ghosts underlie any anthology. The same doubts plague every anthologist. And every writer who’s ever been anthologized suffers the same offences.
The anthology Una casa junto al río [A house by the river], prepared with remarkable care by Carlos Almonte and Juan Carlos Villavicencio, was made possible by the award of a Fund for Books and Reading from the National Culture and Arts Council (CNCA) of Chile in 2016. This collection reveals the poetic trajectory of one of the most consistent and lucid voices of contemporary Chilean poetry, Clemente Riedemann (Valdivia, 1953): “You dream of a house by the river, where in the green and blue flows the blood you once were, the semen that one day put you in circulation.”
In the first line of the prologue, titled “Por boca de los hombres hablan las palabras” [Words speak through the mouths of men], Carlos Cociña uses the word “territory” to describe, in outstanding detail, the work of Riedemann, which skirts the limits between concrete, vital spaces, leaves footprints that penetrate the past, builds a mythical, everlasting place, weaves with rough thread, and coins a new concept of anthropological identity: “suralidad” (“southerness”) or “poetic anthropology.”
The anthology is divided according to Riedemann’s publications: Karra Maw´n, Primer arqueo [First arch], Santiago de Chile, Wekufe en NY, Gente en la carretera [People on the highway], Isla del rey [Island of the king], Coronación de Enrique Brouwer [Coronation of Enrique Brouwer] y Riedemann Blues. It also contains the previously unpublished poems “Candelas encendidas” [Lit candles], “Margaritas” [Daisies], and “En los ojos de ella” [In her eyes]. Few of Riedemann’s texts are dispensable if we want to truly understand the poetic universe in which they take place, a universe in which the voice ascends and descends in a continuum from the intimate, essential self-knowledge of the individual being, which is simultaneously that of all beings who identify with him, up to the collective being that fights to inhabit its own past by means of the word, transforming this past into something everlasting.
From Karra Maw’n (1984) to today, Riedemann’s writing has surveyed the experiential spaces in which its literary tradition was forged, renovating and reinforcing this tradition from an often-unseen geographical space that his writing has patiently navigated: the southern periphery. Reading Riedemann’s work implies a vital commitment, an obligatory return to our origins so as to remember the roots that keep us connected to life and history, our own history. Its evolution passes from the ancestral territories of the south, abused by the colonists, a fitting metaphor for another violation that took place in a Chile that was more contemporary and less primitive, but just as naive, up to the spaces – sometimes intimate and sometimes geographical – of the urban country that borders, encircles, and frames its poetic existence.
Karra Maw’n (1984) is a mythic-poetic chronicle of the devastation caused by the arrival of the colonists, and “Of how the Indians lost their respect for the horsemen,” but it is also constructed as a grant metaphor for the future arrival of the Chilean, the winka, who, against his own brothers and against the ancestral peoples of the land, devastated man more than earth. In this work, we can feel the irrefutable will to bear witness to a vivid geographic and historical reality through the mythification of space, transformed into language, into fabric: “…they cut through the metaphors / at their stalks.”
In Primer arqueo (1989), the subject decries the sharp pain that troubles him: “But they can’t kill me. / Because they can’t kill me twice…” It evokes a time of sullied happiness, converted into myth, barely distinguishable in little moments, in little personal revolutions based on crude, vital, and somewhat obscene language, as only language that regurgitates pain can be: “…Mohammed was going into a porno-café in Hamburg. / Marx was singing Beatles songs, while Moses / was tipping back a Coca-Cola and the cola was showing / its ass to the Puelche.” Nevertheless, in Santiago de Chile (1995), Riedemann, the other, the Riedemann of words, calmly accepts what fate has in store for him and opts to allow “Life to do its work.”
With Wekufe en NY (1995) and Gente en la carretera (2001), Riedemann’s poetic search arrives at a turning point. In both works, we see his influences, his impulses, his experiences, his friendships, his love, which he gathers like leaves along the path: “I close my eyes/open my eyes, the lights neruding in the distance. The poet must travel in order to love what belongs to him in a new way: the volcano that birthed him, the heart of his woman engraved on the tallest tree in the forest.” He presents, as if in a personal diary, his conversations with characters who seem to look him in the eye:
When you came to Chile, in the summer of ‘91, the spirits seemed to be intoxicated: they would interrupt conversations with scenes from other films. Their words, prisoners of the stupor; they clung onto the wings of the armchair and we – what remains of the we that we were – stayed there sunken in deep silence, searching for the possibility to look at each other, with the fear of not finding the river behind our eyes.
Isla del rey contains another type of poetry, closer to prose, in a return to the origins of ecological and identificatory writing. Nonetheless, far from the plurality of Karra Maw’n, it digs into the most intimate depths of the subject who longs, in the fullness of his life, for “A house by the river,” because “only in that house by the river are you allowed to find the chest that contains the sustenance of your days.”
Coronación de Enrique Brouwer (2007), like a great epic, describes the life journey from the nearby river to the wide sea of a man who will become “H. Brouwer, navigator,” only to come back, as if on a journey to the seed, to the memory of his father and a mythical place to which he must always return. Riedemann’s poetic journey is crowned by Riedemann blues (2016), in which his voice appears hoarse, deep, and left-behind, listing his chores and his debts to life, reconciling with a past that never left, which he has no choice but to live with.
The volume concludes with three previously unpublished poems. I invite you to read them as a recurrence to the continuity that the work of Clemente Riedemann Vásquez establishes between his unbreakable, piercing recollection of the past and the pain, the hope, and and even the memory of being first, as he once was.
Zenaida M. Suárez Mayor
Universidad de los Andes, Chile