LUIS VIDALES (translated by Camilo Roldán)


Translator’s note: Luis Vidales (1904-1990) belongs to that period in the history of Colombian literature, and in the history of world literature, between the devastation of world wars: that period after the doors to an international, Latin American avant-garde had swung wide open with the publication of César Vallejo’s Trilce, and before they shut with the vertiginous flight of Vicente Huidobro’s Altazor. Though not nearly as radical in its linguistic invention as the aforementioned titles, his first book, Suenan timbres [Doorbells are Ringing] (1926), is considered the first book of avant-garde poetry in Colombia. At twenty-one, Vidales was a poet of Rimbaudian precociousness; a poet of irreverence, abandon and mockery; a humorist poet who was, to my sensibility, distinctly Colombian in his simultaneous iconoclasm and genuine warmth. Suenan timbres emerges from a Bogotá in which all of the old iron doorknockers are rapidly replaced by electrified buzzers while pedestrians regard with suspicion those few automobiles that cross their cobblestones —a city nearly unimaginable beneath the current gridlock of its 13 million inhabitants. The four poems of this selection comprise the entirety of a section titled Poemas de la yolatría, a facetious neologism combining the first-person pronoun yo with the suffix -latria from idolatría [idolatry]: tentatively, I would call them I’latry Poems. – Camilo Roldán

I’latry Poems

My poems have discovered
that peoples
are not valuable in and of themselves
instead they are beautiful or ugly
according to how they are constructed
upon their gestures.

And that gestures
are the marvelous
and invisible scaffolding
of human beings.

My poems sing that in the world
the lines of rooms
of chairs
of tables
run vertiginously
around their objects
That drawings from the center of the ceiling
spin like roulette wheels
and the arabesques of floor tiles
perform macabre dances
That every building
spins inside itself
and that trees
and streets
and things
live eternally dancing
the eternal dance
of the line that flees.

My logical and simple poem said.
They felled the trees.
That is to say
they weeded the sky.
So the stars
would be pleased.
And my logical and simple
poem added.
To those poor trees
they knocked down the sky.

My poems say.
only habitable place.
Holes interrupted by walls and doors.
Holes divided into squares.

My life
my transient life
is full of the gaping
of the horrible caverns
that houses make of holes.

And I can no longer
erase from myself the feeling
of city holes
shut up in bedroom drawers.

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