Peter Boyle reviews Yuxtas, by Mario Licón Cabrera


Yuxtas (Back and Forth)by Mario Licón Cabrera


Launch Speech by PETER BOYLE

7 December Sydney 2007

Cervantes Publishing

ISBN 9780949274205


Peter Boyle lives in Sydney. His most recent books are 

Museum of Space (UQP) and Reading Borges (Picador)





I want to start by thanking Mario Licón for inviting me to speak at the launch of his new book Yuxtas. Ten years ago I first had the privilege of meeting Mario. He was living then in Little Comber Street in Paddington with Jennifer Green, Jenny who is in many of these poems. Not long after meeting Mario I was there at the funeral for Jenny, one of the many deaths that mark this book.

Meeting Mario meant being taken into a new world, the world of his passionate intensity for poetry. I had already read Lorca, Vallejo, Paz but Mario knew their work inwardly, with an intensity and depth possible for someone who had grown up inside Hispanic culture and inside the beautiful Spanish language. Mario’s readings of those poets, particularly Vallejo, captured their seriousness, their depth and resonance. As I‘ll want to show later, the rich tradition of Lorca, Vallejo and Paz, of Hispanic poetry in general, is a strong presence in the present collection, Yuxtas. Briefly speaking, it is a tradition that sees poetry as above all a place of truth. In poetry “no hay mentiras,” “there are no lies”. “En esa mar, no se miente” – on this sea, there is no lying. Poetry is marked above all by simplicity, by directness, by standing in a place of truth, rather than by metaphors or embellishment. It locates the value of poetry within the tone, the simplicity, the purity, the immense openness with which we start, rather than the verbal dressing up of what we have to say.

Coming now to the book itself, I would like to talk about it in two parts. Reading the manuscript for the first time over the last few days, I saw it as falling into two parts. The first part contains many poems I was already familiar with − either from reading earlier drafts of them or because of their similarity to other poems of Mario’s I had read before. They are poems of places and landscapes, of moving between landscapes but also of moving between languages. In them Mario gives us the blessing of letting us see our world enlarged, enriched as two worlds are put together and the familiar realities of Australia are seen through a double language. The second half of the book is something else again. It was a new discovery for me, a real revelation. There you get these wonderful poems, poem after poem, intense confronting poems of death.

One of the many benefits of living in a multicultural country is that you have the possibility of seeing the familiar world around you in so many ways, seeing it as perceived through different worlds and different languages. So the first half of Mario’s book is largely arranged by pairings of places and landscapes. The Domain is set against Chichen Itza; Centennial Park against Chapultepec Park; Hill End is placed beside Hermosilla City. The technique enlarges our world, shifts our perceptions so we can see differently.

It is not only landscapes Yuxtas travels between but also languages. To give you an idea of how Mario glides between languages and uses the special richness of both Spanish and English, to transform the most everyday item or experience into something glowing with beauty and strangeness, I want to read a short poem from near the beginning of the book, “Un patio vecino/ A Backyard Nearby”. I’ll read it in Spanish first:

Como un pájaro herido una sombrilla
roja y rota flapea rodeada

por macetas quebradas y plantas muertas
todas tiesas y desnudas bajo la brillante luz seca.

Algunas sillas volteadas rodean una mesa
cubiertas con raídas bolsas de plástico negro.
En el tenderdero un gancho solitario (now the English words}
clings y clangs contra un brazo de metal.

A Backyard Nearby

A broken red umbrella flaps,
like a wounded bird,
surrounded by cracked pots and dead plants,
stiff and bare under the dry-bright light.
{what a beautiful evocation of the Australian light, the typical
light of a summer “the dry bright light”}
Around a table, upside-down chairs,
covered with ragged black plastic bags.
On the clothes-hoist a lonely cloth hanger
clangs and clings against a metal limb {contra un brazo de
metal).a metal arm.

I want to turn now to the wonderful moving elegies and poems of death that make up the last part of this book. Among the powerful poems in the second half of the book three that stand out for me are “Osario,” an elegy for the death of his father, “Volker Shüler Will’s Funerals” and “La Muerte Agradecida,” both about the death of his mother. These are tough powerful poems. It is not easy to write about the death of one’s father or mother or wife. Anyone who is a writer or a poet knows that. Such hard things in life often flatten us completely, reduce us to silence. The tradition that sustains Mario here is one of simplicity, of honest directness, a tone of simple truthfulness. There are poems earlier in the book which show how this simplicity can work so strongly. An important element in this book is the presence of Vallejo with his vision of poetry as absolute truth, of speaking from a place where only the essential is left to be said. This can be seen in a very short poem from earlier in the book, “I hear/I read”:

I hear
crying aloud.
I imagine
their bright
colours amid
the branches
shining under
the morning

I read
about a
young Mexican
who jumped
from the 6th floor.
Too poor
to help
his mother
and brothers.

Mario Licón identifies poetry as the force that makes it possible to stand in the presence of these fierce experiences of pain and loss and to continue. Poetry becomes a gift that enables us to be open to what surrounds us, open to those presences of our own dead and of the world. To read just a few lines from the poem “Tonight”:

Tonight I want to give thanks . . .
To poetry for giving me a pair of hands
with which I can greet the wind and touch
the faces of my beloved dead ones.

How is it possible to speak from within this space? By cultivating a simplicity, an honesty, a humility before the world. This is very much the legacy of the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo, a legacy there within the poetry of Mario Licón.

I will leave it to you to read for yourselves the long poems “Osario,” the wonderful moving prose poem “Volker Shüler-Will’s Funerals.” “La Muertre Agradecida,” the elegy for Jenny, for his brother. One can only imagine how difficult it must be to write of so many beloved dead ones, to be so deeply surrounded by the dead. Mario has enriched us all through these poems. I will finish by reading one of the shorter poems about death, a very beautiful poem with a delightful presence of life in it, “Cancion/Song.” I’ll read it mixing the Spanish and the English:

And how did Inez die?
Longing for love
longing for love
on her bed
on her bed.

And how did David die?
Murdered in prison
murdered in prison
by injustice
by injustice.

And how did Esperanza die?
Y como murió Esperanza?
Regando aquella flor
regando aquella flor
que tanto quería
que tanto quería
Watering that flower
watering that flower
that she loved the most

Y como murío Ilusión?
And how did Ilusion die?
Así como llegó
así como llegó
just as she arrived
just as she arrived