In May 2015 I squeaked into a packed session on contemporary Cuban writing at the Latin American Studies Association’s annual meeting. Among the many points of interest was the fact that I heard Rito Aroche named several times as a key figure amongst the various tendencies of contemporary poetry in recent decades.
As a reader Omar Pérez has a charismatic presence. Even when he adopts a low-key style of delivery, the poems resound. Audio recordings of five poems from his collection Algo de lo sagrado (1995) appear below. That book actually contains two sets of poems: the first half showcases work composed between 1982 to 1988, and the second half dates to 1990-1993.
In 2006 Roberto Manzano conducted an interview with his fellow writer Rito Ramón Aroche in Havana. AMNIOS magazine published the interview in 2012, and it was later reprinted at the website Cuba Literaria (overseen by the Cuban Book Institute). Unfortunately their page doesn’t currently load on any of my browsers, only a short line warning of malicious code. Perhaps this replacement is appropriate, since Aroche does something to deconstruct the framework of virtually every question asked by Manzano. Here are excerpts from their conversation, brought into English.
Angel Escobar’s awareness of motion is one of the many elements that make his poems undeniably powerful. To me, as I translate his poems, there is no doubt that Escobar (1957-1997) created multivalent, energetic work, and that a quick reading of one or two poems at least hints at his range. Other writers, at the very least other poets, must recognize the surety of his movements.
Does that poet speak any English? — The answer, with Omar Pérez, is yes. Quite a bit. In fact he has translated numerous writers from the English into Spanish (selections by Shakespeare, Komunyakaa and many more), as well as bringing some non-literary material into English from the Spanish for publication in Cuba. Well why doesn't he just translate his own poems?1
Photographer Alejandro González (b. 1974) has become known for portraits of people that, when shown in groups, become portraits of their cities. Seen above in a photograph taken by González in summer 2015, writer Marcelo Morales (b. 1977) recently completed a new poetry collection that registers personal and collective change in Vedado, a neighborhood within Havana, during the much-publicized transformations hitting Cuba in recent years.
Catch and Release – an English phrase – is the title of a poetry collection composed in Spanish by Reina María Rodríguez. Throughout this book Rodríguez makes repeated reference to objects and occurrences that fall short of desires. Her pattern of representing shortfall became a conscious element as she completed the composition of the book.
Rito Ramón Aroche (b. 1961) assembles and dismantles scene after scene in distinct poetry collections. Many pieces project such a heightened awareness of construction and destruction as to put anything called “reality” at a marked remove.