Quiet now

C.A. Aguilera. Photograph by Dita Aguilera G.
C.A. Aguilera. Photograph by Dita Aguilera G.

Whereas Nelson Villalobos articulates visual qualities so important to the poetic gesticulations of Angel Escobar, Carlos A. Aguilera captures Escobar’s motion in terms of theater, another arena of expression that was important to the poet. Aguilera depicts Escobar’s lyric selves on stage, jerking through poems with the grace and awkwardness of marionettes. His remarks culminate with the audience's stunned and necessary silence.

Below is my translation of the entire statement he contributed to Ángel Escobar: El escogido (UNIÓN, 2001, pp. 145-149). Compiled by Efraín Rodríguez Santana, a longtime friend of Escobar, this anthology appeared after Escobar’s death in homage to his life and work. While there are personal components to many of these testimonial statements, there are also valuable insights into qualities that attract attention and respect for Escobar’s poetry amongst the Spanish-language readers who came to know it first.

Aguilera’s statement appeared in this anthology immediately following that of his friend and fellow poet Pedro Marqués de Armas. Swapping that order reveals a dialogue between Aguilera and Marqués about how repetition and variation inform the movements of Escobar’s writing career. Aguilera asserts, “Ángel Escobar is a poet who repeats himself.” Marqués replies, with equal if quieter firmness, “It’s true that Ángel Escobar repeats himself, but through that repetition he reveals his difference.” The complete statement by Marqués appears in English translation here.

Like Marqués, Aguilera (who appears in various cultural circles as CAA and less often, Carlos Aguilera Chang) writes his insights as a fellow poet. He is, in fact, well known in the recent history of Cuban writing as the coeditor of the alternative literary and political magazine Diásporas, published within Cuba from 1997–2002 and rereleased abroad a couple of years ago. To get a feel for Aguilera’s signature, incisive explorations of power in his own poetry, check out translations of his work by Gabriel Gudding and Todd Ramón Ochoa. Or try watching this video, which brings his Spanish-language poem “Mao” to life.

Aguilera has now lived abroad for many years, currently residing in Prague, and has branched out into different genres: among his most recent books are a collection of essays, Lorenzo García Vega. Apuntes para la construcción de una no-poética (published in Spain, 2015) and a novel, El imperio Oblómov (published in Spain in 2014, and about which he is interviewed here). He’s also an organizer and contributor for the visual arts fanzine Carne negra.

Funny papers. Notes on the poetry of Ángel Escobar

by CAA

Ángel Escobar is a poet who repeats himself. If poets (sometimes with more intensity, sometimes with more pathos) seek mutation to move themselves forward, A.E. repeated the same mechanisms of writing with “schizo degrees of difference.”

And various books by A.E. can be read as if they were one single book. No joints, no cracks. As if after La vía pública (The Public Way) there were no important variation until Abuso de confianza (Breach of Trust), but here the writing turns more complex, with scriptural obsessions, integrations that take in new elements, and the spirit of a puppet theater.

Canetti writes: “All books of poetry are a posteriori books of theater.” If his statement fails to be absolute, it is at least true of A.E.  The world of Escobar’s poetry (let’s remember that he was an actor and studied at the National School of Art) seems to emerge from theater: from the orality and dislocated movements of an ego waving his hands around on stage, from the sick little laugh of a character on the verge of screaming.

[…]   The function begins.
Yes. We’ll step up on the platform now.
Among the feigned sparklings of the props.
Today, it’s good to have makeup on your face.
To stick your nose in something, to cross your eyes. To jump
around […]

(“Punishment”) [i]

For a poet, reality is built out of remains, out of little policies that not only continue to constitute his writing, but atmospheres of language, climates.

This creates what in A.E. we could call a “puppet-theater reality,” where the voices interlace marked by a he said, he says, etcetera, by a change in tone, an unusual turn, the rupture/superimposition of planes; or even by a monologue:

Ovalis Nogo says
“if I were a country
and depended so much on clinging to that other country […]


In this poetry the characters feign escapes that don’t exist, exits-from/returns-toward the rat trap of an ego, where babbling (that is: the non-saying of what is said) assumes its shape starting from a sharp reflection on oneself, and on the “tongue” that produces the makeup through which all personal poetics gets established.

That’s why in some books it may be No One, the Other, the Outsider, the Jailer, Judas Bromileo, etc.; in others, the construction of an imaginary that produces the real from a pathos located halfway between “life drawing” and “writing.”

In Ángel (as in the good poets) the I advances from a different kind of tongue, through tensions and mental aortas that make it function — write, recycle, process — poems in an other’s way, making brusque turns or displacing the subject, through a Brechtian formation of distance, toward the edge of an imaginary which must be called using names that neutralize signification.[iii]

We can then sum up this poetry in two ways:  a discourse of observation (recalling a poem in which the poet observes ants, or the poem about Ovalis Nogo, where this business of much-observing turns and observes itself); and a discourse about/from the other, where the monologues or constant entrances/exists from meaning offer the poetry an entire reflection on its own process.

Not to overstate these points. If we go over every one of A.E.’s books with a magnifying glass, we’ll see how this discourse about/from another sits over a fissure, over the doubt that every person feels about not being aligned with the character he or she represents. And Ángel begins to repeat, deliriously (though with variations): I can no longer be another, I can’t go on being other …

There’s one more discourse to put on the table, a schizophrenic discourse seen in the prologues that Ángel writes into his books[iv] and in the majority of his poems where the “puppet-theater reality” surfaces alongside the spirit of a self in torment. Although this discourse could be thought of as a lesser zone within the macro-space that we have called, about/from the other.

In a Max Frisch novel a person is forced to confess that he’s been playing the role of another man, the one he supposedly was. This sketch: a display of exiting oneself in order to arrive at oneself — it’s a bit like what will happen with Escobar. One has to assemble his biography (an element accentuated in his final books) out of the little fragments of an ego in conflict with his existence, and from the poetic and clinical “voices” pounding him over the head like hammers.

This turns Escobar into a marionette inside his own theater. Trapped by schizophrenia (with a style of producing language by spiraling inward, like a seashell) and haunted by the effort to bring continuity to a poetics that varies in relation to the cycle his illness plays out, A.E. elaborates, from La vía publica through Abuso de confianza, a space both lightweight and well woven. It has taut imagery and zones of mocking kitsch. The writing shifts at times toward precision (“Alice, Lewis Carroll took off on you”), or toward the baroque, with an auditory emphasis (“aphonous Janusface reflections of obreptitious types”).[v]

But is it possible for an I to be demarcated using the name and performances of the other?  Yes.  Poets, and writers in general, know that writing is the constant act of peering out of holes through which information passes. Where one (the one) leaves off being a monad, transforming into I’s constituted by difference and, where there is no hierarchy, just a horizon, litters of baby rats.

This makes Escobar’s poetry, while expansive, ever more complex, twining around that ego to which it clung, an I that caused him to write — copiously — through the final months of his life.

If to conclude I had to make a single statement, I’d say (parodying Gertrude Stein): Escobar is Escobar is Escobar. And then I’d fall silent like a theatergoer confronted, for one reason or another, with a sudden interruption in the show.

[i] CAA: From Abuso de confianza. Stgo. de Chile, Colección Rosa blanca, 1992.  

[ii] CAA: From La vía pública. La Habana, Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1987. 

[iii] CAA: Or that signify the displacement itself, within its rhetorical capacity. 

[iv] CAA: For example, “Mente rota,” from Abuso de confianza (Breach of Trust, previously cited).

[v] KD: Precision example taken from “La edad.” Baroque example taken from “Apuntes para una biografía de Helene Zarour.“