Yoandy Cabrera on Rito Aroche

'Cosmos and Recycling / Cosmos y reciclaje'

Yoandy Cabrera
Yoandy Cabrera

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. Afterwards I spoke with panelist Yoandy Cabrera (Pinar del Río, 1982), who is also a poet and translator in his own right.  He generously agreed to compile reflections on Aroche’s poetry from his own perspective. 

Here I publish an English translation of Cabrera’s essay, and below it is the complete piece in his original Spanish. (See also the translated excerpts from an interview with Aroche in a prior entry.)

Cabrera’s poetry collection, Adán en el estanque, was published by Betania in 2013; he has worked on an editorial level with Betania and also with Madrid’s publishing house Verbum. As he moves between creative and critical writing, his academic approach brings another kind of interdisciplinarity into sight, one that manifests within the essay: Cabrera previously taught in Languages and Literatures for the University of Havana and is now pursuing a PhD at Texas A&M University, where he not only teaches courses in Spanish but is also an assistant for Classical Greek. His critical studies include work on poetry by Delfín Prats and Félix Hangelini, and he has also written on Cuban theater past and present. Cabrera founded a digital magazine dedicated to cultural criticism, Deinós.

*A note on my translations:  in summer 2016 I was asked to translate complete poems by Aroche.  After discussing the poetry with the author in some depth, I replaced phrasing that I had previously used for excerpts in this essay. The essay is now updated. -KD

Cosmos and Recycling: Poetry by Rito Ramón Aroche
Yoandy Cabrera

In the poetry of Rito Ramón Aroche (La Habana, 1961), that which is marginal evolves into a synthesis and an image for the cosmos. He produces the metaphorical leap without springs or tensors. Without explicit grammatical bridges. Rather than affirming, Aroche questions, conjectures, inquires. Rather than offering certainties, his quest is structured as reflection and doubt. One line that could summarize his complete poetics, a kind of declaration of faith, is provided as an interrogative: “Is there any option left for us now beyond perception?”

He hunts not for light but its suspicion. What Yansy Sánchez calls the “implicature of light.” The poet himself affirms and asks: “The world is recyclable, oh, Lord. The world you created?” Beyond mirroring us, his sewage-system cosmogony envisions the origin and foundations of questioning. At times, that which is deformed and despised embodies the possibility of light.  There’s something pristine in rust that still gives off a little sparkle, evoking (through its opposite) a potential resurrection, a rebirth.

Aroche’s use of the conditional and the question, which often open his texts, leave a chink for possibilities. Little by little, through discursive flux, the chink opens into a pathway for multiple projections of light. His poetry has syntactical strangeness (Pindaric, given the explicit absence of connections) and succeeds at taking the pulse of a most immediate reality. “Rito is an iceberg, in form as well as concept.  He not only conceals meaning but compels us to deduce forms that would, for an ordinary reader like me, complete the logical, formal meaning,” says Sánchez. The poet Reynaldo García Blanco has given a name to these as Aroche’s “verbal rifts,” while for his part, critic Luis Álvarez Álvarez describes Aroche’s “word split from itself, needing to be sensed before all else.” Aroche poses a sort of poetics of recycling and ruin, of “cheap domestic crap” drawing the dimensions of the galaxy into sight.

Critic and poet Ismael González Castañer declares that Aroche’s lyric shows how “marginal discourse has its coordinates within the kingdom of the image.” Rito Ramón comes to be, in contemporary Cuban poetry, a sort of Pindar-via-recycling. This is not by following the Greek’s aphoristic tendencies, since as I have already stated, the Cuban writer asks questions and makes conjectures rather than presenting affirmations. His Pindarism is syntactic: it is dominated by the absence of connectors amongst phrases and ideas. It’s the recipient who establishes the associations and potential readings; as Maylan Álvarez attests, the poet allows it to be the “reader-decoder who sets courses within the tone established by the poet: not aggressive, but not conciliatory.” Aroche’s Pindarism also lies in the way he addresses natural elements such as light and water, which mingle with “mounds. The refuse?” and “bags full of bottles. Cans. A living?” In his discourse they function (according to Castañer) “as support and transport for moving toward illumination,” and as “that which is restorative, palimpsestual hydrogen.” In that process you can clearly discover an epic, one that is no less heroic for consisting of residue and debris.  You seek the new hero at the garbage dump, precisely where nature meets and merges with waste:  “scrapyard covered in vines.”

A circular structure can usually be found in various Aroche texts, sometimes semantically alliterative. “Ro- / tating . Rotating they say.”  Poems like “Birth” and “We moved closer to varicolored water” return to the idea of departure at their close, with a soothing tone, like someone who doesn’t actually want to get to the heavens but just attempt it, guess what it would be like: moving closer to “a varicolored water. / If they leave us there.”  There’s no trace of desperation in Aroche. Rather, as Enrique Saínz writes, his poetry “appears uninterested in impassioned play, and is constructed with sharp observations, rapid imagery, disconcerting questions.” Aroche’s flexibility in terms of meaning demonstrates that his discourse embodies what Jacques Derrida called “an adventure of the gaze.” This poet is a panorographist who pursues “the development of vision from the perspective of the objects encircling the horizon.”

His fragmented discourse mythologizes the moment, offering a theogony for all that is everyday and marginal. Luis Álvarez calls it a “desire for the daily and the miniscule.” If Pindar begins one of his most famous Olympic odes with mention of “the greatest, the water,” Aroche writes: “Mythos.  Or things like this. The figure dissolves but the water, the water is,” and in his collection Foundations he writes: “The interpretation — what am I really saying — it moves in the water.” In that second quotation, note how the author explodes his own sentence by enclosing a question in the middle of the line. The foundations for the object, subject, substance, word lie in a totality that is difficult to define or interpret; yet it moves past, it’s there, and its most evident testimony lies in the poems, which appear to be annotations about a setting and function as “the fragments drawn by charm.”[1]  I think the subject drops away from being, self-negating, in order to integrate into the cosmos that exceeds and includes it.  Furthermore, according to Saínz, the poetry shows “a will to break with modes for viewing the object, perhaps in order to access a reconstruction of that object, one that could allow us to see how remaking arises out of the text itself.” 

I consider the ludic and experimental elements in Aroche’s work to be secondary. They don’t merely pursue euphony or soundplay. They originate in a necessity and goal, that of offering a different view of the perimeter. Repetitions of words and phrases converge in one of the author’s most important thematic uncertainties: circularity. The constant repetition of all that exists engenders, in turn, “perpetual and inexhaustible happening” (Saínz). It’s a poetry of knowledge that doesn’t try to totalize knowledge. It intuits, it prefers circling the shores of the whole to possessing the whole. Given his tranquil suspense of closures it seems that Aroche has managed to nullify Oedipus’s guilt and Pascal’s curse: we’re conscious of our unconsciousness and mediocrity, of the impossibility of apprehending the totality of logos, and we’ve succeeded in coping without frustration, or at least without a lethal despondency. Forming a dynamic, active, and thoughtful part of the inexhaustible totality is more interesting. The work is what Derrida calls a “solicitude and openness toward totality,” which is in turn moved by a “deconstructing consciousness.” See, for example, the complete poem “Gnosis”:

We want to figure out — we said. And later:

We want — we said — to figure it out. Hardly even a minute.

To hardly even tell it?

I don’t know what so much    of that surface touches

in one day       that we could be completely

and just           we went to attempt it

when               the bottle against the wall?  is the air thickening?

Arrogant us then, from that surface, if there’s some kind of clarity.

         If we understand something.

            In a poetry reading at the XVI International Poetry Festival in Medellín on July 2, 2006, the poet Rito Ramón Aroche introduced one of his poems (“El bote”)[2] by saying that it was dedicated to a junkyard next to his home. His ideas about unexpectedness and birth came together in his neighborhood thanks to the waste. I think his introduction testifies to the defining role that unexpected marginality occupies in his poetry. Aroche adds in his introduction to this reading that “after many complaints from the neighbors” he “was not aware of what was happening” and finally tried to make his own contribution. His own way of inquiring about “what was happening” came through the poetic writing. While his neighbors complain, he writes poems dedicated to the junkyard in order to discern the meaning, the value, the importance of something that according to the neighbors is only ground zero for contamination. Whereas the others disqualify the phenomenon up front, the poet begins by asking, “Is detritus important in some way?” What is clear and present to the others, he doubts. His lyric contribution consists, therefore, of a poem in which neighborhood and junkyard become part of the same cosmos, analogous entities, at once parallel and combined. When the poet states, “Dwelling here,” we understand the junkyard to be a living space, under development like the neighborhood. The world functions as a dump, the world is pure recycling in constant interaction:

Click to read the complete poem from which Cabrera cites, "El bote / The Dump," in Americas Quarterly, "Cultura" (July 2016)

The transcendence in Aroche’s lyric lies not in what he states, but in what he suggests and questions.  It’s in the mechanism that Aroche activates inside the recipient so that he or she will generate relations, so that bridges will be created between his poems and the individual cosmos of each reader. Now, the poems of this Cuban writer do not depend on a subjectivity completed through the act of reading (at least, no more than with any other text). Instead they are held up by strangeness, the odd syntax in which some veiled truth rotates, something felt, which — like the insinuation of a sparkle or the proximity of varicolored water — reveals itself in a moment of suspicion, in its “implicature.” This poet does not have the proverbial revelations. His affirmations themselves become conjectures, conditional phrases. And Aroche is sincere: he doesn’t want to sell us on yet another great truth, another metanarrative. He doesn’t have them. He only has conjectures, uncertainties, indications. He writes out of his suspicion and leaves us subdued between the scrapyard and the spark, asking questions with “these (my) two thousand words.” They become ours too, these questions about “splendid profane grief,” which is all that is left to us after reading him. And that’s no small thing.

[1] KD:  The title of a collection by José Lezama Lima. Here I adopt the translation created by Roberto Tejada and published in José Lezama Lima:  Selections, ed. and int. Ernesto Livón-Grosman (Berkeley and LA:  U of CA Press, 2005).

[2] I leave this title in Spanish because it presents an interesting complication, one perhaps best resolved in the future through the translation of the complete work by Aroche.  Cabrera and I reviewed this challenge briefly as we went through this essay. “Bote” sometimes means “can” in Spanish, and better yet it calls up the verb “botar,” which refers to throwing something away — a translation that clearly functions well in a discussion of garbage and domesticity. On the other hand, “bote” in Cuba can suggest boating.


Cosmos y reciclaje en Rito Ramón Aroche
Yoandy Cabrera

En la poesía de Rito Ramón Aroche (La Habana, 1961) lo marginal deviene síntesis e imagen del cosmos. Su salto metafórico se produce sin resortes o tensores. Sin puentes gramaticales expresos. Más que afirmar, Aroche pregunta, conjetura, indaga. Más que de certezas, su búsqueda está fraguada en la cavilación y la duda. Un verso que podría ser resumen de toda su poética, una especie de declaración de fe es, sin embargo, entregado en forma de interrogación: “¿otro remedio no nos queda ya más que percibir?” No es la luz lo que persigue, sino su sospecha. Eso que Yansy Sánchez llama “implicatura de la luz.” Como el poeta mismo afirma y pregunta: “el mundo es reciclable, oh dios. ¿El mundo que creaste?” Su cosmogonía de alcantarilla no solo nos refleja sino que concibe el origen y las fundaciones desde el cuestionamiento. Lo deforme y despreciado encarna a veces la posibilidad de la luz. Hay algo de prístino en la herrumbre que aún refleja cierto destello, que evoca (desde su opuesto) una posible resurrección, un renacer.

El uso de la condicional y la pregunta que frecuentemente inician sus textos deja un resquicio de posibilidades que poco a poco, entre la peripecia discursiva, se abre camino hacia múltiples fulguraciones. Su poesía tiene una rareza sintáctica (pindárica podría decirse por la ausencia expresa de nexos) que logra medir el pulso de la realidad más inmediata. “Rito es un iceberg tanto en lo formal como en lo conceptual. No solo nos esconde los sentidos, sino también, nos obliga a deducir las formas que completarían, para un lector corriente como yo, el sentido lógico formal,” nos dice Yansy Sánchez. “Abismos verbales” los ha llamado el poeta Reynaldo García Blanco y, por su parte, el crítico Luis Álvarez Álvarez habla de su “palabra desgajada de sí misma, que tiene que ser sobre todo presentida.” Aroche plantea una especie de poética del reciclaje y la ruina, del “cacharro doméstico” que vislumbra dimensiones galácticas. 

Como declara el crítico y poeta Ismael González Castañer, la lírica de Aroche evidencia que “el discurso marginal también tiene puntos en el reino de la imagen.” Rito Ramón viene a ser, en la poesía cubana contemporánea, una especie de Píndaro del reciclaje. Y no por seguir la tendencia gnómica del griego, pues ya decía que el autor cubano no afirma, sino que pregunta y conjetura. Su pindarismo es más bien sintáctico: predomina en él la ausencia de conectores entre las frases e ideas. Es el receptor quien establece las asociaciones y posibles lecturas; como afirma Maylan Álvarez, el poeta deja que sea “el lector-decodificador quien establezca sus derroteros en el tono que establece el poeta: no agresivo, mas no conciliador.” Pero su pindarismo está también en el modo en que aborda algunos elementos naturales, como la luz y el agua, que se mezclan con “grumos ¿Los desperdicios?” y con “sacos de botellas. Latas. ¿Viven?” para que en su discurso funcionen (según Castañer) “como soporte y transporte hacia las iluminaciones, lo restaurante y el hidrógeno palimpsestual.” Claramente en ese proceso se puede descubrir una épica no menos heroica del residuo y el escombro, donde al nuevo héroe habrá que buscarlo en el basurero, precisamente donde lo natural se hermana y funde con el desecho: “chatarra cubierta por enredaderas”.

Suele haber una estructura circular en algunos textos de Aroche, a veces es semánticamente aliterada. “Gi- / rando. Girando dicen.” Poemas como “Nacimiento” y “Nos acercamos a un agua de colores …” regresan a la idea de partida en su cierre, con un tono sosegado, como quien no quiere alcanzar el cielo sino solamente pretenderlo, adivinarlo: acercarse “a un agua de colores. / Si así nos dejan.” No hay asomo de desespero en Aroche, más bien, como escribe Enrique Saínz, su poesía está “desentendida de los juegos apasionados y construida con observaciones cortantes, rápidas imágenes, preguntas desconcertantes.” Podría afirmarse que la plasticidad significativa de Aroche evidencia que su discurso encarna lo que Jacques Derrida denominó “una aventura de la mirada.” Este poeta es un panorógrafo que, según Émile Littré, persigue “el desarrollo de la visión en perspectiva de los objetos que rodean el horizonte.”

En su discurso fragmentado se descubre una mitología del instante, una teogonía de lo cotidiano y lo marginal. Luis Álvarez lo llama “apetito de lo minúsculo diario.” Si Píndaro comienza una de sus más famosas Olímpicas diciendo “lo mejor, el agua,” Aroche escribe: “Mythos. O cosas como esta. La figura se disuelve pero el agua, es” y en su poemario Las fundaciones expresa: “La interpretación — qué estoy diciendo — viene en el agua.” Nótese en la segunda cita, cómo el autor dinamita su propia sentencia con una pregunta enquistada en el centro del verso. El objeto, el sujeto, la sustancia, la palabra se funden en una totalidad difícil de definir o interpretar, pero que transcurre, está, y su testimonio más evidente son estos poemas que parecen anotaciones sobre el entorno y que persiguen ser “fragmentos de su imán.” Creo que hay un dejar de ser del sujeto, una negación de sí para integrarse en un cosmos que lo supera y lo incluye. Existe además, según Saínz, “una voluntad de romper los modos de mirar el objeto para acceder, quizás, a una reconstrucción del mismo que nos permita verlo rehacerse desde el texto.”

Considero que lo lúdico y experimental en la obra de Aroche son elementos secundarios. No persiguen mera eufonía o juego de sonidos; más bien surgen por la necesidad y el propósito de dar una visión diferente del derredor. Las reiteraciones de palabras y sintagmas convergen con una de las más importantes inquietudes temáticas del autor: lo circular, la repetición constante de todo lo que existe, que a su vez engendra, de acuerdo con Saínz, “un acontecer siempre inagotable.” Estamos ante una poesía del conocimiento que no pretende totalizarlo, sino intuirlo, que prefiere rondar las orillas del todo a poseerlo. Parecería, por el sosegado suspenso de sus cierres, que Aroche ha conseguido anular la culpa de Edipo y la maldición pascaliana: estamos conscientes de nuestros desconocimiento y mediocridad, de la imposibilidad de aprehender la totalidad del logos, y hemos conseguido lidiar con ello sin que nos frustre, o al menos sin que el desaliento sea letal. Interesa más formar parte dinámica, activa y pensante de esa totalidad inextinguible. Su obra es lo que llama Derrida una “solicitud y apertura a la totalidad,” que está movida a su vez por una “conciencia desestructuradora.” Léase como ejemplo de todo ello el poema “Gnósis”:

Queremos descifrar      — dijimos. Y más tarde:

Queremos — dijimos — descifrarlo. Apenas un minuto.

¿Contarlo apenas?

No sé qué tanto        de aquella superficie toca

en un día      que podíamos ser completamente

y solo     lo fuimos a intentar

cuando       ¿el frasco contra la pared? ¿Se adensa el aire?

Ufanos de aquella superficie entonces, si hay una claridad.

Si algo entendimos.

En una lectura de poemas en el XVI Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín, el 2 de julio de 2006, el poeta Rito Ramón Aroche introducía uno de sus poemas (“El bote”) diciendo que estaba dedicado a un basurero que había al lado de su casa. Las ideas de lo inesperado y del nacimiento se unían en su barrio entonces a los desperdicios. Creo que esa introducción suya evidencia la credencial definitoria que tiene en su poesía lo marginal sorpresivo. Aroche agrega en su introducción a la lectura que, “después de múltiples quejas de los vecinos” él “no tenía conciencia de lo que estaba pasando” y finalmente trató de dar su aporte. La manera de indagar en “lo que estaba pasando” fue su escritura poética. Mientras sus vecinos se quejan, él escribe versos dedicados al basurero para poder vislumbrar el sentido, el valor, la importancia de lo que para sus prójimos es un foco de infección y nada más: si los demás descalificaban de antemano el fenómeno, el poeta comienza preguntando “¿el detritus algo importa?” Duda hasta de lo que para los otros está claro y evidente. Ese su aporte lírico consiste, por tanto, en un poema donde barrio y basurero vienen a ser parte de un mismo cosmos, entidades análogas, paralelas y a la vez conjuntas. Cuando el poeta dice “aquí se habita,” entendemos el basurero como un espacio vivo, en desarrollo, como el barrio. El mundo funciona como un vertedero, es puro reciclaje en constante interacción:

( … ) El humo desasido. Moscas. Porque se ha visto

revolotear al ave carroñera, y perros, vagar por estos días.

¿También hurgan los perros? Oye, aquí voltean

tractores y camiones — grumos ¿Los desperdicios?

Que no llegue a la noche. Aquí se habita. De aquí …

bueno. Y sacos de botellas. Latas. ¿Viven?

El mundo es reciclable, oh dios. ¿El mundo que creaste?

La transcendencia en la lírica de Aroche no está en lo que dice, sino en lo que sugiere y cuestiona. En el mecanismo que activa en el receptor para que establezca relaciones y se creen puentes entre sus versos y el cosmos individual de cada lector. Pero los poemas de este escritor cubano no se sostienen en una subjetividad que se completa en el acto de lectura (o al menos no más que cualquier otro texto), sino en su extrañeza, en la rara sintaxis en que gravita una verdad velada, presentida, que — como la insinuación del destello o la cercanía de un agua de colores — se revela por una sospecha, por su “implicatura.” El poeta no tiene revelaciones proverbiales, sus mismas afirmaciones se vuelven conjeturas, frases condicionales. Y es sincero Aroche: no quiere vendernos, de nuevo, otra gran verdad, otro metarrelato. No los tiene. Posee solo conjeturas, dudas, señales. Escribe desde la sospecha y nos deja sometidos entre la chatarra y la chispa, preguntando con “esas (mis) dos mil palabras,” que ahora también son nuestras, sobre “un escozor espléndido y profano,” que es lo único que nos queda después de leerlo. Y no es poco.

Sixteen Ritos, from a photo by Joan Alvarado. Kristin Dykstra.
Sixteen Ritos, from a photo by Joan Alvarado.  K. Dykstra.