Friday, April 13, 2012

Poem: Juan Diego Tamayo

Juan Diego Tamayo Ochoa (1968-) has begun to make his name in Colombian and Hispanophone poetry on the strength of his graceful language and visionary themes, and the poem below, "Del escriba," translated by Nicolas Suescún, gives a sense of what Tamayo is up to in his work. There is a metaphysical and spiritual element in his poetry, and the poem below shifts quickly from what reflections on the importance power of the poet's poetry for his being to something deeper, a series of analogies and figures that both enchant and provoke interpretation, for he is, essentially, telling us that he's a medium, a vessel, a stylus, for forces beyond the human: what he pens comes not from his heart or mind alone, but from worlds hidden to most but not, as this designated medium, to him.

Yet we may have questions. Why and how is he the "stellar sign"? Where is this "assembly" where "men" conspire against each other for power--or rather, where isn't that? And why and how is the poet "wrenched from the mauve sunset?" One danger of such poetry is that it spins off into, as I noted above, a network of enchanting figures and abstractions, but may press our patience, leading us to ask, even if we accept the poetic conceit and symbolism, what ultimately does it all mean and how does it connect? On the other hand, isn't every poet who's deeply into her or his work wrenched from and into something beyond simple description or requiring a figurative one, and doesn't this also with certain poems happen to the reader as well? And doesn't and shouldn't the reader, like the "scribe," ask even with the most transparent poem, what's going on?

A native of Medellín, Tamayo has published one highly regarded book of poetry, Los elementos perdidos [The Lost Elements] (Medellín: Ediciones Fábula, 2005), and has several unpublished manuscripts still waiting to be put into print.  If you enjoy the poem below and read Spanish, you can find more of his poems in Spanish on the website of the Medellín International Poetry Festival, which he co-founded.


As I write, I write myself. I am the one who has spent endless hours with the night ink, committing men’s memories to paper each day. I have written on the desert and every period is a grain of the same. Letters on the sea have been liquid and every word is anguish when it concerns oblivion. Sometimes I am the distant sign that judges. Other times, the letter that extols love. Almost never the one talking about what is just. In me are all the alphabets and I have tried complex calligraphies brought to me from unknown peoples hour upon hour. I have written in blood about gory battles. I have celebrated the triumph of death. I have celebrated the consecration of life with the sap of trees. I am the stellar sign. The sign of so many times that I am lost in it. I have written epistles of pain, of rejection, of sentences. Most times my hand shakes. At some moments my hand enjoys what I write and I feel as if I were caressed by a lost dove. I have brought order to obtuse thoughts. I have reordered the stars and their movements. I have attended the assembly where men conspire against others for power. Death also dictates its judgements to me. I am the celebrant of ancient alphabets in this half-lit room. Only the candelabra keeps me company and with its light I write a better horizon for the future generations. I write now, possessed by the syllables, I write on the stone of sacrifice. Hence the writing. The letter that accompanies me polishes my blood as if it were a diamond. I write with blood, with the same I have seen shed, like rivers of ink, in battles, with the same blood I have wrenched from the mauve sunset, I shall use the same blood to add the full stop to these folios on which I write my life.

And the original Spanish:


Mientras escribo me escribo. Soy el que ha gastado horas eternas con la tinta de la noche para dejar en el papel del día la memoria de los hombres. He escrito sobre el desierto y cada punto final es un grano del mismo. Líquidas han sido las letras que del mar hablan y de angustia cada vocablo cuando del olvido se trata. Algunas veces soy la grafía distante que juzga. Otras la letra que enaltece el amor. Casi nunca la que al hablar de lo justo se trata. En mí están todos los alfabetos y he ensayado horas enteras complejas caligrafías que me traen de incógnitos pueblos. Con sangre he escrito sobre cruentas batallas. He celebrado el triunfo de la muerte. He celebrado con la savia de los árboles de primavera la consagración de la vida. Soy la grafía estelar. La grafía de tantos y tantos tiempos que ya en ella me pierdo. He escrito epístolas de dolor, de rechazo, de sentencias. La más de las veces mi mano tiembla. En algunos momentos mi mano se solaza con lo que escribo y me siento como si acariciara una paloma perdida. He dado orden a obtusos pensamientos. He reordenado los astros y sus movimientos. He asistido a la asamblea donde hombres confabulan contra otros por el poder. La muerte me dicta también sus arbitrios. Oficiante de antiguos alfabetos soy en esta habitación en penumbra. Sólo el candelabro me acompaña y con su luz escribo un horizonte mejor para las generaciones futuras. Escribo ahora, poseso de las sílabas, escribo sobre la piedra del sacrificio. Así la escritura. La letra que me acompaña pule mi sangre como si de un diamante se tratara. Escribo con sangre, con la misma que he visto correr, como ríos de tinta, en las batallas, con la misma sangre que le he arrebatado al ocaso malva, con la misma con la que pondré punto final a estos folios con los que escribo mi vida.

Copyright © Juan Diego Tamayo, "Del escriba," from Oscura ceniza, first published by PIW, 2009. Translated by Nicolás Suescún, Copyright © 2009.

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