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“There is no homeland other than poetry” / Luis Felipe Rojas

8 Jul

Luis Felipe Rojas. Photo: E. Aguado.

I want to thank my friend and excellent writer, Amir Valle, for this interview for his magazine Another Monday, and for publicizing the book that has just been published and will be presented shortly in Miami.

Amir Valle (AV): Machine for Erasing Humanities is, after Feeding the Dog-Fight, your second book since you went into exile. Although some think that poetry books are simply a collection of poems written over the passage of time, those of us who write know that between one book and another there are always secret threads, pathways that unite or split in two in order to differentiate them. What is the difference then between the two books?

Luis Felipe Rojas (LFR): I believe, without any doubt, in time. What there is between one passage and another is time, and the way in which the two poets have been changed by it: one who arrived as a frightened animal, fleeing from horror, exclusion and suffocation; and the other, who put down his head to rest for an instant and saw his children sleeping in the morning, who no longer expects a kick in the rear, and who experienced many upheavals to live in a developed country.

The poetry that was expressed in Machine…is the final distillate of almost three years of cleaning up each verse. Generally I write at one stretch but take between three or ten years to publish. I continue feeling like a circus performer before the public, and now I have to pinch myself because my mouth falls open with surprise when they stand up from their seats and ask me to do one or two pirouettes more. There’s no way to write poetry if I don’t do it the way Homer did, if I don’t believe that in every poem the villagers are waiting for me to tell them stories from the neighboring villages; or, as I told you before: like a sword swallower, leaving the spectators pale with each plunge.

AV: Whoever follows your trajectory today would believe that you write only poetry. But I, who knew you first as a story-teller and only later as a poet, ask you: Have you stopped writing stories? Will we sometime have the opportunity to remember the excellent story-teller that you were in Cuba?

LFR: My stories are in a drawer now, ready to be handled. Ten, at the most. Narrative consumes me too much; for me it’s more cerebral than poetry, and, as you know, I’m a guy who’s more unruly than centered. I have to put myself naked in this book of short stories and in the stories that I have already written, but I have to do it differently for each one. I also feel disdain for a novela that I started some years ago, and I know that when we speak it tells me something similar to what you’d say to a bad father. The book is called Black Women Write Love Letters. It’s almost ready, my dear Amir.

AV: Miami, although many continue calling it a “hotbed of Cuban identity” and a “cultural wasteland,” to cite two of the labels it’s earned, is converting itself into a cultural scene of undisputed reference for anyone who wants to establish a serious analysis about Cuban culture. Leaving aside the typical topic of politics, I would like you to say something personal about this intimate and public Miami from a cultural point of view that you, as a creative person, have found.

LFR: I have to laugh at the vulgar labels that come more from the Department of Ideology of the Communist Party of Cuba than from visitors themselves. Look, Miami is full of old-fashioned coffee houses, where they greet you, and you sit and sip slowly and you can stay there all morning. There are a dozen art galleries starting up, the most contemporary that I, myself, could ask for. I speak for the autodidact that I am, not for my academic friends, my ex-comrades from the university. I can lose myself in one of the county libraries and be there all day without it costing me a cent, and, on top of that, they even offer me coffee as a courtesy. Wynwood, the Art District, has been converted into a mecca for graffiti and spontaneous art, a place where you combine viewing with the taste of an artisanal beer, in a peace that Alaska would envy.

In the literary environment there are people who are more refined, well-dressed and educated, who disavow the others. But there are excellent poets like Ángel Cuadra and Jorge Valls, from the old guard, and you can find yourself with the best of the Spanish-speaking ones, as I did, or with one of the most interesting of the young voices, like Tinito Díaz, a guy you have to follow closely for his poetic force. There are literary events that have exhibitions that are worth attending (for Tyrians and Trojans); there’s a book fair, with surprising exclusions, and there’s a literature festival that has united this excluded remnant.

I like the tranquility of the Miami film festival, and the uproar and profusion at Art Basel. I always fall in love with the mini-theater of Miami, where works are put inside containers.

Warning: Tell those who are jealous to stay away from Miami; they might have a heart attack, ha ha ha!

AV: The proof that Miami has become a point of universal reference for Cuban Culture (with capital letters) is that the Regime, seeing a threat to its control over the essential sphere of culture, has decided to conquer it. How do you view these controversial issues of cultural exchange today, the publication on the Island of authors in exile; finally, those outside and inside who don’t stop coming together?

LFR: Your last question is interesting. I like it, and it’s that they don’t have to unite; they never have been. The controversy today is about those who enjoy the privileges of the Castro Regime and the benefits of free expression, who shut up in Cuba before the bad luck of their colleagues and feel their neighbor’s pat on the back, and drop those who are leaving. But there isn’t communion, nor has there ever been. The stabbings of UNEAC were translated into the back-stabbing between those in Barcelona and those in Paris; it’s that simple. Those on that shore, who today remain closer to me than ever, await my embrace, and I have extended it every minute of this short exile. They can attest to my activism for the ones in distress, like Jorge Olivera Castillo, sentenced to 18 years, and my brother, Ángel Santiesteban.

Furthermore, I’m a little pessimistic here, but I believe we can live separately without missing each other. I don’t at all miss the world of literary events they invited me to that were inaugurated by a Party official who hadn’t even read Granma that day. How am I going to miss officials like Alexis Triana, Alpidio Alonso or Iroel Sánchez asking me to leave out a certain verse or to stop printing a magazine or to not include one of my short stories in an anthology — supposedly in order to save the country — and later selling themselves as writers and participating in the book fairs in countries that invited writers, and they go as officials?

What comes from an enslaved culture is a symptom, not a threat. Speaking out and looking at each other directly is no longer fashionable, and you can be taken as a loud-mouth. But why should I give a damn now?

AV: When they aren’t using silence about essential questions, the discourse of hate and division is the tone of the messages that come from some of your colleagues on the Island: “Cuban Culture exists only in Cuba”; There is no genuine Cuban literature outside the Island”; “You have to be in Cuba to write about Cuba.”  However, I have seen that your eyes have the look of nostalgia, of respect and affection, not only for many who think differently from you politically (or who appear to), but also for other teachers who might be marionettes, consenting to or directly executing repression. What is your relationship with these writers who you once rubbed shoulders with in Cuba, until you decided to say what you thought about the Government?

LFR: Pal, I respect the guild, if only for being one. My colleagues on the Island know how I think, and my level of tolerance has been bullet-proof. I am friends with many of them, from Oriente to Havana. They write me; I answer them; we exchange literary criticism; and with those who dare, we even discuss politics.

He who has decided to leave from that side of the barracks: Congratulations, I’m an accepting person, and I can’t throw them away as enemies; they know that I’m not one. I read enough of what is written and done in Cuba. I go to lectures and book presentations for those who also publish on the Island and receive the UNEAC officials in Miami, but I’m not one who turns a deaf ear to them.

Now, they know that I’m a mischievous critic, that I will always be blatantly against these things. What relates us is that some accept that I have the right to say what I believe to be my truth. As for the reduced way of thinking that only what is created “inside” [the Revolution] is the truth, that’s not worth keeping me up at night in order to devote even a single sentence to it.

AV: Also, the same as what is happening in Cuba, the Cuban exile in the U.S. (and essentially in Miami), without caring about the market, continues conceding to poetry the value that it always has had for Cuban writers. In your personal case there have been two publishers, NeoClub first, and then Eriginal Books, who have bet on, and I quote: “…that ruined genre that is poetry” (according to that other crazy believer in the genre, the Spaniard, Chus Visor). Poetry, exile, commercial value, along with spiritual courage….how has that milieu been for you?

LFRThere is no homeland other than poetry, to express it in the language of those of us who go with knives in our teeth defending the king of the literary genres. Why do you think that a Regime that has spilled as much blood as that of the Castros would put in prison a guy as angelic and effective — from a literary standpoint — as Jorge Valls?

Could there be any bigger crime than destroying a manuscript of María Elena Cruz Varela or Reinaldo Arenas? I don’t think so. I continue betting on poetry because it always gives more than it demands and because, paradoxically, it has remained outside the failures of the present market. Miami is a paradise for poetry, because it has converted itself into a land of exiles, and the loss of the land where you walked as a child brings suffering, but it gives you refuge in something intimate like lyricism.

AV: By experience I know that journalism can enrich the writer. . . or destroy his talent. Everything depends on establishing an interrelationship that nourishes you and not an unequal dependency that annihilates the weakest part: the writer. I would like you to assess what has changed in your perspective as a creative person after having had to launch yourself into independent journalism in Cuba, first, and now in exile, into the journalist work of that recognized information conglomerate of radio, television and digital press that carries the name of our Martí.

Luis Felipe Rojas Photo: Exilda Arjona P.

 

LFR: What it has done is enrich me. I wrote that a little time ago, when Radio Martí had its 30th birthday. Writing every day, whether I’m proposing a subject for a report, fixing a cable cord in the office or editing what they send from Cuba is, for me, a school, but it has been the fulfillment of a dream. I was a clandestine listener to Radio Martí. Today I interview people as nice as you; the artist, Tania Bruguera; or the anonymous woman, the mother of a young political prisoner in Guantánamo. In the end it has given me impetus for the prose I write, and I keep the connections between prose, fiction and non-fiction clearly defined.

Now what I see with more clarity is that some problems, by being so close to me, appeared immense or out of focus; getting distance has helped me to be more reasonable in my judgments.

AV: It seems curious to me also that after active participation in the Cuban blogosphere you’ve transferred your work to the phenomenon of Facebook. How have technologies influenced you in your personal and professional life?

LFR: Facebook is more democratic. Although I continue with my blog Crossing the Barbed Wire,, my Facebook account is more active and quicker. I can get feedback and exchange with the reader in a second. I have privacy settings, and I can ethically check everything all the time, all the information coming from different sources. There is everything there, like bad literature, film or television. You can entertain yourself.

In addition, it has allowed me to share what I write every day, at the instant it’s published, without needing permission to post it to the public that I define on this social network.

AV: Our common friend, the writer Ángel Santiesteban, once told me that you are a “sentimental peasant,” and another dear friend, also a writer, Rafael Vilches, told me about everything you had to suffer in Cuba because of the colleagues who turned their backs on you, and he wrote me some time ago that it was more difficult to understand this rejection because you are “more heart than body.” All this is with the goal of asking: poetry and friends? Poetry and family: Exilda, your children? And poetry and your most intimate Cuba? In what sense do you think they’re connected?

All are connected. Sometimes I don’t know how to tell if I suffered more from the unhappiness of those who thought they could save themselves by turning their backs on me, or from those three little persons, whom I believe I saved from the horror and now have with me. I am one of these privileged beings who understands that true friends and family are the homeland. That Cuba can be a table shared among a few, because the others don’t dare to be there.

The poetry that I write is always connected with this feeling I have toward the others: my wife, my children and my friends. That’s Cuba, and I think it’s enough for me to be happy.

AV:Machine for Erasing Humanities won’t be your last book, that’s clear to me. What new literary project are you working on now?

LFR: I have compiled the texts of Crossing the Barbed Wire to give Cubans from the Island, who aren’t able to read me on the Internet, an opportunity. I chose 40 of the texts and used the translations that friends did, volunteers, in the five years I put up this blog.

You interviewed Cuban writers and human rights activists who live in that beyond where our Island remains, and another book is coming out of that also. I told you about the book of short stories, and some nights I write a book of poems that I’m doing based on questions, but I have delayed publishing it for some years. That’s the rhythm that every text takes, every document that I do.

Machine for Erasing Humanities (Eriginal Books, 2015) will be presented June 26 in the workshop “The Word Corner,” led by the poet Joaquín Gálvez, and will take place in the Café Demetrio, 300 Alhambra Cicle, Coral Gables, Miami. 

 

Translated by Regina Anavy

Poetry Saves Me / Luis Felipe Rojas

19 Jun

Luis Felipe Rojas, 3 June 2015 — Once again I am publishing, in liberty, a poetry book: “Machine for erasing humanity” (EriginalBooks, 2015). It confirms that poetry removes the restraints on my life.

I don’t believe that poetry is the “Cinderella” of literary genres. Poetry is the act that leaves the public breathless, the vehicle that sustains the millennial spectacle of lyrics, and it’s outside all logic of the contemporary market. I continue believing in the bard, the troubadour, whom the tribe awaits for news of the shore beyond the river.

Today I feel the joy of sharing with you my sixth book of poetry, my second in the land of liberty, after the generous hands of Armando Añel and Idabel Rosales opened the doors for me in 2013 with “Feeding the dogfight” in Neo Club Editions. On this occasion I am in the hands of the excellent illustrator, Nilo Julián Gonzán Preval, whose magic you may verify throughout the book. Nilo illustrated the first issue of the review Bifronte in 2005: Thanks again, my brother!

It’s the first time that I worked together with Marlene Moleón and Eriginal Books, and I can only be grateful for their counsel on this road that we just began today. The suggestion that Ernesto Valdes lay out the book was primordial. Thank you both.

Luis Felipe Rojas Rosabal, born in San Germán, Holguín, 1971, has published the poetry books Secrets of Monk Louis (Holguín Editions, 2001), Sewer Animal (Ácana, 2005), Songs of bad living (Loynaz, 2005), Obverse of the beloved beast (April, 2006) and Feeding the dogfight (NeoClub, 2013). For his dissident actions he was censored and repudiated by the authorities of his country, where he worked as an independent journalist. He is the author of the blog, Crossing the Barbed Wire. He works for Martí News.

About the illustrator: Nílo Julián González Preval was born in Havana, 1967. Cartoonist. Poet. Painter. Manager of public events. Twelve personal exhibitions, 36 collective exhibitions, 4 individual and several collective awards, more than 200 illustrations published nationally and internationally. Photographer. Artisan. Sculptor. More than 20 personal readings of short stories and poetry. His poems have been published in reviews and newspapers in Cuba and in the world. Director of art and actor in the group OMNI. Cultural promoter in his community. Director of the project of social community intervention, Community Gallery. He is the founder of the group OMNI-Zona Franca, which has carried out more than 200 performances and public, collective and individual actions.

On Friday, June 26, I await you in the salon, The Word Corner, a type of literary cave that the poet Joaquín Galvez has put together for lovers of the arts. The gathering will be in the Café Demetrio, 300 Alhambra Circle, Coral Gables, Miami, FL 33134. The presentation will be at 7:00 p.m.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Seven Steps to Kill Orlando Zapata Tamayo / Luis Felipe Rojas

1 Mar

Orlando Zapata Tamayo

Luis Felipe Rojas — I published this post a few days after that needless death. Now I again denounce the death and express the same ideas about it. It’s my homage to my brother, Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

I am still experiencing the pain caused by that avoidable death, and I feel impotent because I didn’t attend the funeral honoring him due to political impediments, but that hasn’t stopped me from saying that in any case, what I present here seem to be the seven final steps that advanced the repressive machinery used to kill Zapata.

1. Setting up that para-judicial theater that imposed a sentence of 63 years on him for contempt.

2. The continuous beatings accompanied by obscene words and insults about his race and the region where he lived (shitty negro, shitty peasant).

3. Putting him in prisons that were located far away from his mother’s home (Prison Kilo Cinco y Medio in Pinar del Rio, Prison Kilo 8 in Camaguey).

4. The beatings in November 2009 in the Holguin jail when they knocked him down smashing his leg with a steel bar, on his knee cap, and that his mother saw again when she opened the coffin in her house in Banes and also discovered that there were other marks of the beating with clubs that he surely received months before.

5. The forced removal to Camaguey and the robbery of his belongings on December 3 when they confiscated the only food he was eating in prison. This was the fact that made in declare a hunger strike.

6. Taking away water for the 18 days in the middle of the strike even when he had said that he was declaring a hunger strike but would drink small amounts of water.

7. The maneuver of taking him to a hospital for prisoners in Camaguey, west of Havana, and putting him in a room that was not set up for treating prisoners in a grave condition.

I lack the power of analysis in this case, but please don’t keep saying that the government didn’t have a hand in his death. The execution order was given from the office of General Raul Castro Ruz.

Translated by Regina Anavy

23 February 2015

“United States or Die” Demand Cubans in Veracruz / Luis Felipe Rojas

6 Feb

Photo taken by Universo Increible (Incredible Universe)

Rafael Alejandro Hernández Real, who says he was an agent of State Security in Cuba — infiltrated into the Eastern Democratic Alliance — in September 2014 chained himself in the Plaza Bolivar of Bogota, Colombia, and now is on a hunger strike, demanding that he be allowed to go to the United States, according to a report from Universo Increible.

“Ten young Cuban emigrants have declared a hunger and drink strike in the immigration station at Acayucán, in the state of Veracruz, in order to avoid being deported to Cuba. Right now there are seven men and three women. The group of strikers has been increasing before the official denials and threats of being returned to the island,” reports the news source.

Hernández Real made himself known in 2008 when, together with Eliecer Ávila and other students at the University of Information Sciences in Havana, they questioned the then-president of the Peoples’ Power National Assembly. Ricardo Alarcón. On that occasion Ávila and Hernández Real called for the freedom to leave the country, to visit historic sites of the world like “Che Guevara’s tomb in Bolivia,” and they questioned the supposed unanimity of the general voting that takes place in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy

6 February 2015

My First Book in Exile / Luis Felipe Rojas

29 Aug

FEEDING THE FIGHTING DOG, new poems by Luis Felipe Rojas. Now for sale on Amazon.

Poster designed by Rolando Pulido (cover designed by Idabell Rosales).

Here is the link for my book, “Feeding the Fighting Dog,” published by NeoClub Press under the direction of Armando Añel and the talented hands of Idabell Rosales. This poster would not have been possible without the work of Rolando Pulido, under the original cover. My first book in the land of liberty. Thank you, everyone who has bought it, you have been very generous. In a couple of weeks we will be giving a public presentation, which will be dedicated to my brother in prison, Angel Santeisteban. What better homage could I make for a colleague who continues writing and doesn’t stop telling the truth, no matter where he is.

Translated by Regina Anavy

11 March 2013

Childcare Centers are Almost a Luxury

15 Aug

The possibility of getting a place for a child in a childcare center in Cuba has become a real search for the impossible. The small capacity in these nurseries, the bad food, and the reduction in the requirements of admission for women who work in the ministries of Public Health and Education make many see that goal as a chimera.

The childcare centers and kindergartens were implemented at the beginning of the ’60s, so that Cuban parents could work without worrying about the care of their kids. But in the last years, these educative centers have been converted into something exclusive, above all in some interior regions of the country where approximately one exists in each municipality.

Without the syndicate’s recommendation, the support of the Federation of Cuban Women and other sources that have leverage, it’s impossible to obtain a space in these places.

Mildred Sánchez, a nurse who resides in the coastal municipality of Antilla, in Holguín Province, could never put her kids in a childcare center since she had not graduated.

“The solution now are the girls who haven’t gone to university and don’t have work, so they take care of children,” says Mildred.

These youngsters “take care of children less than one year because the mothers have to work, and they go with them and take care of the babies. Here on my block live two 16-year-old girls who are taking care of babies, one has three babies in her house and the other has four,” she affirms.

The alternative of private nurseries first passed by the rigor of state inspectors,

who fined those who ran them, until the last attempts at reform included them as a mode of “self-employment.”

In the capital, an employee of these nurseries can earn a salary of almost 40 CUC a month, and, in addition, they are guaranteed a free lunch.

In Antilla, where Mildred lives, there is a childcare center, divided into two parts, “one in front of the other. They are the private homes of people who have emigrated from the country,” Mrs. Mildred Sánchez concludes.

Yanisleidis Rodríguez, a mother in Havana, is a worker and a dissident at the same time. She has a black mark against her, and it would be impossible for her to get a place in a childcare center. “Before being in this (she is referring to the opposition), I didn’t have the right, and now I have even less,” she remarked. She has two children, one who is 7 and another who is 4.

“To think that I worked in Provincial Education and even so they wouldn’t give me a place for my children. There with me were mothers who spent many years working in Education and had to pay a person to take care of a child so they could work,” she indicated.

Corruption has penetrated this sector, as Yanisleidis recounts, who asserts that mainly being a director or having a good recommendation makes it possible to obtain the precious placement for a child in these places.

The concern over enrollment for the children of Yuliet Pérez, a resident in Pinar del Río and an ex-worker at the Provincial Hospital Abel Santamaria, came up against a concrete wall.

“When I had my first girl I asked and never got a reply,” she says, and she adds that neither were there careers for educators in childcare centers, which also affected the availability of these services.

From Havana, the independent journalist Álvaro Yero Felipe denounced on the Digital Spring website that “six workers in a childcare center in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality sent a letter to the National Director of the Ministry of Education in Havana, where they accused the administration of the center of diverting food and economic resources and materials meant for the children,” said the publication.

Yero reported that the incident took place in the Luxil childcare center, located in Arroyo Naranjo, and the letter related the diversion of “resources that the government received from foreign humanitarian organizations for the children who are boarding there, under state authority because they don’t have families.”

The children are under state custody, and their principal support is the agency of security and protection, SEPSA, and they are not older than five years of age.

Translated by Regina Anavy

25 June 2013

A Dirty Text on This Wall / Luis Felipe Rojas

14 Aug

Text and Photos: Nilo Julián González Preval

Today begins a series of photographs and texts from the experimentalist artist, Nilo Julián González Preval. My blog, Crossing the Barbed Wire opens its windows to the artists and writers on the island. On this occasion Nilo presents us with a text, which is nothing more than a photo-reportage on daily life, “if you want it and believe it,” he told us from Havana.

“Today I went to visit your aunt. I don’t know why this week I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her. How can you live well in Holguin? She is fine. As fine as you can be in an institution of blankets and loneliness. I brought her a pudding and some sweets. A soft drink of mate. I slipped when I was getting out of the truck and looked to see who was laughing. The first one to laugh was going to get it. Gracefulness was what cost me our divorce. Is she very nice? She doesn’t ask me for anything. That is how people lie and lie without any reason. I know that you told me the truth. That you went, and I am grateful to you for the sincerity, although my heart was broken, until Miguel appeared, and it’s not that he is a watchmaker but he took me out of the hole and we could both advance. Are you following what is going on with the Party and politics? In the factory they’re talking about a Chinese boat that Cuba was hiding to make war in America and for the trafficking of arms and other things. I know that this separates us. I was thinking only of the family and about food for our children. As for their education…my politics is a united family and some children who will know that, for me, homeland means the love of my children. Their kisses every morning.

“What is her name? If you ask me to I’ll send you dulce de leche with your cousins who are truckdrivers.

“A big kiss.”

Lavidaenrosas@gmail.com

Translated by Regina Anavy

12 August 2013