Five Years of “Crossing the Barbed Wire”: How Long Should I Continue? / Luis Felipe Rojas

27 Dec
Photo of the author: @alambradas

Photo of the author: @alambradas

My baby, my third child, this blog, is five years old and at times I ask myself this question. How long should I continue? I started writing against the grain of what a blog was, doing it like a daily without wi-fi, nor nearby cybercages, but with the recklessness with which one distributes a samizdat.

I remember, it was December 2009. My brother Orlando Zapata Tamayo #0ZT began a hunger strike, impelled by the Castro regime to take off the mask: the arrests and beatings of activists for supporting #0ZT happened in Holguin and several other cities, one after the other. I wanted my neighbors to know, the neighborhood snitches, the police, those who were afraid and those who supported me then and have supported me since, that it is you, the cyberactivists, the fine people who have accompanied me in sixty months of words and actions.

Now with the new refrain of “intimate enemies” I paused, passing several weeks without publishing, listening to my friends, reliving the same party with such naivety. My parents told me that in 1959 people were stunned by so many firecrackers and so much sabotage, on January 1st coming out to salute the rebels, and on the second loudly crying out “To the wall!” (demanding executions), and on the third beginning to fall silent, three days after the Cuban Revolution.

Now the road is long because in Palma Soriano, Manzanillo and Cumanayagua there are still hungry people who know nothing of diplomatic relations. In Camagüey, my friend Millet continues to have the Rapid Response Brigades after him every day to prevent him from putting up a poster against the government or buying kerosene on the black market. Last weekend they defaced Mirna Buenaventura’s house with tar, in Buenaventura, where people now call the Yankees “the fraternal and supportive American people.”

Now that the Furies have changed their spots there are friends who stayed inside the fence and are not going to shut their mouths because they never have. Yannier P. wrote from Guantanamo to tell me, “You don’t have to write for us, we know the horror. Write so that the world will know the horror to come.” I want to send a bouquet of flowers to my friend Nancy Alfaya, a Christian woman with a bulletproof resistance: her husband, the writer Jorge Olivera Castillo received 18 years in prison, but Nancy refuses to stop laughing. In Havana she leads a workshop against violence against women, is the first to read Olivera’s poems, and goes to church every day in the poor neighborhood where she lives. I want to send flowers to Nancy but I would not want them to arrive wilted.

I would like to write an article and travel to shake hands with Manuel Martinez Leon, in La Jejira in Holguin, with Emiliano Gonzalez in El Horno, in Bayamo, or Barbaro Tejeda in Mayari. The three are dissidents, open opponents of the Castro brothers’ tropical dictatorship and work the land from sunrise.

Emiliano has given me interviews seated on a mountain of peanut bags, and wrote to tell me of the tortured rules of the State cooperatives and that he dreams of fields of peanuts while they hold him prisoner in stinking dungeons.

Barbaro has talked with me on a trail where he goes to fish illegally, to be able to eat and to feed his family. For years the “Watching the Sea” Detachment — a kind of rapid response brigade with the pretext of being anti-drug troops— monitors and represses its neighbors in Puerto Padre, Levisa and Macabi, throughut Cuba. They cannot sell fish, catch fish or eat fish. They don’t know which law prohibits it, but the people there who talked to me are afraid of breaking the rules. Sometimes Barbaro Tejeda fries plantains or beans and dreams of a modern fishing rod.

With friends like this my blog will have ten more years of life. Still, I have to explain to the world why Cuban mothers live without their children and what the Law of Pre-Criminal Social Dangerousness is; first I have to learn to write a legal monstrosity of such a package. Ileana, my Venezuelan friend living in New York doesn’t know what Showing Contempt for the Figure of the Commander-in-Chief is, and I have to explain with examples.

Many more years of life, of survival, remain to this blog. A house organized from within and not for elegies without knowing its neighbors, living in the turbulent and brutal south or north that now appreciates us.

27 December 2014

Miami in a grafito / Luis Felipe Rojas

23 Nov

We went to Miami’s Wynwood District today, a zone of street art, of abundant graffiti. Miami is also redeemed by these beauties and daubings, by this joy that is the festival of color mediated by no other rule than the imagination.

We walked today from one point to another in the district accopanied by the benevolence of a sun that heralds good times. I avoided taking pictures of the compositions and the depths already discussed in books — to gaze upon these lovely things and then press the shutter is to try one’s luck at Russian roulette.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Cultural Trick: “I’ll trade you a central fielder for an exiled essayist” / Luis Felipe Rojas

1 Oct

Photo:  Luis Felipe Rojas

About the awarding of the Critic’s Prize (in Cuba) to the Cuban essayist Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria.  The scholar won it with a book published by Capiro Editions, from Santa Clara.

We have gone back 200 years, the epoch of the barter:

“I’ll trade you a central fielder for an exiled essayist,” said Mandamas.

“Let me think about it,” responded Queentrentodos…  Why don’t you take a salsa doctor? That way you’ll kill two birds with one stone: You send him to combat ebola and complete the artistic Assembly of the Cuban medical Brigade in Africa.

Translated by mlk.

24 September 2014

Michael H. Miranda: to (not) live in a foreign country / Luis Felipe Rojas

1 Oct

Michael H. Miranda. Photo: Martha María Montejo.

 

Michael Hernandez Miranda (Holguín, Cueto, 1974) has come from the Far West (College Station, Texas, where he prepared his doctoral thesis) to show us his first collection of poems written halfway between Cuba and the United States. In A Foreign Country (Silueta, 2014) is the forthcoming event for August 7 at the Spanish Cultural Center in “Sun City” (Miami, Florida).

Miranda is an editor of books written on the shores of the province, for years he worked for the publishing house of the Cuban town where he lived, and after some skirmishing to make an alternative promotion (Bifronte Magazine, 2005-2006), came to the United States , where he has collected a bunch of poems he brings wrapped in a country that does not seem very “foreign” to him.

More than a decade after the publication of his first poetry book, Old Lies of Another Class (2000), Silueta (Silhouette) Publisher presents In A Strange Country. It is a wide selection of texts where Michael opens a range of possibilities between the strength of the images raised in his daily readings, the fruits of his best talks and a pedigree of being an outcast, a man who never looks back. This book looks like a farewell book, but it is a book of new “beginnings”, such that one is drawn by a human being when he understands the other dimensions the world offers him.

“there is nothing in the world called man or woman / we have sought to the point of desperation for something beyond / ourselves. we still have silence. we still have loneliness as / a copper sword that multiplies.”

The best way to sink one’s mind into this “foreign country” is to read without thinking about the blogs of the generations to which so much damage has been done in recent years in Cuba. The island was scrapped between critics and strangers who tried to frame a photo that wasn’t. To read “Nothing I say or will say has the taste of water” doesn’t need a group mapping. Michael (Hache) Miranda has understood the distance of five years outside of the fictional wall of his other country. We are in the presence of a poet who puts the word above any perks. And Michael comes from a country where such a simple action costs dearly.

An editorial effort

This collection is among the last dozen books published by Silueta and the commendable work of Cubans who parked their literary work away from the false reflectors, beyond the commitment of applause. The publisher Silueta is marking the footprints of Cuban literature, and it does it going forward, opening a path … or its wings, so that others avoid the censorship of the country they have left. It is something that is appreciated in advance.

Miami has been branded “a literary desert” and place “of cubaneo,” references launched pejoratively. However, since 1959 outstanding Cuban intellectuals who fled the repression and censorship on the island have settled. Economists, essayist sand philologists have occupied important positions in educational institutions of the place such as Florida International University (FIU ) or Miami Dade College (MDC). In recent decades small publishers have been responsible for promoting and marketing the work of Cuban writers, scattered around the world. Along with Silueta there are Neo Club Editions and the Alexandria Library, among others.

In a quick reading it is understood that we are invited to a poetry without linguistic moorings: “naked I’ll be when you come to ask me again / where I come from. // and I will say: I have a word here / a word / one / hard to kill / a word / island / hard to kill / a word / shot in the head.// the island is a cardinal point in this fiesta.// to whom to I owe my two shores.”

Michael Hernandez is also the author of the poetry collections Las invenciones del dolor (2001) (The inventions of pain) and en óleos de james ensor (2003) (in paintings by james ensor). “His poems, narrations and articles appear in several anthologies, selections and publications in Spain, Mexico, Canada, the United States and Cuba, among other countries. He has lived in the United States since 2008,” says the catalog of the publisher who is publishing him today.

The poet lives in College Station, Texas, where he is writing a thesis on Cuban literature in exile. The presentation will be at 7:00 pm and will be led by prominent essayist and professor Joaquín Badajoz.

4 August 2014

All Exiles Are Possible / Luis Felipe Rojas

7 Sep

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When I say exile, I only think of the word life. That was what happened to me at the meeting “Fight for Liberation against Castro-communism,” which the writer Julio M. Shiling generously coordinated and which was held at the West Dade Regional Library of Coral Way, Miami, last July 10.

Attending the discussion were no more and no less than the well-known former political prisoners Angel de Fana, Agapito “El Guapo” Rivera, Jorge Gutierrez “El Sherif” and others who presented an overview of the insurrectional struggle from 1959 to the present.

De Fana’s words and his hopes for a future Cuba moved me. Twenty years in jail did not seem to have put a dent in the energy of this man who confronted the torture and prison horror of the Castro regime. “We must fight, not for the Cuba that we lost but for the one that awaits us ahead,” I heard him say.

Agapito, a peasant known for having fought in the central plains of the island against the militias and formal army, spoke of the bravery of those who accompanied him in that feat (there is no other name for this action). The loss of 11 relatives has not made him a resentful man, although pain emerges with each word for a country that could not be.

“No one knows the pain that is felt on learning of the death of the youngest of the brothers that you have taken to war,” says the man who earned the nickname “Handsome” in the prisons where they tried to break him for the 25 long years that he spent without tasting freedom. His liberation in 1988 must have been a relief for his jailers, according to the anecdotes that are told by those who shared galley, hallway and punishment cells with Agapito.

We live likewise through the story by Jorge Gutierrez, who landed in one of the infilitration teams days before the Cuban expedition in the Bay of Pigs. The loss of friends that had sent him off days before, the bitter flavor of the disappointment of promised help that never arrived, were related in detail by Gutierrez with a dynamic that left no room for doubts.

The other fight, the same country

Roberto Luque Escalona like Normando Hernandez related experiences of what is known as the peaceful resistance struggle, which although it has its detractors on both sides of the island, gave rise to one of the samples of respect that Cuba deserves.

Those who preceded Luque and Hernandez recognized the co-existence of both methods without sidestepping one or the other. Luque as well as Hernandez explored anecdotes that illustrated the advocacy of human rights, the confrontation of a more sophisticated military, which although assisted by Moscow, since its beginning was refining methods of repression from physical to psychological torture: to the point that at the beginning of 1980 many countries ignored what was happening on Dr. Castro’s island. So far the majority of nations ignore the lack of liberty in Cuba.

It has been a good opportunity, a landscape portrait of thousands of Cubans who do not fit in a single photo. Thanks to the labor of Shiling and his insistence on learning more of the untold history of the resistance against communism in Cuba.

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Translated by mlk.

17 July 2014

The night has witnesses: a simpler poetry / Luis Felipe Rojas

27 Jul

On the evening of June 5th, I had the opportunity of presenting Janisset Rivero’s book “Testigos de la noche”  (“Witnesses of the Night”) (Ultima 2014).  Casa Bacardi opened its doors so as to let us share this lady’s work along with the poet Angel Cuadra. Rivero read entries from her wonderful book of poems. These are the words I wrote for the occasion:

Poetry books always bring me new hope. After time spent reading poetry that leaves me cold, there are poets who emerge to refresh my thoughts and point the way to understanding the mysteries of universal poetry.

Janisset Rivero has written a book that continues the narrow hereditary line of verse in Spanish, that line which unhealthy experimentations and abuses of the language have tried to erase by force. Simple versification, without needless displays and literary artifice, is perhaps the best decision, an expression of talent and the force of poetry macerated by eyes that see above the crudest reality.

“The shadows lift themselves/ from the same path/ where once was born/ that rare flower; / and the wind breaks through to cut/ the voice of some history.”

There is a flavor here of Machado, a thread connecting us to Paul Eluard, but it is La Avellaneda and Gabriela Mistral who season the bundle of words with which “Testigos de la noche” shows us Janisset, while the publisher Ultramar takes a mature step on its path of promoting literature. We see here a book that stands out through its modesty and economy of resources, both achievements boding well for the poetic profession as well as that other dying star, the readers of poetry, who upon entering the 21st century are seen as odd creatures.

An old poem is a new poem

Would that nothing human were foreign to us. It is like a canticle, a voice emerging from the deep thoughts of someone wiser than we. Nothing human is foreign to me, responding to that poetic subject that Janisset Rivero utilizes to traverse that broad plain that is Testigos.

The expression of love, desperation and fear of death surrounds us since the dawn of the world. Articulated anew by the momentum of Janisset Rivero’s verses, the realization of these timeless themes seems renewed: “The cry of the night/ charges the word/ and later silences…” Thus says one of her perhaps most accomplished compositions. But, is it death? Is it life? Is it the flowering of the fears of all times? We don’t know – Janisset Rivero leaves nothing assumed, and thus we witness another example of how insinuation is perhaps the surest shot.

Contemporaries as we are, we now face the dilemma that all that we poets touch has been touched by others, but the intimism revived in this work becomes addictive and pleasurable. To again read poems of love, hatred, human fears (which by virtue of being human we have all had them), is a good enjoyed by the most cultured.

No one tires of reading letters, messages, cries. No one – human as he may be – can simply walk by the weeping or the smiling rain of a woman. And we have here, readers and listeners, attentive to that voice that has emerged from JR to insert itself as a matter of course, in the skin of the poetic subject that she has utilized to narrate the ancient canticle of her work.

This, is it a new book or an old one? We, are we new or old readers of poetry? I believe that two words, two concepts have brought us together on this night of celebration: friendship and love. JR treats both with the same intensity – “Testigos” shows it.

Poetry without compromise

I do not believe in literary compromises. Somebody said that we writers are gravediggers by birth. We kill a writer to ride his glory, we bury an author because we want to throw off his powerful influence. For this reason, the mentions that JR makes here of her compatriots, of her brethren who have preceded us in death and of the glory of their heroic achievements, are a natural act of gratitude, and not an archetypal “compromise”. At least that is how I have read it and her, and this convinces me more than any instruction or qualification made on the surface, or under pressure.

Why were there not appearing here the shadows or the lights of (Pedro Luis) Boitel or Orlando Zapata Tamayo? “Redeemed at last/ in battle./ They fear still…/ and you shine, Pedro/” … and I would add, OZT, Antonio Maceo, Virgilio Campaneria, Marti, Eusebio Penalver, Zoila Aguia, The Girl (the lovely girl, I would say) of Placetas. The verses in “Testigos…” are not accusations. They are tollings of a bell to remember, they are antidotes to apathy and greetings of a new time that is today and not tomorrow. This manner of greeting without weeping, of remembering without the frigid and obligatory applause, renew a poetry that refuses elegies. The verses of JR are a flower-word-wind, a herald, and for that, poetry is ever grateful.

JR chose the difficult path of touching her dead without placing a banner at the door to the house. This is a happy thing, because it makes her intimate as well as plura; it makes us participants in all that she touches, in all to which she invites us, on this night, and tomorrow.

Miami, June 5, 2014

Yusimí Sijo (L) and the rapper Raudel Collazo (C), Luis Felipe Rojas (R)

 

Janisset reads portions of her work.

Archived under Cuba.

Translated by GH; and Alicia Barraqué Ellison

6 June 2014

Journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez Beaten / Luis Felipe Rojas

13 Jul

Photo: Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez, beaten June 11, 2014

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez was beaten on Wednesday, 11 June by a regime partisan. Guerra Perez uploaded a photo to his Facebook account where he appears with contusions on his face.

Guerra Perez is director of the Information Center and Prensa Hablemos (Let’s Talk Press), and in days past had warned about the threats that he was receiving daily. Perez made public the detentions Monday morning of journalist Mario Echevarria Driggs and journalism student Yeander Farres who receives training at Let’s Talk Press.

The independent reporter and director of Palenque Vision, Ramon Olivares Abello, was beaten on 31 May by a “State Security collaborator named Fidelito,” his wife told Martinoticias.com from the city of Guantanamo.

The director of Let’s Talk Press, Guerra Perez, added a brief message that the known dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello also had been beaten on leaving her house on Wednesday.

The telephones cut off by Cuba’s only phone company (the state-run ETECSA), short but continuing detentions, beatings and death threats seem to be the messages that the regime sent to non-conformist Cubans at the same time that the Vice-President of the government, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, insists that the official press should be “more transparent.”

Translated by mlk.

11 June 2014

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