Nombres propios. Sergio Rodríguez Saavedra. Madrid: Amargord, 2017. 90 pages.
Sergio Rodríguez Saavedra is a part of a generation that he himself has defined as “generación apagada” [blacked out generation] since he had to take on, in his youth, the consequence of the “apagón cultural” [cultural blackout] that his country suffered during the Pinochet dictatorship. The despondency of this vital period leaves a profound footprint in his poetic voice, where the presence of the worn, the ash, scars, are constant elements.
To date, he has published eight collections of poems: Suscrito en la niebla, 1995; Ciudad poniente, 2000; Memorial del confín de la tierra, 2003; Tractatus y mariposa, 2006; Militancia personal, 2008; Centenario, 2011; Ejercicios para encender el paso de los días, 2014; y Patria negra, patria roja, 2016. With these he has received various awards in his country, in which his poetic practice continues to stand out for its quality, its richness, and its capacity for risk. Additionally, he is a professor and carries out an important role as an agent of literary projects in his city; he organizes workshops and books launches, has driven the literary newspaper Carajo o the publishing house Santiago Inédito, etc.
The anthology Nombres propios collects poems from all the aforementioned books; in this way it works as a splendid invitation to travel through his work and discover the richness of formats and themes that he handles. It is also an orderly selection from the most recent book to the most distant in time, such that while traveling though it we are fulfilling a kind of trip to the Carpentierian source. We go back, toward the past, we walk toward memory. And this element, memory, the rescue of memory, will be, as we shall see, one of the key elements of Sergio Rodríguez Saavedra’ creative will.
It is difficult to realize a review that covers the entire anthology like Nombres propios, where texts from eight books are covered. And, nevertheless, I cannot resist pointing out here some central questions of this poetic sampling, since under its apparent diversity I think it possible to intuit a deep internal coherence.
The title already offers some eloquent hints: in one moment Sergio Rodríguez considers the title of “Propio nombre” [Own name] (as he told me himself) but ended up opting instead for “Nombres propios” [Proper names]. The play of these two phrases will allow me to trace one of the essential characteristics of this Chilean’s poetic voice, which critics have underscored on various occasions and which the author himself reveals in some of his interviews. By doing so he affirms: “For me the speaker is decisive, his emotion, his story is what I intend to transmit, so that it may take on diverse voices, those that come to usurp the place from which it could not speak—a boxer, a bewitching shaman, a man who has lost hope. And to establish that profile, I unite all the information that I then personify until arriving at an experience that feels alive. In short if there is no story there is no poem.”
Stories. Stories of others that become our own, in the sense that one dives into them until finding an authentic voice. Hence the use of colloquialisms, of specific Chilean terms, that endow certain compositions with a very personal expression, close to orality or to the frenetic pace of a soliloquy.
The “own name” of Sergio Rodríguez Saavedra, which also appears explicitly in a poem like, “Y preguntas quién soy” [And you ask who I am] gives way to a multiplicity of “proper names” (among these a kind of alter ego can be found: Santiago (as in the city) Rodríguez). It a matter of characters, sometimes male, sometimes female, that show what Unamuno called intrahistory, or maybe better, we should call it “sub-history,” that which is not usually heard, which is usually silenced under the speech of the victors.
On the one hand, these figures, on occasions, turn out to be inhabitants of the present city, sleepless inhabitants, looking for a reason to continue living; but, on the other, what we hear are remote voices, voices of the past that continue beating like seeds or guiding signals.
And we enter here the other central elements of the poetics of Sergio Rodríguez Saavedra, that we already announced: “the personal necessity and politics of possessing memory,” according to his own words. Personal because, as one of his poems of Centenario [Centenary] says: “cuando los puntos cardinales se extravían / Debes usar el recuerdo” [when the cardinal points go astray / You should use memory].
But it is also a political necessity, and then the memory doesn’t function only as a compass but it implies the poetic recovery of that timeless, collective experience of the disinherited, to those that we didn’t refer to before. For example, this is pointed out to us in the very brief text with which the anthology is inaugurated by the presence of dates whose meaning the reader must intuit: “Era el año del Señor de 1536, 1973, 2999. / Solo un día, un día más—le pedí—para dejar de sangrar” [It was the year of the Lord 1536, 1973, 2999. / Only a day, one day more—I asked him- to stop bleeding.]
This departure towards other voices also shapes the tendency of some compositions to intertextuality, where we discover a certain link with the postmodern: Neruda, Kafka, Darwin, Odiseo, Pedro of Valdivia, the boxer Martín Vargas, etc., also will populate these poems, as fleeting presences that accompany the poet with their proper names.
With that said, to finish, it should be noted that not everything is desolation in this anthology: beauty is also present. Anger and beauty: these are, in the words of the author, the two fundamental driving forces of poetry in the 20th century. And they are also in his Nombres propios. Undoubtedly, beauty has its own space in the lyrical recreation of the landscape, but also in the loving feeling, in the soothing presence of the companion, which is desired and in whose dream the poetic character may live: “Voy a soñar contigo esta mañana. Voy a soñarte toda vidrio y ofertas en la distribuidora, toda sencillo y boleto en las micros que llevan del mar al cerro y bajan como si viesen fantasmas en cada curva. [...] y cuando vuelva todo dormido en el sudor del día te seguiré soñando soñando hasta que despierte contigo esta noche” [I’m going to dream of you this morning. I am going to dream that you’re all glass and offers in the distributor, all simple and ticket in the micros that lead from the sea to the hill and come down as if they saw ghosts in every curve. […] and when I return all asleep in the sweat of the day I will continue dreaming, dreaming until I wake you up with you tonight.]
Gracia Morales Ortiz
University of Granada
Translated by Natalie Colcasure