Review by Clinton Ramírez Contreras
Wayfarer, the latest collection of poetry by Teobaldo Noriega, brings together a selection of poems in Spanish and English from his books Candela viva (1984), Duende de noche (1988), Ars amandi (1998), Polvo enamorado (2001), Doliente piel de hombre (2005) and Las orillas del canto (2012). This painstakingly and astutely chosen selection has been rendered in English by the Colombian translator Ana María Correa, a resident of Santa Marta, where she works as a teacher.
Published last year by the Canadian publishing house Lugar Común, Wayfarer is more than a collection: it is a chronological, existential and aesthetic compendium of the body of work of a very personal poet on the contemporary scene of poetry in Spanish. His is a poetics that employs a verbal network marked by the modest ambition of one who writes – emptying himself, finding himself, identifying himself – with the aim of giving his poems the intimacy of new friends. The usual themes and light-shadows pervade this selection: love, friendship, eroticism, pain, exile, weariness with life, death; all marked by a fertile nostalgia that seeks and finds in the poem (in the protean act of writing, of loving, of suffering, of living) a paradise-path to which it is well worth returning, and from which it proves more rewarding still to share, in a lower tone with friends and readers, the discoveries of a personal world. It is a verbal space free of the cheap sleights of hand and short-lived tricks that dominate poetry today.
These pages, apart from revealing predilect affiliations, present the unmistakable voice of a creator who has learned to conceal his existential and linguistic proficiency behind a rhetoric of everyday language, as the Spanish critic Francisco Díaz de Castro suggests in his critical study that acts as Wayfarer‘s introduction.
It is a colloquial poetry, existential, amorous and festive. As with all good poetry, the definitions posited in no way reduce its freedom of flight, won in the hard and silent battle with time, everyday routine and the signs of an art that is insistent on its resistance to taming, that holds back its revelations. This is a poet, it must be said, who aspires to and wins the merit of having found for his poetry a destiny that is only possible in the multiple wanderings of erratic bodies, changing geographies and beloved books many times revisited. This finding – or rather, discovery – is equivalent to a testimony, a creed, a joyful code aimed at readers who understand it, and who are ever expectant, ready to make the reverse journey from the text into the complex world of solid light and shadow of all creators:
If one day you tire
Remember that you yourself
are the road
and you can always
Set aside your momentary suffering
a little while
reinvent your time.
(“If one day you tire”).
Noriega’s work is an individual legacy, a treasure accumulated over many migrations (geographic and cultural), anchored in the shifting mirror of literature, that opens a door onto a solid identity where personal experience (the informed traveller) and cultural experience (the restless reader) meet in the definition of a destination-path:
propels your haughty steps
over the dry meadows of La Mancha
(“Knight of Faith”)
It is quite natural and logical that Odysseus and Don Quixote should appear in Teobaldo Noriega’s poetry as travelling companions and, as such, universal signs that the poet shares in his dual condition of reader and traveller. A someone-else who knows how to await the sun’s miracles, interrogate the new skies of a voluntary exile, and silently assume the identities that the journey demands without anyone ever seeing the blood dripping at the foot of the table, or the hand stains on the banister of yet another bridge.
Warranting special attention is the title poem of “Wayfarer”. While apparently a poem of passion, a careful reading reveals its deeper intention: to reveal, behind the amorous subject matter, the very foundations of the author’s poetics: a personal and cultural experience as a traveller, trafficker of signs and myths, on which the speaker constructs the verbal reality of the poem. The beloved body is explored terrain, experience won and suffered; but it also becomes a metaphor for the poem itself: that poetic space that is the source and product of the poet, a veritable blind goldsmith, a skillful swimmer, an endless searcher. The amorous confession to the body drifts into the overlapping declaration of a poetic creed:
I fall into your body
from the wilderness to the river:
a centaur in the cavern
of a volcanic grotto
where I am born again
to die clamorously.
“Wayfarer”, from this perspective, surpasses the association with the world of the body and instead proposes a correspondence between the creative (as well as destructive) act and the amorous act: acts that in the poetics of the author both save and condemn, as they have the protean virtue of being both inferno and paradise, both hopeless exile and natural homeland of men. This is a happy and paradoxical correspondence that can only be established, from the particular view posited by Noriega, by exploring it again and again with the tools of a simple, contained and complicit rhetoric:
I row happily heading towards your haven
Your sound draws me in
and there I stay.
To revisit his poetic work, to delve into his careful silences and veiled suggestions, is in a way to play at sharing the untransferable experiences of all authentic creators, of those who affix a distinct signature upon their personal and cultural experiences, to produce a poetry that is intimate, mobilizing, bold, and determined to endure in the cultural memory, in the body of tradition, to claim a place in the everlasting configuration. This selection honours the work of a poet who has been able to transform his wanderings into a solid identity, voluntary exile into fertile nostalgia, and to reveal the codes of a Caribbean man of depth, of multiple origins, heedful of the calls of the different tides and currents of the world.
I invite you to read the poetry of an irredeemable wayfarer, ever on the verge of the elemental, timeless Ithaca that always lies on the far side of the ocean mists. A poet who journeys in many ways to be and remain within the suspended cry of the poem.
Translated by Martin Boyd
Clinton Ramírez Contreras is a Colombian writer. His published works include the short story collections Estación de paso (Ediciones la Cifra, 1995), Prohibido pasar (Litoguía, 2004) and the award-winning novel Las manchas del jaguar (Litoguía, 2005). This review was originally published in the Colombian magazine Macondo in 2013 and it has been translated here with permission.