HAVANA TIMES — “When I’m having a rough time I’ll start reading Virgilio Piñera, then I feel better,” a friend told on the phone.
“It’s good that at least that someone is still inspired by literature,” I said, thinking about the less than 15 people who showed up for the two poetry readings I’ve given this month.
What’s more worrisome is that over half of those people were involved in the activity, as organizers or authors, while the rest were simply friends and acquaintances. No one, or — not to be absolute — almost no one, attended out of the disinterested pleasure of listening to poetry.
To my knowledge, the great masses of people in today’s world don’t spend much time reading. Internet and telenovelas occupy most of them. The public that consumes poetry is even sparser, though at the same time better defined in the marketplace.
I say “better” in comparison to the internal dynamics of our Cuban publishers, who have established a huge schism between the creators of this art and readers.
Of course we don’t have a market for poetry because the concerns of our poets are — almost always — those of the First World. There is an excess of elaborate and outmoded styles, so most people don’t think about writing as being something that can be popularly assimilated.
Books in Cuba are of two basic types: political-ideological and scholarly. This therefore constitutes the line along which decisions are made by publishing houses.
On another more distant plane are those books and authors in high demand, as if they’re being reserved for I don’t know when. These include works by Julio Travieso, Daniel Chavarria, Leonardo Padura, Enrique Cirules and company. Thought their writings are published, they’re are never enough to meet the demand.
Others like Angel Santiesteban lie among the ranks of “low profile” writers. Works like Trilogia sucia de la Habana (The Dirty Trilogy of Havana) will not see the light of day for quite some time if our domestic publishers have any say.
I don’t want to imply that everything is bad when it comes to publishing. The fact is that quite a large body of literature is published here; what happens is that few people read it. For that to happen, what needs to be achieved is a balance between politics, money and the human spirit. That way we could all come out ahead in all senses.
But for now poetry is still out there, in its reading, in search of a lost audience.