Poetry for the Body & Soul

Osmel Almaguer

Instability. Photo by Caridad

Yesterday I convinced myself that I shouldn’t take verse and rhyming too seriously.  I say that because of the experience I had at this year’s Havana International Festival of Poetry.

It had been something like seven years since I’d last participated in an event of this type, neither as part of the public nor as a poet.  I had almost forgotten what it was like to be up in front of an audience.  There was the tension…the expectations.  I could hardly hear the poets who preceded me; I was so concentrated on preparing what I would read.

There were not many people in the audience.  In fact there were only twenty or twenty-five of us in all.  Almost everyone was a poet, so we ended up listening to ourselves.  I imagine that the same feelings as mine were shared by the others.  I’m sure they couldn’t surely concentrate on the others who were reading either.

My reading was well received.  There were poets whose opinions were quite important, artists such as Roberto Manzano and Jesus David Curbelo, and others who are a bit younger but who are good writers, such as Amilcar Feria, who’s also a fine illustrator.

I felt real good about my reading, satisfied with having gotten up early one Saturday morning after an especially exhausting week (not to mention having dealt with public transportation without getting too flustered).

What did bother me was the effort that people make to write and yet how poorly poetry is received at the societal level.  The scant number of people who attended this reading was more or less the average.  Of course when I speak about poor acceptance, I’m excluding the cultural institutions, which —to be fair— give a tremendous impulse to Cuban literature and art in general.

Another thing that caught my attention was the number of foreign poets. There were only two: a Mexican and a Costa Rican.

In addition, I found the schedule to be little offbeat: Saturday at 10:00 in the morning. Almost no one leaves their house at that hour.

I felt that from now on I shouldn’t work up such a fever over poetry.  Of course that doesn’t mean I won’t write, nor will I make concessions – nothing of the doing.  I’ll continue to pursue it, dedicating my body and soul.  But it will be only as something spiritual, like medicine for the spirit, without expecting too much in terms of success – only how it affects me.