A Poetic Concert in Havana

Veronica Vega

David Escalona does what he calls “free hop”.

HAVANA TIMES — All writers dream with launching a book without having people yawn, look furtively at the clock or silently curse the moment they agreed to attend the gathering.

If capturing the attention and earning the admiration of an audience is a success in and of itself, then poet Antonio Salvador (born in Puerto Rico, but every bit as Cuban as the rest of us) should no doubt feel very satisfied.

His reading of Elan, a poetic anthology dedicated to the memory of Rafael Alberti, drew from nearly all art forms: music (including Cuban folk music, Black Metal, hip-hop, drums, lyrical song and others), dance, painting, ceramics and tattoo art.

Painter Rasjoel

It was my first time at Casa Gaia, a singularly attractive and large building located in Havana’s old town, the venue of interesting alternative exhibitions and artistic activities. It’s a shame the book launch wasn’t given more publicity (depriving many of this wonderful experience) and that admittance was so high (50 Cuban pesos).

Produced by Miriam Real, Susana Fernandez, Ivia Perez and Adolfo (Fito) Cabrera and under the musical direction of David Escalona, the launch was quite literally a “poetic concert”. Though the young dancers did not measure up to the other elements of the show, the artful combination of verse and song managed to transport us to a different dimension, the palpable universe of the author’s dreams, fictions and melancholies.

The main protagonist of the event, Antonio Salvador.

One of the more emotional moments was the reading of the poem “Tabula Rasa”, inspired by the workshop held in the Alamar cultural center, where the group OMNIZONAFRANCA performed for over ten years before being forced to leave the venue on orders from Vice-Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas (who was also invited to the launch, but did not attend).

In the poem, Antonio Salvador says:

What are they to do with the walls?

What are they to do with the verses that still linger?
It must be that death is out there, that it exists,

That things and places and people die (…) that what once was is now too distant,

That it leaves us, disappears, dies. Could it be that memory dies too?

Classical music was present.

It was also very special for me to be able to read the lines “the children have gathered at the top of the flowery knoll” along with the author, when the singers, poet and audience began to sing the children’s song “Little Paper Boat” in unison.

Esther Cardoso’s brief, preliminary remarks were the only introduction: poetry took center stage.

The texts read by the poet were displayed on a screen, where the audience could read them and take part in an intimate experience, peppered with moments of intense drumming, joyous rhythms or a captivating nostalgia embodied by an a capella piece. It was as though the audience was given a glimpse at the author’s unconscious.

The venue was the home of Gaia Esther Cardoso.

It was an extraordinary experience that I hope other promoters of literature will undertake.

The integration of art into society is already underway, part of a natural and inevitable process. One does not always need much to go on an unforgettable journey. In these times, when the sterility of speed seems to prevail and technology seems to have displaced verse, it is still possible to show people that the word continues to the root of everything and that it can still reach deep into our souls and memory.

This is how I answer Antonio Salvador’s question, “Wretched forging of the verse, what are you good for?”