Ezequiel, a Cuban poet

Ivett de las Mercedes


HAVANA TIMES — I met Ezequiel Rodriguez outside the literary cafe on 23rd and 12th streets. He seemed to be going through a tough time. Months later, I saw him again at the presentation of the second edition of the digital magazine Confluencias, promoted by members of Regla municipality’s literary workshop.

He was wearing a long, black toga and like old troubadours, he recited: “… but sometimes, just sometimes, in these blue and sweeping hours when noone is on the street anymore, I see someone like me, suspicious, discreet, who resemble the usual ones, who work, pay taxes towards their lineage...”

HT: When did you realize that you liked writing poetry?

Ezequiel Rodriguez: When I was little, I didn’t like reading. My teachers forced me to because I was a year behind in reading. When I began reading, that’s when I realized that literature was the fastest way to create the invisible, I was looking for the world of dreams; the physical world was just a mere illusion in my eyes.  Poetry is the need to be complete. It goes beyond every physical state, the mind, even magic. If art disappears, man won’t have any reason left to live.

HT: And then what?

ER: I started working at a literary workshop in Old Havana when I was 17 years old. Then I spent a few years there until I decided to become a member of another workshop in the municipality of Regla. Literary workshops aren’t what you would expect them to be. Sometimes, there are really good quality works but we don’t have the chance to see our own works published. Some workshop members could be really great writers if they were given the chance. Generally-speaking, workshops represent uniform thought, with some exceptions. Day-to-day hustle makes it hard for us to think about somebody else’s work and it’s hard to appreciate the quality of a text in such a short space of time.

HT: Why have you stayed on at the Regla workshop?

ER: The Regla workshop is an exception. In almost all of the workshops there is nearly always a standard, if you don’t write in the same style as the majority then you aren’t a good writer. That’s why poems are written in the same style, you put them one after the other and they’re the same. The workshop here in Regla has the freedom to find a kind of different poetic maturity. Highbrow and hermetic works are given priority, we have a very advanced literary style, using oxymorons, playing with words. We have managed to resolve our differences through literature. There, we forget about the world and we think about our own world. The thing that strengthens a workshop, magazine, a newspaper, is the literary friendship between its members, a huge and heroic task in these barbaric times.

HT: Tell me a little about Confluencias magazine.

ER: We took Roberto Manzano, poet and teacher, as a reference about how innovative creating a digital magazine can be. We are the second workshop to create a magazine, there is another group in Santa Clara called Los Gerministas. We have an authentic approach to literature, we herald poetic freedom. One of our workshop members once said: “I’m not afraid of common places.” We want to make our work public. We meet every 15 days and we end up talking about philosophy, encouraged by a text or poem.  We have never wanted to impose our opinions, because we are fair and tolerant when it comes to criticizing. We always choose to analyze any writer’s work respectfully,


HT: How do you feel as a social being?

ER: I was born into a Christian family and I lived with their fanaticism.  People close to me always ask how it was possible that an environment like that didn’t mark me as a human being and as a writer. I managed to break every limitation that practising Christianity involves and I reached a balance point where nothing could affect me anymore. I enter this society when I want to, I come and go but I’m not forced to pay tribute to it. In my opinion, Christianity has been a mechanism throughout history, to hold many writers down, limiting them as practising it was like a net, if you were outside it you didn’t consider yourself a human being.

HT: Do you have a partner?

ER: I don’t have a partner right now although I am seeing someone from time to time. For some time, I was with girls who liked reggaeton, they thought that I was a reggaeton fan, but I’ve also been with rockers, they thought was I was a rocker. I used to go to places full of vices, back then, I was chaos, now I personify balance. Nothing limits me, I feel fulfilled and I am building the world I want with my literature which is my life. I need everything to take me by surprise.

HT: We know that it is hard to make a living with poetry. How do you earn your daily bread?

ER: I am in the outlandish self-employed sector, I currently mend mattresses. I studied Library Sciences, a job which I enjoy but isn’t paid very well. Being a mattress seller’s assistant is a job that has its highs and lows: sometimes you can get paid 150 pesos, sometimes 250, sometimes there isn’t any work. When that happens, I need to improvise and do something else. I normally sell whatever I have, I keep many copies of books in order to do this, I try to get books in demand and that saves me.  Sometimes, I’ve had to sell a copy which I loved and that’s been a painful experience.

HT: Tell us a little bit about your fears.

ER: I don’t know what fear is. I’m not afraid of death, of not being successful even less so. My life has been a great quest which hasn’t been immune to suffering.

HT: Do you live with your parents? Do they support you on your quest?

ER: My parents grew up in a system rife with contradictions, not only political ones but social ones too and, like many, they suffer from Cuban psychosis. We are quite a volatile family. My cousin is the one I feel closest to, he is also delving into poetry and fights to break the chains of religion. Right now, I live in my cousins’ home, but the conditions are awful there. No writer nowadays has to put up with what I have to live with, but I don’t have problems writing and I take it as a challenge. I have to go friends’ homes to shower and wash my clothes. I write with a pen on paper, then I type it up on a friend’s computer when he has time.

HT: Have you won any literary awards?

ER: Three prizes in municipal workshops, two provincial awards, a mention in the 2016 Pinos Nuevos Competition and a prize for the best university work published in Colombia.

HT: What do you think about poetry?

ER: I believe poetry is sensitivity and we need a heroic call today, to never lose our intentions. There are many symbols we need to decipher and the call for literary persuasion is a fight which never ends, everything we do affects us and others, discovering this is the secret to success and happiness.