Víctor Rodríguez Núñez
Translated by Katherine M. Hedeen
220 pages: $18.00
Víctor Rodríguez Núñez’s With a Strange Scent of World isn’t what you would expect from a Cuban poet on or off the island, given his subtle yet relentless challenging of political and aesthetic dogmas. This collection introduces US readers to the splendid early poems of one of the leaders of the first generation to come up with the Cuban Revolution, a voice who gave the group its lifeblood with his anthologies, essays, and work as an editor and cultural journalist. In Rodríguez Núñez’s own words, he seeks “a poetry that is autonomous but not oblivious, participatory but not political, subjective but not self-centered, structured but not hermetic, communicative but not explicit, lyrical but not ahistorical, dialogic but not conversational, Cuban but not essentially nationalist, open to the world but not colonized.” Here, poems are not presented in chronological order but in one of affinities. And in so doing, topics are debated but not exhausted; discourse is highlighted by a singular coherence. Translations previously published in journals and books have been thoroughly revised, as have the poems themselves, never abandoned by the poet in his quest for flawless expression.
This anthology is really just a single book, the fruit of one moment, one loving vigil, one endless obsession. Such is the originality from the first poem to the last, such is the vibration of intimate clarity… The imagination of this Cuban, this true poet… stains the darkness of these times with a red squirrel guided by the light… Víctor Rodríguez Núñez doesn’t await the arrival of anyone because he was baptized by poetry at birth.
—Juan Gelman, Argentina
Rodríguez Núñez for me speaks with more fascination than any Latin American poet since Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges and especially César Vallejo whose early poetry contains a similar relentless pathos in the voice-echoing reference to living-dead family. Víctor possesses a powerful camera-clear eye for bizarre firmaments, for nature, for quirky earthly occurrences. Lyrically, he has the cunning voice of the nightingale.
Víctor Rodríguez Núñez emerges in With a Strange Scent of World as one of those remarkable writers who has created a poetry and a world between a first home and culture and the new worlds in which he later finds himself. Beautifully translated, here the range of that work and vision becomes clear, to show him as a Cuban poet —experimental and deeply rooted at once— who carries with him a sense of the new and old wherever he’s located. That he has remained active throughout his writing life as an advocate both for himself and others is another fact of that life worth noting.
Víctor Rodríguez Núnez is for me a unique poet, not comparable to anyone writing today in any language I can read. It seems his life was guided from the start by a very lucid and ambitious destiny with utmost precision. With a plan how to expose and open a human being to become a witness and a creator. Immense is his power of inheritance, the fierceness of his autonomy, compassion, and instinct to broaden the livable space. Nobody else has such a gift to encompass so many crossroads, to be at the heights once Vallejo was, but so free and singular. Nobody else can be gracious, quotidian, marvelously strange and a winner of history at the same time. With branches and roots still expanding.
—Tomaž Šalamun, Slovenia
This is a poetry in which ‘logic’ and ‘metaphysics’ can work hand-in-hand, retaining a strange, almost ineffable balance. The poet has the ability to see in-between things, and in-between moods and situations, to observe with such a steady and controlled eye. A Cuban poet who has spent much of his adult life outside Cuba, Rodríguez Núñez takes to all he sees and feels in poetry a consciousness of Cuba as place, as communities, and as a country isolated from his adopted home in America, as a form of restraint and dynamism (he works in paradoxes and dualisms). Even a surreal image is withheld; desire is checked. This leads to stunning brinkmanship in imagery and poetic imagination that leaves the reader breathless and astonished. Technically, his is one of the most assured voices in contemporary poetry.
—John Kinsella, Australia
As you remove the layers from this poetry, you find, like an artichoke after all that peeling back, at its heart, its center, dwells a delicate substance. It is its lyricism…Víctor Rodríguez Núñez’s verse ennobles the most daily acts and transports them to the plane of poetic creativity… His is a war of the world in language and language in the world; that’s where the tension in this poetry lies. It’s a battle against death and oblivion.
—Juan Manuel Roca, Colombia
In Víctor Rodríguez Núñez’s poetry, the distinctiveness comes from a way of looking, of seeing, of interpreting the world, and of course, of feeling it… It has a singular expression. Here, the quotidian becomes intimate, celebrated, and profound. While the commonplace is expressed with a familiar language, this poetry never loses its intensity; it is sustained by images of great force and beauty.
—Jorge Boccanera, Argentina