the woman who gave birth to a forest

social and cultural geography — By on June 6, 2010 at 8:09 am

Can you imagine a forest of poetry? I mean literally. A forest where different kinds of trees represent dead poets. The kind of tree of each poet selected by alive poets, as homage to the ones who were before them. A certain way to celebrate the life of poetry with life in itself. A celebration where life and poetry come together as one. A way of expressing that although poets may die, their poetry does not; and that poetry is as necessary to life as the air we breathe and that we need trees as strong as the poems we remember, as the poetry that gives us breath.  This forest of poetry is a reality, a reality that is currently being grown in  Cuba.

Soleida Ríos’ poetics are political. She is a Cuban poet who was born in Santiago de Cuba, in 1950, and lives today in Old Havana, with her dog Gala.

Soleida is not an activist, at least not in the common way. She doesn’t do anything to take public space or make public battles, not in the traditional way. Her only battles happen in a black and white (cliché), on the page space. The book is her first public place to be taken. Anyone who knows Soleida in person can see that her life is a practice of what she writes or perhaps what she writes is a complementary practice of her life. Then, the second place to be taken, in political way, is the “day after day”. Maybe because she thinks that politics must begin with the individual and end with the individual. In Soleida’s texts we can find racial and feminist topics, the creation theme, but most of all, ecology, human ecology: “the study of the interaction of people with their environment” (Thesaurus Dictionary).

That’s why as a writer, her poetics are so particular. Autobiographical texts where she writes poetry that looks like a letter, but a letter to an unknown person. There are personal things, but it is not a personal matter. It is political. It passes through the individual’s life, personal life, and then becomes political. Soleida’s poetics are political because they study the individual and personal relations with other individuals and the environment. We can say she studies herself. And when she does it, she studies everything all around her.

Soleida created The Whispers, at every “Café Emiliana,” a periodic meeting where she invites writers and musicians to perform. The Whispers is a ritual that happens a few minutes before the Café begins. A group of volunteer writers – and one or two that are just friends or part of the habitual public of the Café, go to the “Plaza de Armas”  (Weapons Plaza), just in front the Café -that is a virtual space at the Cuban Institute of the Book, and read poems from Hispanic literature to people. The volunteers meet one hour before the Café begins then they separate and go their own way, stopping individuals  to ask them if they want to hear a poem, and if they consent to it, the passerby becomes the audience for a poetic recital. This goes on, spreading poetry throughout Old Havana, for about one hour.

The first time she does it, something strange comes up: contrary to what the global market of books and critics say, people are hungry for poetry. There is a subject for a contemporary critic. Looks like there is not a problem with poetry in itself but it is with the way in which poetry comes to the people. Again, Soleida discovers something that doesn’t come up from the side of academy or sociology.

It comes from the side of poetry, as a political practice of the individual.

A few days ago some Cuban writers received by electronic mail a list of the result of the questionnaire about the poetry forest. We selected the first poet that we’ll bring back to life as a tree and what kind of tree it will be. The forest of poetry is for now, only a project, because Soleida Ríos doesn’t have yet the monetary support. But no one refuses to participate, and every one is excited. There is, no doubt that she is going to make it real.

This guest post is by Lizabel Mónica, a Cuban artist, writer and director/editor of Proyecto Desliz,
an arts network and publication dedicated to bypassing borders and establishing new bridges.

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