All the Good Decimistas Write… Poetry? / Francis Sanchez

Photo by Francis Sanchez

Note: Décima (tenth) refers to a ten-line stanza of poetry

Francis Sanchez, April 5, 2017 – Decimismo in Cuba is a phenomenon that in recent years has not stopped growing, widely overflowing in rural culture, orality and festive traditions. A world of the Cuban décima with its own laws, with its own myths and knowledge, that for a long time also encompasses book culture, historiography, as well as ways of living and popular philosophizing.

Among the broad public, the décima has reached a higher degree of presence as a common form and shared code, allowing many writers to give a less passive use in iconic aspects of the stanza and its traditional transmission, allowing any hybridizing and a more essential homage. Some poets, therefore, while still considering themselves as “decimists” — there is no other stanza that defines a guild, where the repentista, the improvisational poet, and the writer coincide — often blur the formal boundaries and reveal themselves against the norms of folklore.

But there is an illusion that skillful decimists are responsible for performing among the public: that achieving a décima is the most difficult poetic test. It is totally uncertain. And these same magicians have spread other rumors, such as that, for example, accepting a forced foot makes an improvisation more embarrassing, when — for the person who makes a living by it — it means the opposite.

The risk always will be to achieve the leap of a work and a poetic quality, transcendent, taking off from any point of support or rupture. The world of decimismo, in Cuba, is full of virtuoso performers who are not even half the poets that they seem. Among their free habits are usually the tour de force, the gloss table, the permutations — putting a novel, a saying or the geography of Cuba in octosyllables, for example. Typical of this juggling is the delirium of ranting without getting out of the “golden jail” defined by the form.

All the anthropological phenomena of socialization have a positive interest for culture and identity processes, they can certainly tone the muscles. But in making décimas, round and chanting stanzas, there is no significant record for the poetry. It is the finding of the poem from there, the poetry itself, the poetic thought — inseparable from its unique pragmatic realization — the true value that transcends soft amusements.

Reading or listening to the form of the décima and not what happens through the measured verse, leads a large part of the knowledgeable public to integrate the microcosm of decimismo, to attend to the mimetic virtuosity, minimizing the prowling for the truth of poetry, for its most vivid and original appearance. Nevertheless, if it presents itself as it always will be — as we have senses in the best works for the decimist Jesus Orta Ruiz, and of Eliseo Diego or Angel Gaztelu, for example — another surprise.