A Candle Lit by Assef and His Poetry / Francis Sanchez

Francis Sanchez, 6 April 2017 – A group of people who loved him, met this April 5 to remember the poet Pedro Alberto Assed, who recently died. In the library of his city, Ciego de Avila, Cuba, the young writer Heriberto Machado called us together, and I had the opportunity to speak from my emotion and memory about a great poet and friend, remembering how for so many years his house was the gathering place in the center of this city.

His aunt Lourdes told us about her “most beloved nephew,” and from her we heard anecdotes about a special child, his training, his love for his son Astor, and how loneliness and anguish shaped his temperament from when he suffered, at an early age, the divorce of his parents. continue reading

We heard him recite his poems, thanks to the fact that I had recorded him back in 1998, with his reflections on the need to write poetry to “try to slash loneliness.” José Gabriel Quintas, Mayda Batista and Pedro Evelio Linares (writers of different generations) also related with gratitude what Assef meant in their lives, because he was “an essential poet, of tormented solitude,” which he expressed himself as such at all times and conveyed his passion for poetry.

Pedro Evelio described his current goal of collecting Assef’s work, published and unpublished, and requested collaboration from those who have copies of his texts, especially those written or published outside Cuba.

We review the poems that we liked. Ileana Alvarez read “This book is not mine,” a text that is impossible not to read a posteriori as a testament, in which the poet speaks of death flourishing through him, solitude, and explicitly dreaming of the desire to finally merge with the sea:

I am at the edge of the sea and of night.

My eyes are cold and my hands are icy.

Loneliness has made me an animal,

a skinless bird with a wounded memory.

Whom do I tell

That death is born in me,

With whom the shock of

the strange flower that juts from my mouth.


I’m already the sea

And I return to be the sea

When I finish this poem.

This gathering, in the Literature room of the Provincial Library, finally made us become more aware of the vitality of the poetry of Assef, a Cuban poet, universal, and we remember him in the words of the essayist Luis Álvarez Álvarez, quoting from the prologue of the poetic anthology Interior Station (2003) that I prepared when he was already living in the United States:

“The poetry of Pedro Alberto Assef appears concentrated, written, if I am forgiven the brutality of expression, about himself, as if there was no paper capable of the sharpness, tormented loneliness that, like a last confidence, is confessed in each one of his pieces. Accomplice of this intense intonation, it is the verse that perhaps could not be described but by an overwhelming word of another era: burnished, polished with rough cloths over and over again, foolish, vain, as an imitation of a gasping and content Sisyphus. Hence his work with verse and traditional lyrical forms, integrated into a contemporary expression, at times colloquial and irreverent. […] It is a poetry of anguish, of the impossible submission to solitude, which leaves in macerated pulp the fundamental inquiry of the poet, his confession of loneliness of flesh and spirit.”

Note: Pedro Alberto Assef (1966-2017) died in Texas on 17 February of liver cancer.

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. continue reading

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.

Depressed But Happy? / Francis Sanchez

Photo by Francis Sanchez

Francis Sanchez, 29 March 2017 – Cuba is the country with the second highest levels of depression in Latin America, exceeded only by Brazil. The statistics appear in a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) released in Geneva. From this report, paradoxically, this data is omitted by Cuban publications that otherwise echo the report.

The state discourse may not know how to handle this data, along with another which places us among the countries with the highest suicide rates. But, are depression and suicide not, in general terms, typical disorders of developed societies? As is the aging of the population. Why, then, aren’t our rates of depression, anxiety and suicides considered, as is increasing old age, as national achievements? continue reading

Surely we Cubans are not depressed, nor do we suffer anxiety, for the same reasons as Brazilians, Swedes or Japanese. We run little risk of addiction to work. Rather, it is the complete opposite. Our work places are a façade to “mark time” and “resolve things under the table.” A very true and repeated axiom is: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”

Not having work to do, does not mean that we are exposed to leisure (good for enjoying extreme activities such as family vacations or lying on the couch of a psychoanalyst). We live day by day “struggling” for sustenance.

Although our war is so asymptomatic that it does not deprive us of the luxuries of sadness and the abysses of madness. In catastrophes, it is often the case that the effort to breathe increases (during wars, when fewer people commit suicide). Countries of Central America, where the gangs swarm and great atrocities are committed, show more satisfactory rates of depression.

Despite the regrets, we must have some self-imposed sources of frustration. The truth is that we are taken for the cliché of the tropical couple with the smile from ear to ear and the pair of maracas. Might this have something to do with the permanent state of pretending? With the naturalized and institutionalized lies?

Between immobility, lack of economic and political opportunity on the one hand, and the state’s chauvinistic and triumphalist discourse on the other, there are few reasons for hope. Our everyday problems, even if they are the same as those inherent in life in any other country, may be swallowed by us in a special and not recommended way. Never forget that we have been the only people of this hemisphere politically and ideologically converted into a “mass.” By discarding the individual will, even the masks were eliminated from our carnivals.

Many want to assign us the role of the most amusing. Besides those in power, as expected, including the Latin American peoples, their academics, their social leaders who manage to constantly mobilize people if they so much as raise the price of transport by a single peseta, they say that they envy us, and they ask us to continue resisting.

But lately, for some years now, I have noticed that political jokes are no longer whispered in the streets as they were, for example, in the Special Period. After many turns of life or history, and a lack of imagination to visualize the future, maybe everyone already knows the end and no one is amused?

I remember that in the worst years of the 1990s we laughed at the hunger, the blackouts, there were parodies on the quota of two hamburgers for each identity card, at the infinite marches, etc. Then came the anecdote of how, on a billboard, under a slogan that adorned streets and roads (“We are happy here”), a daring soul wrote at night: “Imagine out there.” The story included the curiosity that, at dawn, even the policemen could not stop laughing.

Poet Francis Sanchez Reopens His Blog After Six Years Of Digital Silence / 14ymedio

Screenshot of the blog Man in the Clouds, by Francis Sánchez. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 March 2017 – The poet and essayist Francis Sanchez has returned to the blogosphere this week after six years of not updating his personal blog. The writer from Ciego de Avila announced he would continue to publish his ideas “without censorship” on his site Man in the Clouds, now with a new web address.

“I am not the same,” says Sanchez in the first text he posted on the web after his long digital silence, a pause that attributes to the social pressures he experienced following the opening of the site in October 2010.

“After five months I was forced to stop updating it,” recalls the author. “All the bloggers, in Cuba, we were accused of being cyber-mercenaries.” This situation that caused many acquaintances to close the doors or cross “the street in search of another sidewalk” when they saw them. continue reading

In those years the official press deployed an intense campaign against the alternative blogosphere. National television dedicated a chapter to it on their Cuba’s Reasons program, where it was suggested that it was a “new strategy in the United States war” against the island.

In those years the official press deployed an intense campaign against the alternative blogosphere

In March 2011 Sanchez published the post Closed for Demolition in which he said goodbye to his readers. Now he returns to the digital space with the intention of writing about “readings, art, society, reality and imagination, human rights, and everything unpredictable that beats inside a very long etcetera”.

The creator of the magazine Inverted Tree has published three texts in his new stage as a blogger, one of them dedicated to the poet Pedro Alberto Assef, born in Ciego de Avila in 1966 and recently deceased in a hospital in El Paso, Texas. In the text he calls him an authentic writer and possessor of an “exhaustive lyrical knowledge.”

Another post reproduces a fragment dedicated to the figures of Julián del Casal and José Martí in the book of essays Sacred Companies that Sánchez wrote “in four hands” with his wife, the essayist and poet Ileana Álvarez. The volume was presented at the most recent Havana Book Fair in February.

“I can not calm anyone nor calm myself announcing what’s going to happen or what I’m going to write tomorrow. I do not really know, I do not want to. I am only attentive,” Sanchez tells his readers.

For Francis Sanchez’s blog translated into English from May 2012 and before see here: Man in the Clouds. For later entries see here.


Why Am I (Again) “in the clouds”? / Francis Sanchez

Francis Sánchez

Francis Sanchez, 1 March 2017 – I am re-opening this blog where I will publish my ideas without censorship. It’s been years since October 2010 when I started “Man in the Clouds” and after five months I was forced to stop updating it. All of the bloggers in Cuba were being accused at that time of being “cyber-mercenaries” – does anyone remember?

To say “blogger” – with the sense of self-determination and spontaneity that assumes this practice is outside control of the state – caused more fear than saying “zombie” (in the movie “Juan of the Dead,” of the same year, there is a scene very illustrative that remains as a testimony).

There were campaigns even on national television. Many of those who knew me in my small city – from people in my family to a priest – and some who secretly gave me access to the internet, closed their doors to me, or crossed the street to the other side. And “Closed for Demolition” was the last post I published (31 March 2011), saying goodbye to the readers. That episode I left untouched on the original site, because it explains itself.

The image of “being in the clouds” is frequently used to point out a person’s lack of practical sense. From my childhood, when I started to get interested in poetry and reading, I already suffered such accusations. But, the widespread “practical sense,” from the time I had the use of reason, is sometimes limited to unhealthy abilities for someone adapting himself socially, such as submission, lying, faking, egoism and many forms of civil cowardice. I have grown up confusing the call to virtue with the obedience of being silent, postponing dreams and my own ideas.

I return, now with a new digital address (Spanish version: www.francissanchez.net ). I am not the same, after several years. However, I will continue where I started, because I will continue to write what I think (and I will publish the photos I take), about readings, art, society, reality and imagination, human rights, and everything unpredictable beating within a very long etcetera. I cannot calm anyone or calm myself by announcing what will happen or what I will write tomorrow. In reality, I don’t know, nor do I want to. I am only attentive.