In moments of rage in those who almost foam at the mouth and perhaps the rest of the nine orifices of the human body, after another telephone conversation with associates who are equally irritated, angry, disconcerted, and full of shame for the media nonsense, I hope it’s only this! I received your profound and brave reflection as a condition of cultural caution, historical, ethical and after all political. Thank you, friend, for thinking and acting. Count on me and my glimmers of thought in a firm attitude, ready to obstruct the injustice that seems to advance dangerously…but I communicate to you, with José Martí, that “I am honored and I am afraid.”
Hugs of appreciation and alert.
Words on the Inauguration of the Sixteenth International Book Fair
As the sun sets in the west, memory turns to some Argentine verses written by Rafael Obligado, and to transcend the mournful darkness over the Pampas, the country summoned as the invited country of honor, precisely, is the Argentine Republic.
Now then, the fact that two Cuban intellectuals share the dedication doesn’t mean that this book fair is limited to them.
A banquet of words, contributing to the general culture, in all its manifestations, at the site where the book rules without any type of exclusion. And as Poetry is a creation and the creation is fundamentally Poetry, I permit myself to affirm that this Fair is dedicated to all Cuban creators, since Cuba, a poetic Island or Archipelago, begins its consolidation from the territory to arrive at being a Nation and finally achieves the high category of Fatherland with Poetry. “And all night they heard the birds pass,” says the Admiral in his Diary and he affirms it, not so that we describe, put so we find a world and at the same time find ourselves in the sphere where, as now, the afternoon leans. Sweetly to the west. And it does not stop being its own world and ours.
We said that this creative whole, of the word, inserted into time, found its space in Cuba. With the Mirror of Paciencia, and without by-passing the find of the poem Florida, the poets have sustained our nation, our fatherland, verb, waters, land. And upon saying poets, we include the writers, thinkers, historians, economists, musicians, dancers, painters and sculptors. Men and women of good will who have constructed our homes, the house, the city, the Fatherland.
For this reason the more-than-generous enlargement has an historic turnout that wishes to include all Cubans so that this sixteenth Book Fair be total and ecumenical and thus overcome any limitation that our culture could have shown, supported or suffered with the passing of time.
An admiring arc that starts with José María Heredia (and doesn’t forget to mention precursors like Silvestre de Balboa, Alfonso de Escobedo, Manuel de Zequeira, Manuel Justo de Rubalcaba and Manuel María Pérez Ramírez…) and goes up to Raúl Hernández Novás and Angel Escobar, and didn’t ignore the great poets of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with their work and full lives finished. And the thinkers, novelists, playwrights, situated firmly in Cuban culture where would also be Cirilo Villaverde and Ramón Meza as well as Ezequiel Vieta and Alejo Carpentier. On this bridge are the names that almost don’t have to be enumerated; but some ring in my ears: Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Joaquín Lorenzo Luaces, José Jacinto Milanés, Plácido, El Cucalambé, Manzano, Luisa Pérez de Zambrana, Julia Pérez Montes de Oca, Mercedes Matamoros, Juana Borrero and Julián del Casal, Mendive, and the pinnacle of José Martí… As the twentieth century goes by, the poets persist: Boti, Poveda, Agustín Acosta. Emilio Ballagas, Mariano Brull, Eugenio Florit, Nicolás Guillén, Dulce María Loynaz, Regino Pedroso, Samuel Feijóo, Dora Alonso, José Lezama Lima, Virgilio Piñera, Gastón Baquero, Eliseo Diego, Jesús Orta Ruiz… and others and others and others. Rolando Escardó, Roberto Branly, Baragaño, Fayad Jamís, Heberto Padilla, Luis Suardíaz I don’t have to beg pardon for insisting! Right, Hernández Catá, Carlos Montenegro, Lino Novás Calvo, Lydia Cabrera, Enrique Serpa, Félix Pita Rodríguez, Enrique Labrador Ruiz…? ¡How José Soler Puig escorts us! ¡And Fernando Ortiz, Mañach, Moreno Fraginals….
Among our letters walk Antonio Benítez Rojo, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Calvert Casey, Reynaldo Arenas, Severo Sarduy, Miguel Collazo, Jorge Luis Hernández and Jesús Díaz…
The book is the conveyor of the word, it hands over the verse and thus ascends again and like always to Poetry. The Word and Poetry, which, like reality and symbol, oblige us to be vigilant and to look with open eyes at History. And like an unavoidable memory, we all remember Juan Clemente Zenea, so close in that spot. We looked at him. The conqueror of time. Here in his space. In time. Alert in his trajectory. The poem. The Word and Poetry. “And you were mended where your mother was broken.” San Juan de la Cruz points at us, whispers and screams. So that we become conscious of this bellicose and dishonored place where the poet, Poetry, was humiliated, with this festival that would have been impossible in another epoch, that remains pure and thus has to be preserved forever.
And in the same way that these creators carried the word and at times had to die for it, now, as an ethical and aesthetic obligation, we raise the libertarian command of knowledge and honor by the means of books. The Sixteenth Book Fair could be dedicated to so many authors and books that existed, exist and will exist in our lives. To enumerate their names would not be a problem, but discretion imposes a certain modesty. The centuries repeat themselves from the 17th up to the 21st in which we live…Bring on this Fair and those who come, dedicated to these creatures, women and men who sustain the Fatherland, in every moment, the joyful and the troubled, the successful and the failures. With insistence on keeping what unites it, what unites us beyond artificial, mechanical, and opportunistic borders.
And if the extensive enlargement of Honor is affirmed in the fair for Cuban writers, wouldn’t we have to proclaim something similar and equivalent in respect to the Countries? It’s a happy honor that Argentina is the country invited, but neither should we forget the sister republics of our America. Martí illuminates and dictates perpetual lessons. And Our America is proud of its origins and its constant History. From José Hernández and its Martín Fierro and Sarmiento and its Facundo to Julio Cortázar, the country favors the ample culture that will be, already is, present in this Fair, and breathing the air of all America, open to the world, to the Universe, in order to accomplish what some still consider unobtainable. What is possible for the impossible. Knowing that the Perfect does not exist, but constant Perfectibility does.
The Fair is ecumenical, embracing, humble and proud at the same time. Its purpose, or one of them, is to open the doors of delightful knowledge to all creatures within our reach. If it teaches reading to overcome illiteracy the immediate obligation of the people is to make books available so that those who can read have the elements for their culture and constant self-improvement and joy. For their lives. It’s for this that the Fair exists. As in the biblical quotation, this festival of action and celebration fulfills a goal, a mission, a destiny: “Lift your eyes and regard the regions, because there they are ready for the harvest.”
And it’s not a matter of exploiting the many for the benefit of a few, only of the whole dignity of man. The human creature. Thanks to everyone. The Book Fair: The Festival has begun and is infinite.
Havana, February 8, 2007
Translated by Regina Anavy