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Santiago de Chile
December 14, 2002

Between the earth and the sky

by Cristóbal Solari

Republication of Cortejo y Epinicio
David Rosenmann-Taub
LOM Ediciones

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With Cortejo y Epinicio, Editorial LOM initiates the publication of a series of works by the Chilean poet David Rosenmann-Taub, who resides in the United States. The undertaking is not a small one and could be a milestone of incalculable importance to the tradition of Chilean poetry.

Cortejo y Epinicio (1949) was Rosenmann-Taub's first book of poetry, a volume that, like all those by this author, is unfamiliar to most people, but whose existence is vaguely known. Of course, for the poets of his generation, his fellow workers (Alberto Rubio, Luis Merino Reyes, Antonio de Undurraga, Augusto Iglesias), it had an impact of which they have left testimonials. Also, the critical comment of that time depicted these verses with a mixture of perplexity and enthusiasm. Therefore the republication by LOM opens up to us and confronts us with a poetry the knowledge of which could no longer be postponed and the assimilation of which, as the poet himself has indicated, seems likely to take place in future generations, but requires a slow preparation.

A critic who pretended that these poems yielded themselves easily to even the most prepared, attentive, and sensitive reader would not be entirely candid. Getting to the core of this poetry is hard work, because perhaps the first thing that must be asserted about it is how profoundly it has been conceived within and out of Rosenmann-Taub's very guts. It is a poetry in which that fastness seems to be so deep that the poetry could very well remain shut up there in the innermost chambers of his soul.

Octavio Paz pointed out in respect to the poets of the New World, that, whether Indians or mestizos, they had to plant the American land with foreign words (the European language), but this claim would be too narrow when it comes to the author of Cortejo y Epinicio: with Spanish as a starting point, the poet here seems to find himself forced to elaborate a language of his own for the creation of his poetical world, almost like those great physicists who found themselves needing to devise new forms of mathematical calculation in order to demonstrate their discoveries. The reader, then, can only experience a sensation of foreignness when faced with poems that even today retain a character that is extremely bizarre (in the sense that the French give to that word).

Because the nature of his poetry makes it difficult to fit him into any single tradition, due to its extreme uniqueness, when we start looking for parallels (a futile exercise, incidentally), what comes to mind is the poetry of Lucio Piccolo or Gottfried Benn. His language is sumptuous, abundant in words of an exquisite learnedness.

The musicality of his poetry is rigorous. His poems can be read like a sonata by Beethoven or Schubert. We know that musical interpretation permits the interpreter a margin of freedom, but it is subject to rules. Rosenmann-Taub also establishes his own. The silences at the end of the lines have one length, those that separate stanzas, another. Within the line, the pause of a comma is different from that of a colon.or of a dash; the regularity of the stresses, the parallel repetitions, the impeccable metrics (see sonnets like "Itrio" or "Schabat") form a rhythmic structure in which nothing has been left to chance. The famous poem (from the "estampas" section of the book) devoted to the Indian shot plant (XLV), for example, needs to be read with a dynamic of increasing acceleration (which leaves one almost breathless), followed by a short pause (indicated by a break) before an explosive "coda".

Among the many devices that are used, perhaps it is necessary to highlight the "oxymoron" (the joining of two contradictory concepts), which, however, Rosenmann-Taub deploys with many nuances and variations. Thus the tension does not arise from the conjunction of concepts that are merely antithetical, but from an oblique dislocation that runs through whole lines. That may be due to the fact that the central theme of these lines is a taut and pained dialogue of the poet with God.

Even in the moments that allow one to slacken the attention that is demanded by a reality and a diction of such extraordinary intensity, there comes the tone of desperate invocation that Rosenmann-Taub directs to God, "This distracted God who once made us", a God who is alive ("It's not the corpse of God that I meditate"), and, at the same time, "glacial", before whom the poet is unable to say where he stands. The complexity of this relation, in which are entangled love and hate, reciprocal recriminations and praises, can be found summed up in the beautiful and profound poem XXIV, which begins and closes with the refrain: "I was God and I walked without knowing it/ You, oh you, my orchard, were God, and I loved you."

The republication of Cortejo y Epinicio is already a poetic event, even more so if we consider what the poet Armando Uribe maintained (or, better, demonstrated) at the launching of the book: taking into account the profound differences that it presents in relation to the first edition, it is virtually a new book.