> A South-American itinerary

A South-American itinerary

Par |2019-02-18T15:32:54+00:00 16 juin 2012|Catégories : Essais|

      The wri­tings ins­pi­red by real or ima­gi­na­ry tra­vels into exo­tic places have a long and fine tra­di­tion in the English lite­ra­ture, which is mar­ked by well-known and che­ri­shed authors as Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift. It is a type of lite­ra­ture that gives the rea­der a new pers­pec­tive on humans and their way of living on other meri­dians of the globe, dif­ferent from the European and the Eurocentrist one, as a form of the huma­nist mul­ti­cul­tu­ra­lism.

     The book Libretos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011) by Neil Leadbeater pro­poses as the cri­ti­cal refe­rence of the blurb sug­gest. The jour­ney is as poe­ti­cal, as a under­ta­king rigo­rous­ly orga­ni­zed and as a lite­ra­ry form. The poe­tic ima­gi­na­tion is based on a men­tal pro­jec­tion care­ful­ly applied. In a way it seems to be the reply to the rock album ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’ recor­ded by the British band Yes. The South-American jour­ney takes the rea­der through places full of colour, quaint­ness or local spi­ri­tua­li­ty. From a saga­cious point of view, it is not only a plea­sure jour­ney, but one of ini­tia­tion as well.

    The volume repre­sents a genuine tri­lo­gy with the first part, ‘Libretos for the Black Madonna’, consis­ting of poems dedi­ca­ted to the Brazilian states, the second part, ‘Mornings in Venezuela’ dedi­ca­ted to this coun­try from the north of the conti­nent, and the third one, ‘The Power of Falling Water’, which conti­nues the jour­ney through three states from Central America – Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. The land­scape is selec­ti­ve­ly evo­ked, depen­ding on the author’s mood and sen­si­bi­li­ty. In Brazil the jour­ney starts in the south-west region and goes through the fol­lo­wing states : Acre, Amazonas, Roraima, Amapá, Ceará, Piaui, Alagoas, Pernambuco, Bahia, Mato Grosso, Rondônia, Matto Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Paraná and Santa Catarina (lea­ving other states ‘unmap­ped’, such as the small state Paraíba). The order is not acci­den­tal and the refe­rence point is the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida from São Paulo, a place of intros­pec­tion and prayer for thou­sands of pil­grims. The coun­ter­point and the tech­nique of the the­ma­tic mosaic give beat and rhythm to this Brazilian jour­ney. Elements of the Sacred and the Profane, of the Poetical and the Prosaic alter­nate in the 31 texts of the first part, and the author expresses poe­ti­cal­ly and with great com­pe­tence the things that belong to the dai­ly rou­tine, as well as the ones which belong to legend, myth, sur­rea­lism. Illustrative of this poe­tic view is actual­ly the text that opens the volume, The World on Fire : ‘That morning/​when we lan­ded in Acre/​the air was thick with smoke – /​ its blank uncom­pre­hen­ding screen /​ blo­cked our vision /​ like shut Venetian blinds.’ The libret­tos dedi­ca­ted to the Black Madonna are right next to the poe­try of the contem­po­ra­ry street from Let’s Go on the Streets : ‘the dance music of city life /​ from the cafe­zin­ho bars’. The Brazilian world is explo­red both syn­chro­nic and dia­chro­nic. After a pro­saic moment as the one from Changing Trains at Terezina, skil­ful­ly trans­for­med into poe­try, and the one with the contem­po­ra­ry ins­ti­tu­tion UNESCO (which pro­tects a monu­ment of baroque art in the Pernambuco state), the author digresses – in Arrival in Bahia – the mea­ning of its jour­ney from the present to the times of the Great Geographical Discoveries and to the figure of the pio­neer Pedro Alvares Cabral, the one who dis­co­ve­red by acci­dent the ter­ri­to­ry of today’s Baha state : ‘On Easter Wesnesday /​ in the year 1500 /​ I, Pedro Alvares Cabral, /​ born in Belmonte, /​ fidal­go to the Royal Household, /​ dis­co­ve­red by acci­dent /​ this land” (…) The poe­tic self and the self of the his­to­ri­cal figure evo­ked blend here, in an ins­pi­ring way, in an unique lyri­cal voice because eve­ry time the Present has to take upon itself the Past.

     The poe­tic view takes on ele­ments from the plas­tic arts and the images full of life and local colour (with hints of pic­tu­resque) alter­nate in the same com­po­si­tio­nal well-balan­ced beat in the series of poems dedi­ca­ted to Venezuela : ‘In the middle of the day /​ our daugh­ters return from the mar­ket. /​ They stand in the door­way in their sai­lor-girl suits. /​ American beau­ties /​ by witch I mean Washington apples’ (…) (San Bernardino – Domestic Interior with Girls Entering a Room). The poem Orinoco Closing dis­tin­guishes itself by the recall of the great South-American river from mul­tiple pers­pec­tives : ‘(…)Statistic : Orinoco/-the seventh lar­gest river in the world.//Myth : In 1498/​Columbus decla­red it flo­wed direct/​from the lush envi­rons of Eden (…)”, etc.

     The poe­ti­cal explo­ra­tion of the Latin-American world is com­ple­ted, in the last part of the book, with a series of depic­tions that record three Central American states  which were not ran­dom­ly cho­sen. Nicaragua is a world full of contrasts which proud­ly pro­claims itself a contem­po­ra­ry Parnas under the amiable look of the glo­be­trot­ter – the author : ‘We are a nation of poets”, he said, “poetry/​runs in the blood. It wells out /​ in Creole English, Nicaraguan Spanish, /​ Sumo, Rama and Miskito ; /​ is as fecund as the Parque Las Madres Ocotal,/a para­dise of roses (…)”(Ocotal). The Panama state, with its well-known Canal, it is plas­ti­cal­ly pla­ced bet­ween the sym­bol of the ‘fal­ling water’ (The Power of Falling Water) and the sym­bol of a cigar fac­to­ry (At the Cigar Factory, Panama).

     The book ends with a series of a small dic­tio­na­ry meant to shed a lit­tle light regar­ding the cultu­ral refe­rences from the poems. With ins­pi­ra­tion and talent, but also with a remar­kable rigour when it comes to wri­ting the poems, Neil Leadbeater builds, with Libretos for the Black Madonna, a poe­tic monu­ment dedi­ca­ted to South America as a geo­gra­phi­cal land and as a world of culture and civi­li­sa­tion typi­cal for huma­ni­ty.


Three poems