The new book of the Spanish poet Isaac Calderón, La Parábola del Arcoíris, give us the chance – according to his author – of mediate, upon and in with language as a symbol. The paperback version is available worldwide via Amazon
Isaac Calderón, author of La Parábola del Arcoíris. Picture: personal archive.
By Gabriel Petter
Isaac Calderón doesn’t fit the mould of the conventional definitions of what an artist should be. An specialist in digital creation with a long, international career in creative departments of notable corporations, he holds a Master’s Degree in Audiovisual Communication. He is also a musician and a vocational poet that has just published his second book, La Parábola del Arcoíris (Los Papeles de Brighton, 2016), after a long hiatus that followed the (fragmentary) publication of his first book, Menarquia del ave adolescente (2004).
Currently he resides in colourful Barcelona, after six years living in Qatar. Now he is writing his third book and translating, together with his wife Irene Büntemeyer and directly from the original German the poetry of the great Stefan George (1868-1933). Isaac is cultivated and his quotes, from Goethe to Kandinsky, are ample. He teaches more than what he dialogs and thus it is no wonder that he has been invited as a professor by different universities around the globe.
Although this interview -mostly completed through email- it is structured in an standard way, the flow of the conversation is as free as the thoughts of this multidisciplinary artist that is still not well known by the Brasilian audiences. We fed on his sources to take a bit of his clarividence, that of a sensitive man that wishes with his poetry to reveal the highest reality, the one that lays behind the sense world. A world behind of untold beauty and lyricism – and we need those so much in this dark time that we ought to live in.
GP: When I read your book for the first time I was surprised by its title. Does it lay out the symbolic narrative that keeps on growing in intensity while you get to know the voices of the characters that populate its pages. Can you try to define your Parábola?
IC: More so than characters that populate the book I would talk about a book that serves as a habitat of two particular voices and to an indetermined third –I’d like it to be a temple, in the way that in Ancient Greece an specific form was able to contain a god. These two first voices stablish a dialog between themselves: they are the ones of the I & Consciousness, the Divine and the Poet, the Eternal and a Man Searching for the Eternal Word. The third voice, implicit across the entire book, is the one of the person summoned in the first poem, Lirio (Lily, Lys). It is definitely a femenine presence –independently of the poet being a man or a woman- that forecasts the dawn of the Opus itself and without which it is impossible the birth, the giving birth of the Word. She blows where She pleases.
Also, and considering the fact that this is not a fiction book, but a poetry book in the traditional sense, that is, a book that belongs to that which has been named philosophia perennis, I do not like to refer to this voices as those of characters, but as those of Persons.
This is an artistic exercise that is carried on into a solitary land; above it gravitates, as an enormous sky, the faith in the Imagination that, as Victoria Cirlot (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85gLzOwBl3E&t=16s) mentions in her marvelous prologue to my book, is “Exact & Precise”: in other words, the voices of the book are not fictions in a novelistic or prosaic sense.
Indeed this is symbollic poetry –but not symbolist. The symbol differentiates itself, as it is also clarified in the prologue, from the allegory, that it is “forever dead”. The allegory relates to the symbol by means of iconography, but it lacks the vitality and fertility of it. The symbol is, according to Valentin Tomberg, an “operation that is magical, mind-related, psychical and moral that is able to awake new notions, ideas, feelings and aspirations, which means that it requires a deeper activity that that of the mere study or intellectual explanation”. Juan-Eduardo Cirlot (https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Eduardo_Cirlot), in his prologue to the first edition of his famous Dictionary of Symbols, mentions “the intuition that, behind metaphor, there is something more that a substitution of reality”, that is to say that behind metaphor lays a higher reality, and that to create is, behind the veil, a method or discipline of knowledge or, maybe, a discipline on memory (in the platonic fashion), on remembering this lofty symbollic reality from which flow, as it if was a fountain, the waters that solidify in our physical world. Matter is but coagulated symbol, a symbol that has rained and has become a lake. Goethe: “Everything transitory is but a symbol, that what is not enough to here arrives; that which cannot be told is here fulfilled, the eternal femenine attracts us”.
That what makes this book different is that, here, the symbol is the very same word, transitory insofar it comes after Babel, everlasting insofar it is (also) the Word. Human and divine are united in one phenomenon: language. And just in another one: the human being, the anthropos. By meditating on language, we reach Language. This is to say that this book, The Parable of the Rainbow, constitutes above all the possibility for the reader of meditating upon, in, with language as Symbol.
GP: This is not your first book. When did your interest in poetry started? What do you seek with or through it?
IC: You’re right. This is my second book. The first one, Menarche of the Adolescent Bird (Menarquia del Ave Adolescente), was completed in 2004, 13 years ago, no less. What happened with that book is that it was published fragmentarily: in the old Ciberayllu, directed by Domingo Castilla, from the University of Missouri. In the literary blog of the poet and translator of Hilda Hilst John Keene (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Keene_(writer), that translated my poem “Winterreise”. In the Lunas Rojas magazine, where Juan Carlos Mestre (Spain’s National Poetry Prize Awardee), Enrique Falcón (“Adonáis”, accésit con La marcha de 1.500.000) and other relevant authors (Jorge Riechmann, etc.). In the magazine Fósforo, directed by the poet Gonzalo Esparza. I remember that even one of the poems of that book was included in one catalogue of a sculpture exhibit by Gonzalo Serrano, if I recall correctly. The town’s major misreading my poem was something I won’t easily forget. So, as you see, Menarquia del Ave Adolescente was indeed published, but in a fragmentary way. I do not discard to revise, edit and rewrite the book in order to publish it in a coherent manner.
I’m sure that you have noticed the considerable amount of time between both books, Menarche and this Parable, that I wrote in six febrile months of 2015 in Doha, Qatar. There is more that a decade in between both works. This is a topoi that appears transfigurated along the verses of La Parábola del Arcoíris, this decade of silence during which I didn’t write any verse. With the due respect to a grand poet of our noble language, Antonio Gamoneda went through a similar experience before writing the epoch-making Descripción de la Mentira.
More than remembering an specific moment in which my pursue of poetry began, I kind of remember the opposite, to be recruited by Her when I barely knew Her. I was just nine years old when I wrote a few poems without knowing very well what I was doing and that, even today, they do interpelate me.
And speaking of remembering, let me express my gratitude to Amadeo Tàrrega, requiem in pace, my professor back then, who didn’t bypass those childhood verses and for having been faithful, back then, already, faith in my qualities as a writer.
If you ask me whether this latest book has satisfied my aspirations as a poet, as an artist, let me tell you that of course not! My favourite book now is the one I am writing, the one I started to write when I move back to Barcelona. My favourite book is always the one that is being written. It is fresher and close to the living stream of inspiration. As I’ve mentioned before, La Parábola del Arcoíris was written in Doha, Qatar, where I lived for the past six years.
You can find verses of Menarche of an Adolescent Bird (in most cases, translated into English too) in the form of designs and videopoems in my Instagram gallery.
GP: Sometimes, when I read the book, I got caught by a melancholic solitude. It is just like if the characters that talk through the poet were talking to everyone. It is poetry really a solitary trade? Why does your book seem to contain such an enormous melancholy?
IC: You have employed two different words, Solitude & Melancholy, that are related to each other but are not the same. About solitude, yes, there is an absence of the first magnitude: the absence of the Word. In my opinion we can’t experiment a more intense solitude, due to the fact that we Are just because of the Word: Kein ding sei wo das wort gebricht / nothing exists where the word is not (Stefan George).
About Stefan George, he is a key Modern poet and we, my wife and I, are very sad that there is no satisfactory version in Spanish of his work. I mean, and with due respect, there is no translation of George that has been done by a Spanish poet that knows throughly the German language and that is not a mere translator. I am telling you this, dear Gabriel, because I wanted to announce that together with my wife, Irene Büntemeyer, I am going to translate Stefan George and I am eager to harvest the fruits of this enormous but fantastic task.
There are translations that fulfil a divulgative role, but in George’s case, the existing versions (and I include the most recent ones) available in Spanish are making him, in our view, a disfavour. We should only accept works translated by poets, like the excellent Hojas de Hierba (Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman) that Eduardo Moga composed. You can tell instantly that we are talking about an author that speaks and writes proper poetic Spanish through Whitman. Not a mere translator, no matter how erudite. This are complicated matters and should not be let in the hands of not so competent people.
About melancholy, I would say that some fragments are as you say melancholic, but they are so in a delayed way, there is some sort of recapitulation of melancholy, because it does not have a current presence, a recent presence, but it’s got to do more with the epoch of silence, that decade that I’ve mentioned before.
I woulnd’t describe this book as melancholic. It is actually versifying about the light that dissolves melancholy, that black fluid that seems to be consumed, like petrol, like the corpse of time, with Fire.
And yes indeed, poetry is always a solitary trade. Freud describes the Artist as that person who traces a magnificent detour in order to stablish a relationship with his peers, with society. His figure is, in a sense, analogue to that who retires to the loneliness of the desert in search of something –in this case, in search of The Word- and returns, later, to share his fruits, his findings or his Word with his peers. At the end we all write in order to be loved, as Federico García Lorca answered famously to a question regarding his poetic vocation. Of course, the poets want, like everyone else, to feel loved. To love, above all. And, if possible, to feel loved.
What occurs is that the adventure of giving someone I love the best I know of has or has had implicit, for me, the desert, it has had loneliness, not necessarily a melancholic one. The most beautiful solitude of the desert.
GP: If something called my attention of your book was the appendix, the “Adenda”. You mention in there several artistic pieces that point towards the everlasting duality or dicotomy reason / emotion. Is this a dilemma for a poet with a scientific vocation, such as yourself?
IC: I did agree with my editor, the director of the publishing house Los Papeles de Brighton (Palma de Mallorca, Spain) who is also a poet, Juan Luis Calbarro, to finalise the book not with an explanatory appendix that was to dissect the poems that are alive and well (thanks God!), but more like a series of emblems taken from the countless root images that made possible the organic growth of this poetry book. My idea was to use more contemporary images, such as the vowel diagrams of Stockhausen (Stimmung), but matters related to intellectual property and copyright issues prevented me of using this more modern imagery, and so I searched into Antiquity, in the Medieval Times and in the period that starts with the beginning of the Modern Era (Renaissance, mid Quattrocento) until the Modernism itself (Jugendstil): the last image of this Adenda is the Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt. Those old epochs, anyway, were not unfamiliar to me, as I’ve searched across millenia truths to feed this book and this ancient eras are, in a sense, also contemporary, because they coexist with me here and now as I summon them through the words they left.
About the alleged dilemma Reason vs Emotion, I wouldn’t consider such an opposition, but more about the couple Reason (not versus) & Spirit. I do not believe that in the current times, reading the Zeitgeist, the object of the Arts should be to seek feeling, or emotion, and less so passion. I’d like to recommend–although I do not fully agree with it, it is still full of insight- (Spanish philosopher) Ortega y Gasset’s celebrated essay on the topic of vanguard art: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/1670.html and above all Concerning the spiritual on art, by V. Kandinsky, that can be read online: http://www.semantikon.com/art/kandinskyspiritualinart.pdf
The true opposition I detect in my Adenda is that of Science vs Art, Intelectualism vs Aestheticism; in short, the alleged and aged battle between two modes of knowing: the analitic of the intellect, that breaks reality into pieces, and the spiritual that is native to every true work of art. I try to show how this opposition is just apparent and not essential. As I’ve said the appendix complements, but does not explain (it is impossible) the verses that come before it. To be a poet with scientific training it is not a dilemma, it is a bless. A science that is spiritual, and a scientific art was the goal of gigantic figures of our culture such as Goethe.
GP: In times in which “reason” seems to have become some sort of mantra, poetry seems condemned to be an hermetic exercise on subjectivity. A friend of mine, also a poet, told me something that seems to exude a strong feeling of rejection agains this supremacy of reason. He said to me “we need to reincantate the world”. What do you think about that? Did we lose ourselves a bit into the labyrinths of reason?
IC: I am grateful for this question and for the way you shape it, because you are describing the mission of the arts: that of re-enchanting the world. If we are talking about re-enchanting, we are assuming that that which was enchanted it is not anymore. We assumed a childhood and a paradise lost, and we enter fully in teleology (telos) with the promise, or aspiration, of re-enchanting the world, of re-dressing it with its old fire or, as I prefer, with a new glory.
But I dissagree with your friend: I don’t think reason is a proble at all in this task of re-enchanting the world. Even more: it is an ally, a key one, an indispensable one. I don’t believe either that we live in a world ordered according to reason: you just need to see the rampant irrationalism and the growing brutality, almost animal-like, of our time. I believe that the criticism of your friend should be redirected to the supremacy, to the tiranny of technology, not of reason. And even though, my position would be the same (that of a Waldgänger): if reason is limiting you, illuminate it with Art. If technology oppresses you and real-time simultainety devours the space of your interiority, illuminate it with Art.
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