In the blind he loves the tense tuning of the senses, their olfactory skills, their waylaying discipline for remaining in suspense, hearing and being heard, seeking routes amid the lures and whispers of their personal obscurity.
Héctor Rojas Herazo
Juan Manuel Roca is a Colombian poet, essayist, prose writer and journalist, occasionally included among the “disillusioned generation” of Colombian writers who made their debut in the 1970s, after the neo-avant-gardist nadaísmo (nothing-ism), established by Gonzalo Arango in 1958, which sought – in a somewhat grandiloquent manner – to continue the revolutionary line of surrealism and do away with sacred cows. But from the 1970s onwards, the social and political climate in Colombia became increasingly characterised by the unrestrained violence of the drugs mafia and such left-wing guerilla movements as FARC. In such a context, with its daily ration of abductions and bomb attacks, purely verbal iconoclasts soon began to look anachronistic. Nadaísmo was perhaps already the ideal biotope for allowing No One to rise up as an anti-hero.
One thing is for sure: Juan Manuel Roca is not No One. Even though only certain precise biographical facts about him are known – for example, that he was born in Medellín in 1946, or that he left the town of his birth to live in Bogotá, Juan Manuel Roca is really a someone – even in the country of Gabriel García Márquez and Álvaro Mutis. He has developed into a new national celebrity, with the Universidad del Valle bestowing on him the title of Doctor Honoris Causa. In addition, his work has been awarded the Eduardo Cote Lamus prize by the University of Antioquia (the state of which Medellín is the capital), while the same university from his native town has also awarded him the Simón Bolivar Award for Journalism and the University of Antioquia Short Story Award. He received the Colombian state poetry prize for his collection Las hipótesis de Nadie (The Hypothesis Concerning No One) in 2004.
His publications include Memoria del agua (Memory of Water, 1973); Luna de ciegos (Moon of the Blind, 1975); Los ladrones nocturnos (Thieves in the Night, 1977); Señal de cuervos (Warning of the Crows, 1979); Fabulario Real (Royal Book of Fables, 1980); Antología Poética (Poetry Anthology, 1983); País secreto (Secret Country, 1987); Ciudadano de la noche (Inhabitant of the Night, 1989); Prosa reunida (Collected Prose, 1993); La farmacia del ángel (The Pharmacy of the Devil, 1995) and the novel Esa maldita costumbre de morir (The Accursed Habit of Dying, 2003). His short stories appear in Las plagas secretas y otros cuentos (2001). Roca is one of the most often anthologised Colombian poets, with work appearing in: Antología poética (1983), País secreto (1986), Luna de ciegos (1990 and 1994), Lugar de apariciones (2000), Los cinco entierros de Pessoa (2001) and Arenga que sueña (2002). He has published books in collaboration with representatives of the fine arts such as Augusto Rendón, Antonio Samudio, Fabián Rendón, José Antonio Suárez, Darío Villegas and Patricia Durán.
House of Poetry Silva
Review of Esa maldita costumbre de morir on Babab.com
Roca’s page on the Festival of Medellín website