Luis Vidales was 26 when he published a slim book of avant-garde poems, Suenan timbres (Doorbells ring), the only expression in Colombia of the movement that was sweeping through Latin America at that time. Fifty years later a new edition added many more poems, written then, but not included in the original edition. After that first, extraordinary book Vidales wrote only social poetry of protest. He was a professional statistician and wrote a History of Colombian Statistics; in 1983 he received the Lenin Peace Price. What follows is an evocation in the present tense by his nephew, the poet Juan Manuel Roca, ‘Luis Vidales in the present tense’.
To talk about Luis Vidales in the past tense is to betray his surest conviction: the obstinate law that one lives, when one lives to the full, beyond the mechanical time of the clock.
Here is Luis Vidales – with his retinue of ghosts – whispering to me the word ‘wind’: a word that makes the clothes on the terraces wave. The more humble those rags, the more they are for him the flag of poetry. Here is Vidales with his friend, the brilliant journalist Luis Tejada, watching the beggar woman in front of a church dragging along her court of Gothic, ravenous dogs. And here is Vidales laughing and smoking, or drinking a beer, or walking by the train station with that other great friend of his, the great cartoonist Ricardo Rendón: at the triumph of the Revolution they will give the powerful engine to the driver, a promise that is like an ‘open sesame’ that will allow them to travel free, organizing workers and farmers who have never heard the expression ‘surplus value’.
April 9 (1948) – that fateful day when Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was murdered and Colombia’s seemingly everlasting and bloody war began, with hundreds of deaths and the destruction of midtown Bogotá – has just taken place: truly, every day is April 9 for us, for its conflagration has not yet subsided; it is still smoldering; it is still an open, unstaunched wound. Vidales knows that in a static country people walk, like some cars in silent movies, without really moving.
I have just seen his phantom smile that somehow reminds of Alice’s cat, lying on the cornice of my house: it is the time “in which the cats sleep” and “outside, on the roofs, the shadows walk alone”. These are Vidales’ hours, those of today and those of tomorrow: “ . . . they are my hours. They know it and they begin to arch like the back of a cat so that I can caress them.”
I have just found Vidales at a corner of his verses, on a turn of his poetry, leaning on a street-lamp. I have walked on the streets of his poems, dodging cats, tasting lemons that are like “spheres of odour”, avoiding phantoms, a passer-by of his discourse. In his gestures I see him building towers of air. In his way of walking on the street I understand the way he works: all his words are born on the street and they flow into his poems. He has taught us, those who came after him, to walk in the same country and in the same labyrinth, to tell the difference in the echoes of the voices.
Suenan timbres, 1926.
Tratado de Estética, 1945.
La insurrección desplomada, 1948.
La circunstancia social en el arte, 1973.
Historia de la estadística en Colombia, 1975.
La obreríada, Ediciones Helika, Bogotá, 1979.
Poesía inédita, 1982.
El libro de los fantasmas, 1985.
Poemas del abominable hombre del barrio de Las Nieves, 1985.
Antología poética, Editorial de la Universidad de Antioquia, 1985.
Seven poems by Luis Vidales.
Los timbres se volvieron aldabones
Review of Antología poética by Hector Abad Faciolince.
Essays by Luis Vidales
Published in the newspaper Jornada and in La insurrección desplomada, Editorial Iqueima, Bogotá, 1948.