During the recent Havana International Book Fair, the publishers Boloña presented a volume with the short name of Sitio, behind which few could make out the gift of a personal nostalgia of FinaGarcíaMarruz’ poetry that includes texts from her books Las miradasperdidas (1951) to Habana del centro (1997), and concludes with some poems which were unpublished or not compiled until now.
I was unable to be present in the portal of the City Museum on the day of the presentation. But now that I have in my hands a copy, I cannot stop remembering that evening of 1976 when I went to the National Library to meet Cintio [Vitier] and Fina. The couple was working in one of the cubicles that preceded the Cuban Collection Room. They welcomed me as if they had been waiting for me a long time, they generously praised the youthful poems that I had submitted to their consideration and wanted to introduce me to their friends: Octavio Smith, Roberto Friol, TeresitaProenza. I had decided to write an essay on Martí’s aesthetics and they facilitated me some of their own modest content index cards to channel my work, although this did not get to have visible results.
I admired them even more when I discovered that, despite having already by then published some of their most notable books of poems and the first volume of their Ensayosmartianos, a devious cultural policy had relegated them to the shadows. Around those days they barely appeared in public events, their names were not too recommended in the biographical lists of academic theses and some in the Library looked at them from faraway as if they were victims of an infectious disease. However, they would go every day on the bus from their home on Figueroa Street in La Vibora to work, they had lunch like the others in the basement and at some point in time I met Fina, accompanied by Octavio, in the Bus Terminal getting an ice cream to complete the meagre noontime menu.
The rectification of errors came later and my visits moved to El Vedado, to the Centre for Martí Studies. Neither do I forget an event about literary criticism around 1982 in the Matanzas resort of San Miguel de los Baños. The meeting’s papers were, including mine, not very interesting, but having breakfast with them or walking through the gardens of that hotel that looked as if, stone by stone, had been brought from the Europe of the Belle Époque with its thermal fountains and old trees, served to nurture my intellect and present me with the gift of some of the happiest memories of those times.
Fina, not only the wife but also the faithful collaborator of Cintio in his research work, always had a personal intellectual work that was not usually assessed in all its worth. Her rooted shyness, her cultivated modesty as Christian virtue, made many see her as another Zenobia by Juan Ramón Jiménez’ side or María Teresa León by that of Rafael Alberti. A patriarchy difficult to give up labelled her as “Cintio’s wife” and relegated her to the back seat.
It should not be forgotten that she was among Lezama’s collaborators in the adventure of Espuela de plata and together with Cintio, Eliseo [Diego], Octavio, sponsored another publishing dream that aimed to escape the devouring attraction of the author of Muerte de Narciso: the beautiful deliveries of Clavileño, where Tagore was paid homage and at the same time art criticism was exercised with tact and elegance. In the house of 308 Neptuno, top floor, between Aguila and Galiano, where Fina and Bella received their boyfriends while their mother, Josefina Badía, gave music lesson to the most hallucinated beings of Havana, these books were being prepared that today are a bibliographical rarity.
In recent years it has been possible to judge her more correctly, firstly for the originality and depth of her essay work and it would suffice to recall emblematic pieces like the all-encompassing “José Martí” published before the Apostle’s Centennial and which is one of the most profound introductory texts written about his life and work; or “Hablar de la poesía,” an explicit poetic that helps us assess more her verses; not forgetting her acute inquiries about authors like Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Juan Francisco Manzano or MaríaZambrano.
Leafing through Sitio allows us to return to the memorable intimate pages of Las miradasperdidas, that book whole title was a bit prophetic because it has been practically unknown by readers and critics for many decades. The sonnet “Ama la superficiecasta y triste” is in it, eloquently headed by Píndaro’s epigraph: Be who you are:
Love the chaste and sad surface.
The profound is what is manifest.
The lilac beach, that dress, the party
poor and fortunate of what exists now.
The idea is to enunciate a humble poetry and at the same time ambitious.While the philosophers and some poets try to discard the appearances in favour of the hidden essences, she chooses the exterior wrapping, what is seen and she finds an authentic poetry in its apparent humility.
She bets on the meeting with “the unknown exterior,” in an attitude of dialogue and acceptance of the otherness, as she argues in the already cited “Hablar de la poesía”:
Let’s think there are only two absolutely exterior realities to the image we make or have of it: we ourselves and God. Here are two unforeseeable poetics, two unknowns. Is it that, until now, that had been constituted at some time into an object for poetry? It obviously is not. The purity and ingenuity of the classic eye conferred on things a certain illusion of dependence (which made possible that attitude of delivering a heterogeneous and placid good for its “enjoyment”), while the romantic malice sealed with pretentiously individual air its walks through the most general and anonymous sphere of the fall, with identical although inverse mirage. If the classic feeling was above all a feeling of the exterior, to such an extent, that for the poet even his own feeling is substance, a thing…, it is clear that it was always about the unknown exterior – known, but not of that that concerns us now, the exterior – in and outside of us.
Fina uses the same procedures as those of a painter to highlight the beauty in scenes where few stop to find it: before “La demente en la puerta de la iglesia” she not only describes her appearance, her gestures, in addition it seems to model the atmosphere around her, establishing gradations in the light to not remain on the borders of the figure but rather in that halo that irradiates, the result is something similar to a pre-Rafael canvas.:
See her sitting at the door of her face, guarding a
see the lucid darkness, general like the wind, matter of the
her ignorance has encompassed our pride, she sits on the
with holy distraction she touches a soft and anachronic pockmark.
While the major part of our poetesses, with fiery or languid voices, sang their secret loves or the deceitfulness of the male condition that relegated them to the shadows, Fina sought her topics somewhere else: the inquiries into the innocence that seems to be lost with adulthood, the contemplation of the most defenceless of the society that surrounds her: vagabond children, aged women, roaming artists. Her style mixes the apparent fragility of the voice with the intensity and even the fury of the thought, as well as behind the deceptive simplicity of her verses there is a notable philosophical density.
In La poesíacontemporánea en Cuba (1927-1953) Roberto FernándezRetamar had already written: “This poetess wants to offer inside a beautiful garb her work of Christian fervour, but using simple resources, leaving her in that powerful nudity of all prayer.”
She is owed some of the most memorable texts of the second half of the 20th century: “Unadulcenevadaestácayendo,” “Canciónpara la extrañaflor” and “Transfiguración de Jesús en el monte,” all from Las miradasperdidas. Visitaciones (1970) includes “Yayotambiénestoy entre los otros” and the magnificent oratorio “En la muerte de Ernesto Che Guevara” where she attempts to conciliate the thinking of the hero with his Christian feeling, a brave text, far from all formalism, not very understood in her time and which in recent years has been revealing all its greatness. Habana del centro includes two exemplary cycles, Créditos de Charlot and Los Rembrandt de L’Hermitage.
Today, the note that precedes her texts in the anthology Diezpoetascubanos (1948), continues being up to date. Cintio noted in it:
…for her the poems are not an end in themselves, but rather simply and strictly roads or instruments that serve the progress of the soul and vision. Poetry is that which opens our ability to see; its most perfect crystallisations cannot replace the object to which the very poetic abduction tends, that is, the elements of reality, the virginal being of the exterior which is at the same time the most indescribable intimacy of Creation.
In recent years the writer was able to add to the National Prize for Literature from 1990, the Pablo Neruda Iberian-American Prize for Poetry, the Queen Sofia Prize for Iberian-American Poetry and the Federico García Lorca Prize. Her writing has become more visible, but in her drawers there are still many unpublished works, especially poems which she reserves, as some do with the glassware and porcelains in their display cabinet, for special occasions.
Still with her 94 years Fina surprises us, when others, much more recent than she have aged. I cannot exclude myself from these recent times, that young man who out of breath and tremulous climbed the sinuous stairs of the National Library, tightly holding under his right arm a folder with typed poems for them, can assume some of her verses: “I am already among the others/the elderly, the melancholic,/and how strange it seems, isn’t it true?” (2017)
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