With his more than eight decades of existence, Cuban poet, narrator, academician and diplomat Pablo Armando Fernández (Delicias sugar mill town, 1930), one of the most notable representatives of the so-called Generation of the 1950s, received in the privacy of his home the LASA Award.
In my trajectory as an intellectual I had to reach the poet through complicated paths. When I was an adolescent and voracious reader – and in full “grey quinquennium” – I had to overcome many suspicions to be able to have in my hands Toda la poesía (1961) and El libro de los héroes (1964), volumes placed in a sort of index together with many others after the events of the “Padilla case.”
In the same way, through the ups and downs of life I was able to attend a while later a memorable recital he gave in the Hubert de Blanck Room together with Manuel Díaz Martínez, which marked the end of more than a decade of forced and obscure isolation. I especially remember the effect it had, not just on me but also on the rest of the public that crowded the room for his reading of “El tren hacia el poeta”:
In short, as you say
when alone you feel
the burning of envy,
who has broken into your home,
the injustice, the uncertainly, the fear
The poet was returning and his creations, be they “Yo, Pablo” or “El gallo de Pommander Walk” were going to fecund the poetry of the youngest ones.
Neither do I forget that around those years, during a winter evening close to Christmas, some friends took me to a house in El Vedado, where a solitary old lady who was a bit crazy sold books and records, everything in a heap, at fantastic prices even for those happy times. My avidness would be fed with recordings by a young trio of Beethoven or Bach’s The Art of Fugue, which in a profusion of volumes I could barely balance while I went down the stairs of that extravagant place; among them, the Miguel Mañara. Mystère en six tableaux by Lubicz Milosz, a text about ballet in the United States and also two prince editions of Cuban poets: Saúl sobre la espada by Gastón Baquero and Salterio y lamentación, Pablo’s initiation book. The latter, under the printed dedication of “To my mother, Doña Chalío Pérez de Fernández,” had another written by hand: “For Vigón, a cultured man, interested in doing theatre in these lands. Sincerely, Pablo Armando Fernández.” It was playwright Rubén Vigón, who from the Arlequín Room had been able to convene in the 1950s the public for a theatre crusade very hard-fought in his Quixotism with the commercial spirit of those times. It was in this lady’s library, already about to be dispersed, where I had found those treasures.
The reading of that book awoke in me a passion that still doesn’t cease. His rebellious assimilation of the biblical language to the bitter daily life, the conversational tone that never loses the poetic accent, the union of tenderness and irony to refer to his family context, were exemplary for me, and at times I catch myself repeating passages like this:
Mom said I should take care of the uniform; she also said that I be careful when placing my feet on the ground.
Papa always said that I be careful with truth.
Or this powerful passage from poem 6:
They are talking about the dead
in the living room.
Mother and her sister.
About the older sister who accompanied
her decimas on the tres
and the other sister and a third.
They talk about the dead
as if they were speaking about the pink dress
or the ribbon or the white satin shoes
they wore in the first dance
with organ and sextet.
I must give thanks to life for the possibility not just of having read the poet but also knowing him in person. If it is frequent among writers that whatever is necessary be done to forget the person if you want to enjoy his writing, in his case is precisely the contrary. Having met him first in different literary events, traveling with him to Spain or to Venezuela and above all sitting at his side for several years in the Cuban Academy of the Language allowed me to approach a person who had suffered many things but continued being able to enjoy life without spite. Simple, sincerely concerned about others, he offered me disinterestedly some advice which has been very useful to me to survive in the midst of the cultured fauna.
If in recent years his writing was generous in praise for very varied persons, those pages must be read in the light of his Franciscan goodness: a great deal of the good the writer saw in others was the reflection of his own spiritual condition.
Some years ago I wrote: “He treats poetry like another inhabitant of his home and always takes it with him. Wherever we go: to Holguín’s Plaza de la Marqueta or to a town in Castile, we are always preceded by a poem by Pablo. He has been everywhere and he has returned to each place, multiplied, the portion of beauty given to him.”
The LASA Award is just a milestone in a restless existence that would take him to Columbia University or to India or Turkey. When I think of him, the images get mixed up in my mind, like in one of those Antonioni films where reality is defined based on a juxtaposition of unexpected sequences: at times I see the young man walking through New York challenging the cutting cold of the avenues to attend the premier of the work he wrote to back the 26th of July Movement: Las armas son de hierro; at others I imagine the young diplomat of the Revolution entering Buckingham Palace with aplomb to greet the Queen; there’s also the other who watches the Jupiter flowers grow in a fenced-in area or the one who sits down, face to face, to talk to the intruder. I always see the final image from the back: Pablo writing, a poem of short lines or a novel whose sheets of paper cover the entire room.
In any case, now that his health has banned his almost ubiquitous presence in the country’s social life, when he no longer attends the academic sessions in San Gerónimo, I prefer to privilege a memory that has accompanied me for several years. On one occasion, around the time when I still lived in Camagüey I coincided in Havana with a colleague from Holguín and he encouraged me to visit Pablo, but the poet was not in his residence of Calle 20 in Miramar. His wife Maruja received us in the kitchen and we talked about the memories both of us had of a dream-like place in the region of Holguín, the city of Gibara. For a while we saw her see to the phone calls, cook, receive some groceries, they were simple, daily actions, but marked by poetry. The writer was there even when he was not there physically. Perhaps the secret was in that he had known how to build a home that was not only a refuge but also continued food for poetry, which is why the coffee to the paintings on the wall, passing through the basketful of eggs, had that authentic flavour of poetry.
Neither this recent award, not even the National Prize for Literature he received in 1996, can completely recognise that human being whose life is marked by a triple loyalty: to himself, to poetry, to the Homeland. He who wrote more than 40 years ago: “It is not true that in all man who dies, the man dies,” has always carried his humanity with a disaster-proof authenticity. Pablo has always been Pablo, in pleasure and in agony. Nothing has been able to separate him from his stubborn sincerity, from his love of the island from which no exile, either interior or exterior, tore him away, which is why in addition to creating a work he above all has been able to achieve the fulfilled image of a complete human being. And that is more than enough. (2016)