Cuban poet visits campus

by Annie Huang / Beacon Staff • February 10, 2016

Victor Fowler Calzada, poet and author of more than 10 books, shared his experience of living in revolutionary Cuba with a crowd of almost 100 students Wednesday last week.

At the writing, literature, and publishing department’s function, the Cuba native delivered some of his original poetry, all written in Spanish, and then explained the events that accompanied them. Following each poem, host Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann, an assistant professor, read her translations to the audience.

“When you discover a love for literature, it’s important to find people to like the same thing,” Calzada, 55, said at the event.

He said his writing usually focuses on race, gender, sexuality, and Cuban literature. His poems often feature descriptions of animals, like birds, horses, and pigs that are often seen in his country. He uses these events to depict the racial tension that still exists in Cuba today.

A line in one Calzada’s poems translates to: “While the horse was being beaten, it bloomed.”

Another excerpt from his poem, “Isla Que Resbala,” or Sliding Island, translates to: “I try to hold the island sliding between my fingers, its white beach catching fire under the sun. Musical evening full of notes, conversation on the green grass, the body of the naked gods, their joy. I was round within and full of flavor.”

Calzada said that when he writes, he is able to discover more about himself, the world, and its history. He said that while he likes the art of writing, he also fears it.

“It’s highly complicated because [when you write], you spend all this time discovering, asking, and finding answers that you may not want and are not prepared for,” Calzada said. “These new realities [that you find] can change all the things you have very carefully organized. [Writing] is a process of construction and destruction.”

Unlike many writers from his generation who fled his homeland, Calzada stayed and published 15 volumes of poetry and essays, which have been distributed in countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, and England. After he graduated with a degree in education from the Instituto Superior Pedagógico in Cuba, he said he taught secondary level math and Spanish for several years.

“The only way I found to enter this new world of literature is to offer my time [and] to teach,” Calzada said.

Calzada said some of his favorite authors include Ernest Hemingway, Emily Dickinson, and T. S. Eliot. He said he loves the imagination and creativity that they put into their writing.

"I love how [Hemingway] was able to express very complex realities with almost nothing, just a few words and a simple construction,” Calzada said.

According to Calzada, his time at what he called the “House of Culture” enhanced his love for writing. The group held occasional meetings to share books and talk about literature. He said that he was able to express his love for poetry with these strangers who came from different backgrounds.

“Even today, it was one of my most beautiful memories, because they are the ones who helped me deal with isolation and led me to my greatest moment in life,” Calzada said.

Freshman visual and media arts major Julio Villegas II, who was at the event, said that he learned about Calzada’s work from a friend. After sharing the reading with his bilingual research writing course, Villegas said his professor Tamera Marko decided to continue her class at the poetry reading. Marko’s writing class is taught in both Spanish and English.

Marko, who has also published poetry, said she was amazed by the turnout and the atmosphere created by Calzada’s electric presence.

“I was in tears when he read Let My Children Sleep and talked about the difficulty in translating the untranslatable,” Marko said.

Villegas said the imagery in Calzada’s poems resonated with him, and that he was glad to hear another Hispanic voice at Emerson.

“It was an enchanting environment that [Calzada’s] presence has created for me,” Villegas said. “It felt like memory has manifested itself once more in front of me; a man from my own culture, recounting sentiments and stories that existed when my mother was a child on that island.”

Aside from the obstacle of language, Calzada said another challenge that he has faced is writing itself. He said that it is often difficult to find the right word to describe his experience and that simply changing one can change the whole meaning of his poem.

“[The language barrier] is a reality,” Calzada said, “but [to me], it only makes up a small part in the process of writing, and poetry is so much more than just a simple dedication.”