FEATURED POET: ELIZABETH SCHÖNPRESENTED BY GUILLERMO JUAN PARRA who offers an introductory essay. After the introduction are 16 prose poems by Elizabeth Schön, an essay by Schön, and an article on Schön by Yolanda Pantin. All English translations are by Parra.
Guillermo Juan Parra was born in Cambridge, MA. He attended Boston University and now works as a teacher in that city. He is editing an anthology of XX century Venezuelan poetry in English translation. His poems and essays have appeared in Xcp, 6x6, CARVE and The CLR James Journal.
The Poetry of Elizabeth Schön
By Guillermo Juan Parra
The poet and playwright Elizabeth Schön was born in 1921 in Caracas, where she continues to live and write. She studied philosophy and literature at the Universidad Central de Venezuela and was married for many years to the writer and TV & radio broadcaster Alfredo Cortina, who died in 1988. She published her first collection in 1953 and has been an important (though often overlooked) presence in Venezuelan letters since then.
For this feature, I have translated a sequence of 16 untitled prose poems from her 1972 book Casi un país. I have been unable to find a copy of that book, so my translations are based on the excerpt included in her selected poems, Antología poética (Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 1998). These poems recount the musings of a young girl who has arrived in Caracas from the small town of Borburata. As she explores Caracas, accompanied by her friend Juan, the young Lucía maps out the immensity of a city that not only inspires her but becomes her adopted country. These poems reflect a city in its final stages of transformation, from semi-rural capital into a postmodern metropolis.
I have also translated an essay which Schön presented in Caracas during the summer of 2003, when she was the guest of honor at the tenth Semana de la Poesía, a yearly poetry conference (which, in these allegedly “revolutionary” times for Venezuela, was terminated last year). Finally, I have translated an appreciation of Schön’s poetics by her friend, the poet and editor Yolanda Pantin (Caracas, 1954), which first appeared in the Papel Literario literary supplement of the newspaper El Nacional.
Schön’s work remains largely unknown outside Venezuela. Even within her country, she is read by a select few, perhaps because her work resists simple classification, often blurring the line between poetry and philosophical discourse. In recent years, Schön has founded her own editorial venture, Editorial Diosa Blanca, through which she continues to publish her poems and essays.
At a time when Venezuela is drawing attention throughout the world for its farcical chapter in the long and ignominious history of Latin American dictatorships, the work of a poet such as Schön becomes ever more important. She reminds us that poetry is not to be found in the excessive and duplicitous use of language for the attainment of power and celebrity. Poetry is a way of living, a form of vision the writer and reader must dedicate their lives to, in hopes of learning how to discern what the universe tells us. The poetry of Elizabeth Schön serves as a point of departure, a place where language and being coincide in near silence, far from the dross of political and social pretensions.
--Boston, May 2006
Almost a Country
By Elizabeth Schön
I was born in Borburata. There was a green plant holder in the hallway; the water would hurl itself down and would echo inside the clay jug with a sound like small coins falling. A fountain stood out in the patio; the ferns bunched up around it and formed a greenish, humid awning that smelled pleasant. The pillars were round, made of wood, and nails which sometimes injured, jutted out of the cracked sections.
The house had few rooms. The rooftops were made out of cañabrava wood and mangrove beams; that’s where the spiders wove their hives, which packed the edges of the wooden framework. On the headpieces of the beds and in the water jugs, the moths and a fine, golden sand brought in by the wind from the distant sea would always accumulate. Two little stoves were always turned on; occasionally, a fly or a bee, who had been hunting the soup that was being cooked, would scorch itself within the embers.
Behind the yard, where an apamate tree grew, ran a gorge. The cows would go there to drink, while the thrushes picked at their feathers and I thought of the day I would live in Caracas, Caracas which I imagined as if it were the most beautiful, immense palace inhabited by glorious men.
Juan is my friend and he has such black and such large eyes that it’s impossible for the sun to ever make them fade one day.
I met him one afternoon, he didn’t ask my name, he stood there observing me, quietly, calmly; he contemplated the mountains through the windowpanes, with the multitude of houses spread around them: hats the wind would have tossed. I told him my name was Lucía and with a soft, tender voice he began to repeat it, as though I’d told him the name of a continent, a lake, a forest he was anxious to observe.
He said we’d go see different places in Caracas today. I can’t figure out which ones. Whatever place we might visit, we will find something beautiful. I don’t think ugliness exists; if it does, it is surely the result of there not being enough clarity to appreciate the streets, the sharpness of the colors, the patience of the breeze that knocks on the large wooden doors until they open making a sound very close to the one that arises if you write on an old, worn chalkboard, with many cracks.
I approach the window. A yellow leaf falls on my shoulder. I like it, it has the same color as my dress. I will save it in one of my books, I feel as though everything that looks like me or my things belongs to me.
The sun announces that Juan is coming to pick me up. We will soon walk together. We will see streets, buildings, plazas, churches and in every corner, every bend, I will discover a detail, a blade of grass I have never seen before, and I will immediately recall the first day they gave me a hobby horse and I told myself I would ride him through all the cities in the world. The horse broke but now I have a friend and together we will get to know each one of this city’s houses, with names like the sound the waterfall makes when it pours from the highest point of the mountain.
Next to the stairs of El Calvario, I say to Juan: “Let's not descend the
steps too quickly.” “Lucía, if you want to know this city you have to
hurry. Caracas is too big, so much that I almost mistake her for a
We descend quickly. Since I'm happy, I remain quiet. Juan has told me not
to speak when I'm content; it's better to be quiet, and this way the
happiness doesn’t end. It actually remains intact, like certain gifts
that are stored so as to not be damaged or broken.
The clock in El Calvario is silent, like the shores of a lake are silent.
High above, with a vizier’s figure, with the color of a cloud forecasting a storm, they placed him next to the flight of steps so that someone continuously ascended or descended and in this way he would never be alone.
We’ve never heard his bell, we’ve never heard his tolling that clamors: one hour concludes and another one begins and to me this seems like a book you read until the last letter so as to immediately begin another one. And it also reminds me of the wave that folds, bursts, and another one immediately follows and does the same thing and thus successively, forever.
Finally, we’re in front of the San Francisco ceiba tree! And it looks
so much like a friar who continuously listens to the rain, the breeze,
the wind, the birds, and who never ceases to be sheltered by the sky's
Look toward the cathedral and tell me if its tower doesn’t remind you of the figure of a shepherd who counts his sheep and contemplates the sky daily, hoping to enter one day.
Observe the clock; it sounds constantly and it sounds just like an anvil that never stops; it is round, like they say the world is round, and notice this: its needles look like thorns that injure, except instead of injuring these ones caress one of the numbers, maybe touching the window so it will open, and the inner din of a patio where the children of the earth play will bud.
The retreat has begun. The musicians amass themselves. Juan sits down to hear the melodies. I distract myself by counting the musicians and watching their uniforms made of a very dark blue; I distinguish shiny buttons on their jackets, as if they were full of seeds.
I contemplate the band, the lecterns and the notebooks where the scores are written and I say to myself quietly: what enormous instruments these are they blow with their lips! Some are made of gold, the gold the sun leaves on the sea’s horizon, the gold the trees have if the wind shakes up the leaves and the ray falls into them, what’s more, they have the gold of rivers when a star relaxes on their surfaces, the gold of the chasubles with which the priests recite the sermons, the gold of the carriages of kings, and that gold I alone discover if someone suddenly shouts: “Juan…!”
“Lucía, tomorrow will be another day and it’s as if we said to each other: tomorrow we will look at the leaf we were unable to contemplate today, the grain that remained hidden beneath the corn seedbed.
“Once the night has passed, the sun will shine again, and we will go out again and admire the city where beings march, sometimes silently, sometimes greeting each other, chatting, always without stopping.
“Do you remember that man who, with a flour sack hanging on his shoulder, picked through a pile of empty cans with his mangy cane? That man didn’t speak. In rags, he had a long, dark beard; his hair covered parts of his ears. His skin had the resistance of an excessively archaic wall. We spoke to him and he merely looked at us. I will never forget the shine of his pupils, it was a shine that reflected a very deep pain but supported itself calmly, in stillness, while he removed the cans and the smell of tar spread itself through the space.”
Night begins. Look at the cloud that envelops the peak of Monte Ávila! There, between the cloud and the peak, the first star has appeared. It is a small star, a luminous boat in the shape of a drop of water.
I have arrived at the Plaza de Capuchinos.
The church has something of a sleeping ox, its tower reminds me of the peace of lonely roads.
People walk in the plaza’s shaded paths. I wonder if they carry a fire lily, a utensil they hope to deposit in some spot on earth.
The dovecotes stand out within the branches, the clusters confuse themselves with the straw of the nests; the leaves mix in with the excrement of the pigeons that fly toward the spaces, they are cups the wind lifts up to give away, in the mountains, in the towns.
No one stops to look at the belfry. Most people walk, as if pushed by an unceasing blizzard.
Boys, girls, adults, all follow their paths across San Martín Avenue; I know each one carries feelings, desires, secrets within, and all of them recede, are diluted within the tumult, like the sound of a voice dissolves if a scream is tossed into the jungle.
Is it possible for so many beings to live, beings that walk, speak, greet and later on continue their paths without perhaps returning, without perhaps remembering?
I enter Urdaneta Avenue. The crowd traverses it avidly, promptly, as though wanting to find out where it ends. The blocks are wide. Very tall buildings jut out from both sides, blocks that look like the boxes used for displaying apples. Some of them possess the slenderness of a grain of corn, all of them have as many holes as fishing nets have.
I discern spacious plots, with no construction yet. The tower of the Santa Capilla church is sharp, fine, an immense splinter that doesn’t scratch, that doesn’t injure; a guard that never abandons his post. There‘s the Central Post Office building, not very tall, robust…a well-fed lamb sleeping peacefully. Everywhere I look I discover different dimensions, but where does my notion of immensity, of largeness, of narrowness, of lowness come from?
A bicycle is an immense sea-horse that descends through the tunnel. The air has the solidity of a feather. I want to touch that post, I run, I grope it. I continue. It makes me so happy to feel I’m headed towards the corner and towards the other one and even towards the one I don’t glimpse yet! I have no impediments. Impediments annoy, they impede me from enjoying the fresh, clean day full of sun and breeze.
I stumble into a brass cart selling sweets and empanadas. Several laborers are busy working on a building. Others delineate the edge of the sidewalks and others set the lines indicating the curve or the open margin of the avenues.
I am in front of the Bellas Artes museum, white: cloud, seed of the whitest fruit.
I enter. Its hallways smell of meadows covered with pasture, the water of its pond tastes like an oasis. The wind slides, it is someone in search of a shelter that will protect it forever.
Could I be a descendant of Humboldt, that man who discovered rivers,
jungles, mountains, caves?
Maybe pushed by the wind, by the crowds, I have arrived at 23 de Enero.
23 de Enero is one of the most populated places in Caracas, as populated as the bottom of the sea, like the universe with all its stars, asteroids and galaxies.
Its buildings are immense transatlantic ships that, anchored at high sea, await the exit and boarding of its passengers.
In a doorway, a boy plays with a perinola. Its string bends,
lengthens, curves nimbly, while the stilled boy doesn't laugh, doesn't
speak, remains alert to the string that stretches, retracts, forming a
circumference that is pierced by the clarity and that the wind does
Juan has arrived punctually. I like his suit, it is the color of medlar. He doesn’t say a word to me; but it doesn’t matter.
We stroll through Plaza Altamira. A green grass, with yellow tones, surrounds the plaza. There are bushes, round pines, benches. The obelisk is a mast, an immense needle. Beyond the avenues, many buildings lift themselves up, with balconies, doors and ferns the breeze moves.
We sit down on a bench. The pond, placed in the center of the plaza, is wide, long; the sun penetrates there and transforms itself, beneath the water, into a white shell. A small boat, with a yellow chimney, sails slowly, its dark anchors and the metallic rigging. It stumbles into the shore and stays still; around it: water, space, sky too high above, with the stars hidden amid the clouds.
Juan stands up. He runs to the corner. He chooses a fallen branch and begins to touch it.
Then he puts something warm into my hands, somewhat scratchy, it's a nest full of newborn pigeons! I imagine the sun must have been like this when it was born and they placed it above the earth.
(Translated from Antología poética, Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 1998)
By Elizabeth Schön
Rainer Maria Rilke says something very true in his deep and sublime poetic work, and which I choose in order to try and speak about a difficult and very valuable theme belonging to the invisible, occult reality which does not remain still like the tree in the clearing, but which we still feel as authentic and registered, when we hear it in the lightning bolt that flies and points out, and at other times reaches us through a premonitory vision of future vital action, our own.
I am not an expert in esoteric matters or in any theory. I approach what I feel as complete and it helps me discover, or gauge this being in the arduous; that is why I cite Rilke who proposes the following to us: “…Listen to the breath of the unceasing message made of silence…”
I choose this phrase which seems to bring us closer to the root of the cosmic fire, because there is no way it can be qualified as one does a cathedral, a landscape, a scaffold. I perceive it most in the creative spirit of poets, since they are the subtle listeners of the earth, of man, of the sky and of the infernos.
To “…Listen to the breath of the incessant message…” is to bring ourselves closer to something that is transmitted to us and which arrives to each one “made of silence.” That is, elaborated through that which tells us without speaking and which leaves us deep inside without words, the untranslatable quality of the grandiose, what is never able to be concretized. However, thought is very similar to a mouse looking to sink its teeth into something, which is why we ask ourselves: What remains in our souls if we hear the word “silence”? This is when, suddenly, an unfathomable emptiness that drowns us invades us until we are afraid, as we remain clinging to a more demanding alternative: to hear “…the unceasing message…”
We move within the time of the clock and we follow it until reaching a conclusion: in order to understand that message, it becomes necessary, as Rilke proposes, for us to “…sweetly disengage from appearances…” Only by disengaging from them do we get closer to that absolute silence that exists and which we cannot trap. We cannot perceive within its muteness a single palpitation of any extension, nor do we discover the exact point of the beginning and the end. It is a suspense; it leaves us without a verb, shrouding us within a fog diffused without limits or frontiers, much less oppositions. He is, is here and is never the apparent, even when being or complete and powerful. I remember Vicente Huidobro when he said: “…Give me a certainty of roots in a still horizon / and a discovery that doesn’t flee at each step…” And I remember that great Spanish poet, St. John of the Cross, who wrote: “…This knowing without knowing / is of such high power / that arguing sages / will never defeat him…”
Man lives the real, the surrounding and he assumes it so much that no other motivation superior to it seems to exist. We prefer the boat of changing swells and happy cataloguing to living in the night of the invisible. Novalis said the following for a reason: “…The non-temporal is the domain of night / the eternal the dimension of sleep…” Where do we find ourselves? In what poetic place do we dwell? Are we still paused between the hidden and the visible? Do we continue to think about the separation of what is seen or unseen?
Since we are conditioned to being in contact with the city and its thousand problems, we stop ourselves and, sustained by existence’s portable railing, we quickly return to watching amorous beauty, or we resort to better establishing our actions and obtaining what we have chosen for living.
In other words, we depend once again on our existential, living, pulsing realities, such as the arts, science and politics. Economy, poverty, health, abundance and all that belongs to human activity; completely forgetting that other silent, unapproachable reality is also ours, even if it does not reveal itself to us with the agility of the waves as they bathe the spaces and elevates itself to the distant breadth of the clouds.
There is a singular, beautiful fact. When we live the untouchable within us, it begins to bud, carried by the image, the metaphor, the symbol. If we read Rilke’s phrase chosen at the beginning, we feel something begin to shine, it is the image where three different elements join together, “breath,” “message” and “silence” making themselves so real it is impossible to doubt their authenticity and vigor. They were born of the poet, at the instant the uncontainable, the unnamable, even the invisible of the beyond, impelled him to place within the figuration of the breath, of the message, of the unceasing, the silence of silence itself, portentous, interminable.
The image surges within us silently, within an inner space that has no comparison at all with our own, that one of distance, height, depth, order. Its word enters in the clarity of men and it does so without breaking, without mistreating. It merely lifts itself up and communicates. We then think of the apparition that doesn’t wound, doesn’t break when it makes itself present, it merely enters to be contemplated, listened to, even understood. A faculty that subtly shows us the apparition encountered no opposition in order to get close to us and see us, since between the unknown, the invisible and the untouchable and our cognitive world, barriers and railings don not count. Only the step that goes through and enters exists.
To confirm what I have just laid out (one cannot speak about things one has not lived; it is easy to fall into fantasy, which has to be tied to what exists), I will recount an apparition that occurred within me, after the death of my mother. I tended to ask her insistently to come and find me so we could continue living together. I couldn’t stand her absence; wherever I looked things didn’t seem complete, she was missing. This made me lose contact with the earth, even with the skies.
We lived facing the church in Las Mercedes, a very wide, tall construction made of samán wood, whose color was not precisely green, it was an almost toasted yellow of a horizon falling towards night. One afternoon as I was descending from the terrace of the house, I saw the walls of the patio covered in an orange radiance surrounding the guava tree. I stopped. The sun was beginning to hide. All I could see was that radiance, its light was different, it made me feel I was somewhere I had never been before. It was a light opened especially for eyes and amazement. I touched the walls, I felt the coldness of the guardian who cannot be seen. I immediately asked myself: “What is happening?” I slowly descended to the center where the tree had been born, which is when I noticed that this encompassing radiance was not only orange, it had blue, green and crimson. I was staring at the inexplicability of that luminosity that formed an enormous oval with surprise, weaving in my glance a distant country, more secure and indelible. I discovered, without any disturbance, the place from which the light emanated. Encrusted in the fork of the branches was a small figure of a virgin. Her presence irradiated a tangible clarity, an extremely white center burst forth from her entire body, a whiteness not even the clouds can provide us.
I didn’t ask myself any questions, I didn’t think anything. I was immobile, I felt neither skin nor any hand, until I heard someone say, with a soft and slow voice: “…I can’t take you with me just yet…”
The luminous vanished without a trace. I remained standing, sustained by the floor and the wall.
I watched the tree, not a single leaf moved. Nothing had changed around it. I went to the hallway and sat down. What did the virgin want to tell me? I quickly answered myself: “…she can’t take me. I’m here to do something…” The night, the stars, the constellations grew close to me; I had understood the message. A very long extension grew in front of me with a precise conclusion.
In those days I found myself in the youthful disjunctive of wanting to be a nun, a trapeze artist or a ballerina. I secretly intuited that if I told anyone about the apparition of the virgin and told them she had spoken to me, they would laugh at me. It is better to keep what one has discovered secret, since others might erase it.
Time passed and I never told anyone, only I had seen this not anyone else, which is why I can speak without exaggeration about that real presence in the space of dusk’s penumbra.
It is apt to say an apparition is not valid since it is not real, apprehensible. It doesn’t contain the duration of a box, a crayon or a car. In this way, we free ourselves from the work of understanding the world of the invisible joined with the visible. It is not agreeable to shake up the known; in this way, the apparition is rejected as though it were merely the product of a child’s imagination. The child knows how to distinguish between what wounds or caresses and perhaps because of that innate safety we carry with us from a very young age, it is less difficult for us to apprehend when an apparition enters silently, like the breeze, offering us a close and precise silhouette like the prairies, the dust, the musical instrument.
What’s incredible about the apparition is that it arrives, and it arrives as it is. Shrouded in a light which isn’t precisely the light of the sun, of the stars. It is a light which is found in what never ends: the eternal, and which lives inside us precisely because of the silent arrival of the apparition.
Since then I knew I would become something on earth. I discovered it long after having studied music, philosophy and literature. All of this conspired to make me reach the poem, where I established myself forever.
Likewise, intuition is much stronger during childhood. It has more internal space in which to extend itself without having to adhere to any day, any hour.
The child believes, adults only perhaps. This is why a child has the possibility of feeling, of knowing what others cannot live. They are less tied to the time of the second, and even less to constructed space. The infant intuits, and it doesn’t ask if that intuition is real or not, since it discovers what has not yet become reality, and which sometimes happens in a few days or which requires years to realize itself.
From here we can add that certain children carry within themselves, and due to intuition, a type of special, internal vision, which few people understand, since it doesn’t depend on measurements or on the solar.
When I was four years old I intuited my mother’s death. For me, it constituted a truth as large as the one represented by my house, moss and food. I couldn’t get close to any child who was an orphan. If by chance this happened, I would break out into a weeping so large I felt it would never stop. The certitude of maternal death never abandoned me. One day, as soon as I turned eight, she died.
The apparition and the vision have a characteristic that joins them. They appear freely, and with the untouchable speed of the rotating earth. They take from the sun its whiteness and from the horizon the sails that approach us. Both are tangible, they can emerge within a dark space or in a space of rounded illumination. And their reality is formed by the silence which they themselves contain in the lapse of their duration.
An apparition is an enormous series of waves with no sea to sustain them and no hammer to smash them. A vision is the figuration of a reality that lives without knowing how to, and of which we are participants; actors in an infinite but real stage.
Years ago I met Petra Méndez. She was born in the prairies and due to reasons of destiny she came to Caracas and ended up working in my house. After many years she got sick and had to be hospitalized. As the days passed her face began to rejuvenate. I said to myself: “Her end is near.” One afternoon her face acquired the freshness of a 10-year-old girl. My hands clutched her left arm. In that instant, the room was transformed and suddenly we both found ourselves walking on a long, narrow dock. On all sides of us, dark green foliage was turning into a blackness like that of the night spoken of by Novalis. Silence enveloped us. Our steps could not be heard. We reached the end of the dock. The darkness was deeper than that of the cosmos. We both stopped. Suddenly she jumped, disappearing into that black wall with an absorbent presence. I remained alone on the dock. When I tried to look for her, I found myself once again in the hospital room. She remained immobile on the bed, she wasn’t breathing. She had died.
In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says: “…The visible stops the glance…” In his book Memorial, Rafael Cadenas proposes: “…The eyes have only reality…” Both authors coincide in noting that the glance does not go beyond what surrounds us, that is, the glance does not go beyond the invisible, all that remains are the eyes full of immediate reality. Which leads me to think the problem of arriving at the absolute and unnamable somehow depends on vision. In this, not only does sight act but so does intuition. Perhaps, and I couldn’t explain this, a reflexive-intuitive feeling goes much further beyond the simple act of seeing. Sight is capable of assimilating what is impossible to see, to touch. This is why the poet is the one who can propose such problems and, in the same way, we find authors who complement each other with the introspection of the invisible-visible.
Poetry, like the apparition, does not force, it buds. It exists here, within each person, returning the world to us through the image.
Caracas, 9 June 2003
(Translated from Kalathos, October 2003)
A Thinking Poetics
By Yolanda Pantin
Meanwhile, thought. Will it continue to be that slightly bluish light where the sands of the sea's concave circle are found? E.S.
All poetry has its hour, which is why there is no need to ever force it to tell us. And it's just that when one is young one usually lets oneself be seduced by the flash of the images in the poem, and by the emotion that springs from the song. That is youth and that is the obligation of young poets: to have blind faith in words, to let oneself be dragged by the verbal torrent until we reach the "floor." Thus, it is not the same thing to be a reader at 20 than at 40. Youth is impatient, doesn't contain itself, it wants to be moved down to the bones, lose its head. But Elizabeth Schön's poetry is contained from its beginnings, a poetry that according to my understanding was written in full conscience and responsibility, a poetry that wants to communicate what it thinks, a reflective poetry to be read in a removed part of the house, with nothing to distract us.
We have seen that many poets value more what surges from the unconscious like a brute force than what results from intellectual effort. But Elizabeth Schön's poetry congregates both forces because it is impossible to separate the heart from the head, sensibility from reason, poetry being the balancing point: it is not thought, it is not emotion.
And it is because of the confluence of both forces that her poetry seems profoundly human to me, since it doesn't separate, it doesn't disintegrate and for which reason I perceive it as being close to the searches of some contemporary artists.
But now I want to highlight the importance that, in my view, the exercise of thought has in her work, which is made very evident in the book La granja bella de la casa. There is a poem by María Clara Salas that speaks of how we depend on the "thread" of thought in order to not lose our sanity. The thread of thought is an image that also makes me remember an artist contemporary to Elizabeth and among those with whom I've been able to establish a relationship: it is Gego, that woman who sat down to thread space, to create infinite universes of relations from nothingness.
It is very stimulating to see these two great artists in front of their contemporaries, how they sustained their discourses from the isolated place that inevitably and fortunately conditions the fact of being a woman: Gego, without letting herself be tempted by the titanic endeavors of the "founders of modernity" (I'm thinking above all about Alejandro Otero and Jesús Rafael Soto) and Elizabeth, as well, but with an interesting particularity, in my view. Although younger, she respectfully removes herself from the production of the women who were her contemporaries: from that of Ida Gramcko who was a very close friend of hers; from that of Antonia Palacios given over to the will of her ghosts; from that of Ana Enriqueta Terán seduced by the great agrarian captains that were her ancestors and from that of Luz Machado, prisoner of that house that denied her right to exist. While all that occurred, that is to say: while the history of Venezuelan literature and art happened, Gego and Elizabeth Schön remained concentrated in their quiet task. Time has ratified them in the choice they sustained against the tides brought by the wind. Because what I admire about both of them is the coherence and the faithfulness to their thought.
But in the same way Gego threaded those nets that gather us from the void, Elizabeth Schön's poetry gathers us from the passion and exalted emotion in the warp threaded by her "thought."
In an article about the book El antiguo labrador (in: Ensayos temporales, El Libro Menor, Academia de la Historia, Caracas, 1984) Ludovico Silva sees how "in this poetry a thought appears that is like a complicated warp." A "reticularean warp" adds Ludovico...
Moreover, she herself told me in a recent conversation that hers was "a thinking poetics." But "what does it mean to think?" the poet asks herself in a fragment of the book and she herself answers Heidegger's question: "it seems to be to think Being."
When I went to say hello to her for the first time in Los Rosales, I saw how she had filled that place that is her home with meaning: a place populated by her being. But now she tells us, following Heidegger's thought (language is the house of being) that the word is the house of being. And we have spoken about this many times because Elizabeth has confided in me how over the years it has become more and more evident what poetry means to her profoundly. Poetry receives all of us since it is the power of metaphor to annul contrary signs, the opposites and contradictions among parts.
La granja bella de la casa is an essay but also a very beautiful poem interwoven with emotion and intellect, without any source prevailing over the other. Thus, starting from the phrase of the German philosopher that opens Letter on Humanism, the poet begins to open the many relations that have unchained the image of the house, to touch that theme I speak, and which now can be seen as the one that gives meaning to all of her work.
Now I realize that it is because of this that Luisana Itriago highlights in Elizabeth's poetry her desire for linking, the same one that in my view runs through Gego's work.
But the link can only be given without traumas, without violence, the link is only made real through metaphor and it is because of this that only poetry can congregate us in this hour of fractures and divisions. She says it herself: "metaphor, live and unbreakable hoop, is the property of a people who do not admit separations; this, as much as the images carry within themselves an indivisible watchword."
When I mentioned the relationship of Elizabeth's poetry with the work of her contemporaries, I thought of the goddesses of Greek mythology and in the one she chose out of all of them to accompany her, a goddess considered "minor" as the tone of her poetry can be "minor," since it is not bombastic or grandiloquent, since it does not seek to be more than what it can reach.
She chose the one that cared for the fire at home so it remained lit, and the one who in her modesty hid her face behind a veil. It was not in Hestia to show herself but rather to allow for heat, light, while she removed herself. Hestia was not a protagonist but a facilitator, although Elizabeth gives the covered face of the goddess a novel interpretation: Liberty is announced from the invisible stillness of Hestia's face. That is where the desire to know her factions begins, and it is the void that embraces us with its unlimited darkness.
Hestia represents the "unnamable" where the possibility of the poem that can or cannot be written exists: It is when the word opens to the patio of the house where the pillars and the rooftops are and someone announces: beautiful to not be named, beautiful a face completely unknown to daily contingency, walking.
Elizabeth Schön has been faithful to her thought, but it has required an entire life, a life given over to words, so as to have gathered it in a pristine poetics: La granja bella de la casa where she argues sustained by a "poetic thinking" that being is within the word: "What is the job of Being?--she asks--He lodges in the word and she is who expresses, because it is thinking that allows the rose to grow within itself..." And later on she adds: "By existing, the word adopts a reality as potent as that of a hill or a red, acquiring in this way the dignity of a linguistic entity." It is a matter of an indivisible all because "Being and the word touch the sky." Both in univocal silence, with no division, with no demands, just like Elizabeth's link with poetry. In this way, how can one not feel admiration for her? Because I also admire how poetry lives in her, how she expresses herself not only through means of writing, but also through sensible and intelligent conversation, as it is shown in the spaces she inhabits, in that generous patio, full of green and flowers beneath the Caracas sky.
Listening to and reading Elizabeth Schön, I realize the value she gives to words in an ethical sense—since there is also no separation between her poetry and her being, between what she thinks and what she is—, corresponds with the harmony between the things of heaven and earth. A harmony she somehow manages to communicate and which therefore moves her poetry and her presence so much. "And what is the universe?—the poet asks herself in a moment from this essay that can also be read as a prose poem—Perhaps the star that protects amid its shine the round and sonorous house of Being?"
Because of her, I have been able to understand that everything has meaning because nothing is contrary or opposed: everything is part of a mystery, the one represented by the covered face of Hestia and from where the poem calls us. It remains up to us, through the intelligence we were given, through the gift of discernment, to make an effort to move beyond the limits that are also our jails: In the place where the poem's possibility exists, liberty also exists, as does the annulment of the forces that separate us from the indivisible Being within the word.
Elizabeth has certainly provided us a lesson by offering her life to the talent that was given to her. She knew how to value it, appreciate it; she knew how to share it with us, her friends and her readers. She did not disdain it, she gave it a place at the center of her house, like the bread upon the table, since her relationship to poetry is not only literary. Let us listen, then, to what this major poet has to tell us.
(Translated from Papel Literario, El Nacional, 3 December 2005)