Louis Esterhuizen. Die slagyster van geleentheidsverse

Volgens ‘n berig op die Washington Post se webblad is dit verlede week bekend gemaak dat Richard Blanco (foto) deur president Obama se kantoor aangewys is as die digter wat die inwydingsgedig tydens sy inhuldiging op 21 Januarie moet lewer. Hiermee sluit die Kubaansgebore  Blanco aan by vername voorgangers soos Maya Angelo en Robert Frost. Volgens die Washington Post se beriggewer is hierdie aanstelling nié sonder kontroversie nie. “The author of three critically acclaimed collections, Blanco is a relatively obscure writer, even in the world of poetry, where giants are often unknown to the public at large. In the announcement, his superlative personal story attracted more attention than his work: Blanco, 44, will be the youngest poet, the first Hispanic poet and the first gay poet to speak at an inauguration.”

Uiteraard het dit tot ‘n debat oor die wenslikheid van ‘n amptelike “inhuldingingsgedig” aanleiding gegee. Met ‘n ietwat siniese toon stel die beriggewer dit soos volg in haar openingsparagraaf: “For the official inaugural poet — for poetry itself — it will be a singular event: Tens of millions of people all over the world will listen. In unison. To a poem. For many, it will be the only poem they hear for four years.”

Jonathan Galassi, selwers ‘n gerekende digter en hoofbestuurder van die uitgewery Farrar, Straus & Giroux, is egter van mening dat dit ‘n oeroue instelling is en iets wat steeds van nut is: “Think about Horace,” het hy gesê. “He wrote great occasional poems for Augustus. And you could say that ‘The Aeneid’ is a public poem: It’s about the founding of Rome. It’s a political statement. And there are other great poems that were inspired by political moments.” Hy het wel toegegee dat ‘n “geleentheidsvers van hierdie aard nié sonder problematiek is nie: “It can become empty and wooden. I’m not a great lover of official poetry, but I do think the idea that poetry is used in the inauguration to emphasize certain values is politically and culturally significant.”

Nog ‘n bekende digter, Mary Karr, deel dié sentiment; veral vanweë die blootstelling wat daardeur aan die digkuns gegee word: “Many poets are skeptical of an inauguration poem, but I’m not. Any forum that puts a poet on the national stage with the presumption that that person is going to be relevant and interesting, that’s a good thing. And I love the idea of an immigrant at a time like this. Does it politicize the position? Yes, but it doesn’t hurt poetry.”

Maar nie almal stem saam nie. Garrison Keillor, radioomroeper en redakteur van “Writer’s Almanac” is van mening dat dié eer van die hand gewys behoort te word: “This is one honor that should be politely declined. The poor poet steps out on stage in the midst of all that pomp and the vast crowd is restless and the poem drops (plink) like a small stone in a big lake and everyone thinks, ‘That’s it?’ Robert Frost made a good show of it, and everyone since then has been a clinker.”

Don Share, senior redakteur van die gerekende Poetry Magazine, het die president se keuse van Blaco as inhuldigingsdigter verwelkom: “Blanco’s poems sound like so many people in this country,” het hy gesê. “He works in Spanish and English, a mixture that is our native language, and he makes it sounds like real poetry. This is poetry that speaks for and from a great number of Americans. He gives a voice to the kinds of experience that people undergo every single day. Even people who don’t want to read it themselves can understand the value of a moment in which we say that this country is made of poetry.”

Vir jou leespleier volg een van Richard Blanco se gedigte hieronder.


Looking for The Gulf Motel

            Marco Island, Florida

There should be nothing here I don’t remember . . .

The Gulf Motel with mermaid lampposts
and ship’s wheel in the lobby should still be
rising out of the sand like a cake decoration.
My brother and I should still be pretending
we don’t know our parents, embarrassing us
as they roll the luggage cart past the front desk
loaded with our scruffy suitcases, two-dozen
loaves of Cuban bread, brown bags bulging
with enough mangos to last the entire week,
our espresso pot, the pressure cooker—and
a pork roast reeking garlic through the lobby.
All because we can’t afford to eat out, not even
on vacation, only two hours from our home
in Miami, but far enough away to be thrilled
by whiter sands on the west coast of Florida,
where I should still be for the first time watching
the sun set instead of rise over the ocean.

There should be nothing here I don’t remember . . .

My mother should still be in the kitchenette
of The Gulf Motel, her daisy sandals from Kmart
squeaking across the linoleum, still gorgeous
in her teal swimsuit and amber earrings
stirring a pot of arroz-con-pollo, adding sprinkles
of onion powder and dollops of tomato sauce.
My father should still be in a terrycloth jacket
smoking, clinking a glass of amber whiskey
in the sunset at the Gulf Motel, watching us
dive into the pool, two boys he’ll never see
grow into men who will be proud of him.

There should be nothing here I don’t remember . . .

My brother and I should still be playing Parcheesi,
my father should still be alive, slow dancing
with my mother on the sliding-glass balcony
of The Gulf Motel. No music, only the waves
keeping time, a song only their minds hear
ten-thousand nights back to their life in Cuba.
My mother’s face should still be resting against
his bare chest like the moon resting on the sea,
the stars should still be turning around them.

There should be nothing here I don’t remember . . .

My brother should still be thirteen, sneaking
rum in the bathroom, sculpting naked women
from sand. I should still be eight years old
dazzled by seashells and how many seconds
I hold my breath underwater—but I’m not.
I am thirty-eight, driving up Collier Boulevard,
looking for The Gulf Motel, for everything
that should still be, but isn’t. I want to blame
the condos, their shadows for ruining the beach
and my past, I want to chase the snowbirds away
with their tacky mansions and yachts, I want
to turn the golf courses back into mangroves,
I want to find The Gulf Motel exactly as it was
and pretend for a moment, nothing lost is lost.

© Richard Blanco (Uit: Looking for the Gulf Motel, 2012: Pittsburgh University Press)



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