A lawyer with a master’s degree in political studies, Gustavo Adolfo Garcés has been a professor of literature and political science in several universities, and works in the National Solicitors office of Human Rights and Ethnic Matters. One of the most original of Colombian contemporary poets, he has published five books of remarkably condensed and deliciously ironic poems — quite opposed to the Spanish-American rhetorical tradition— the second of which, Breves días (Brief Days) was awarded the important Colombian Institute of Culture National Poetry Prize in 1992.
The most visible feature of Garcés’ poetry — akin to the poetry of William Carlos Williams and his Colombian translator José Manuel Arango, to Japanese tankas and haiku, and Chinese poetry— is the exactness and peculiar transcendence of his poems. The reader is forced to go back to them, or rather is drawn into them: Garcés’ poems are like tiny doors which open to wide avenues; they have incredible powers of suggestion. Re-reading them, one finds proof of their peculiar poetic efficacy; behind their deceptively simple surface, there is a great deal of work, a vigilant observation of the world and of people. The poet captures or evokes the fleeting instant, or the essence of a person, or an action. The poems are ample windows to reality. His own feelings, subtly stated, are viewed with tenderness or irony, and humor, always humor.
What could be more tender in effect than this warm evocation of childhood and modest praise of filial love in ‘Childhood’: “Childhood / comes back silently / I feel my father’s hands / holding me tight?” What could be more loving than this description of an instant of happiness in ‘Daybreak’: “Oh! / this happy and solitary / certainty / of the first / thought / being your face?’” And what could be more ironic, and in very different ways, than the two views of poetry in ‘A Fable’ and in ‘Difficulties of Poetry’? In the first, an ironic ars poetica, he gives a comically cosmic role to poetry, and also presents a sort of grandiose program. He says first that the poem “…should give cause / to a composition for orchestra / to elevate the soul a little”; then that it should be “…some subtle verses / to recount a certain captivity / a certain resistance / a certain striving”; and finally that the poem should be:
worthy of memory
but through a small fable
that would also be
the natural history of plants
The apparition of these grand schemes in the middle of the simple words of his poetry is quite surprising and effective. Somehow Garcés expresses the tremendous difficulty, the tense striving to write poetry as opposed to the irrelevant fact of making poetry, which is what he evidently does, that searching for expression that may imply simple observation or an intuition of something beneath. His usual method is allusion, but here he is even being sarcastic. So in ‘Difficulties of Poetry’ he talks about — or does he?— the essence of poetry, the instant in which the poem is born in the mind of the poet, even during a rather boring meeting with friends:
The idea was
to drink a bit
to be cheerful
but we got much
and what we did
was to have to high
Critics have said that Garcés writes “micro-poems”. This is, as far as I know, a non-existent genre, but one might say that their playful use of understatement and their concreteness transform them into small miracles of “macro-understanding”. You don’t find such beautiful — and concrete — poetry in many places!
Libro de poemas, Editorial Lealón, Medellín, 1987
Breves días, Antares, Bogotá, 1992, ISBN 958-612-112-7
Pequeño reino, Editorial Magisterio, Ulrika Editores, Bogotá, 1998, ISBN 958-20-0407-X
Espacios en blanco, Editorial Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, ISBN 958655453-8
Libreta de apuntes, Universidad Externado de Colombia, Bogotá, 2006, ISBN 958-710-166-9
Luis Ángel Arango Library. 10 poems in Spanish
Luis Ángel Arango Library. Poems in Spanish
Magazine University of Antioquia. 8 poems in Spanish.