The highly praised poetry of José Luis González Sanjuan, whose pen name is Fernando Denis, is greatly influenced by English poetry and painting of the nineteenth century. In fact, this imaginative son of the tropics — he was born on the Caribbean coast — has proclaimed himself a Pre-Raphaelite “in love with dreams”. He has published three volumes of poetry, in the third of which he collected his first book — The Invisible Creature in the Sunsets of William Turner — and two more books, under the title The Red Wine of Syllables.
Denis shares with the Pre-Raphaelites their sensual and almost mystical romanticism, and in his poems he transports us to a world of great beauty: the myths, characters and images of world art and literature, from Homer to Borges. He is inspired in particular by Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine; by William Turner whose “ . . . demented light dreams in mirrors / The monologue of bright red sunsets, / Frigates burnt by mortal colors”; and by Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s “architecture of hell”. He is obsessed by certain themes: the elements (especially fire), painting, colors, night, hell, mirrors, the double, and — logically for this fervent son of the tropic of Cancer — snow, and lakes of ice.
In his first book, in which he takes us to his “golden” nineteenth century, he calls Turner “brother of fire” and asks his spirit to “bring forth flames / In our words”; becomes inspired by Jules Verne's fantastic traveler, Phileas Denis, “a young painter of the Colombian Caribbean, traveler and ornithologist”, and also a carver who with his own hand “reinvents colors”; and travels to the “south of fire and red wood nourished by fire”, a region of “intense blues”, in a homage to the great Colombian poet Aurelio Arturo.
In Ven a estas arenas amarillas (Come unto these yellow sands), Denis’s double arrives in “the country of metaphor / Where all is painting, splendors . . .” There, the yellow sands, the ancient woods and their magic are the inspiration for the poetry (“drunk with metaphors”) of this mad bearer of a multiple personality who paints, among other incredible visions, Piranesi's fantastic “play of circles and labyrinths”. Piranesi's engravings reveal a monstrous and horrific subterranean world, an image in black and white of the collective unconscious — like the poems, full of color, of Fernando Denis.
In his poem ‘Tamburlaine’ we perceive his method. Tamburlaine and his beloved Zenocrate, the characters in the tragedy by Marlowe, are transformed by Denis’s imagination. The conqueror of Central Asia, who describes himself in the play as “the scourge of God and Terror of the World”, in the poem “observes metaphors” like any poet, and suffers from portentous deliriums, from which he is saved — as a romantic and sensitive lover— by remembering his loved one; and she, the daughter of the sultan of Egypt, glides in her sledge “breaking ice floes” as if she lived in Norway. One must add that Marlowe was as free in his interpretation of historical characters as Denis; history for both is just a means to indulge in their rich poetic vision.
La criatura invisible en los crepúsculos de William Turner, Instituto Distrital de Cultura y Turismo, Bogotá, 1991.
Ven a estas arenas amarillas, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Departamento de Literatura, Bogotá, 2004.
El vino rojo de las sílabas, Editorial La Serpiente Emplumada, Tortuga Ediciones, Bogotá, 2007, ISBN 978-958-98151-2-0.
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