Born in the industrial city of Medellín, where his father worked as a power-loom mechanic, and self-taught, Mario Rivero has had a varied life. Veteran of the Korean war, salesman of refrigerators, encyclopedias and art books, singer of tangos and manager of bolero singers, impresario of bullfights and writer of bullfighter profiles for posters, radio presenter and art dealer and critic among many other things, in 1972 he founded the longest-living Colombian poetry magazine, Golpe de Dados, which has given its name to a whole generation of poets. He has published books on Botero and other Colombian painters and more than a dozen books of poetry.
When Rivero published Poemas urbanos (Urban Poems) in 1963, he revolutionised Colombian poetry. Its everyday language, its proletarian setting and its colloquial tone broke with the formal poetry that was being written in this highly conservative and closed-in country. It was a liberation. He invited “the word” to take off its clothes and said: “you will be the lover of a man to whom it doesn’t matter/ if you are ugly or poor”. In one of the few notes he has written about his poetry he stated that it responded to “a new poetic will . . . they are antideclamatory poems. Hard. Without rhythm. That affront conventional poetry . . . It is a question of writing clearly. Of preferring common words to bombastic and ornamental words. It is, above all, a question of being direct.”
In this first book, Rivero tenderly and ironically evoked the world of poverty – of working in a factory where he “was going to be a man” – and the simple pleasures of his youth; of hard work, and boredom on ‘yawning’ Saturdays and Sundays; of friendship and sex with girls with gaudy makeup, ready to lift their skirts on the grass by a dirty river, and dreaming all the time of adventures and love in the darkness of the movies; and of travelling to the outside world, of escaping to find a better life. The poems are full of lonely, unemployed or discontented men and ‘easy’ girls, and tell stories, like that of the typist, full of illusions at fifteen and who now, trampled on by time – that “leprous horse” – has breasts like “sick oranges” and waits in vain; the poet advises her that as in the long-gone past with her boyfriend she let some man take her hand.
In some of those early poems, Rivero departs from this depressing and deeply-lived ambiance and looks ironically at an astronaut or at the murder of Kennedy, announcing the later subjects – Ho Chi Minh, François Villon, Bonnie and Clyde, Perry, one of the murderers of In Cold Blood, for example – of many of his long ‘ballads’, in which he adds to his very personal, narrative style touches of dramatic dialogue and quotations from the press or from books or songs. Some of them are a kind of verbal collage in verse and prose, and all are coloured by his willingness to bear witness to the human adventure, without leaving anything out. His usual anti-heroes don’t disappear but, on the contrary, are treated in an epic manner reminiscent of Whitman, the poet who showed him as a young man the way to a free, generous, all-including poetry.
Some of Rivero’s later poetry is contemplative, philosophical or sentimental. Far from the noise of the city streets, in deep silence, contemplating the rain falling, the poets thinks about death, and can see himself as a great sea bird returning to die on its friendly rock, or riding a horse far from the cities, or in a brief encounter with a woman that becomes a delicious vignette – she thinks he’s a truck driver and admires the ‘vulgarity’ of his style, and he that she is a princess drawn to him in her boredom.
Rivero has indeed had a rich life, and his poetry, direct and popular, is its rich reflection. To write it, he says, he followed “the confessional tendency of the American poets, writing with sincerity, with authenticity, with the understanding that there are no poetic or antipoetic elements, nor a language specifically poetic, nor some themes specifically more valuable than others”.
Poemas urbanos, Bogotá, Antares-Tercer Mundo, 1963.
Noticiario 67, Bogotá, 1967.
Vuelvo a las calles, Bogotá, 1968.
Vivo todavía, 1971.
Baladas sobre ciertas cosas que no se deben nombrar, 1972.
Arte y artistas de Colombia, 1972.
Panorama artístico colombiano no. 1, 1977.
Panorama artístico colombiano no. 2, 1979.
Panorama artístico colombiano no. 3, 1980.
Baladas: Antología poética, 1980.
Panorama artístico colombiano no. 4, 1981.
Artes gráficas en Colombia, 1982.
Artes gráficas en Colombia: Los de ayer y los de hoy, 1982.
Los poemas del invierno, 1985.
Mis asuntos, Bogotá, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 1986.
Vuelvo a las calles, 1989.
Del amor y su huella, 1992.
Mis asuntos (anthology), Bogotá, Arango Editores, 1995.
Poemas con cámara, Bogotá, Arango Editores, 1997.
Flor de pena, Bogotá, Arango Editores, 1999.
Qué corazón, Bogotá, Arango Editores, 1999.
Remembering Spoon River, Bogotá, Ediciones San Librario, 2003.
Balada de la Gran Señora, Bogotá, Arango Editores, 2004.
La Palabra Viva
Biography and selection of poems
El Banco de la República
Essay by Hernando Valencia Goelkel
El Banco de la República
Article by Gonzalo Arango