Born in 1945, Raúl Gómez Jattin desultorily studied law for some years, became an actor, and left the stage to live and write poetry, a barefoot destitute even when, after publishing his first book and giving some readings, he became a fairly well-known poet. Of the theater he said that he loved using his body to express emotions; of poetry, that he tried to “achieve clarity, to show reality”. He was a true poète maudit, having received from poetry as he said, “madness, poverty and loneliness”; but, he added, also “idleness, a great happiness, and friendships”.
Homosexual love and even zoophilia have a sort profane sanctity in his poems (“The great religion is the metaphysics of sex”) because for him everything is part of that nature which he evokes in a pantheist delirium. One of the distinguishing features in his poetry is his love of the river Sinú, the valley and the mountains near the Caribbean sea where he was born and lived as a child, and from where – its fruits, its animals, its heat – he never seemed to get away. Its people, on the other hand, were the ‘arrogant’ multitude that wanted to instil in him “a truth not made to my measure”, a multitide far from whom he wrote – or rather “lit up” – his poems.
His first book, Poemas, was published when he was thirty-five years old, after a period of great suffering, in which he realized he was a poet. Marijuana gave “wings and air to [his] artistic imagination”. Eight years later, in 1988, he published his Tríptico cereteano (Ceretean Triptych), made up of three separate books: Retratos (Portraits), a series of portraits of friends, relatives and acquaintances; Amanecer en el valle del Sinú (Dawn in the Sinú Valley) an evocation of the Sinú valley; and Del amor (About Love), a look at the erotic world. He said that this book was like a novel, he being the main character in the plot, telling of his land and of what he had seen of his contemporaries.
After that, he published Hijos del tiempo (Sons of Time), a recreation of certain Greek myths and something of his own life story. It is a book, he wrote, dedicated to “death’s anguishing presence throughout the whole of life”. The last book published in his lifetime was a slim volume of short poems, Esplendor de la mariposa (The Splendour of the Butterfly) in which he announces his “flight to death”.
Of his last years he said that he had spent them “begging on the streets, sleeping on sidewalks or in parks, and spending more or less long periods of time in a series of psychiatric clinics.” He died under the wheels of a bus in Cartagena, in whose path he had thrown himself to end a sacrifice he had begun when he started writing his first poems. No other Colombian poet had laid himself bare – and consequently defied society – as much as he had.
Tríptico cereteano, 1988
Hijos del tiempo, 1989
Esplendor de la mariposa, 1993
Websites on Jattin
Magazine Número: Essay about Raúl Gómez Jattin by William Ospina
Isla Ternura: Essays and poems
Review of Esplendor de la mariposa
Review of Hijo del tiempo