A lawyer with a degree from the Universidad de Antioquia, Alberto Vélez has worked as a judge for 20 years. With only three slim books published in almost thirty years, Alberto Vélez might be considered a ‘strange’ poet, despite (and because of) the formal, almost conservative quality of his work (he is a faithful and devoted reader of the Spanish Golden Age, and is also resistant to some of the experimental avant-garde movements of the twentieth century.
Readers and friends who know the poet usually say that there seems to be a dissociation between his personality (discreet and introverted) and his published work. He is one of those rare poets who see seclusion, discretion and the aim towards formal perfection as one of the most ethical forms of respect for poetry, which is always reached with a painful (and loving) dose of doubt and uncertainty, but also of gratitude: “I live in the most useless war against the word. I am always the mediocre victor, the guilt-tormented rapist”, he writes in ‘The Guilt-Ridden One’, from the book Para olvidar de memoria (For Forgetting by Heart).
Despite his personal desire for seclusion and a certain contemplative inclination, one sees that most of Vélez’s published work seems to oppose discretion, modesty and a retired life. Indeed, Para olvidar de memoria and Voces de Baguí alternate without struggle between teratology and epiphany, between eschatology and the open and lyrical celebration of the living universe.
Formal restraint and the aim towards syntactical perfection go hand in hand with a language that is sometimes boldly violent, torn, and on occasion frankly eschatological, almost annoying (given its mentions of blood, pus, snot, sores, scabs, flies, worms, popped-out eyes), and which evokes some passages from Los cantos de Maldoror.
The poet himself has confessed (privately, and as befits his character) that he does not recognise himself in these books – that he was very young and in despair, ardent and feverish – and that, as a matter of fact, they are the poems of suffering; not the anachronistic offspring of an ambitious and teenage-like poet posing as an enfant terrible, but rather, as Rilke put it, poems issuing from necessity.
For those who have read Para olvidar de memoria and Voces de Baguí (Voices from Baguí), which have common ground both in style and in the obsessions that inspire them, the new poems by Alberto Vélez published here on Poetry International Web cannot fail to surprise. The poems published here are of a ‘different’ cast: still the offspring of necessity, but no longer feverish, or in any case with the “fever that unhurriedly thinks on itself”: deeply intimate, personal, confessional – but also very much ours. Some of them are elegiac (‘The death of the father'), others, such as ‘The guamo tree’, one of the most beautiful poems written in Colombia in the second half of the twentieth century, are sweetly epiphanic.
Para olvidar de memoria (For Forgetting by Heart), Editorial Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, 1982
Habida palabra (Word Had), Plural Magazine, Mexico D.F., 1987
Voces de Baguí (Voices from Baguí), Ediciones Mariposa Verde, Manizales, 2004