Luis Chaves is considered one of the leading figures in contemporary Costa Rican poetry and is frequently spoken about as the new national poet. He was recently awarded the National Prize in Poetry from the Ministerio de Cultura in San José.
What sets Chaves’ work apart, among other things, is the range of registers – quotidian, metaphysical, pseudoscientific, religious, historical and pharmacological, to name a few. The movement between these registers is vertiginous at points, abetted by myriad references to high- and low-culture.
The intersections are uncanny. For example, in Monumentos ecuestres (Equestrian monuments), dialogue from The exorcist co-exists with Kyrie, Rex. The figure of Leon Cortés, who is presumably the man in the title’s monument (‘pointing towards a place / without historical value’) is counterbalanced by a cast of mock-heroic or non-normative foils: a transvestite, a cripple, a singleton, homunculus, thief and gardener, as well as ‘the children of the Second Republic . . . who shave heads and chests and armpits’, the unemployed (‘who consume anxiolytics / rolled-up in a candy wrapper . . . [at] a cinema in the suburbs’) and the elderly (‘unmoving’).
The work inhabits a space that is often strange and unsettling. We are sometimes unsure if we are in Buenos Aires, San José or Santa Teresa. (Or, for that matter, Wyoming or New York.) Vis-à-vis genre, there are similar questions. The title poem is a litany, one of many lists intermixing poetry and prose and drama. Ekphrastically rendering TV, photographs, monuments and films, it also enacts the process of writing, speaking and performing one’s role in society (down to the ‘mechanics of a smile set in motion / by a signal from the stranger who took it’). Perhaps unsurprisingly, everything is ‘off-center’, ‘out-of-focus’, steeped in the ‘fog of the drug’, until the ordinary begins to border on the sublime in a moment as fleeting as it is indelible, as when:
a few minutes of orange light are left
flattering the silhouettes
of the park’s elderly, unmoving.
This is how it is or this how I see it through
the extenuating filter
of 10 mg of Klonopin.
El anónimo. Ediciones Guayacán, San José, 1996
Los animales que imaginamos. Conaculta, México, 1998; Ediciones Perro Azul, San José, 1998; Editorial Germinal, San José, 2013
Historias Polaroid. Ediciones Perro Azul, San José, 2001; Ediciones Perro Azul, San José, 2009 (published with Asfalto. Un Road Poem)
Cumbia. Eloísa Cartonera, Buenos Aires, 2003; chapbook of Chan Marshall
Chan Marshall..Visor, Madrid, 2005; Vox, Buenos Aires, 2011; Editorial Germinal, San José, 2012
Asfalto. Un Road Poem, Ediciones Perro Azul, San José, 2006; Ediciones Perro Azul, San José, 2009 (published with Historias Polaroid); Ediciones Liliputienses, Madrid, 2012; Ediciones Lanzallamas, San José, 2012
Monumentos ecuestres. Editorial Germinal, San José, 2011
La máquina de hacer niebla. Vela de Gavia / La Isla de Siltolá, Sevilla, 2012
La foto / Das Foto. Bilingual anthology. Trans. Timo Berger. Editorial Hochroth, Berlin, 2012
Salvapantallas. Ediciones Lanzallamas, San José, 2014
300 páginas. Prosas. Ediciones Lanzallamas, San José, 2010
El mundial 2010. Apuntes. Editorial Germinal, San José, 2010
Antología de la nueva poesía costarricense (ed.). Línea Imaginaria, Ecuador, 2001
PEN Poetry Series:
Circumference: A Journal of Poetry in Translation: