José Manuel Arango studied philosophy and education, and became master in philosophy and literature in the University of West Virginia, U.S.A. He was a professor of symbolic logic in the Universidad de Antioquia and founder, with other poets, of two literary reviews.
Let the voice of the poet tells us about his experience with words: “Maybe the poem is born of the exploration of a shared circumstance, or as an answer to a personal, painful or happy, experience. A few words that will be a reflection, not only of the intellect, but of the human being all flesh and blood. Behind them there will be, of course, all that is called a vision of the world: political and religious convictions, things learned or lessons learned from experience. From there one talks and one values, perhaps doubting, perhaps blundering. From there one tries to distinguish true from false in emotions and in words, to see the difference between that which is honest and that which is fictitious, rhetorical or sentimental.
“But more than from a vision of the world, the poem will arise from what Unamuno called the ‘tragic sense of life’. It is made not only of statements, affirmations and denials, but of the verbs and nouns of a language that has its history, of words that with their sonorities and cadences awaken echoes and associations; it is made of images and rhythms, of ruptures and silences. It is for this reason that it is difficult to say in prose, the tool of the intellect, what a poem says or shows if it is true, that which those failed texts that we generally produce strive to say in vain.
“I think there is a more comprehensive way of approaching things and human beings, which is precisely found in poetry. I even insist in believing that the gods do not exist or that they have died. It is an anachronism, of course, but a necessary anachronism, at this time, for poetry. I have always cherished the conviction that the sacred, what Lezama Lima called ‘supernature’, can not be denied with impunity. Only that it is not something otherworldly. It is the powers that one finds everywhere: in a tree, in a bird, in a child. Even in the scoundrels and gamblers and thugs that now corner us. Thales said centuries ago that everything is made up of little gods . . . or demons. I would like, if it were possible, to be his disciple, in that sort of polytheism, por polydemonism, or pandemonism.”
And about his poetry, the writer William Ospina has written: “José Manuel Arago sees in language an intimate and moving instrument to question the radical strangeness of the world, to live our destiny of marvel and gratitude, to express what we are and to confront our complexity. It is not in vain that he was an insatiable reader of Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson and Whitman. He himself is some sort of Whitman of the immediate and the momentary, not attracted by the global catalogue, the cosmic psalm, but by an almost oriental recognition of the universe in the ant and in the grain of sand. We can say about him what he said about his revered master, Fernando González: “everything fits in the long meditation he is engaged in”, and he goes on feeling and relishing the things of the world with a loving alertness and a mysterious caution. Is there a single thing that does not concern him, for which he doesn’t feel in a certain way responsible before God, or before language, or before the mystery? (…)
“Abandoned to the hazards of the streets, the poet ceaselessly gathers his revelations: the shadow of a tree strangely bent on a wall, the two blind women that sing with spent voices, a building being demolished, a hollow through which comes the murmur of the city like a scabrous sound of machines and crowds. All is made significant, because it is his love of things what uncovers their sense and snatches them away from their inhuman or divine muteness.
“And poetry aims to have everything enter into an order of meaning. So that the world is revealed in beauty and in rhythm, so that the poet saves himself by saving in language the truth that things whisper to him. Defeat, solitude, decline, everything can be a part of that mysterious harmony. When, wandering in the nocturnal quarters, the poet says to us: “on streets that have names of battles/ I go solitary and hollow”.
Compiled by the poet Javier Naranjo from an interview with José Manuel Arango.
Translated by Nicolás Suescún
as if crossing a river
Those whose job is to wash the streets
About the boy born
Dance with me, girl
Este lugar de la noche. Edition of the author, Medellín, 1973.
Signos. Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, 1978.
Cantiga. Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, 1987.
Poemas. Ediciones Autores Antioqueños, Medellín, 1991.
Tres poetas norteamericanos. Translations of Whitman, Dickinson, Williams. Editorial Norma, 1971.
En mi flor me he escondido. Translations of Emily Dickinson, 1994.
El solitario de la montaña fría. Translations of Han Shan, 1994.
Montañas,. Editorial Norma, Bogotá, 1995.
Poemas reunidos, Editorial Norma, Bogotá, 1997.
La tierra de nadie del sueño. Editorial Intergraf, Medellín, 2002.
Banco de la República
Aurora pagana llena de sorpresas: Essay by William Ospina.
Banco de la República
Review of Arango’s Selected Poems (Editorial Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín,1988), by Colombian poet Ramón Cote Baraibar.
Poems and essay by William Ospina.
Biography and four poems.
From the essay Aurelio Arturo y la poesía esencial, by José Manuel Arango, from A propósito de Aurelio Arturo y su obra. Editorial group Norma, Colection Cara y Cruz, Bogotá, 1992.