Giovanny Gómez studied Spanish and Literature at the Universidad Tecnológica in Pereira, a city where he has lived since a very early age and where in 1998 he founded the poetry magazine Luna de locos, of which he is editor. He is also director of the cineclub Cine en Cámara Cine con Alma. He has published poems in many Colombian publications, and was awarded the National Poetry Prize María Mercedes Carranza for his first book, Casa de humo (House of Smoke), to be published later this year. He has been invited to poetry festivals in Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Costa Rica.
The young man wants “a word for a house”. The young poet asks language for “a word that has the form of a ship”, and adds, “in which I can sail to know the sea”. He has discovered that language is a device to modify the world, to travel, to invent, to cover distances that perhaps cannot be covered in no other ship. And he becomes a poet. But his first experience is terrible: “All of my inspiration resembles / the noise of a pair of tied hands.” It is not enough to decide, it is not enough to wish; language is intractable. We can have the ship, but the rudder is not in our hands. We can set sail to get to know the sea that so attracted us, but once we are there the sea is something immense and unknown, even menacing.
The prayer has been heard, but we are only allowed to know uncertainty; we are allowed to know not the sweetness of certainty but the bitterness of a question: “From a sea at five o’clock in the afternoon / whose semi-darkness you don’t know / from a taste in the mouth / that becomes a question.” What can the poet attempt? Sincerity of tone, the authenticity of a search, the fear of words which sometimes promise everything, sometimes even give us everything, but which also know how to conceal themselves in sullenness and silence, to withhold their gifts, to relinquish all sense of this pressing and oppressive world.
The poet then takes refuge in a sort of phantasmagoria and says to himself “that reality has no definitive truth / and that we look for dreams.” Because maybe the world is the indecipherable, the unspeakable, “that music that no one listens to”. And he goes on learning to name not realities but non-existent, evanescent things, things that could be but never were, closed-down paradises. “I look for you / in that closed window where I no longer see you / being the only one through which I saw fine foliage / where so many things / go on asking / and look behind / the skies folding in / the heart you lose.”
Was it for this that the young man came to the hill of Catullus? That he drank the wine of Theocritus? That he laid siege to the wood of the beasts and the Muses? To lose his heart before the closing-in of the skies? The poetic quest is an exploration of the possibilities of language, a movement for a time in jungles of clouds, where everything changes, where the combinations of words, lit up by the torch of emotion, create sudden and ephemeral bestiaries. And the conquest consists in discovering that words are powerful in the face of the visible and the invisible.
After asking for words to be ships to take us towards the marvellous consolation in the face of what is lost, we discover that there is power in them, a capacity to create facts, to alter reality. Now they are “these words that know how to bite dreams”. And, curiously, they have helped not to make us think but to learn how to live on the frontier between language and the world, being aware that there is no exact correspondence between them, that there are realities that have names, and names that have no reality.
Suddenly, the poet is already in the sea that he dreamed to see, he is alone at night in a cottage near a roaring sea, he is in a land far away from this house, from his people, and he is possessed by anguish. He does not understand what that anguish is, what dark despair tortures him at the edge of the immensity. He does not know that poetry has taken him there to make him understand that he no longer wants words to be the world, but earnestly wants the world to be real. That this room near the sea should not be a frame of mind, that rain should not be a feeling, that the sea he invoked so much should not be a word. “And I fling myself on the streets seeking / that the nook in this room that protects me should not be fear/ that the downpour that whips the roof should not be melancholy / that this sea near the door should not be noise.”
Thus, Casa de humo (House of Smoke) is revealed as testimony to something that has happened outside the book, but which only takes place because of its words: the suspicion that overtakes every poet that life is a dream, accompanied by the brave thought: “and I don’t know if it is convenient to wake up”. The gift has been granted: the young man has reached the hill of Catullus, he has become a poet, and now he knows that there is no salvation but something that demands courage and lucidity. It is not an easy thing: the triumph is in knowing that existence consists of risks and miracles, and recognising that “ . . . I go as one asleep / towards a trap / where words take place.”
Casa de humo, forthcoming 2007. National Poetry Award María Mercedes Carranza, 2006.