Cesar Aira calls Venezuelan writer Arvelo Larriva a poet of the “generation of 1918,” but she was also part of the Vanguard. While her first book, Voz Aislada, was published in 1939, her poems were widespread in the teens and 1920s in Venezuela; the poems I’ve included here are from 1922-1930 (Instituto de Investigaciones 46-47).
Arvelo Larriva has been described by critics as an Emily Dickinson figure, a hermit in the country:
Sin haber hecho estudios formales, tuvo una extraordinaria cultura literaria. No formó parte de grupo alguno, y vivió toda su vida en su Barinas natal. Su poesía es personalísima, conceptual y soñadora a la vez. Hace pensar en Emily Dickinson. (Aira 54)
Without having completed any formal schooling, she had an extraordinary literary education. She wasn’t part of any group, and she lived all her live in her native Barinas. Her poetry is simultaneously very personal, conceptual, and resonant. She makes one think of Emily Dickinson.
While she may have lived in Barinas, Enriqueta was not disengaged from the worlds of writing and politics. She and many Venezuelan poets of that time were involved with the student uprisings of the 1920s. Her brother, the modernista and criollista poet Alfredo Arvelo Larriva (1883-1934), a member of the “generation of 27,” was jailed under the dictatorship of the 1920s and died in exile in Madrid. Her younger cousin Alberto Arvelo Torrealba, and his mother Atilia Torrealba Febres, were poets as well (Mannarino 11).
“Destino” can be read in light of the Venezuelan llanos and the prairie burn-off of the dry season. Yet, like many of her poems, it can be read as a political commentary. There is the “dry season” layer, specific to her region’s geography; the tangled, thorny groves are burned with controlled fires in order to clear room for new growth for vast herds of cattle. The poem could also work as a personal one about philosophical and spiritual renewal. However, the “pájaros sin nidos” ‘birds without nests’ can also be read as the journalists, students, and poets who had to flee the country under the rule of Juan Vicente Gómez, after the 1927 student uprisings or other political clashes. “Vive una guerra” continues the internalization of violent metaphors, with war metaphors to represent existential and philosophical struggles.
Poems and translations: Destino, Confesión, Vive una guerra, and Balada de lo que oí.
The creative act of the word, of poetry, is presented as a solution to the problems posed in “Destino.” “Balada de lo que oí” praises poetic and spiritual sensitivity, “¡Dichoso el oído mío!” ‘How fortunate I am!” that leads to epiphany. Enriqueta speaks as a confident and accomplished poet and thinker.
Enriqueta’s cryptic, dense, metaphysical vanguardista lines make me think of the early poems of David Rosenmann-Taub from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Her poetry is unusual and excellent. As challenges to the translator, they offer an interesting task, with multiple interpretations for many lines and for the poem’s general meaning.