It was a packed event, and more chairs were hauled in before it began - with one poem. This was followed by a forty minute-long conversation between Victor, Kate and Jonathan Davidson, the chair of the event. More poems were forthcoming but for that time Victor spoke articulately on his identity as a Cuban poet, his writing process and his view of politics. In response to questions from the audience, he talked of the part the revolution played in his life - it gave him his education. He grew up in a rural area, and was the first member of his community to go to university as his uncle and father learnt to read and write. When asked about his political commitment as a Cuban national, he said he hated nationalism in any form - where ethical and humane thinking are absent, nationalism will always be there to fill the void, Nationalism was not useful within poetry, and neither was politics a peg to hang poetry upon. On the contrary, poetry simply is political. By its very existence. As all his books are political even though they do not deal with topics one might associate with 'politics'.
As to how they are political, he left that to the audience to decide. It was Chloe Garner, the director of the festival who pointed out how different the poems in Thaw are structurally and thematically to those in The Infinite's Ash. This is his mission, Victor claimed: his urge is to always push himself into new territories, poetically, and by imposing restrictions and limitations on his work he forces himself to think more creatively to get around the strictures. Of course this is not a new concept. I love Auden's statement: "Blessed be the metrical form for it frees us from the fetters of our self" (to paraphrase). Hearing it in this context I was reminded of how the Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, and the Armenian, Razmik Davoyan, both write beautifully and movingly from repression. This repression comes, of course, from an external source. But the comparison is unavoidable. So it'll be fascinating to read which poets Victor and Kate select for the Cuban anthology Kate is editing for Arc, and how they play out this stance.