In the footsteps of Romani poetry

by Ismael Cortés Gómez

Contrary to what has happened in regards to the history of social and economic marginalisation to which the Romani people have been subjected for centuries, which has been thoroughly documented by French and British historians, the cultural history of the Romani people has yet to be written; and perhaps one of the most fascinating chapters of this unwritten story is the one about Romani poetry.

Despite being the largest ethnic minority in Europe (Roma number 12 million according to the European Commission), unfortunately no public or private institution has taken seriously the commitment to recognise, protect and promote the Romani cultural heritage in an area as fundamental as language and/or literary studies. In the democratic and liberal contexts in which a civil society which is tolerant and actively committed to the value of preserving cultural diversity civil society exists, this institutional protection gap could be offset by publishing initiatives that disseminate works written in the Romani language or that have been authored by writers of Romani origin.

The public recognition of the work of the Polish-Romani poetess Papusza is an exception, as she has posthumously achieved a remarkable level of visibility, and particularly following the appearance of her biography on the big screen in a 2013 film directed by the married couple Joanna and Krauze Krzysztof. Nonetheless, most Romani poetry remains in the shadows. In an attempt to shed some light (even as if from a firefly) on this subject, I want to take advantage of this blog to provide a sample of the unpublished work of the Romani/Spanish-Argentine poet Juan Luís Aguilera (Santa Fe, 1928 – Buenos Aires, 2003).

The first time that I read all of the manuscripts of Juan Luis Aguilera’s poetry I was deeply impressed. It gave me the sensation of having entered a new poetic continent. His style combines simple visual metaphors (which refer to archetypal elements of nature) with complex conceptual metaphors (which refer to a transcendent point where psychodynamic, historical, civilisational and cosmogony lines intersect). The masterful use of significant formulas that portray the historical and material condition of human existence as the struggle to find coordinates of meaning and direction in a metaphysical plane places the poetry of Juan Luís Aguilera in the tradition of poets such as Hölderlin or Tagore; that is, on the path to the legacy of those who took the care to make poetic language into a channel of communication between Heaven and Earth, between the temporal and the eternal, between mankind and the Gods.

Here is a sample of a vast collection of poems still awaiting publication: Soledad, by Juan Luís Aguilera.



I feel how the immense loneliness
Of desolate spaces
Moves slowly towards my forehead
And I feel my hands
Elongate in the extension of the Absolute unit.

The horizon before my eyes,
Before my longing.

There are old astrolabes
In the confines of blood
Controlling the old routes
In expectant dreams.

But there is an immense loneliness
Of candles and fragmented rudders.

There is a loneliness
Which denies orbits and ellipses.
A loneliness of shipwrecks
And fallen trees.
A solitude of churches without gods.
A loneliness of sleeping birds.

Upright in a gesture of combat,
I want to oppose the immense solitude
My existence.
The dreams of my forehead.
The voices of my hands.

Affirming the right to move,
Light rays affirming
The right of my eyes
To marvel.
My vertices of anguish
That produce cosmic prayers.

There are old dialogues
Of stars and astrolabes
In the channels of blood.

There are echoes of other religions
And ancient civilisations
Of annulled profiles.