Following the “… water that returns…”

Minimum Crossing after the Footprints of the Cienfuegos Group

/ 1 March, 2016

“Time, wonderful river, / Your colored film I escape”

Alcides Iznaga, The Water that Returns

 

(…) Feijóo directly influenced two other poets: Alcides Iznaga and Aldo Menéndez Pared. Together, they published the book Concierto (Concert) in 1947. Together they assail the small and provincial Cienfuegos literary environment, conveying it their restlessness and opening their eyes and ears to the new trends, to the new sounds, to a different poetry. Together they formed a small but intense artistic movement which was expressed in two humble publications: ATEJE and SIGNO, barely mentioned by scholars, but giving voice and visualization to a group of new talents: “natural” poets, narrators and painters, without academia but with vocation, some of whom left their stamp in Cuban culture. This movement, already at its end, was named Cienfuegos Group by its own protagonists.

Oddly, the existence of an entity known as Cienfuegos Group has been obsessively refused by literary historians. In his book Lo cubano en la poesía (What is Cuban in Poetry), as well as in the compilation Cincuenta años de poesía cubana (Fifty Years of Cuban Poetry), Cintio Vitier includes references to Feijóo, Iznaga and Menéndez, but in the section “Figuras aisladas” (Isolated Figures). In his Panorama histórico de la literatura cubana (Historic Panorama of Cuban Literature), Max Henríquez Ureña names it Grupo de Las Villas. Finally, in the second volume of Historia de la Literatura Cubana (History of Cuban Literature), published in 2003, Enrique Saínz, when beginning the study of Samuel Feijóo’s poetry, wrote: “…Feijóo—the main figure of what has been considered, without a solid foundation, the Cienfuegos group, also formed by Aldo Menéndez and Alcides Iznaga—…”[1]

(…) Also Antonia Hernández, Duarte’s wife, who signed her works as Ñica Du-arte, poet Moisés Wodnicki, narrator Manuel Rodríguez Mancebo and painter and poet Angel Hernández Duarte are included in it.

 

ATEJE and SIGNO

The first number of Ateje is dated in 1952, although several authors point out that it was published in 1947. (…)

The life of SIGNO is much more prolonged. Towards its final years, the magazine maintained an editorial work covering the publication of small format books. In SIGNO they practically published all the poets living in Cienfuegos. In its relevant pages, figures from Grupo Orígenes, as José Lezama Lima, Fina García Marruz and Cintio Vitier, also collaborated. The exchange was mutual and vivifying since many authors of SIGNO—Iznaga, Menéndez, Wodnicki and Huete—also appeared in the pages of Orígenes.

A curious piece of information leads to our next exploration: ATEJE as well as SIGNO appoint themselves, with variants, as “Art Magazine”. With variations, because that subtitle is only held by SIGNO, since ATEJE presents itself as “Magazine of Arts”. That is, the “active workshop” of the programmatic Verde Aviso reveals itself as a privileged place for absolutely free pictorial creation, prestigious because of the aesthetic ideal of that Feijóo who Fernández Retamar describes as “painter exposed to wind and weather”.

 

Magazines in the Arts

The first number of ATEJE magazine is the artistic debut of painter Benjamín Duarte, who almost completely illustrated this fascicule[2] with nine works that include the disturbing logotype of the publication, full of primitive faces who interrogate the reader.

(…) It was usual also to find in SIGNO the presence of Benjamín Duarte, of which—taking into account some illustrations lacking a signature—we identify six works and a poem, written in that language and entitled Merlo-mirso. In this magazine, an evolution of the artist towards a more stylized line, which rather moves away from the potent and naïve primitivism of the works appearing in ATEJE, is perceived.

In SIGNO we will not only find Duarte. The first illustration appearing in the cover of the inaugural number of the magazine is by Aldo Menéndez, from whom, in subsequent numbers, at least three more will be published, two of them accompanied with a text by Alcides Iznaga. Three works by Mateo Torriente appeared, two of them also attached to Iznaga’s article; and other two illustrations by Ñica Du-arte. Samuel Feijóo took part in SIGNO with three works, one of them together with his narration El Comandante Padilla en los infiernos (Commandant Padilla in the Hells).

(…) Differently from ATEJE logotype, which is known as a work by Duarte, the one identifying SIGNO, no less enigmatic than the first, is from an unknown author. However, some of its elements, those sharing vegetable and ophidian nature, approach it to Samuel Feijóo’s painting.

SIGNO, as well as ATEJE, counted with the collaboration of Robert Altmann in reviews and news on art, also with critical articles by Loló de la Torriente and Luis Dulzaides Noda. But the inaugural assessment note corresponds to Alcides Iznaga, who opens the first number with an article on Benjamín Duarte’s painting. In another issue, corresponding to 1956, Iznaga would also approach the artistic works by Mateo Torriente, Feijóo and Aldo Menéndez, in an article entitled 3 notículas (3 Small Notes). The text would complete another he dedicated to Aldo Menéndez in ATENEA magazine in 1952.

Here the trip ends going up the current of the “water that returns” which has intended to set the trail of the Cienfuegos Group, so its memory, subtle but transcendent, does not evade our historical haulage on the magical dazzle of the light, as that ring made by Dario Romano that once José Lezama Lima evoked.

 

[1] Sáinz, Enrique. “La lírica. Panorama de su desarrollo.” (The Lyric. Panorama of Its Development) In: Historia de la Literatura Cubana. La literatura cubana entre 1899 y 1958. La República (History of Cuban Literature. Cuban Literature between 1899 and 1958. The Republic), Letras Cubanas, Havana, 2003, p. 188.

[2] In the first number of ATEJE, apart from Benjamín Duarte’s works, only a drawing by Feijóo appears: the illustration of his story “El elefante galante” (The Gallant Elephant).

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