Writers, artists eulogize poet, activist
Prominent writers, artists and intellectuals yesterday remembered Gelman and praised his work.
“Death is lying when it says Juan Gelman is no more,” Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano wrote yesterday in Página/12 daily. “He is alive in all of us who knew him, who read his work, who listened to his voice to hear our deepest inner thoughts,” Galeano said. “We will never find the words to express our gratitude to the man who was the voice of many, the man who was us and it is us who will carry on in the words he left behind.”
Talking from Bonn, Germany, writer Osvaldo Bayer told DPA news agency that Gelman “is the great poet of the Argentines: a social fighter, not the typical intellectual hidden in his lonely tower; he always took to the streets to defend the poor and ended up paying a tremendous price.”
“Very few times I have reacted so strongly to the death of a loved-one. He was my best friend, he was like a brother,” Bayer, 86, said yesterday. Bayer and Gelman were longtime friends, after meeting and working together for the Noticias gráficas daily in 1957. “The last time we spoke on the phone, eight days ago, he seemed well. Apparently, he had leukemia, something he had never told me,” Bayer told reporters.
“I knew he had little time left but not so little, I thought he would hold out longer,” actress Cristina Banegas, a friend of Gelman’s, said yesterday. “We exchanged emails until last week, he would put on display his incredible sense of humour,” Banegas said, inviting “those who are still unaware of his enormous work to read it and feel it, as I did when I was a teenager.”
Eduardo Jozami, director of the Haroldi Conti Cultural Centre for Memory, told reporters that Gelman’s work includes “the history of a century because he was a man who lived his time intensely, an engaged militant who showed such commitment to his political causes and to human rights in general, a man who suffered, in his own family, the repercussions of repression.”
Renowned playwright Griselda Gambaro — who shared the Azucena Villaflor de Devicenti Award for Human Rights with Gelman in 2011 — underlined the poet’s fight “against the dictatorship’s abuse and his struggle for the triumph of human rights and peace in the world.”
“This sort of tragedy is only to be expected when you reach a certain age but, nonetheless, it has this implausible quality which makes it even harder to bear,” the 85-year-old writers said, adding that “Gelman was a reformer of language and, as philosopher Gilles Deleuze used to say, great writers are those who find a foreign language inside their own tongue.”
Writer Vicente Battista said that “Gelman was exceptional both as a poet and a political activist and his ethics is unquestionable; we know he flirted with Communism in his youth before switching to montoneros. Later he left for Mexico but he never made any allowances, he stuck to his progressive leftwing stance.”
“Among Argentine contemporary writers, there are two who will live forever in our literature: Jorge Luis Borges and Gelman; it’s interesting to notice that they seem to belong to antithetical orbits but I know for certain that Gelman admired Borges and that Borges was intelligent enough to appreciate Gelman,” Battista added.
Musician Juan “Tata” Cedrón, who shared Gelman’s fate of exile activism and worked with the poet on albums such as Madrugada (1962), said: “He was like a father to us, what he said in his poems was sacred. His writing had that strong mix of social, political and ideological issues. He was an extraordinary fighter.”
Remembering his French exile, where he used to see Gelman a lot, Cedrón said that “Juan would arrive with his little suitcase and nothing else. He would wake up early and go out to fight for Argentina: he gathered signatures, collected papers, he was our infrastructure. That’s how he got the Swedish prime minister to sign and, since there was no flat surface around, he made him place the paper on his back to sign it.”