Elaine Vilar Madruga



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he learns the art of war in times of peace.
the art of peace in times of war.
few did so before:

to survive to bleed to know it all
this isn’t simple work
it’s learned by scratching the poem
past the cut
past the nerve

all the way down
to the white bone of the word.

and so he detains the caravans
of beasts and men
who seek some detestable Crete
to arrive after the clay.

he learns obsessions with labyrinths
not by smoking opium in some Japanese house
where certain terrible children
turned into poets
destined to die.

to survive to bleed to know it all
this isn’t simple work:

he knows there is too much abandoned in the world
to leave.

Though primarily known for her prize-winning science fiction and fantasy, Elaine Vilar Madruga has emerged as one of the most talented lyric poets of her generation, the Cuban equivalent of the Millennials, who learned to walk and talk during the Special Period and came of age against the backdrop of a rapidly-changing Cuba, both in regards to its own political leadership as well as its more recent and now more tenuous rapprochement with the United States. I met Elaine in January 2015, at a young sci-fi writers’ workshop in the Havana suburb of Miramar, introduced by the writer Yoss, one of Elaine’s mentors and friends. We kept in touch by email and over Facebook, and exchanged books by mail, including one of her most notable works of fiction, the novella Salomé, and several pamphlets of poetry.

Vilar Madruga’s poetry impressed me with its vast synthesis of her cultural predecessors. In just these three poems she converses with Dante and de Sade via Pasolini, references the Romantics and the Greeks, and paraphrases the Bible – but without allowing allusion to encumber her lyricism. Her poems sparkle with the dark humour of truth and a cynical faith in the future. They are as very Cuban as they are universal for our generation. – David Shook