Friday, September 9, 2011

25 Years of the Casa de Poesia Silva

The Poetry House's entrance hall. 

The Casa de Poesía Silva, named in honor of Poet José Asuncion Silva, is celebrating its 25th birthday this year.

A young man plays a flute
on the house's front steps.
The house, located on Calle 14, No. 3-41, in the heart of La Candelaria, was founded in honor of Silva, who died there, an apparent suicide, in 1896. Silva, whose portrait graces Colombia's 5,000 peso bill, had a sad, even tragic, life, but did manage to write some of Colombia's most memorable poems.

The room where Silva died
of a gunshot to his heart. 
The Casa de Poesia, which was Silva's family home and where he shot himself after years of tragedy, including business failures, the deaths of his siblings and the loss of much of his work in the sinking of a ship, now hosts poetry readings, talks about literature and musical events. It also has a small library and seems to be a hangout for the city's literati. The house itself was built in 1715, but has been renovated in a republican (post-independence) style. Despite its illustrious past, the house had become a cheap rooming house for decades until Pres. Belisario Betancur turned it into a cultural center in 1986.

Silva died at 31, after seeing the deaths of four siblings, including his sister Elvira, with whom some say he was in love. He also suffered business failures and was heavily in debt. The Colombian government had sent him to work in its embassy in Caracas, Venezuela. But during Silva's sea voyage home, the ship sank and he lost much of his work. Silva's surviving work totals 150 poems and one novel.

Not suprisingly, most of Silva's work is sad and sentimental, a lot of it about death and night.

The house's central patio, with Monserrate visible beyond it. 
The Casa de Poesia also pays tribute to many other Colombian poets and novelists.

Gonzalo Arango, 1931-76, was a leader of the Colombian philisophical movement called nadaism (nothingness), related to dadaism and nihilism.

"Life is a succession of happenstances and nothing is real. Only death."

Isaacs poses as a character from his novel 'Maria.'
Jorge Isaacs, 1837-95, (on the 50,000 peso bill), wrote the romantic novel Maria. The son of an Englishman from Jamaica, Isaacs was also a poet, soldier and businessman, had an eventful life, fighting in two of Colombia's civil wars. He was also a great advocate for free public education for working class people.

Jose Joaquin Casa, 1866-1951, was a politician, writer and educator. He's best known for his poem 'Cristobal Colon.' He founded Colombia's 'Academia de Historia' and headed the 'Academia de la Lengua.'

A caricature of Miguel Rash-Isla, born in 1889, who wrote lots of romantic poems - in both senses. The Secret: "I hold in my sad, restless heart a hidden love. Nobody has seen it, nor will ever see it...."

Poet Leon de Greiff, 1895-1976, and poet/journalist Carlos Castro Saavedra,1924-89.

Eduardo Carranza, 1913-85, was a poet and diplomat. He also directed several literary publications and headed the National Library. Lots of his poetry was about love, death and his nation.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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