Author: Leopoldo Paradela
Reviewer: Stephen Derwent
The author of Hearts & Souls, Leopoldo Paradela, who I suspect wrote his own blurb, is probably right: we possibly do need more ‘love’ in the world, and more concern for ‘human existence’. The blurb goes on to suggest, in rather unsure English, that Hearts & Souls is ‘a departure from worn out dark themes and getting back into love, hope and creation’. Now, I’m not entirely sure what ‘worn out dark themes’ are, but from the tone and attitude of much of the verse in this collection, it becomes clear that Paradela doesn’t like engaging with the world, and in fact finds the modern world somewhat distasteful and, yes, ‘dark’. Unfortunately for the poet, the modern world is where we live, and what we have to respond to, responsibly.
Little about this book suggests that Paradela lives in the 20th, let alone the 21st, century. In one poem, a train is used as a metaphor for life’s and love’s journey, yes, but this is as up-to-date as any references to the world around us go. It is as if every poem in the collection were written in an idyllic vacuum, where only disembodied people-as-souls exist in a world propped up by an external, traditional God. I mention God because Hearts & Souls is full of Him; a clearly Roman Catholic God who wants the best for His Creation, but who is eternally disappointed by us miserable humans and our heartless modernity. In one poem, ‘Divine Hope’, in which he worryingly, and without obvious reason, rails against the ‘shamed [I think he means ‘shameful’] media’, Paradela seems to be tempted by a life of traditional Catholic ‘monasticism and asceticism’ in an attempt to isolate himself from what he perceives to be the (unspecified) evils of the world around him. He seeks this withdrawal from society because ‘I do not want to burn like coal’, presumably with the rest of us who don’t share the faith of his particular denomination.
In one poem, ‘Poet’s Inspiration’, contemporary society is swiftly dismissed, without evidence, as being merely ‘subjective’ and full of an ‘atheism’ that ‘seeks fame through disbelief’. I’m not entirely certain what Paradela means by this, just as I am not certain, because of their faltering English and unsubstantiated accusations, what many of his poems mean; however, I think he means that atheism is always self-serving and self-seeking. I’d take issue with this, but perhaps that’s irrelevant – after all, if you don’t share his faith, Paradela doesn’t seem very interested in you.
If the reader is not a card-carrying atheist, but rather, say, an agnostic, s/he’ll still find that s/he’s in for a certain amount of abuse. In a poem entitled ‘Frustration’ (something that I was beginning to feel by the page 88 on which it appeared), Paradela seems to decide that agnostics are not worth conversing with (‘Why should I convince agnostics about…God’), and they are dismissed as ‘destructive’ types who will ‘be responsible for their conclusions’. If any of our Kenyan politicians said such a thing at a rally about, say, another ethnic or faith group, I like to think we’d call in the NCIC. The reader with any religious doubts, or who is possessed of a different faith, may well find Hearts & Souls a somewhat troubling read, then, what with its occasional implications that s/he will, ‘like coal’, burn in hell for all eternity.
While my main concern would be my imminent arrival in hell, I also have certain concerns about Paradela’s poetics. Firstly, many of his poems elevate the poet to an outdated position as the channel for God’s inspiration; his poet is always The Great Bard, who, according to Blake’s formulation, ‘past, present and future sees’. Consequently, numerous poems seem to be self-important, with Paradela’s ‘Poet’, himself, becoming something like a High Priest, a superior figure who can, because possessed of to my mind unconvincing ‘transcendent’ powers (‘transcendent’ is a word Paradela likes), counteract the Godless inadequacies of other, less fortunate types who Paradela lists and dismisses in another poem, ‘Poet’s Mind’: ‘Mathematicians’, ‘Biologists’, ‘Archaeologists’… It seems that if you’re not a Catholic, you’re going to hell, and if you’re not a poet, you’re intellectually second-rate.
Paradela is not a poet. Words that your primary teacher would warn you against, such as ‘nicely’, are scattered around his poems like agnostics are scattered around his underworld. Word order is inverted in antiquated ‘poetic’ fashion, for no reason, so we get, for typical example, ‘Poems come to me, so my soul they can steer’, instead of ‘so they can steer my soul’. This antiquated language reinforces the antiquity in which I suspect Paradela would ideally like to live: the unproblematic Old World, where God was on His throne, and all His Bishops and Priests cascaded down to the peasants, none of whom could use computers, be corrupted by the ‘shamed media’, or be distracted by doubting scientists. I, however, do not want to live there, and nor would I wish it upon you, any more than I would wish to recommend this book.