Obituary: Enrique Molina

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The Independent Online
It is not easy to imagine in these post-modern times the magnitude of the blow caused by the death of a poet. When the Argentine poet Enrique Molina died in the small hours of Thursday aged 86, the newspaper La Nacin stopped the press to run a short dawn obituary. Next day the main hall of the National Library in Buenos Aires was made available for the wake of the body of the man who had become a point of literary reference not just for Argentine poets but for those of all of Latin America.

A contemporary in stylistic debate with Jorge Luis Borges, and with a generation before them, Molina was a quiet man, who had avoided political controversy (not an easy thing to do in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s) to establish his own poetic world. When we met, in 1983, at the PEN Congress in Caracas, Venezuela, my own status was that of a former political fugitive. He looked at me for a long time in silence over a well-laden lunch table (Venezuela had a lot of oil money in those days), then remarked: "You know, I'm an Argentine and I should understand your plight. But I can't explain why I don't understand. Poets have always been escaping the stupidity of people, so I cannot sympathise with your difficulties."

Molina started out as a merchant seaman, at 16, after an early life in several Argentine provinces. The women in his early poems belong to that period. He was also something of an artist, though he did not exhibit until 1968.

In 1996 when Argentina has already lost one of its leading poets (Ricardo Molinari died on 31 July, aged 98), Molina's death adds to the intellectual anxiety of a country coming out of half a century of authoritarian rule.

Molina was a prolific contributor to the Sunday literary pages, but he started with Las cosas y el deliria ("Things and Delirium") in 1941, which was awarded the Argentine Writers Society (SADE) award - which in those days had some standing - and from there he never looked back. At least a dozen collections of selected poems followed. The Mexican Nobel prizewinner Octavio Paz and a whole gallery of literary lions devoted essays and articles to his poetry.

Molina's Una sombra donde suena Camila O'Gorman ("A Shadow Where Camila O'Gorman Sleeps", 1973) was his only quasi-political collection and was used by Mara Luisa Bemberg for her prizewinning film on one of Argentina's 19th-century victims of political and religious bigotry.

Molina will remain best known in the Latin American world, and only in small doses on the Anglo-Saxon academic circuit. But in Buenos Aires he will have his place in the gallery of the greats.

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Enrique Saturnino C. Molina, poet: born Buenos Aires 1910; died 14 November 1996.

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