Andrea Cote-Botero is a much garlanded poet and prose writer, having won The National Poetry Prize from the Universidad Externado de Colombia (2003), the Puentes de Struga International Poetry Prize (2005) and the Cittá de Castrovillari Prize (2010). Her work has been translated into a dozen languages.
Cote-Botero grew up in a Colombia that was gripped by la violencia, the civil war that raged for five decades between guerillas and government forces. La violencia intruded on every aspect of Colombian life: government ministers were assassinated, kidnappings became commonplace, and citizens lived in fear of day-to-day atrocities. Cote-Botero has spoken about how the violence influenced her poetry. At the age of sixteen she witnessed 36 white coffins displayed on the street of Barrancabermeja, her home town; these were deliberately placed symbols of a massacre, “a disappearance” conducted by a paramilitary division. Cote-Botero’s first writing was about fear.
Now settled at the University of Texas in El Paso, where she teaches Creative Writing, she was initially drawn to El Paso by its proximity to the desert. Historically, people of all religions have gone to the desert to take refuge and to hear their own voice. Cote-Botero says the desert forces her to talk to herself.
This outstanding collection, in Spanish, is diverse in range if not in tone. Its themes are home, family and landscape, but also how these are connected to pain, decay, and the passage of time. The titles tell a tale: Miedo (Fear), Sobre Perder (About Loss), Desierto (Desert), De Ausencia (Of Absence), La Ruina Que Nombro (The Ruin That I Name), Invierno (Winter), Todo en Ruinas (All in Ruins), and La Rosa Moribunda (The Dying Rose). The poems, though never despairing, evoke a sense of loss.
Cote-Botero’s work garners its power from naturalistic imagery – desert, flowers, trees, water, rocks and sky – as well as snatches of dialog, and the voice which so often addresses an imaginary “you,” who is the reader or a (usually absent) lover or family member. The poems, formed of short lines each corresponding to a breath, begin in a conversational tone but, through repeated images and driving rhythm, build momentum and take us places we didn’t know we were going. A superb collection.