Havana Velha: olhos de ver (Habana Vieja: Eyes to See) by Brazilian writer and poet Políbio Alves, a man captivated by the charms of Old Havana. Photo:

Having visited the island more than a dozen times, fiction writer and poet Políbio Alves, born in 1941 in Paraíba, one of the northern states of Brazil, has been captivated by the charms of Cuba and especially of Old Havana.

He wanted to capture this enchantment in his latest collection of poems, Havana Velha: olhos de ver (Old Havana: Eyes to See), already presented in his hometown of Joao Pessoa, capital of Paraíba, and which Cuban and other readers will surely enjoy.

Alves notes that contradictorily, the tendentious information he heard about Cuba and the Revolution created a kind of attraction.

Thus, he traveled to the Caribbean island for the first time in 1996, to attend an event sponsored by the prestigious cultural institution, the Casa de las Américas, and from that moment on, has continued to visit.

The interviewee tells Granma International: “These trips have offered me positive experiences in this country. Cuba is a nation of fighters. And that construction and reconstruction, through its ancestors, is what I speak about in the book, the cultural and historical foundations of Cuba.”

Alves, who lives in Varadouro, the oldest part of the city of Joao Pessoa, a place full of rituals and legends, recognizes similarities between his home and Old Havana, which served as the inspiration for his latest book.

In the preface he acknowledges that “a group of intellectuals and political figures (José Martí, Simón Bolívar, Alejo Carpentier, Nicolás Guillén, Pablo Neruda, Julio Cortázar, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro)... all ahead of their time.... have been conjured up to create this book,” thus recognizing their valuable contribution, without which it would have been impossible to write his poems.

Over the 223 pages of the book, a mixture of free and hendecasyllabic verses, Alves makes unexpected reference (at least coming from someone whom we suppose foreign to the Cuban reality) to José Martí, Ernesto Lecuona, Cesar Portillo de la Luz, Alejandro García Caturla, Francisco Repilado (Compay Segundo), Benny Moré, the musical movement known in Cuba as Filin (a popular genre that emerged in the late 1940s), José Antonio Méndez, José María López Lledín, known in Havana as “The Gentleman from Paris,” Ernest Miller Hemingway and many other intellectuals and artists, who left their mark on Old Havana - evidence of the thorough research conducted during his many visits in order to shape this work. The book is part of a trilogy including Al Este de los hombres (presented last November by Editorial Arte y Literatura, on the occasion of a visit to Havana) and La traición de Hemingway, whose plot is based on a fictitious meeting between the Brazilian writer and the U.S. Nobel laureate, equally set in the oldest part of the Cuban capital.

Alves spent the end of 2016 in Cuba, coinciding with the death of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz, about whom he says: “Fidel is a singular person. His death does not diminish his historical value; he continues to live in the teachings of the Cuban Revolution. He is the greatest humanist expression of all time.”

Políbio Alves continues bewitched by the magic of the streets and houses of Old Havana. In one of his verses he expresses: The untimely smell that comes from tobacco, does not cease in the heart of the city. Thanks to the franchise of the operative confraternity of Rodrigo de Jerez (...) with an enraptured glance, the visitor remains, contemplating the whole scenario; the ships sailing further and further in the ostentatious bay. Beyond the blue vividness, the blue strangeness of the sea.

Alves, who studied Administrative Sciences, lived for more than 15 years in Rio de Janeiro and holds the honorary title of “Carioca Citizen”. There he came into contact with students and their struggles during the military dictatorship, for which he was imprisoned and tortured. He still suffers the scars of that nefarious era. For two years he was editor of the literary supplement of the daily Tribuna de Imprensa and references to his person and his work have been published in anthologies and newspapers in the U.S., Italy, Germany, Portugal, Argentina and other countries.

Likewise, he earned a place in the Encyclopedia of Brazilian Literature. As such, he has broken with the curse that plagues some local poets, who live far removed from the great cultural centers, and whose texts are sometimes only known in their hometown.

Among his already published works are Lo que queda de los muertos, Varadouro (printed in Cuba by La Editorial Arte y Literatura, 1998); Ejercicio Lúdico, Pasaje Blanco and the most recent Los Ratones Amaestrados hacen acrobacias al amanecer, published in mid-2016.