Verses to conjure with: read the story of Don Manuel, my poet father

At 77 years old, the father of Ernesto Gamboa, maintenance supervisor at the Pendare field, has published his first book of poems, revisiting his life experiences and sharing a unique cultural legacy.

“We hail from the province of Vélez, a region in the upper part of the department of Santander, known as the cradle of the tiple and the requinto, twelve-stringed instruments like the guitar. My grandfather was a musician and he used to strum the guabina, typical folk music from this part of the world, creating couplets and verses as he went along. The composer and musician Jorge Ariza Lindo is a clear exponent of this kind of music that today is being lost in the new generations.

One of 12 brothers, my father Don Manuel Gamboa Quiroga was the only musician, inheriting both talent and an instrument, a handcrafted relic from the ‘50s that my grandfather had bought for the modest sum of three Colombian pesos. Even as a child, he loved books and reading, and started writing poetry as a young man. Today, his poems have been published in a book, Experiences in verses and keys to conquer. The jovial truth, edited by a Lithuanian label that is internationally distributed.

During the presentation in BogotáErnesto Gamboa together with Don Manuel, his poet father, flanked by his mother and sister, while the author signs a copy for a writer.

I was about 10 years old when the Day of the Farmer was celebrated in my hometown. My father wrote a poem in honor of a local politician who’d gone away to university and returned to be elected a national senator. I was a child then, and it was an extremely emotional and gratifying experience to see how he recited it by heart, without reading it and never once making a mistake. Today, at 77, he still does it like that, which keeps him in sound mind.

What my father writes are couplet-type verses, in a very colloquial, natural register. He even wrote his biography in verses, with references to his memoirs. Whenever he’s asked who taught him to write in verse, he replies that he was born like this! He writes on all kinds of topics, even about COVID, to make it more light-hearted and relieve the stress. He’s already written something about the war in Ukraine, and another for the World Cup.

He used to write things down on scraps of paper, so we gave him notebooks and pads. He uses those and goes back to correct his works later. I type them into the computer and that’s how we compile the collection. So far, we have put together 70 to 75 different compositions for a new book, but there are another 200 pieces on different themes. Of those, some 50 to 60 are exclusively about Communism.

He’s also written poems to celebrate Mother’s Day, and if there’s a family member with a birthday coming up, he immediately pens a few lines in their honor. Now he’s writing poems on WhatsApp and he just shares them on the family group. With an older nephew, one of my cousins, we’ve produced an editable document and we’re putting everything in there.

Manuel Gamboa was a farmer and tradesmanHe also participated in politics, on the town council for the municipality of Bolívar Santander, as well as being police inspector.

My poet father is quite mistrustful, which is typical of the Vélez region, where there’s quite a particular sense of humor, often expressed in subsidiary genres such as the torbellino, a folk dance whose verses are written in counterpoint. The book is really fun, and everyone in the family and our town wants to read it, although there are so many regionalisms and references to local customs that at the end there’s a glossary so that non-natives know what he’s talking about.

We presented the book in Bogotá, where I’m living. My father came from Cúcuta to attend in person, and recited his poems by heart to the gathering, made up of national cultural authorities, writers and even doctors of literature from the United States. Some people also read other poems that interested them. It was a very emotional moment for our family and friends from the region, and an intensely enriching experience, as it’s through events like these that we can recover such expressions and make sure they’re not lost.

It’s a tradition in our town to give nicknames, not just to people but to entire families, and they talk about each other like that rather than by their last names. My father put all of these into a composition and then wrote another to explain where they were located in geographical terms. My great-grandfather was a tall, strong man, with really big hands; he was a peasant and worked on the land, which is how he earned his nickname, since they said he had the strength of a donkey. So the Gamboas have always been known as “the donkeys”.

*Ernesto Gamboa is Maintenance Lead Supervisor at Tecpetrol Colombia. He has three brothers and regularly gets together with one of them to write their own verses. Another niece is dedicated to music and one of her children plays the piano, inheriting her grandfather’s musical gift. 

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