How this project came into being
I think poetry is at least as accesible to young children as is prose, if not more so. It's raw emotional and visual core intuitively appeal to young pre-intellctual minds who are devouring language at far greater pace then they ever will for the rest of their lives. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger writes, "Language, by naming beings for the first time, first brings beings to word and to appearance." A child's attempt to understand the world and what it means comes most forcefully through language. I learned to read on time if a little late, when I was 6. A little more than two years later, my first poem was published, 20 years before my first fiction. A poet had come to our class to teach us poetry. She asked each of us to write and I put down the following:
What is…A Mountain
A Mountain is a an ice-cream cone,
very cold on top –
not as cold on the bottom.
Oh, I wish I were a mountain.
She wanted to put it in her book as an example of metaphor. I think I even received like 20 bucks for it and a few years later found her book and my poem in a local bookstore. I think it took 12 more years to write poetry again (which I believe I mailed to the singer Jewel, who was obsessed with for a few months). Since then I've written, usually as a way to find myself when lost in the tortured labyrinths of love. Only in that emotional state can I maintain the concentration and courage to agonize over syllables. I think it stems from a need to intensely distract and indulge myself. My art has always stemmed from life, rarely from the history of art. Therefore, I've never lost myself in the work and life of great poets, until now.
Although this trip stems from lots of love; of Latin America, of the Spanish Language, of the power of words, of the adventure of travel and respite of the outdoors, of meeting new people, of taking an enormous amount of experience and information and trying to transform them into a handful of words, I confess there is a bit of desperateness in this project.
I cannot complain in the least about 2007 for me. I began scratching and crawling through my first major fiction, a collection of stories that mines the first ten years of my life, but the stories revolve around the immigrant women that took care of me. Only in relation to them do aspects of my childhood become worth telling. In 2007 I also lived in San Francisco and Bogotá, two exotic cities for very different reasons, and two of my most significant activities, a screenplay in the first half, and relationship with a woman in the 2nd half, are now both in a state of spectacular failure. Simply and generally put; expectations unrealized, a failure to communicate. In between the two, in July, a blip of success, the publication of a piece about García Márquez in The Times Literary Supplement, a prestigious but esoteric book review. At least from now on, few will question my ability to write about Latin American literature and place. Instead of writing another screenplay or actively seeking another relationship, I'm going back to what worked last year, the literary pilgrimage. Perhaps a decision without much courage, but ironically practical.
García Márquez anchored his place in my consciousness when I picked up one his novels in a hostel and then read it while waiting on the side of the road while hitchhiking in Tierra del Fuego. It took another two years and reading his autobiography to inspire me to go to Colombia.
I had discovered Neruda only weeks before García Márquez. I was much further north, in Santiago when I visited La Chascona, one of his houses turned museum. It took another 4 years and a speech of his to inspire me to return to Chile. That story next time. For now, enjoy the couple of photos I took while I was at his house (one of a lamp, the other a view of Santiago from it) and for Spanish readers, there are photos of some of his poetry inscribed on rocks outside the house.