A Travellerspoint blog

My poetry was born between the hill and the river

Perhaps unconsciously seeking another literary pilgrimage, right around the same time as the publication in the TLS, I read Pablo Neruda's 1971 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, entitled ¨Towards the Splendid City. ¨

He spoke of his journey of exile, to freedom, a struggle to cross the Andes Mountains to escape the government of his homeland, who wanted his head. He had been a senator for the Communist party and represented an impoverished mining region in the desert north. A president he helped elect betrayed Neruda and other leftists. Neruda originally responded with fiery letters and speeches, but soon went into hiding in fear of his life. Supported by innumerable friends and his political party, he remained elusive in the capital Santiago, writing much of his epic work, Canto General. A few people that hid him are still alive and I hope to meet them.

Nearly a decade earlier he had helped 2,000 Spaniards flee their wore torn country to Chile. One of them was Victor Pey. He remained grateful and when Neruda needed help, he came through. He helped sneak his old friend to the land of Neruda's childhood, south central Chile, a wet land of volcanoes, frontier country. The poet wrote in his Memoirs, "I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests." Before sensual love, before politics, even before friendship, the raw Earth formed Neruda the poet and person. His first ever poem (he was not quite 11) is

From a landscape of golden regions
I choose
to give you, dear Mama
this humble postcard. Neftalí

The first line is about landscape and as much as he is referring to his stepmother, he is referring to Mother Nature.

This idea of poetry, a most precise way of naming things, as inextricably embedded into the natural world, I think will be the portal that I use to try to enter Neruda's world. Otherwise there is too much. I am too overwhelmed.

"That cold rain from the south of America does not come in impulsive warm squalls falling like a whip and passing, leaving a blue sky behind. On the contrary, the southern rain is patient and continuous, endless falling from a grey sky...Nature made me feel inebriated. I must have been about ten years old, but I was already a poet."

I am going to become inebriated in nature, Neruda's nature. I hope these little posts can show a little bit of what that's like. I don't know really know what to expect because I've never thought there's been much of a relationship between the human artist and the natural world. I've long assumed that we can look to nature's billions of years of experience to guide us in all parts of our life (though we usually don’t) with the exception artistic self-expression, which I believed as explicitly human, and not originating within our environment but exclusively from the soul or spirit. In hindsight this is shortsighted and arrogant, just the kind of thinking that hinders one's own creative powers. Perhaps this trip will undo that and by feeling the connection between the cosmos and art, I will unleash my own energy to travel to those hidden corners of the Universe that no one else sees or wants to go to, secret spaces that artists are drawn to in the same way that bees are attracted to nectar, from which they create their honey, their hart. The side effect of bees seeking nectar is pollination, without which life on Earth would not be possible as we know it. What is the side and likely crucial effect of artists seeking those unpopulated niches of life? I think that Neruda will help us find out.

Posted by LiTripping 23:20 Comments (0)

Origins Part 1

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,
upside down,
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.


Posted by LiTripping 17:41 Comments (0)

The Scope of This Project

In 1949 the right wing Chilean gov't launched a national search to capture and likely kill its most famous poet Pablo Neruda. After a year of hiding he crossed the Andes on horseback to escape into Argentina. In his Nobel Prize speech he described the harrowing journey and found it contained the ingredients of a poem. While recounting the adventure he wrote, "my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests."

Now, I'm going in his and his horse's footsteps, only this time, I hope no government will be hunting me.
But ya never know...
Expect stunning wilderness, moving poetry, and encounters with Neruda's closet living acquaintances and those who loved or hated him.

Posted by LiTripping 20:39 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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