Into the Mouths of Volcanoes
In responsive commentaries on my earlier note memorializing the death of Pablo Neruda, several people mentioned the living Chilean poet Raúl Zurita. During the Pinochet regime, Zurita had the guts to bulldoze a poem into the sand of the Atacama Desert. It read ni pena ni miedo: neither pain nor fear.
Long ago, it would have been obliterated by rains and wind, but the people in the nearest village still carry shovels into the desert on Sundays and they turn over the sand of the letters to keep it fresh. In 2001, the President of Chile announced on TV something that most people already knew: that the bodies of hundreds of people who disappeared during the Pinochet dictatorship would never be found because they had been thrown out of airplanes into the Pacific Ocean and into the mouths of volcanoes.
Zurita had written about those crimes in an earlier book published in 1985, Canto a su amor desaparecido (Song to Their Vanished Love), just translated by Daniel Borzutzky (and looking for publisher). In 2005, Zurita took up the subject again in a book titled INRI . Translated into English by William Rowe, INRI will be published by Marick Press in Spring 2009.
Then, in Fall 2009, University of California will bring out PURGATORIO (published in Spanish in 1979) as PURGATORY in Anna Deeny’s translation. In shreds of lyric and vivid fragments, Zurita (who mutilated his own face in an act of protest) channels a long howl of pain and rage against the military dictatorship that savaged Chile. (And yet, like all his works, it is also a poem of unbearable tenderness and love).
Zurita in Santiago in 2006
These are both books that speak to us and to our blood-soaked moment of history. Keep your eye out for them. And for Zurita too. Although he has been in shaky health for the last few years, he may be coming to give a series of readings in the U.S. in the spring. You won’t want to miss him.
Born in California’s Mojave Desert, poet Forrest Gander grew up in Virginia and attended the College of William & Mary, where he majored in geology. After earning an MA in literature from San Francisco State University, Gander moved to Mexico, then to Arkansas, where his poetry—informed by his knowledge of...