Poetry News

Javier Sicilia: poet to activist

By Harriet Staff

The New York Times continues to report on Javier Sicilia, the Mexican poet, novelist and essayist who is now the unlikely hero of the movement to drastically alter the Calderón government’s crackdown on organized crime, which has left nearly 40,000 people dead in four years of drug cartel violence (one of whom was Sicilia’s son, killed in March). Sicilia won the country’s top prize (the Premio de Poesía Aguascalientes) for his book of poems Desert Triptych in 2009, but he read his last poem at a rally in early May, and has said in an interview that “Poetry doesn’t exist in me anymore.”

The renouncement calls to mind literary figures like Flipino poet Francisco Baltazar, who wrote his poems in Tagalog instead of Spanish to show his resistance to Spanish rule, before he told his children that it would be better for them to cut off their hands than to pursue a profession as a writer; and, famously, Rimbaud and Laura Riding Jackson, who wrote: “My kind of seriousness, in my looking to poetry for the rescue of human life from the indignities it was capable of visiting upon itself, led me to an eventual turning away from it as failing my kind of seriousness.”

In the case of Javier Sicilia, it is both a radical gesture and an indication that he expects to be far too busy with his new occupation as a leading activist: “Until a few weeks ago, he did not even have a cellphone, but one now trilled incessantly as he made plans for the next step, including a caravan to Ciudad Juárez, the border city that is Mexico’s most violent, next month,” says NYT. Sicilia is also utilizing other media:

Mr. Calderón appeared on national television a couple of days before the most recent march, on Sunday, both to defend his policies and express sympathy for the victims, including the more than 300 whose bodies have been dug up from mass graves in two states in recent weeks.

As he left Monday on a trip to New York and Washington, Mr. Calderón issued five messages on Twitter expressing solidarity with the marchers.

“I celebrate the March for Peace, and its legitimate and just intentions to put an end to the problem of insecurity,” said one. Others called for a national dialogue to find solutions to the crisis.

Importantly, as the New Statesman notes: "Stories that would remain etched in the public consciousness for years in Britain disappear from the headlines in days in Mexico as news of fresh atrocities consigns them to the history books. In April, several mass graves, containing more than a hundred bodies in total, were found in the northern state of Tamaulipas."

However, the only particular update on the movement’s progress is that it's being met by deaf ears. Sicilia’s call for the resignation of public safety director Garcia Luna (“a conservative who is widely hated,” according to Fox News!) has been swiftly resisted. Interesting: The New York Times actually dedicated six pages to Luna in 2008. As well, Felipe Calderón’s spokesperson is contradicting what the president reportedly confessed to Sicilia in a recent meeting, that being, “I agree I made a mistake but I can’t go back now.”

Originally Published: May 16th, 2011