Poetry News

Chile's Best Work of Poetry 2013: Jaime Luis Huenún's Reducciones

By Harriet Staff

Jaime Luis Huenun

Chile's National Council on Books and Literature honored Jaime Luis Huenún's Reducciones as the best work of Chilean poetry this year. Huenún is an indigenous member of the Williche community of Osorno, Chile; Reducciones is a compilation of stories, poetry, and archival documents on the Mapuche people.

Huenún spoke to The Santiago Times about the role that indigenous Chileans can play in shaping the literature of the future.

What was your inspiration for this book?
More than an inspiration, my motivation for this literary project was basically to make visible through poetry a part of the hidden history of Mapuche society, and the Williche Mapuche that we are a part of, to create a work that could make accessible a history that is practically closed off by the Chilean establishment. And so my intention was to create a junction between poetry, chronicles, archived history and the oral history that comes from a time when people shared through storytelling. My intention was to configure a work that realizes diverse realities through the works of many characters — my book is like a series of movies, or films, where there is a story in each poem, where each character speaks, though not me. I am interested in being able to separate myself — in everything I write obviously I am present but the idea was to put together a world of many characters, of many voices that create our stories, histories and memories in a poetic form. [...]

What role do you believe poetry and literature should play in the discussion of indigenous identity in Chile and Latin America?
I believe the creative work, the literature created by authors from indigenous communities above all is marked by intense anti-colonialism. I believe that practically all of the mixed race indigenous authors of the continent have been absolutely clear that literature is a portal to creating a more visible culture, that is to say their own cultures are strengthened in some ways by literature in that it helps make them become more present in the national context of a country. And this creates tension. Indigenous literature has generated tension within its own national body of literature and the literature and culture of Latin America. Tension that in some ways questions the idea of an individual national state, for example, the idea of a canon of literature or a specific structure for literature as the only kind which can exist. Take the idea of the author — an individual author — which is very important in the West. In the West the painter, the composer, the author and even the dancer are all considered as individual subjects.

In the case of indigenous and mixed authors, I believe we are transversal communities. We pull from these communities the contradictions and the tensions that we find. We are always chosen by the community and our literature speaks for the community collecting its voices in order to build a more collective literature with a more collective author, beyond the individual writer. I believe our works promote the idea of a political consolidation of the indigenous people within the national culture. The presence, visibility and influence that we have been talking about isn’t just for the community but also for the culture created and the art we make.

Read on at The Santiago Times. Congratulations, Jaime!

Originally Published: November 12th, 2013