Carmen Berenguer wins Ibero-American Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize

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Happy Poetry Month! Congratulations to Carmen Berenguer who has won the 2008 Premio Iberoamericana de Poesía Pablo Neruda.

I am very happy for her!

And for everyone who will now read her marvelous poems!

It makes me extremely happy that work so radical, experimental, feminist, and wild, has been recognized and honored.

carmen berenguer

“Es una sorpresa por la poesía que yo hago, que de pronto puede ponerle trabas al entendimiento y al sentimiento. Mi poesía es sonora, interna, musical, digo cosas increíbles”, comenta. “Soy una mujer combativa, vengo de los conventillos, de la pensión y esos argumentos hicieron que me fijara en las injusticias”, agrega.

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It’s a surprise because of the poetry I write, that can suddenly put up blocks to understanding and feeling. My poetry is echoing, internal, musical, I say unbelievable things. I’m a fighting woman, I come from the projects, from poor neighborhoods, and that background fixed my thoughts on injustice.

Berenguer often breaks words and form, with poem titles at the bottom of pages or strangely broken across two pages, like this:

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and she ranges into concrete poems in her early work such as Bobby Sand desfallece en el muro as well as in later work such as the poem typeset to look like the Chilean flag. You can see a glimpse of that poem above.

I have translated some of her work over the last few years.

So far, I have spent the most time reading A media asta and La gran hablada. While I love her short poems, I am most fond of her longer work which sprawls and rants and sobs and screams across the page, long poems that build me up to a peak of understanding. It is not “leaping poetry” in the way that Bly meant, with graceful elisions. It is broken, unclear, obstructive, difficult, obstreporous. And, that is suitable, that is what is right, when you write about political violence, about gendered violence, about bodies, oppression, about Chile under Pinochet, as Berenguer does.

Carmen Berenguer

That is what I love best in poetry. I love when it has physicality, when it fights with sense, when it has elbows that stick out, when it feels like wading through mud or struggling to make my own broken body act and endure. It is poetry that rewards effort just as bodies do. Really kick ass poetry, seriously ass-kicking, rejects easy understanding, the facile Hmmmm and nod of agreement. It is perturbing! Bothersome! Berenguer’s work is all that. I think of her work as mixing up the neobaroque/neobarroso with écriture féminine.

I want to quote some of her poems and post my translations, but I am trying to get them published in journals at the moment. So here are a few excerpts. This is from “Bala humanitaria”, “Humanitarian bullet”.

…..Ese dardo
Penetra rompiendo la piel disparado a cien metros
Rompe la piel en sugundos el dedo gatillado
Rompe el silencio y lo dispara
Ondas sonoras irradian el campo comprometiendo el sonido
Interlocutor del suave murmullo El dardo penetrando
Los ojos abiertos y un ojo semicerrado afinando la puntería
El hombre acaricia el gatillo con deseos
…..
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….. This shaft
Penetrates breaking the skin shot at a hundred meters
Breaks the skin in seconds the trigger finger
Breaks the silence and shatters it
Sonorous waves irradiate the compromised field of sound
Interlocutor of the smooth whisper The shaft penetrates
Open eyes and a half-closed eye sharpened the aim
The man caresses the trigger with desires
……

Here I thought for a long time about how to translate “dardo” and though “dart” or arrow would be more literal, I think “shaft” gets the phallic imagery properly into the poem. It is important because it is a poem that links rape and violence, that takes a gendered view of the sort of violence that can consider it right to make international law about the correct way to kill people with proper bullets. The lines on penetration and holes are not an accident… Further, I would say that it is good to note how Berenguer speaks about sound, about echoes and fracturing; this comes up elsewhere in her work and I think it is right to think of it as the Howl, as the song of the poet, the fundamental sound, poetry, art, creation — broken deliberately in order to reveal multiple truths. So, this is a poem about international politics and humanitarian bullets, violence; but it is also about gender, violence, rape; there is an industrial note, recalling thoughts of metals and mining, global industry; and it is also about words, poetry, logic, speaking, art, creation. That is the kind of poem I can get behind, 100%.

I feel inspired to go work on my translation of “Mala piel” now… and will post some excerpts from it later this month.

a media asta

It is maybe just a particular pleasure for me that poems like this have been honored in the name of Neruda. While I love Neruda’s poetry very much and honor him, I have some difficulties as a feminist with the way he writes about women’s bodies and how they become his male dominated metaphor of art and life and love, his landscape to traverse and discover and see. In fact, Neruda-worshiper Robert Bly is just the same for me sometimes with his graceful, easy “leaping”. For me as a poet, having spent years thinking about this in the way that poets do: I say fuck the leap. It is like cheating. Get your feet on the ground, dudes! Stay in your body! Go fast, but stay dirty! Thus it is particularly sweet to me, for a fantastic strong political woman who writes from and of the body, who makes words really embody, to win a prize named after Neruda.

Links:

* YouTube: el ojo no es un territorio, a video-poema.

* Palabra Virtual: The text of selected poems including a small fragment of one of my favorites, “Mala piel”, and a recording of “Desconocido”.

* YouTube: Berenguer en Chile Poesía

* Chilean wins Neruda Prize for poetry

* Carmen Berenguer, Ibero American Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize – with brief intervew.

* Pablo Neruda Prize 2008 to Chilean poet

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Art 21 poetry reading – October


Art 21 poetry reading
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

The art gallery was full of amazing paintings this month! I briefly met Teresa Hsu and admired her huge paintings of rocks… the sort of thing I wish I could capture when I’m staring into a clear stream at wet pebbles, very beautiful. Then, as I was setting up chairs for the reading, I ran into a wire sculpture of the gorilla. The gorilla won. Ph33r the gorilla! Susan, the gallery owner, helped me to tape my bleeding nipple back onto my body with bandaids, and a fierce adrenaline rush fueled my MC-ing for the rest of the evening. Who knew I’d get a free piercing?! Just one of the perks of the job.

Dolores Hayden opened up the evening with poems from her recent book American Yard. I scribbled down some lines, but since she gave me a copy of the book (Thanks!) I can fill out this bit from “For Rent” that struck me:

…long views expand,
command wide axes everywhere,
entice your kind of hairpin vision,
a swaying wide and cambering in.

Maybe just because I like the word “cambering”, back from when I had a wheelchair with cambered wheels. Camber, limber, lumber, climber, words that seem clumsy but instead – nimble. “Hairpin” in close proximity to “camber” made weird neurons fire. I was also superenthralled by “Target Practice”, a multilingual poem about crows in Grenada, which I heard as a complex noticing of racism and misogyny… or we could say “race and the feminine” but hey. It’s a fabulous poem. I might talk about it at the ALTA conference at the panel on multilingual poetry.

Kate Evans read as the second featured poet of the evening, mostly from her very very recent book, Like All We Love. The first section, and first poem, “First”, focused in on mortality… Kate commented that a lot of poems were about being in bed, sex and death, you know… and there were cheers and hoots from the other poets, of “Right on!” She read a long poem about her father, her suburban childhood, and her father’s illness & dying. I most enjoyed the poems from the middle section – or were they from “Fluid Self” ? – on Ginger from Gilligan’s Island & on the Wizard of Oz, but that’s because I’m shallow. Her “Diet Poem” was a whole different animal, very oral, very spoken-wordy, excellent out loud, playful and thoughtful.

So, wow! What a nice result from my call for poets on the WOMPO women’s poetry mailing list. When I did that call, I noticed that about the first 5 or 6 people to write to me were men. I was not specifically looking for women for any reason – I just asked because that’s the poet list I’m on that I like the most – But think about that for a bit for what it was. Perfectly nice men – but they rush forward without doubt or hestitation for self promotion in a context that is in theory focused on women and their work. For example, were I on a poetry list for gay men of color, which existed to discuss gay men’s poetry and aesthetics and history and to promote their work, and someone asked for poets on that list, I might *think twice* about answering… And if as the person making that call I got my first 5 answers from straight white women, I’d be perturbed… And so I was very happy when a few days later, the emails from women poets began to come to my inbox.

We had a break, with Steve Arntson playing Chopin and Mozart for us on the grand piano with his usual delicacy and passion. Whenever he plays Chopin I freak out and travel back in time to when I was 13 or 14 and playing that stuff, picking out complicated nocturnes and frisking through waltzes, preludes, mazurkas; while for me it was a joy to exert this immense effort to manifest a tiny percent of what I felt, for Steve it seems more like breathing – he plays so effortlessly and beautifully. It’s a pleasure to hear. (But also makes me SO jealous.) Oh, and he brought the fanciest cake ever, with fruit and whipped cream and white chocolate painted with stenciled designs – delicious! Thanks, man!

I talked with Brenda about the next issue of Composite: Multiple Translations, and then ended up somehow spouting off to Dolores about my enormous Anthology. She was intrigued and very encouraging, saying wild things like “But, you should send queries to the Oxford University Press! To Norton! A perfect textbook! Important!” Which was sort of like hearing someone say “You should, of course, just fly to Mars! The Martians will crown you as their Queen!”

Anna Coulter started off the open mic session with some poems from her new art book, which I think is called “Transformations”. She’s having a show at Art21 next month, which will intersect with our Art21 poetry reading! Jane Kos read “Corrido” and announced the next meeting of the Redwood City Not Yet Dead Poets Society. I should mention here that the NYDPS founder Anatole Lubovich – and I’ve written about his poems, and his death, here before – Anyway – you can and should order his “Selected Poems” published posthumously – from booknest@sbcglobal.net, the Book Nest in Los Altos. What an amazing guy, and I still miss him a lot in all our poetry scenes on the Peninsula!

Rob Neville read “The Barrel of a Gun”, about violence, guns, and cancer. Brenda Simmons read another poem that had bullets in it and that I really loved – and thought to myself that it’s been at least a year since I’ve heard her read and her work is going in some interesting directions – more compressed, more saturated – but I didn’t write down any lines, unfortunately. Steve Arntson recited a huge chunk of a long poem about the Lewis and Clark River, another geographical historical philosophical exploration of reality and fiction, as usual exploding my mindscape!! David Cummings (I was so waiting for him to read, and hoping Dolores would not read, because I felt that they would especially like each others’ work!) really outdid himself with amazing excellence in a long poem, I didn’t catch the name – “as if mysteriously roused from the drifts of a greening sleep – ” More bullets and war and death and catastrophe and subtleties piled on top of each other so that listening was like deciphering sedimentary strata after millions of years and several earthquakes. It was some good stuff, I’m telling you.

Susan, the gallery owner, read a beautiful piece about realizing you’re not lost in the forest – the trees know where they are and where you are. It was a nice reminder for me to chill and walk with the flow of life as it happens. I read two of my translations of poems by Carmen Berenguer, because I’m totally in love with her lately, and translating her is a freaked-out violent joy. Read from “Bala humanitaria” (“Humanitarian bullet”), continuing the theme of bullets and war, so appropriate since we’re perpetrating an enormous criminal horrible war at the moment in this country; and “Mollusk” which is lighter but super fun to read out loud: it’s about, well, “about”… femininity and performativity and capitalism and objectification and violence against women – while being short, deceptively simple, and funny. I should try to memorize it for the Declamacion at the ALTA conference.

Talked a tiny bit with Dolores’ husband Peter, who is a sociologist and novelist. When he said he wrote about Africa and also young adult fiction I suddenly was like “OMFG am I talking to Peter Dickinson, say it is not so!” No… it was not so. That really would have been too much for my brain to handle. But I’ll look for his books.

What a nice time I had – I felt happy and in a loving poets’ community – I only wish more of the “usual suspects” had showed up this month, because they would have enjoyed the features and been enjoyed in return. Though it was a small reading, we definitely had critical mass in the party sense, with the jazz going, the wine flowing, people all talking, and a nice feeling of convivial bohemian artiness, wine-and-cheese-party palo alto style.

That’s enough, I think!

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