Carmen Berenguer wins Ibero-American Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize


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.

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:


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
….. 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.


* 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

* Pablo Neruda Prize 2008 to Chilean poet

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Lambda Lit night

I blame the Lambda Award reading last night and “Betty’s List” for this photo of me feeling good and just a little tipsy. I will now regale you with my shallow comments on fashion! And a few responses to the actual literature!

The reading was in the Hispanic Room at the SF Public Library. “Do you think there will be real food? Or just cheese and crackers?” I asked… “Oh, they said ‘catered’ so probably something like real food. Maybe. But you might be allergic to all of it.” The food was great; these endive apple cheese things, tomatoes and mozzerella with basil leaves, sandwichy wrap things, hellish lemon squares and brownies. All good and super fresh…

The room started to fill up. I bought a copy of Bullets and Butterflies: Queer Spoken Word Poetry. Between being tired, distracted by thoughts of my giant anthology project, and stuffing myself full of the mozzerella tomato things, I wasn’t feeling too chatty. But I did talk with Horehound, and with Nikos Diaman who is an artist and novelist and was super nice. And then I went up to talk to Charlie and complimented the chick she was talking to’s nifty fluttery-sleeved black gauzy trench coat thing, and she turned to me automatically in this certain way that was graciously accepting of my starry-eyed fangirl love, which was great except I had no idea who she was even when she said her name – it was Kate Braverman. I must fit the profile of her adoring fans… perhaps I’ll join the throng of KB minions out there! She seemed rather mad and charming. “Are you a writer?” “Er, mutter mutter, um, yup.” “You are? How come I haven’t heard of you then?” I’m sure she meant it kindly. I’ll hear her read this Saturday at Writers with Drinks!

Some library guy introduced things. Gayly. Then Charles Flowers did some more introducing and talked about the Lambda Awards & how they’re important to the country… to declare our diversity and say “here is the best of what we’re making, and it’s part of the mainstream of culture too.” I applauded this heartily!

Charlie Anders read from her fantastic novel “Choir Boy” – a few pages where Berry, a teenager who has started taking hormones so his voice won’t break, gets awarde the “mack hat” by his fellow choristers and then talks to his choir director about music and “signal vs. noise”. “If music is just about itself, then what makes it … goddy?” I’ve read Choir Boy twice. I highly recommend it! Charlie’s retro-stylish black dress fit her curves perfectly and I also loved her shiny-toed velvet and vinyl pumps. The dress was also cute with sneakers and a leather jacket, later.

Joshua Gamson read from “The Fabulous Sylvester.” Great writing, I could listen to his descriptions of Sylvester’s outfits and sparkling charisma all day long… I kept thinking of the feeling I get when I listen to “Mighty Real”… this sort of angelic utopian quality, ethereal and soaring… the sort of angel who would prance around in public in a dress made entirely of aluminum pie plates and silver angelhair christmastree tinsel. One sort of hoped… that the professorial dignity of Joshua Gamson himself might be influenced by his material… but no, he was something of a prepster. Maybe he was secretly wearing spangled underwear.

Let’s listen to “Mighty Real” right now! Wooooo!

Tirza True Latimer then read from her book about women in Paris in the 1920s and lesbian visual coding. Like, how to tell if someone were queer or not from the subtle details of their outfit. Latimer’s outfit had already been knocking my socks off, kind of an understated classy pimp butch thing, with a bronze satin wide-collared button down shirt and an oceanic swirly blue tie that made me think of all the modernista poetry and the ocean nymphs wearing only a blush and sea-mist. Well, Latimer went on to define exactly what we mean or don’t mean by “Lesbian” and to complicate that word in the finest of academic-ese so that I felt I knew what she meant even though I didn’t. I wondered if she had read Margaret Reynolds’ “The Sappho Companion” and what she thought of its construction of what Sappho meant to artists and writers in the 20s and also felt like having a good long conversation about the public reception of “The Songs of Bilitis”. Then I’d make out with her modernista necktie.

Katia Noyes read a bit out of Crashing America, a part “about guns and sex”. It was awesome… I can’t wait to read the book. I can’t even talk about Katia’s outfit because it was too cute. I wanted to steal her dress right off her.

Ursula Steck read from one of her mystery novels, a scene with two women in the woods, some creepy guys with baseball bats, and a dead maggoty raccoon. Eeep! Scary! She was dressed in black and had a cute nerdy butch dyke look with spiky black hair, thick-framed glasses, and black wheelchair. She totally had a matching girlfriend. “All in black” sounds goth but the effect was NOT goth but overwhelmingly library-nerd-hot.

Horehound read his poem “bottom who doesn’t”… “A butch motherfucker with a twelve-year-old girl at my inner core/ I’m a huge sissy and one of the original punk rockers…” I love Horehound because I’m totally the opposite. I’m a twelve year old girl with a butch motherfucker at my core. And whenever I dress up like a guy I copy Horehound’s punk sissy look. I hope he doesn’t mind.

Mattilda then pranced… sashayed… runwayed… up to the front of the room to deliver a rousing diatribe against the title of her own book, Best Gay Erotica. We are against bad, boring, ho-hum erotica that follows the genre constructed with tame meekness! And we are against boring limiting constructions of ultramasculine masculinity and we are definitely not into Gay! We were all ready to start roaring and rioting. I think some gay guys hung their heads in shame, then ran out of the room to put on plaid pants and tear up the streets. But that was just the intro. The story, DogBoy and the Beta Goth, was an edgy story about two teenage boys named alec and ben. Nadyalec and Ben read us the story with irrepressible bouncy cuteness. They were ineluctably masculine, just like James Tiptree, Jr. I loved the story… and their outfits. Nadyalec was in a black nerdy-sissy outfit with a pink striped tie from hot topic. It is no wonder people sometimes mistake us for each other (only when my hair is slicked back.) Ben was gothy. And Mattilda was resplendent. I want to write poetry to his amazing outfits of stripey plaid flowery rainbowed glory! I used to get sent upstairs by my mom to change for wearing just such ensembles! They do m
y heart good.

Amber Flora Thomas read poems from “Eye of Water”. I particularly remember one about the urge to carve names into wood and about love. They were sweet poems… I felt that I could not judge them without seeing them for myself… Amber’s outfit was cute, mostly black, notably cute necklace with a big semi-precious stone… I did not figure out what kind of stone but maybe it had super crystal lesbian powers or emotional significance!

Then Katherine Forrest, who was nominated in three categories, read from her intro to Lesbian Pulp Fiction, all about how seeing (and, choking with fear, buying) an Ann Bannon novel in Detroit in 1957 changed her life and in fact saved her life. I bought Lesbian Pulp Fiction, which looks GREAT. We had a nice talk afterwards about SF and the wonders of Suzette Haden Elgin’s books, newsletters, blog, emails, Laadan, philosophy; in short we are fellow inhabitors of the Suzette Haden Elgin Empire or Utopian Vision. I don’t remember Forrest’s outfit at ALL which probably means it reached a pinnacle of lesbian understatement. Probably you aren’t supposed to notice it. Anyway, today I read Forrest’s own pulp SF novel “Daughters of the Emerald Dusk” and … well I kind of laughed my head off. I am totally going to send it to Nick Mamatas, I know he will LOVE it. It’s sort of like the lesbotopian drug-orgy version of “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke. And it’s pulpy to the MAX.

We went off to Lesbian Night at this bar and restaurant, Mecca, on Market Street which if I were a REAL lesbian hipster instead of a pretend one, I would have already been to. Instantly I ran into the organizer of the event, Betty of Betty’s List, and tried to take her picture. It came out too dark. If you go to Mecca on Thursday night, do not have a lemon drop. Have a mojito. The virgin mojitos are also good. Anyway, we hung out with Elizabeth Stark, who wrote Shy Girl, and Angie and Katia and Wendy, and had a great time! It was far too crowded but still fun… and the drinks were expensive but the fries were cheap, delicious, hot, and came in a sort of bottomless basket of salty greasy-yet-still-chi-chi goodness.

Tiptree winner announcement!

Congratulations to Geoff Ryman, who has just won the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award for his book Air: or, Have Not Have. It’s an unusual book and a great story.

The award goes each year to a work of speculative fiction that expands and explores gender. I had a great time being on the Tiptree jury this year!

The short listed works are:

Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender (Doubleday 2005)
“Wooden Bride” by Margot Lanagan (in Black Juice, Eos 2005)
Little Faces” by Vonda N. McIntyre, on SciFiction, 02.23.05
A Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer (Roc 2005)
Misfortune by Wesley Stace (Little, Brown 2005)
Remains by Mark Tiedemann (Benbella Books 2005)

The long list and special mentions will be announced in a week or so.

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