Zurita is coming to the U.S.

by on Jan.27, 2011

Raúl Zurita, legendary Chilean poet whose book Song For His Disappeared Love was published (in translation by Daniel Borzutzky) by Action Books this past year, is coming to the US next week. On Monday, he will give a Q-and-A (3 pm McKenna Hall) and a reading (5 pm, McKenna Hall) at the University of Notre Dame. Next Friday at noon, he’s going to give an on-campus reading at the AWP, followed by a discussion with Joyelle McSweeney, Daniel Borzutzky and Monica de la Torre.

A while back Poetry Foundation published an amazing interview with Borzutzky and Zurita. Here’s an excerpt:

RZ: Yes, they threw them into the sea. Everywhere I went, I carried this file of poems. It was from my first book, Purgatorio, from the first part, and since the poems had some drawings on them, they [the military] thought they contained codes, and so I was beaten terribly, but they gave me back the poems, until a senior officer arrived and he took one look at them and instantly knew they were poems, and so he threw them into the water.

DB: Why did he throw them into the water?

RZ: They were poems, garbage.

DB: And the first guys who looked at the poems, did they actually read them?

RZ: They looked at the poems and said, “What’s this shit, huevon?” but they didn’t recognize what they were, but then the one guy who knew better took one look at them and threw them into the water. You see, the only thing that told me that I wasn’t crazy, that I wasn’t living in a nightmare, was this file of poems, and then when they threw them into the sea, then I understood exactly what was happening

DB: How did you come to be arrested?

RZ: I was arrested at six in the morning on the September 11th [the day of the coup], in the mess when Valparaíso was taken. I was an engineering student at the University of Federico Santa Maria and so without even checking names—they arrested anyone who had anything to do with the left-wing organizations. It was a deeply leftist university, and so they didn’t even ask me my name until I had been arrested for three weeks.

[Note: Valparaíso, a port town a few hours from Santiago, is where the Chilean navy was based, and where the coup d’etat was prepared.]

DB: And how long were you in prison?

RZ: It wasn’t that long. Six weeks. But it was so terrible that it’s stayed with me all my life.

DB: Did you have any contact with your family?

RZ: None. And I lived with the permanent fear that they were going to kill us. They shut the top and we were in an absolute pitch blackness; we were in a space where there was room for 100 and we were 800, and we could barely walk, like in those films that show the slaves coming from Africa.

DB: And so I assume you weren’t able to write at that time?

RZ: I couldn’t write for three years, at which point I went back to Purgatorio.

DB: What was the relationship between the new versions of the poems in Purgatorio and those that you wrote before and that were lost?

RZ: Curiously enough, I had the poems that were thrown overboard memorized, and so I was able to recuperate them. Half of that book was written before I was arrested, and it wasn’t difficult to reconstruct it. And as in the poem “Wolves and Sheep” by Manuel Silva Acevedo, it was as if in those poems I had a great premonition of what was about to happen. But before I was arrested on the ship, I had no idea that the book was going to be called Purgatorio.

[The pit experience seems to be the source for Song For His Disappeared Love, which takes place in a “shed” which seems to contain the entire bloody history of the Americas, from the colonial era to Hiroshima.]

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Kent Johnson

    The new Zurita book is Big Time, and Action Books and Dan Borzutzky deserve lots of credit for making it happen.