Showing posts with label biography. Show all posts
Showing posts with label biography. Show all posts

Saturday, December 15, 2018

We are thrilled to announce that Mark Eisner, a member of Red Poppy's leadership team, has just been nominated as a semi-finalist for the 2019 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography, for his book on Pablo Neruda: NERUDA: The Poet's Calling (The Biography of a Poet). PEN Prizes are not only considered a "major" award, but from an organization whose work we believe in wholeheartedly:

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

We've taken a little break from this blog but we felt that this would be a great opportunity to jump back in, as there is a lot of synchronicity between the book and Red Poppy's documentary-in-progress. Mark was involved with the first version of the documentary, and conducted all of the interviews. Below is an excerpt from the book that includes where he talks about the importance of the interviews. We will be starting to post those interviews on this blog.

For more information on the book, including reviews, cool photos from awesome events, tv interviews of Mark in the States, Mexico, and Chile, please click here.

For now, that excerpt ((c) Ecco/HarperCollins 2018):

....[When] I was asked to write this book. At first I thought, Why another book? So much had already been written on Neruda, including many works I admired. What would mine bring that others hadn’t? 

     I came to see a valid need for another approach, one that aims to bring Neruda’s gripping story to life in a new way. This volume is neither unbiased nor hagiographic; rather, it aims to offer a compelling narrative version of Neruda’s life and work, undergirded by exhaustive research, designed to bring this towering literary figure to a broader audience. My goal is to present the nuances of this complex, seemingly larger-than-life figure, to show all his vastness, to show both the redeeming and the cruel sides of his personal life, to show both the inspirational and the deeply troublesome sides of his political life. 

      In addition, I felt it was vital to unite, in a single volume, the three inseparable strands of Neruda’s legacy: his personal history, the entire canon of his poetry, and his social activism and politics both on and off the page. Each of these components depends on the other two. Each is shaped by the other two. No single thread can be understood fully without understanding the others. This book aims to deeply explore each of these three aspects of his life, while also highlighting the phenomenon behind their interrelationship. Without examining each of them extensively, the true expanse of Neruda’s story can’t be told. 

      From this, I also want to explore the multifaceted ways a reader can interpret Neruda as a figure in history. He was a man who gained celebrity status assuming the role of the “people’s poet,” while also acting as what some call a “Champagne Communist.” The contradictions are inherent within his multitudes, to paraphrase his hero Whitman. As Alastair Reid, Neruda’s favorite English-language translator, said to me, “Neruda is seven different poets, if not nine”: there is a Neruda for everyone. His legacy can be appreciated in different ways, but it is best understood in the context of the startling historical events in which he took part and the intense complexities of his life—from the shockingly shameful to the inspiringly heroic—while still absorbing the beauty and innovation of his poetry. Within the examination of those three strands—poetry, personality, and politics—is an exploration of the nature of political poetry’s power and effectiveness, and how Neruda’s role as a people’s poet, a political poet, connects to the shifting political climates of this new millennium. Because Neruda was so linked, so involved with major phenomena of the twentieth century, this book takes the reader through major historical events, including the South American student, labor, and anarchist movements of the 1910s, which tied into similar ones in Europe; the Spanish Civil War; the Battle of Stalingrad; Fidel Castro, the cult of Che Guevara, and the Cuban Revolution; and Richard Nixon’s interventions in Chile and Vietnam.

* * * 

      There was another impetus, inspiration, and source for this book: in celebration of the centennial of Neruda’s birth in 2004, not only did The Essential Neruda come out, but I also premiered a documentary film on him that I had produced. That initial version has led to a more ambitious feature-length documentary film that is currently in production. Work on the film has produced brilliant, unique gems for this biography, this text nourished by interviews and conversations with a diverse array of characters.

       Unfortunately, some of the subjects have passed since I first talked to them. Neruda was born in 1904, so many of those who knew him for most of his life are no longer with us. One of these people was Sergio Insunza, minister of justice under Allende. Insunza was in his twenties when he first met Neruda, when the Chilean Communist Party brought the poet-senator to hide out in his apartment—then-president Gabriel González Videla had ordered Neruda’s arrest for speaking out against his antidemocratic, oppressive measures on the Senate floor. Another interviewee, Juvenal Flores, was ninety-two when I spoke to him. He worked on a ranch in southern Chile and helped guide the fugitive Neruda on horseback across a snowcapped peak in the Andes, safely into exile. 

      Then there was an afternoon I spent at one of Santiago’s main produce markets. When I asked an effusive woman in front of a vegetable stand about Neruda’s love poetry, she spontaneously burst out, “I like it when you’re quiet. It’s as if you were absent”—the iconic first lines of Neruda’s Poem XV in Twenty Love Poems. And then, with the biggest smile and half-laughing, she said, “That’s as far as I get, but it’s a beautiful book!” She told me that although she had read the poem as a young girl, in school, it gained a heightened significance for her six years before, when, at thirty-two, she had fallen in love with a Bolivian doctor. He eventually left Chile, giving her a copy of Twenty Love Poems as a departing gift. 

       I turned to Mario Fernández Núñez and asked him what he thought of Neruda. The whole time we had been talking, he had been preparing bundles of cilantro for his market stand. His hands did not pause in their work when he answered, “Well, he’s our national poet. He won the Nobel Prize.”
      “And what does that mean to you?” I asked. 

       “Well, first, it’s pride, an honor. And secondly, for us, Pablo Neruda, beyond all the poetry, was a very good person. Remember that he was practically the ambassador—he brought the Spanish over here when Spain was in a dictatorship.” 

       These experiences provided breathing insight that could not be found on the printed pages of the books I found at the Stanford Library, the Biblioteca Nacional de Chile, the Library of Congress, or Neruda’s own archives, or in so many key sources I’ve been grateful for in between.

--from NERUDA: The Poet's Calling/The Biography of a Poet  by Mark Eisner  
(c) Ecco/HarperCollins 2018

some of the interviews are pretty serious, talking about historic events, describing the nuances of Neruda and relationships, to start with, though, and as its mentioned about: a more light hearted clip from one of those interviews that shows the wonderful humanity behind it all.  Enjoy! 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Little More on Pablo

Pablo Neruda is celebrated by Chileans--as a poet—to a degree that is truly rare on this planet. We in the North are not used to poets being such celebrities. Our great poets are revered and respected, but really only a small fraction of our society have read their poems. In Chile, though, everybody knows Neruda, everybody has read Neruda: miners, housewives, bakers, maids, school children. To his beloved Chilean people, to so many Latin Americans, Neruda is still the source of tremendous pride, regardless of one’s political orientation.

And Neruda was such a Chilean, such a Latin American, in how much he cared for his country, continent and its people. They were his cause, his pride and the most important audience for his poetry. Though he constantly traveled, he would always return to Chile (only living abroad while serving diplomatic positions).

Neruda's masterpiece, Canto General, is emblematic of his passion for his continent. The epic poem-- Canto, as in song-- is a class-based Marxist and humanistic interpretation of the history of the Americas, written as Neruda was developing his burgeoning pan-American consciousness and perspective.

“I live, I still live, and I think many of us live inside the world Neruda discovered,” Ariel Dorfman told me on a warm spring day on the Duke campus, where he is a Distinguished Professor of Literature, Latin American Studies and Theater. We had been discussing Canto General, in which, as Dorfman put it, “He basically named Latin America in a new way, and he claimed for Latin America the possibility of being lyrically and epically in a story of resistance. And what was very special about that for me was that he managed to understand that the struggle of the people for their liberation, for their full humanity, was parallel to the struggle of the nature of Latin America to be expressed, to be freed. . . to be shown.”

“From the political aesthetic point of view, Canto General has no equal,” Dorfman, who was exiled from Chile after Pinochet's 1973 coup, continued, “There's not one bad verse in Residencia en la tierra, but Canto General is full of verses I would sort of say, well hey, ‘they’re too propagandistic, bombastic.’ But when he hit the target in the Canto General, what he did was he redefined what America meant. América. Even North America, but particularly Latin America.”

Awesome in scope and simultaneously deeply probing, Canto General is considered by many to be one of the more important books in the whole cannon of the world’s poetry. And it extends well beyond the world of well-versed lovers of literature and academic scholars. In 2003, I went to a construction site on a new line of Santiago’s metro in order to interview workers about their thoughts on Neruda. There, José Corriel told me that Canto General was his favorite book by Neruda because it’s “la parte combativa de Neruda,” the combative side. “The importance of Canto General,” he said, “is that it shows us the Américas’ history from a different point of view.” Canto General, he explained, is told from “the point of view of the people themselves, not the history told by the conquerors. Yes, we could call it the ‘history told by the conquered.’"

The Canto's opening poem is appropriately titled, “Amor América (1400)”

Before the powdered wig and the dress coat,

were the rivers, arterial rivers,

were the cordilleras, on whose worn ripple

the condor or the snow seemed immobile:

there was humidity and thickness, the thunder

still without name, the planetary pampas.

Man was earth, earthen pot, eyelid

of tremulous mud, shape of clay—

he was Caribbean pitcher, chibchan stone,

imperial cup or Araucanian silica.

Tender and bloody he was, but in the hilt

of his moistened crystal weapon

the earth’s initials were


No one could

remember them later: the wind

forgot them, the language of water

was buried, the keys were lost

or inundated by silence or blood.

Life was not lost, pastoral brothers.

But like a wild rose

a red drop fell on the thickness,

and a lamp on earth was extinguished.

I am here to tell the history.

From the peace of the buffalo

to the beaten sands

of the land’s end, in the accumulated

foam of the Antarctic light


My land without name, without América,

equinoctial stamen, purple lance,

your aroma climbed to me through my roots

into the goblet that I drank, into the thinnest

word still unborn in my mouth.

He indeed drank deeply from that cup, as Latin America's poetic essence flowed through the book's two hundred and thirty more poems, in which he named so much of both America's integrities and its external evils.

Canto General's literary roots are the lyrics of his hero Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Mayan’s Popul Vuh and, as seen in “Amor América (1400),” the literature of the Bible. “Amor América (1400)” lays out Neruda’s idea of the American Genesis, a pre-Columbian Eden, before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores and the subsequent “imperialistic” foreign powers' injustices. In this Eden, as Neruda described it, all was pure, so natural that “Man was earth, earthen vase.”

The Europeans extinguished the ancient "lamp on earth," according to Neruda's thinking. He portrays the Spanish Conquest as a tragic injustice forced on “his” people, despite his European heritage. The Europeans, to him, were barbarous and ruthless. “Like a wild rose, a red drop fell on the thickness”--so ended America’s Edenic first phase of history. (The poet doesn't mention, though, the barberry that many pre-Columbian societies had ruthlessly enacted on others within the continent: the blood let by the Inca’s imperialism, the Aztec love of war, the Mayans` human sacrifices, the violence of Apache warriors. . . For he is not just invoking the peaceful indigenous of his land which would be called Chile, he is talking all of the Americas, “from the peace of the buffalo / to the beaten sands of the land’s end.”)

Neruda identifies himself with the indigenous people. “I searched for you, my father, young warrior of darkness and copper,” he writes in “Amor América (1400)”. In the poem, all indigenous people, peaceful and belligerent alike, are his “fathers”; he is their son. Pablo Neruda, though, was actually born Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, with no native names in his lineage, but rather Spanish family names, with Neftalí, from his mother, suggesting some Semitic roots.

In Canto General, the “pastoral hermanos” are his brothers, presented as the land itself:

My Araucanian fathers had no

crests of luminous plumes,

they did not rest on nuptial flowers,

they did not spin gold for the priest:

they were stone and tree, roots

"Earth and Man Unite"

Neruda is here to tell their story, to give name to that which was “without name, without América,” before the Spanish came.

Canto General attempts to find "the earth's initials," to uncover and display the lost keys to the conquered, to open new doors to justice. He is making a literary effort to give people back their lost voice.

* * *

When the bestselling Chilean novelist Isabel Allende fled her country after Pinochet's coup, she couldn't take much with her, "some clothes, family pictures, a small bag with dirt from my garden, and two books: Eduardo Galleano’s seminal Open Veins of Latin America, and an old edition of Pablo Neruda’s poetry. Like the bag of earth, with Neruda’s words I was taking a part of Chile with me, for Neruda was such a part of my country, such a part of the political dreams destroyed that day."

Neruda is one of history’s greatest examples of a soul rebel who used his pen as his sword in his constant fight for a better world. At his political core was a populism based on his fundamental belief that the common man, the worker, the poor, deserved a seat at the table as much as anybody else:

…Let us sit down soon to eat

with all those who haven’t eaten;

let us spread great tablecloths,

put salt in the lakes of the world,

set up planetary bakeries,

tables with strawberries in snow,

and a plate like the moon itself

from which we can all eat.

For now I ask no more

than the justice of eating.

(translated by and (C) the late great Alastair Reid, from "Extravagario", Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)

Neruda's communism was not based on egalitarianism, but rather the equality of possibility.

Even as a teenager, witnessing the injustices against the indigenous and working class to which he was exposed, Neruda felt the poet’s calling-- el deber del poeta: an obligation, a duty, a debt he owed to give voice to the people through his poetry. He promised a commitment to humanitarianism, using literature to enrich, empower and engage in the pursuit of progressive social change.

To dive deep into Neruda's life and poetry, may we suggest Mark Eisner's award-winning Neruda: The Biography of a Poet

"Reads like a beautifully written novel: attentive to scene, momentum, and rich with evocative details.”
— Cristina García, Dreaming in Cuban