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! 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

It has been quite a while since we've posted anything here, but we are looking forward to engaging with anew, engaging with you. Posts on Neruda, post on what we're dedicated to: the power of Latin American poetry to not only evoke emotions, but to shift social consciousness, sparking both individual and collective change. 

Towards that, we have recently finished editing a multilingual anthology of Latin American resistance poetry, featuring forty poems that arose from the sustained periods of activism throughout that region. The book explores the nature of political poetry’s effectiveness through the power and aesthetic beauty of language. Furthermore, the anthology addresses a diverse spectrum of issues including indigenous, feminist, queer, urban and ecological themes, along with the more historically prominent protests against imperialism, dictatorships, and economic inequality. Every Latin American country is represented by at least one poem. Four indigenous languages are included and translated: Mestizo, Mayan, Quechua and Mapundungun (from the Mapuche in Chile). The book features thirty translations crafted just for this project, composed by an all-star team of translators, including recent US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera as well as emerging talent. We hope to find the right publisher soon. Updates and previews to come.

The new version of the documentary has a new name: Pablo Neruda: The People's Poet. It is an up-close, visually poetic portrait of the complex man behind some of the world’s most popular and enduring poems. But it is still in progress. The bestselling novelist Julia Alvarez recently said, “This documentary will give us our Neruda, vigorously, diversely, enchantingly brought back to life.”

We also have some exciting news: Mark Eisner's Neruda biography, Neruda: The Poet's Calling, will be published in March 2018 by Ecco/HarperCollins! Mark helps lead our non-profit, he is a co-editor of the resistance anthology and a producer of the documentary (and also editor of City Lights' The Essential Neruda). There's already some great buzz:

"Mark Eisner's definitive biography of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda reads like a beautifully written novel: attentive to scene, momentum, and rich with evocative details.”
— Cristina García, author of Dreaming in Cuban and Here in Berlin.

“What a joy to have this big-hearted, exuberant biography of Neruda, infused with all the grandeur that the man commanded! What particularly commends the book is its mise-en-scène—the wider worlds of art, nature, politics, and social justice in which Neruda moved. A spirited and satisfying journey.”
—Marie Arana, author of Bolívar: American Liberator and American Chica

                                                          pre-order it now!

We are working on a grass-roots impact campaign in which we can take the biography, along with what we have of the film, into community organizations, cultural organizations, classrooms, any room, any field, again, all trying to communicate poetry's power to not only evoke emotions, but to shift social consciousness, sparking both individual and collective change.

We will keep you up to date on this project, all our projects, as well as a renewed stream of posts on a variety of related matters, thoughts, creativity.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why Red Poppy

The first time I really connected to Pablo Neruda's poetry was the summer before my junior year of college. Reeling after a bad breakup, I was going through the Spanish section of the library when I came across a black book with gold lettering on the front - Residencia en la Tierra. At this point I was familiar with Neruda's poetry but just barely. The poems I knew were the ones that, if there was a billboard chart for poetry, would be considered Top 40 material, the types of poems that are anthologized in the intermediate level Spanish lit readers. Don't get me wrong, these are great poems, iconic poems like “Poema XX.” But they only show the side of Neruda that most people are familiar with - his romantic poems. And while, say, “Poema XX,” with its heart on its sleeve, with its “another’s. She will be another's,” may seem like the perfect break up elegy, I shortly found out that the poems in Residencia express a whole other level of anguish. For example. The heartbroken man in “Poema XX” can sing the saddest verses on this night. Whereas the man who is tired of being a man in “Walking Around” in Residencia finds the atomic film separating his skin from the horrible space around him melts away, leaving him wide open to the onslaught of reality. Poema XX is a lyrical sublimation of heartache. Walking Around is a howl at the moon. And sometimes a howl at the moon is what you need.

When I first looked over Red Poppy’s Neruda documentary footage something clicked when one of the interviewees said that Neruda himself was going through a break up when he wrote the Residencias, (as well as feeling estranged, depressed, lost in solitude). I didn't know this beforehand but it made perfect sense. While the poems are not overtly about a long gone lover, the undercurrent of loss is there, a loss of human contact, and what more is a break up than losing your closest human contact you have? Neruda gives voice to that loss. And that voice, that articulation, is exactly the answer I have started to give to my friends working as engineers and lab techs when they ask me, Why Poetry? or its sister question, that resilient New York Times Op-Ed impetus, Why the Humanities? Poetry can be a great many things and defies definition. It can be puzzle to unlock with another person. It can be an epic story. It can be a historical testament. But to me, most of all, poetry is just a human voice that refuses to fade away.

Red Poppy’s important work focuses on collecting these outspoken voices. At present the nonprofit is engaged with projects including a documentary on Pablo Neruda's poetic activism, and an anthology entitled Poetry in Resistance that challenges readers to consider art as a vehicle for demanding social justice. Every day we can read about the civil war in Syria, about turmoil in the Ukraine, about genocide in the Sudan, about Pussy Riot being shipped to the gulag, about mortgage holders illegally foreclosed upon and every single person oppressed by these forces needs a voice beyond the sterilized sentences of The News. That is where poetry comes into play. Poetry can bridge contexts and cultural divides because emotions are universal. Neruda's poem indicting the United Fruit Company, for example, is just as much an indictment of subprime lenders, because the cannibalistic effects of unregulated capitalism endure, and so does our outrage. Similarly, the poets featured in Poetry in Resistance voice dissent against oppressive and authoritarian forces which still persist to this day. And one day we hope to listen to the Syrians voice their own laments over the conflict. Because that should be the project of poetry. Understanding human conflict, and fighting for social justice. That's Why Poetry. And that's also Why Red Poppy.

by David Shames

Sunday, June 30, 2013

For the Futaleufú: Neruda's "The Rivers Emerge, Los Ríos Acuden"

The Futaleufú river, at the top of Chile's Patagonia, is one of the most captivating in the world. The valley it runs through is stunning and majestic, a special, sacred place, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, dense forests, glaciated lakes and other roaring rivers. However, as is so often the case in pristine areas such as this, the watershed faces many threats, from hydroelectric interests wanting to dam the wild rivers to the potential construction of contaminating mines, as well as unsustainable development and the entrance of invasive species. 

Fortunately, many locals and concerned individuals and groups from Chile and around the world are working to defend it. The Fundación Futaleufú Riverkeeper is a Chilean foundation leading the fight to protect the watershed and its communities. For their inaugural digital newsletter, they asked me to translate parts of Pablo Neruda's poem, "The Rivers Emerge". It is from Canto General, his epic reinterpretation of the history of the Americas. As a construction worker told me once in Chile, as I was interviewing him for our Neruda documentary,  "The importance of Canto General is that it shows us the history of the Americas from a different point of view, 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.” (For more on the documentary featuring that worker please see He, the poem, and much more on Canto General and all that is discussed here in Mark Eisner's new biography, Neruda: The Poet's Calling

The poem "The Rivers Emerge" comes at the beginning of the book, part of Neruda's pre-Colombian Genesis tale, where all is pure and man himself is the earth. Following his mythological vision of the creation of North and South America, this poem tells how the rivers emerged onto the surface of the earth, how intrinsically they and the land are bound together....

Coming of the Rivers

Beloved of rivers, assailed by

blue water and transparent drops,

apparition like a tree of veins,

a dark goddess biting into apples:

then, when you awoke naked,

you were tattooed by rivers,

and on the wet summits your head

filled the world with new-found dew.

Water trembled about your waist.

You were fashioned out of streams

and lakes shimmered on your forehead.

From your dense mists, Mother, you

gathered water as if it were vital tears,

and dragged sources to the sands

across the planetary night,

traversing sharp massive rocks,

crushing in your pathway

all the salt of geology,

felling compact walls of forest,

splitting the muscles of quartz.

Los ríos acuden

Amada de los ríos, combatida

por agua azul y gotas transparentes,

como un árbol de venas es tu espectro

de diosa oscura que muerde manzanas:

al despertar desnuda entonces,

eras tatuada por los ríos,

y en la altura mojada tu cabeza

llenaba el mundo con nuevos rocíos.

Te trepidaba el agua en la cintura

y te brillaban lagos en la frente.

De tu espesura madre recogías

el agua como láfrimas vitales,

y arrastrabas los cuaces a la arena

a través de la noche planetaria,

cruzando ásperas piedras dilitadas,

rompiendo en el camino

todo la sal de la geología,

cortando bosques de compactos muros,

apartando los músculos del cuarzo.      

Translation from the Spanish by Waldeen, as published in Asymptoe Journal's blog

**New decade Jan 5, 2020 edit/update: the original 2013 post featured a translation I rendered somewhat on the fly to get it out for Futaleufú Riverkeepers and others after Leonardo DiCaprio's social media post about the 2016 victories in  Patagonia's wild rivers. I believe I conveyed the meaning well enough, but I did it in haste. Recently, though, I read Jonathan Cohen's excellent piece on the writer and dancer Waldeen von Falkenstein, one of Neruda's first important English language translators. Published in Asymptote, not only does he feature her translation of the poem above, but points out the flaws in my rushed rendition.

Jonathan is a poet-translator and scholar I respect greatly. I also cherish his New Directions collection of William Carlos Williams' translations of Spanish and Latin American verse.

Unfortunately, the translation of mine that he read was hastily written and posted on the blog we had (maybe will still have going at) and in this graphic by Futaleufú Riverkeeper as we were trying to quickly build on Leonardo DiCaprio's shout out about the 2016 victories defending Patagonia's wild rivers. I believe I conveyed the meaning well enough, but by not having the time, and failing more so to go back later to correct it--forgetting how what's posted on the web can stay forever. 
He was correct, and so I have replaced it, with the link to his article in Asymptote Journal with her translation that he has recovered. 
He is correct in writing that, "Unlike Waldeen’s translation, the other translations, though close to the literal meaning of Neruda, are less than faithful to his work’s poetic quality, becoming prosaic." So I've replaced it, and hope you'll follow this link to Asymptote's exclusive first-ever publication of Waldeen's translation, recovered by Mr. Cohen, along with his rich essay about Waldeen's life and translation work, here.

(In my Neruda: The Biography of a Poet, I actually used Waldeen's translation of Neruda's seminal “Let the Rail-Splitter Awake” as it first appeared in English, in an awesome 1950 Masses & Mainstream volume)

-and alas, hopefully needing no translation, my gratitude again to people like Mr. Cohen selflessly working to recover and defend the richness of the legacy of the verse we have all inherited, along with those working to recover, preserve the wild living poetic powers of the rivers that Neruda sung about, Futaleufú Riverkeeper, Patagonia Sin Represas, Bernardo Reyes (and the NRDC) Patrick J. Lynch, Rocio Gonzalez, among, of course, so many others, and for that resonating shout-out and everything else he does for the earth, Leonardo DiCaprio.