Canto General: Song of the Americas Translated by Mariela Griffor Tupelo Press (Boston) $39.99, 512 pp.REVIEWS FOR Canto General Translation A Review of Mariela Griffor’s translation of Pablo Neruda’s Canto General by Robin Fulton Macpherson
’I am here to write this history’ says Neruda on the first page of his truly magnum opus. This simple announcement leads us into a vast unfolding of every aspect of the history of his continent, from the wealth of its nature to the turbulence of its politics, all displayed in an astonishing array of different kinds of verse. Neruda met with a warm response from many of his fellow-Chileans, who felt that he didn«t just speak about them but that he spoke to and for them. As Mariela Griffor puts it, ’Neruda has been a source of unity in moments of love and war.’ Those familiar with CantoGeneral in Spanish are in no doubt that it is one of the masterpieces of the twentieth century, if not indeed themasterpiece. To English language readers the work in its entirety deserves to be much better known and this new translation is just what is needed. But what we have here is not merely a translation that fills a gap - what makes it special is Mariela Griffor’s intense personal concern with the ways in which her lifelong attachment to Neruda’s poetry helps her to interpret and reinterpret how she feels about her native country. In very traumatic circumstances she escaped from Pinochet«s henchmen in 1985 and then spent thirteen years in Sweden,eventually moving to the U.S.A. In that process, readingCanto General ’changed my own life. It was not until I read this book that I understood the meaning of my owndislocation.’ Personal involvement does not of course in itself guarantee a good translation but in this case it certainly adds vitality as poem after poem surges forward with something of Neruda’s own energy. The reader is impelled as if by some kind of muscular but subtle music in or behind the lines. The book is aimed at readers whose knowledge of Spanish is not up to tackling Neruda directly, but such is the fluency of the translation that they will soon forget that they are in fact reading a translation.
Exiliana by Mariela Griffor Luna Publications (Toronto) $14.95, 73 pp.REVIEWS FOR EXILIANA A Note On Mariela Griffor’s Work by Ilya Kaminsky “Out here, the snow is an insider, I don’t see but invent a city and its people, its fury, its sky,” so begins this collection of furious and tender poems by a voice memorable for its utterly exilic music. “What do we do with the love / if you die? / Do we put it in your coffin / together with your khaki pants / and light brown shoes, / the ones you use in your normal life?” This is a universal question, the one posed and made recognizable regardless of the political situations from which it may have been voiced in this poem. The author’s voice is ours: “I spend nights sleepless / thinking about what to do / with the love if you die.” And, yet, the politics are inescapable, their deeply felt human urgency pierces the reader (at least this reader) with the sense of recognition, compassion, understanding: “Santiago is a scarlet puddle / of idiots, / poets, / assassins and / innocents. / You said it yourself / before it happened.” Thus, the love poem and political poem are brought together in these lines and their unity is clear, and also somehow instructive to many American poets of our time. How so? In the USA of this day and age, when our government is fighting (in our name) a violent war with more than one country at a time, it is instructive for our poets, I think, to learn not to be afraid of their feelings, to understand that the phrase political poetry is not a bad literary term in a snobbish book review, but something that happens on the page when the author is attempting an act of intimate, personal witness. When a woman writing to her dead lover “remembers the pieces of flesh missing / around your nostrils” and states directly, without patronizing: I will keep secret all your names, the places where we will be doing barricades and attacks on police stations until they kill us all or they surrender. When I read these lines, and find these variations in tone between the intimate lyric voice and the direct political statement, I am tempted to think it is Anna Akhmatova’s form and tone that Mariela Griffor aspires most to resemble. Akhmatova, one of the 20th century’s most important authors, certainly was able to bring the intimate and public utterings together in the work of poetry that is dazzling and instantly memorable. And, Mariela Griffor? Born in Chile, an involuntary exile, first in Sweden and then in the United States, the author of this collection does have a life story that is also both tragic and amazing by turns. Yet it is not just her lyrical voice and not her biography that attracts me to Griffor’s work, it is “her ability to write about love in the time of war, attempting to make of memory’s violent imprint into language an art.” Reading this book, I am most interested in Griffor’s constant pursuit of both tenderness and truth, her understanding that “one must live, love and fight with the same fervor of those / who know that life at any moment can be extinct, while admitting, we can still look each other / in the eye and smile.” There is, in this book, also an interesting attempt to understand the author’s new country, the United States with its “Detroit with its churches and voodoo, / fearful of God and the blues,/” a country that is perhaps fearful of itself, without admitting so. And here the poet asks: “Detroit, so full of churches, / so where is God?” It is a question for us, all, to answer. What can this poet, coming from the graves of Latin America, with the shadow of Pablo Neruda standing behind her, teach us about our own existence? I myself have learned a great deal. Read her poems such as “Twinkies” or “How Chaos Begins” and you will understand what I mean. For even though she knows that “...Chaos begins / A butterfly flying in the streets / of Santiago in a September day,” this poet still insists, “maybe despite everything I / can promise you a morning walk in the park.” It is her promise of this walk that allows for grace and praise of our world. And, for that, I am grateful. Ilya Kaminsky was born in Odessa, part of the former Soviet Union, in 1977, and arrived to the United States in 1993, when his family was granted asylum by the American government. Ilya is the author of Dancing In Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004) which won the Whiting Writer’s Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award, the Dorset Prize and the Ruth Lilly Fellowship. He teaches Creative Writing in the Graduate Writing Program at San Diego State University, California.
From the cradle first books of poetry to savor by Heather A. McMacken December 5, 2007 Metro Times. Mariela Griffor is arguably Detroit's most popular poet. Founding Marick Press in 2005 landed this Chilean on the national literary map — and now her first full-length collection guarantees a permanent spot. Exiliana brings to mind Pablo Neruda, with such sweetness and simplicity. These autobiographical pieces tell of lust, murder, exile, grieving and healing. The local political landscape is also a major topic. In "Detroit," Griffor asks why there are so many churches but no God. She jokes, "Could He be hiding/under politicians' coats?"
Review by Cary Lauren The Book Beat Southfield, MI
Exiliana is a first collection of poetry by the Chilean/Detroit poet and publisher Mariela Griffor. The poems are meditations and reveries on love, loss and memory. They speak of many lands and exiles; her poetry a defiant response and weapon against the cold political machinations of fascism, indifference, poverty and neglect. It is work that appears new and fresh with each reading. From her beloved homeland in Chili turned into “a scarlet puddle of idiots, poets, assassins and innocents,” to her adopted home in Detroit where “the landscape is an arson,” — “Detroit wake up from your sleep,” she cries. These are words and gifts in language that only an outsider who has gone through pain and hell can offer.
There is more in Exiliana than spilled blood and catharsis bubbling up through a romantic consciousness. She uses words like puddle, solitary, blindness, blood and tenderness, woven into short magical dioramas. They are spoken-word paintings of South-American soul and artistic mystery. Mariela demands a world filled with dreams and hope, a “holy fight,” that will cleanse and heal the past. Like Lorca and Neruda’s mournful Duende poems and dark odes to love, Griffor’s first book is born fully formed; a selection of deep songs and gypsy like rhythms that resonate, burn and linger in the mind, forged with a seductive and wild spirit. Self-translated into English (her new language), the poet is also transformed through it, but remains eternal and primitive, true to her self. Exiliana was published by the small Luna Publications press in Toronto, Ontario. This slim volume of 47 poems is a handsome design and an important and gratifying read.
Recently, Mariela has taken her fight to the streets. She is the founding director of Marick Press a young, independent publisher of poetry. A maverick undertaking, Marick is devoted to give voice to the rich array of native Detroit and newer, unheard talent. Healing comes when we know who we are, when we can feel, read and taste our history and emotions. These living structures of support and encouragement for artists and poets are rarely seen, yet badly needed, and like exotic flora should be preserved and tended to with care.
The Language of Loss A Review by Hope Maxwell-Snyder
Exile is a form of death. Nowhere is that more clearly stated than in Mariela Griffor’s poetry. Her book, Exiliana, deals with the loss of her native country, language, family, and friends. Departure may save one’s life, but it carries the burden of fear for the lives of those who stay behind and a feeling of guilt about their future. Memories freeze but wounds continue to lacerate. While exiles leave their countries hoping to return, to pick up where they left off, time conspires against them. “Distance is only temporary/ Griffor writes, but so is life. “I spend nights sleepless/thinking about what to do/with the love if you die. /” Her poetry addresses the suffering of her countrymen, “Dreams and/ambitions lost in many graves. /In the silent goodbyes/of Chileans/” and the alienation experienced by others. “Detroit, so full of churches, /so where is God? /
A bilingual reader would have benefited from seeing the poems originally written in Spanish next to the English translation. Yet, the language Griffor uses to mourn her losses is one, the language of the heart. “What to do with the love/if you die? /” she asks in “Love for a Subversive Man.” Do the departed live in the memories of those who love them? “I ask myself if my mother/thought about me when/her fingers touched my picture/taken twenty years ago when/we still had tenderness, / Griffor writes. Her experience as an exile includes living in two countries (Sweden and the United States).
While the self adapts to new circumstances, the only way to salvage anything from the past is by conversing with places and people that may never be seen again. Griffor seems comfortable talking to the absent and the dead, more so at times than addressing the present and the living. She does not seek to forget loved ones, but to celebrate having known them while mourning their demise. Questions for the departed are abundant in her poems. “I ask myself what I would say/If you were to enter my door/at this very moment. /If you could lift the iron gate/of your coffin/and walk through the hemisphere/from south to north /just to find me. /I would ask you:/What have you been doing / the past twenty years?” “How would I explain now,” she writes in another poem, “that in a lonely night without stars,” which evokes Pablo Neruda’s “Poema XX” in reverse, “in a place whose name I don’t remember, /” a reference to Cervantes’s masterpiece, “my solitary and tired spirit/succumbs to the enchantment of a sweet and/dangerous craziness?” The fascination with Don Quixote and his quest is evident. “Where does our knight/start this endless search/that converts him into/a hero for those without dreams? / The poet asks in “Quixote as a Dream,” while insisting, in “Sunday Walk, Urban Talk,” “Myself, I wanted a garden,/big, full of plants and eccentric flowers,/read the newspapers in the morning,/write a bit about things I couldn’t say/and love ‘Phillip’ as always. /” The poet seeks normalcy in a world and within an existence that have been anything but normal. In her struggle to deal with a past measured by loss she continues to live, to write, to dream.
Review by Anca Vlasopolos
Posted on CutBank, the literary journal of the University of Montana, in Missoula. Monday February 12, 2007
Exiliana-the resonant, mellifluous title announces the heart of this first poetry book by Mariela Griffor. Its very foreignness extends, like the tall grasses of the evocative cover painting, into seemingly endless space. The poems in this book cluster around Griffor’s enduring theme: the personal is political, and, in this book, the political, too, is so personal as to invade the core of mind and body. One could call this collection a series of elegies, for the violently murdered lover, father of child whose birth he does not live to see, for the body of the beloved country, especially its capital, Santiago, for the friends of childhood and youth whom the poet does not get to see grow older.
Griffor speaks with the voice of the world’s many exiles; her lament is the exile’s universal lament. In describing the mother tongue, she writes, “It comes sweet and strong/ with syllables I recognize,/ its delicious sounds,” and she acknowledges her somewhat unwilling thrall to those sounds. As other exiles, in the moods of weather of foreign places the poet is constantly reminded of home, existing in a halved awareness of the here being but a distorted replica of the there, the lost home: “The sound of the rain in Michigan/ reminds me of the rugged winters in my old country:/ the cold feet in old shoes,/ the fast sound of the water hitting the ground/ the smell of eucalyptus in the air.”
Ultimately, however, Griffor with this book of poetry returns us to the beginnings of the lyric: these are love poems, mostly for a lost young love that survives the death of the lover to go on haunting the living with excruciating longing, as in “Heartland”:
I wish I could put my heart
under the faucet in the sink
and with the running water
wash away the thumping
thoughts you evoke.
After years of draining
the arteries of my
heart, they come full
again every morning as our first encounter,
insisting on the memory of you.
Despite the cri de coeur in this poem as in the overtly political ones, where the poet becomes the accuser—“What kind of country is this/that falls in love with death/ every time freedom disappears/ from its core?/ What kind of country is this/ that kills its own sons and daughters?”, the song of love is heard from within the bitterness and loss. In a tradition that is, alas, not common to many women poets writing in English, Griffor explores the erotic in the context of fierce love: “I remember your lukewarm hands/ between the pleats of my beige skirt . . . . despite the passing of years,/ I still feel your hand/ between the pleats of my skirt.”
Yet, unlike many exiles who long only for the lost homeland, Griffor turns her creative energies to describing the places she has inhabited since, “Along the Cold Streets of Scandinavia,” as well as along the mean streets of Detroit, and her take on these new landscapes is generous and large. She enjoins Detroit to “Leave your vinegar grief behind.” In Uppsala, she sings of the spring of a second love: “In a mantle of spring/ you approach slowly”; “Love that has been asleep . . . / turns from the colors of grey . . . to the red of living sap.”
But turning a generous eye toward one’s refuge does not mean abandoning the burden of remembrance, of witnessing the horrors of deaths, disappearances, and tortures in the homeland or the various wounds and amputations of exile, and Griffor best summarizes the desolation in a short poem, “How Chaos Begins,” perhaps the most powerful of the collection: “A butterfly flying in the streets/ of Santiago on a September day.”
Anca Vlasopolos' publications include Penguins in a Warming World (poetry; Ragged Sky Press, 2007) and No Return Address: A Memoir of Displacement (Columbia University Press, 2000), which was awarded the YMCA Writer’s Voice Grant for Creative Non-Fiction in 2001, the Wayne State University Board of Governors Award and the Arts Achievement Award in 2002. Forthcoming publications include the historical novel The New Bedford Samurai (Twilight Times Books, 2007); the poetry chapbooks, Through the Straits, at Large and The Evidence of Spring; and a detective novel, Missing Members. Vlasopolos, a 2006 Pushcart Prize nominee, has also published poems and short stories work in literary magazines such as The Rambler, Porcupine, Typo, Perigee, Poetry International, Barrow Street, Adagio, Avatar, Terrain, Nidus,, Short Story, Natural Bridge, Center, Evansville Review, Santa Barbara Review, River Styx, Spoon River Poetry Quarterly, Weber Review, among others.
# # #
Like the knight of La Mancha, Mariela Griffor's poetic motto is a defiant, "Never die! Never die!" She writes, "It is the motto I carry on my chest,/ that I hang up on the fence/ outside my house/ at the beginning/ of each night." In poems that are both tenderhearted and tenaciously brave, Griffor reclaims from death, she postpones death, she wrestles and wrenches free from death's grip, poems that take Rilke's credo to “Speak and bear witness” to heart. If, as Rilke claimed, it's true that, “More than ever/ the Things that we might experience are vanishing, for/ what crowds them out and replaces them is an imageless act,” Griffor's Exiliana is her response to restore images, both horrific and beautiful, to acts both remembered and re-lived. — Peter Markus, author of The Singing Fish
Exiliana is a first collection of poetry by the Chilean/Detroit poet and publisher Mariela Griffor. The poems are meditations and reveries on love, loss and memory. They speak of many lands and exiles; her poetry a defiant response and weapon against the cold political machinations of fascism, indifference, poverty and neglect. It is work that appears new and fresh with each reading. From her beloved homeland in Chile turned into “a scarlet puddle of idiots, poets, assassins and innocents,” to her adopted home in Detroit where “the landscape is an arson,” — “Detroit wake up from your sleep,” she cries. These are words and gifts in language that only an outsider who has gone through pain and hell can offer.
There is more in Exiliana than spilled blood and catharsis bubbling up through a romantic consciousness. She uses words like puddle, solitary, blindness, blood and tenderness, woven into short magical dioramas. They are spoken-word paintings of South-American soul and artistic mystery.
Mariela demands a world of dreams and hope, a “holy fight,” that will cleanse and heal the past. Like Lorca and Neruda’s mournful Duende poems and dark odes to love, Griffor’s first book is born fully formed; a selection of deep songs and gypsy like rhythms that resonate, burn and linger in the mind, forged with a seductive and wild spirit. Self-translated into English, her new foreign language, the poet is also transformed but still remains eternal and primitive, true to her self. Exiliana was published by the small Luna Publications press in Toronto, Ontario. The slim volume of 47 poems is a handsome design and perfect addition for any serious reader.
Recently, Mariela has taken her fight to the streets. She is the founding director of Marick Press a young, independent publisher of poetry. A maverick undertaking, Marick is devoted to give voice to the rich array of native Detroit and newer, unheard talent. Healing comes when we know who we are, when we can feel, read and taste the history before us. These living structures of support and encouragement for artists and poets are rarely seen, yet badly needed, and like exotic flora should be preserved and tended to with care.
Mariela Griffor will be reading and signing copies of EXILIANA at the Book Beat on Sunday, January 28th, 2007, at 2 PM. Join us for an afternoon’s delight.
Read an interview with Mariela at: The Detroiter.Com /Mariela Griffor Interview and read the December 20th, 2006 cover story of the Metro Times that featured the article: An Exile’s tale of Christmas by Mariela Griffor. — Book Beat Independent Bookstore, Oak Park, MI
Chilean-born writer’s first book journeys back to her past
By K. Michelle Moran
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Grosse Pointe Times
Reading “Exiliana,” the first poetry collection by Mariela Griffor of Grosse Pointe Park, is like reading a cache of love letters. Direct, honest and intimate, they trace the tragic tale of young love against the backdrop of the Chilean revolutionary movement.
It’s a story Griffor knows all too well. It’s her own.
As a journalism and literature student, the Chilean-born Griffor fell deeply in love with Julio Santibáñez, an engineering student who was active in the underground effort to oust the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. She, too, got involved in the movement.
But when Santibáñez was killed and the secret police were in search of Griffor as well, she was forced to flee her homeland in 1985. At 23, and two month’s pregnant with Santibáñez’s child, she ended up in Sweden, where her lawyer had a sister who offered to help her. The grieving exile had to muster the courage to start over, and for a long time, that meant suppressing her memories. But, eventually, she found love again, in an American mathematician named Edward Griffor, whom she married in 1988. The couple returned to his home state of Michigan in 1998, and the poet finally reached a point where she could finally address her history. The result is “Exiliana,” published this month by Luna Publications.
Author Rainelle Burton called the book “brilliant and maddening in its uncensored truth about love and death, war and life — brilliant in the richness and detail that can only come from a mind rare enough to focus on both.” Poet Molly Peacock called Griffor’s work “at once vivacious and soulful, candid and lyrical, fraught with the exigencies of exile, but perfumed by memory.” But the fact that “Exiliana” is a poetry collection is almost accidental.
“Somehow, the story in ‘Exiliana’ came out in poetry form,” Griffor said. “I didn’t choose to write it that way. Sometimes, things come in their own form, and we need to be open to that.”
To write “Exiliana,” Griffor admitted she had to “relive those painful memories.” But the editing process also allowed her to detach herself.
“Something magic happens when you are able to put those [memories] on paper,” she said. “There is a lot of healing. The pain disappears, and you can concentrate on the work you are trying to do.”
In Michigan, Griffor completed her college education, earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in communication from Wayne State University. In addition to poetry, she also writes articles and short stories, and has been published in a number of Latin American and United States periodicals. Griffor has won several awards for her work, including a first prize in poetry from Australia’s Chilean Cultural Association of Canberra for the Pablo Neruda 100 Years Anniversary.
“Poetry is so full of resources,” she said, pointing to the many ways poets can make use of language and imagery. “People can use all of those different resources in different ways. In my case, it’s a challenge and a joy.”
Today, Griffor lives with her husband and two daughters in Grosse Pointe Park. She serves as the Grosse Pointe Artists Association’s poet-in-residence, runs the Detroit Urban Writer-in-Residence Program and is the co-founder of the publishing company Marick Press. She laughingly describes her life as “very busy.”
She’s at work on a memoir, and another collection of her poetry, “House,” is slated for publication by May Apple Press in late 2007 or early 2008.
Although Santibáñez is gone, she hopes “Exiliana” honors his legacy.
“I think he would be proud of me — I hope — because, after so many years, I wanted to tell this story,” Griffor said.
Mariela Griffor will take part in Poets Follies with other writers and musicians 6:30-9:30 p.m. Jan. 26 at the GPAA Art Center, 1005 Maryland, at Jefferson, in Grosse Pointe Park; admission is $5. For more details, call (313) 821-1848, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.myspace.com/grossepointeartcenter. She joins fellow Grosse Pointe Park writer Anca Vlasopolos at 2 p.m. Jan. 28 at Book Beat in Oak Park. For more about Griffor, visit www.marielagriffor.com.
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