Monday, April 18, 2016

Robert Bly / Waiting for night to come

Waiting for night to come
How much I long for the night to come
Again — I am restless all afternoon —
And the huge stars to appear
All over the heavens!… The black spaces between stars…
And the blue to fade away.

I worked on poems with my back to the window,
Waiting for the darkness that I remember
Noticing from my cradle.
When I step over and open the door, I am
A salmon slipping over the gravel into the ocean.

One star stands alone in the western darkness:
Arcturus. Caught in their love, the Arabs called it
The Keeper of Heaven. I think
It was in the womb that I received
The thirst for the dark heavens.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Robert Bly / When my dead father called

When my dead father called
by Robert Bly

Last night I dreamt my father called to us.
He was stuck somewhere. It took us
A long time to dress, I don’t know why.
The night was snowy; there were long black roads.
Finally, we reached the little town, Bellingham.
There he stood, by a streetlamp in cold wind,
Snow blowing along the sidewalk. I noticed
The uneven sort of shoes that men wore
In the early Forties. And overalls. He was smoking.
Why did it take us so long to get going? Perhaps
He left us somewhere once, or did I simply
Forget he was alone in winter in some town?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Pablo Neruda / A Passion for Life / Review by Andrew Motion

And where are the lilacs?

Adam Feinstein neatly combines the music of Pablo Neruda's poetry and the whirl of his life

Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life
by Adam Feinstein
497pp, Bloomsbury, £25

Andrew Motion
Saturday 31 July 2004 01.05 BST
Pablo Neruda couldn't hold a tune. "My ear," he admitted, "could never recognise any but the most obvious melodies, and even then, only with difficulty." His friends agreed with him. "The only thing he didn't have an ear for was music," said Aida Figueroa. "He couldn't understand music. He could hear the sound of birds, people's words. But not music."
This is remarkable: the artfulness and range of Neruda's cadences are crucial to the power of his writing. In early work such as Crepusculario (1923) and the best-selling Veinte poemas (1924) he has the mingled richness and discipline of a string quartet. In more political mid-century work he blows and drums with impressive vehemence. In later, more personal and/or metaphysical writing such as Memorial de Isla Negra (1964), he is a virtuoso solo instrumentalist. No one reading his poems in their original Spanish would want to separate their sense from their sound. Even when translated into English, their meaning is inseparable from their melody.
Adam Feinstein's new biography, published to coincide with the centenary of Neruda's birth, is fuelled by an infectious enthusiasm for the poems: this is its greatest strength. But it also has an admirable patience with the dizzying detail of his life. It's difficult to think of a 20th-century poet who did more than Neruda. He wrote a huge number of books, he travelled like a man possessed, he whirled himself round in the life of his times, he loved and lost a large number of women, he collected a small army of famous friends. Some of these things are grist to the biographer's mill: Feinstein's account is crammed with adventure stories, narrow scrapes, passionate encounters. Others are harder to deal with: globe-trottings which have to be logged but risk becoming a list of place-names. By pacing the story so as to give pre-eminence to the writing and the adventuring, while recording the duller passages more briefly, Feinstein creates his own sympathetic music. His book turns Neruda's life into an opera - a blend of aria and recitative.
Sensibly, he relies a good deal on Neruda's own Memoirs (now reissued along with a bilingual edition of Isla Negra by the Souvenir Press). These are packed with marvellous details that give colour to the story, as well as providing a way of understanding how Neruda's fascination with real things, in real places, gives a shape to even his most vatic poems. At a parting with a grief-stricken girlfriend, for instance: "She kissed my arms, my suit, in a kind of ritual, and suddenly slipped down to my shoes, before I could stop her. When she stood up again, the chalk polish of my white shoes was smeared like flour all over her face."
Feinstein is too thorough to accept the Memoirs at face value, wonderful as they are. He understands that an author's reminiscences are a way of creating disguises as well as revealing secrets, and regularly checks them against the available evidence, amplifying the many complicated or contentious issues hushed up by Neruda himself. In fact he is alive, from the first, to the sense that Neruda grew up among secrets, and was therefore likely to enjoy them later. He had a half-brother and half-sister only reluctantly acknowledged by his family, his father was a disciplinarian whose severities provoked subterfuge, and his mother - who died shortly after his birth - later became a means of addressing illicit loves under the shelter of her name.
Neruda's own original name was Neftali, which he retained until the age of 16, then jettisoned as a sign that he had become his own man. Leaving his home-town of Temuco, and joining the relatively cosmopolitan world of Santiago, his interests rapidly expanded to accommodate social as well as family matters; also to create a more suggestive style.
Picking his way through the labyrinth of publishers and magazines, he relied heavily on French symbolist poetry to stretch his imagination, combining surrealist touches and impressionistic overviews with his original fidelity to facts. The result was a fusion never previously known in Chilean poetry - rarely seen in poetry anywhere - and his success was meteoric. Veinte poemas sold in enormous quantities; he was the toast of the town.
But it wasn't a town, or a country, where he wanted to stay put: his exploded imagination needed a larger canvas, and the cultural and economic condition of Chile both compelled and exasperated him. He chose various kinds of consular activity as the means of escape. By 1927 he was in Rangoon, then moved on through France, Japan, China, Ceylon and Java (where he met his first wife, Maria), before returning home in 1932. By this time his Spanish was apparently "quite odd... very much influenced by his solitude", and his sense of himself much altered: "He was no longer the sombre, melancholic, absent young man. Now he talked a lot, laughed for the strangest reasons." But these were not changes which threatened his audience: they added authority to his originality.
They didn't, however, do much for his political conscience. This only began to develop in the early 1930s, when he was posted to Spain, fell in love with Delia del Carril and made friends with Lorca. Delia persuaded him to become a communist - a process which meant that he inflicted a great deal of pain on his first wife and their sickly daughter, while producing poems that exalted the suffering masses. It confronts Feinstein with the classic biographer's dilemma - how to respect the work while dealing with a contradictory private life - and he copes with it well, by presenting the facts rather than wagging his finger, and by foregrounding the writing. As the background scenery changes from France to Chile again, we see Neruda the romantic lyricist turning into Neruda the "truth-teller and exposer of the world's injustices: 'You will ask: And where are the lilacs / And the metaphysics petalled with poppies / And the rain repeatedly spattering / Its words, filling them with holes and birds? ... Come and see the blood in the streets. / Come and see / The blood in the streets. / Come and see the blood / In the streets!"
Supported by Delia, feted by his home-crowd, increasingly famous on the world stage, Neruda spent the late 30s and early 40s travelling round South America, converting his experience of other people's suffering into poems, standing as a senator, and defending the new emphasis of his work: "I have a profound sense that I am fulfilling a duty. I was a nocturnal writer who spent part of his existence clinging to the walls on empty nights. Now I am happy. We must walk down the middle of the street, meeting life head on."
Given the political climate, it was bound to end in trouble - or rather, given Neruda's personal climate, in trouble and adventure. In 1949 he made a daring escape from Chile over the Andes into Buenos Aires, then through the early 50s set off on his travels again, speaking for the oppressed everywhere while courting the likes of Picasso and Hikmet, and neglecting Delia in favour of Matilde, who eventually became his third wife.
These paradoxes bring their own difficulties - but their tensions are massively increased by fault-lines in Neruda's politics. Even after Khrushchev had condemned Stalin's crimes at the party congress in 1956, Neruda still hesitated to speak out against him - as he also refused to condemn the Soviet invasion of Prague. What was the problem? Incomprehension? Naivety? Stubbornness? Neruda himself simply (too simply) made a distinction "between two periods in the life of Stalin and his policies: the one which 'embodied the direction of the day / when he asked opinions of the light' and the one in which Stalin usurped absolute power".
Feinstein lets his readers draw their own conclusions about the moral muddle of Neruda's life, shining the same clear light on his politics that he turns on his private life (even Matilde was betrayed, when Neruda had a late fling with her niece). This is as well. The faults and weaknesses are plain to see - but so is the undimmed exuberance and generosity of the work, which feeds hungrily off the life and yet stands as a thing apart. So too is the suffering, with which the book ends. After a triumphant association with Allende, Neruda died in the early days of the Pinochet era, his house in Santiago wrecked, and his funeral wake held amid the ruins. No one could read these pages without feeling a sharp sympathy. Everything that was vain, silly, greedy and blind about Neruda weighs less than the humanity of his work, and the essential nobility of his spirit.
· Andrew Motion is poet laureate.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pablo Neruda / From beyond the grave

From beyond the grave

The death 30 years ago of Pablo Neruda robbed Chile of a poetic genius, a man who inspired a nation's love and its love affairs. Thirty years on, writer Ariel Dorfman has one regret - that he never attended the poet's funeral, days after the Pinochet coup.
  • The Observer, 
I was in Santiago de Chile 30 years ago this week, on 26 September 1973, the day Pablo Neruda was buried in the Cementerio General. In fact, I was only a few miles away when his body was lowered into the earth that he had so sensually celebrated. Looking back now, I could have so easily walked to that cemetery and joined the men and women chanting next to his coffin. Along with them, I would have chanted his name and, in this way, I would have said farewell. But I did not take that walk and I did not join their chant. In all honesty, I did not attend the funeral and the final journey of the poet who had taught me to love Chile and the Spanish language more than any other author in the world.
It is one of the few decisions in my life that I truly regret.
When I arrived in Chile in 1954 from the United States, a 12-year-old boy who had been born in Argentina and yet spoke barely a word of Spanish, I had not heard of Neruda and certainly could not have recited any of his verses. During the next decade, however, as I was seduced by Chile and its language, Neruda was to seep into my life and then, finally, to take it by storm.
My first encounter with the great poet, as far as I can recall, was at the age of 14. Lovelorn due to an impossibly luscious and distant girl a few years my elder, I was counselled by one of my classmates to whisper in her ear - if I could ever get close enough, that is - the words: 'Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche' ('Tonight, I can write the saddest lines'). My friend insisted that by doing so she would fall into my arms and surrender those forbidden lips. I timidly attempted to do this, but my delivery and accent must have been as deplorable as my timing. 'Neruda!' she retorted. 'That's from Veinte Poemas de Amor . You're the fifth kid to repeat those lines to me this month.'
BEFORE DISMISSING me completely, she left me with an epitaph for my aspirations: 'Why don't you try "Una Canción Desesperada"?' she said, referring to 'A Song of Despair', a Neruda poem I should have known. Obviously, many other youngsters in Chile were using and abusing the same tactic - and if I wanted to impress the ladies, it seemed I would have to dig deeper into Neruda's repertoire. Soon enough, I was diligently immersed in the ardent couplets of Los Versos del Capitan .
In the years that followed, Neruda was to be my guide at every step on my faltering road to self-expression and re-invention. Vast and inexhaustible, he was always there, on the tip of my tongue, ready to interpret the hostile, mysterious world. Neruda was there for the plucking and the telling, an endless source for every mood and every requirement.
In fact, as time went on, he became indispensable. When I needed to seize the world in all its turmoil, explore my fears of dissolution or my hopes for a daily resurrection, and explore the fluctuating borders between dream and nightmare, there was Residencia en la Tierra . When it was a matter of naming the América del Sur I had now embraced as my own, there was the Canto General with its birds and rivers, its mountains and stones, all commemorated in their splendour and complexity. In the lyric 'Sube a nacer conmigo, hermano' ('Rise up and be born again with me, my brother'), the whole furious history of Latin America was retold with outrage for the forgotten and violated lives of the poor and dispossessed, with reverence for their dignity and labour.
And when it was a matter of looking at my own feet, of finding words for what it meant to bathe in the icy volcanic sea that Neruda also loved, or of discovering the enigmas of the artichoke and the condor and the colour blue, it was Neruda in his Odas Elementales .
Invariably, it was this poet more than any other who opened the exact colloquial window into the vocabulary of the heart, like a furtive best friend murmuring to me of a world full of wonders, asking all the while why the world could not be as beautiful for its inhabitants as it was for its poets. His was a world of politics, love, fish soup, alleyways, clocks, heroes, brothels, dictators, nuns, breasts, albatrosses, shoes, hands, carpenters. In other words, no matter what you wanted to know about life, Neruda had already been there. He had a surfeit and an excess of words, and most of them - not every one of them, but most - were pretty close to perfection.
And now he was dead and I was not attending his funeral.
He had died of cancer but also of sadness - the sorrow of the coup against democracy on 11 September 1973, the heartbreak of the death of Salvador Allende and of so many other friends and compatriots being rounded up, tortured and executed. All of it was too much for Neruda who had spent most of his life fighting, as a communist, for the social justice and economic sovereignty that were being crushed by the military. A climate of fear had descended and now pervaded his native country, intimidating and silencing every citizen. It was of the sort that Neruda himself had often described in his poems. Tragically, the bloodshed he had denounced in republican Spain in 1936 and invited the whole world to see was now flowing in the streets.
Undoubtedly, it was this climate of fear that prevented me from attending Neruda's burial. I had gone into hiding after the coup and was looking for a way to leave the country. At the time, the most foolish thing I could have done - I told myself - was to make an appearance at his funeral. It was sure to be crawling with soldiers, the police and government spies.
Thousands of other Chileans, perhaps more desperate than I - and assuredly more valiant - decided otherwise. Defying the authorities, from all over Santiago they converged on the Cementerio General on that September day 30 years ago. Friends of mine later told me that it was at first a mute and desolate multitude, until a voice was heard from the back of the crowd, calling out: 'Compañero Pablo Neruda!' and hundreds of voices thundered back: 'Presente!'
Hearing this, the nearby troops were dumbstruck. They had no idea how to react to this homage to Chile's greatest poet, Latin America's most popular writer, and one of the most extraordinary voices of the twentieth century or, indeed, any other century. But then, before they could do anything, the same baritone voice shouted out: 'Compañero Salvador Allende!', asking us to recognise the dead President who had been buried anonymously only two weeks before. Again the mourners answered: 'Presente!' It was the cry of people who would have too much to mourn over the next 17 years of the Pinochet dictatorship.
NERUDA MUST have smiled at us from the other side of the grave. For he believed, above all, in the body - its juices, its bones, its genitalia, its hairs and nostrils and skin. It must have been a vindication of his vision to realise that his supposedly dead body had become the spark and starting point for the Chilean resistance. Furthermore, his funeral gathering turned out to be the first attempt by his people to take back the public spaces now forbidden to them. It was symbolic that this inaugural challenge to the forces of doom and authority from on high surged from the farewell ceremony to a great poet, a man who had always proclaimed that poets were not gods but more like bakers or builders, entangled in the everyday life of ordinary men and women and sharing their fate.
It was fitting that it should have been those men and women who spoke out at his funeral, Chileans who had, like me, been nurtured and nourished all through their lives by the verses of Pablo Neruda. It was right that they should be the first ones to tell the world that their bard had not really left them, and to swear that they would keep him alive by remembering his words when they made love and drank red wine and breathed in the dazzling light of the sea. They would recall him when they were saddened at twilight and exalted at dawn.
Looking back, I believe Neruda would have wanted his last act on this earth to have been a prelude or maybe an intimation of something better, imagining a remote day when the planet would be worthy of the poems he offered us so generously. These poems still resonate and endure beyond his death and ours and - who knows? - might even endure beyond the death of our universe itself.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A passion for Neruda / A conversation with Adam Feinstein

A passion for Neruda: 

A conversation with Adam Feinstein


Adam Feinstein, a British journalist, is the author of the first biography of Pablo Neruda in English, Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life (Bloomsbury, 2004). He is also an expert on autism, an interest that emerged when his son Johnny, now 21 years old, was diagnosed with the condition. Feinstein came to Buenos Aires to speak at the second congress on autism, hosted by the Asociación Argentina de Padres de Autistas (APAdeA); I spoke with him at the Bisonte Palace Hotel an hour before he went to dine with Borges’ widow.
The first part of our conversation, about his work with autism (and its connections with Neruda) was published in the Boston Review. Here we discuss his engagement with Neruda’s poetry.
— Jessica Sequeira
How did you become interested in Neruda?
While living in Paris I read his memoirs, Confieso que he vivido, in French translation. I thought they were incredible; some of the descriptions of the places and people are just beautiful. Like all memoirs, they’re also completely unreliable. We know he was married three times, but he doesn’t mention his first wife; he doesn’t mention his daughter who died. Did you know he had a daughter? You wouldn’t. She was called Malva Marina Trinidad and was disabled; she died at age eight.
His second wife, Delia del Carril, was a famous Argentine painter of horses. She died when she was nearly 105, outliving everybody. She lived with Neruda for twenty years, but only gets two or three paragraphs in his book. ¡Machismo! But no, it wasn’t that. I don’t know what it was. Excellent artists are not always ideal humans. There were certain episodes of his life Neruda didn’t talk about. But he was a great friend; he had lots and lots of friends.
I read his memoirs and poetry while at the Sorbonne studying for a year. When I got back I started working as a freelance journalist and foreign correspondent, and forgot them. Then years later, in 1995, I suddenly remembered. I thought, “Here is a wonderful life story. Has anyone written a book about him?” I knew his life was fascinating. He saved all those people on the Winnipeg, over 2000 Spanish refugees, shipping them out on a fishing boat and bringing them to the coast in Valparaíso. A lot of people on that boat became famous, like the Chilean artists Roser Bru and José Balmes. It was remarkable. Not many poets save 2000 lives, do they? Nor do many poets cross the Andes on horseback, which is what he did in 1948-49.
There was one full biography by Volodia Teitelboim, his greatest friend in the Communist Party; Neruda was a Communist. And it had a lot of gaps. It was in Spanish and had been translated into English. It was the only book in English. I thought, “What’s going on? A great poet with a great life and no one’s done it.” I had an agent and asked him if I could write it, and he said, “Go ahead”. I’d translated short stories and written poetry, but that was my first book. Bloomsbury brought it out in 2004, the centenary of Neruda’s birth. There was a mad rush to get it out in time. And it was republished last year because we wanted to add a chapter on how they’d exhumed him, how they dug up his body. The family is split. Most of them think it was rubbish for his chauffeur to come forward with poisoning allegations, but there’s a nephew who thinks there’s something in it.
It’s timely given they’ve recently discovered more of Neruda’s poems.
They did find the poems, which will be coming out here next week. They’re absolutely genuine. Some people thought it was suspect there were twenty, because his first famous book was Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada [Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair]. But there weren’t exactly twenty; there were a few more than that. I’ve seen some of them, not the whole lot. They’re wonderful. We don’t know why he left them out. There are some speeches as well; this will be a good little book.
What was your writing process like? Did you visit the same places he did?
Yes, I visited almost all the same places. I spoke to some of the people who hid him when he was avoiding arrest, and to some of the people on the Winnipeg in 1939. Academics, too. I didn’t want it to be an academic book, but I had to talk to some of them.
The thing about Neruda is that his poetry is so interrelated with his life that you have to take care to avoid traps. Neruda wrote a very famous poem while in Buenos Aires called “Walking around”; the title is in English. The first line is well-known: “Sucede que me canso de ser hombre” [“It so happens that I’m tired of being a man”]. It’s the most pessimistic poem in the Spanish language. And yet at the time he was happily married, nor did that seem to stop him from enjoying himself.
Buenos Aires is where he met Lorca for the first time, not Spain. Neruda was in Buenos Aires in 1933-34 as Chilean consul; Lorca was here for the premiere of Bodas de sangre, one of his most famous plays. And they became great friends. Then two years later, Neruda moved as consul first to Barcelona, then to Madrid, where he witnessed the Spanish Civil War and the murder of Lorca in August of ’36. That’s when Neruda’s poetry completely changed. He began to hate his early poetry, the self-obsessed anguished stuff. Do you remember Poem 20 of the Veinte poemas, “Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche” [“Tonight I can write the saddest lines”]? He went back on that, said that’s not what poetry should be. It should not be life negating. When people tried to get him to read those poems, which they did for the rest of his life, he attempted to avoid it. The audiences went on strike. They refused to leave the auditorium until he read them. But they were something he turned his back on, and his late poetry became a weapon for social and political justice.
There’s a famous poem called “Explico algunas cosas” in which he writes, “Preguntaréis: Y dónde están las lilas? Y la metafísica cubierta de amapolas?” [“You will ask: But where are the lilacs? And the metaphysics covered with poppies?”] It starts by talking about how peacefully he’d been living in Madrid with his friends, such as Raúl González Tuñón, an Argentine writer who spent a long time in Spain and who wrote a famous book called La rosa blindada. He was a great influence on Neruda; they had a wonderful time over there. That’s also where he met his second wife Delia, the one I talked about, who was a real influence on him politically and culturally. Delia knew Picasso before Neruda, knew Fernand Léger and other artists.
Anyway, the first half of that poem is about how his anguished poetry had to change after he witnessed the brutality of fascism, how it should be not just about the poet but outward-looking. Towards the end of his life he wrote eight books he was hoping to publish for his 70th birthday, in 1974. He didn’t make it because he died in 1973, twelve days after the Pinochet coup. They were published here in Buenos Aires by Losada, which published all his books, including the eight posthumous ones. They’re books that look back. I suppose that’s what you do when you get old, look back… and they contain gorgeous poems.