It was only by chance that I read about the reading in the local weekly. It happened while waiting for an appointment, the uneventful type that simply allows us to remain in good standing with convenience.
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear, meet and survive for days on end on the echoed verses of the great, Chilean poeta, Raul Zurita. This reading, sponsored by UCSD's New Writers Series, took place on campus at the Visual Arts Facility, a black box of a venue, that added further to the haunting atmosphere that Zurita's mutli-voiced poetry evokes. On location, was a representative of Action Books, who recently (2010)published a bilingual version of Zurita's Canto A Su Amor Desaparecido, originally published by Editorial Universitaria (Santiago, Chile, 1985). Poet, Daniel Borzutzky, translated the latest edition.
The reading began with Zurita reading from Purgatorio, with guest readers contributing English versions in tandem. The result of this reading was theatrical, chamber-like, two voices, two languages, exorcising the effects of Pinochet-era Chile.
Someone in the audience commented on Raul Zurita's frequent use of Chile's natural landscapes, most famously, the Atacama desert. In response, he stated, though much more vividly and eloquently, that because people were so brutally disposed of during this tragic era in Chile's history by using secret, though many times not-so-secret methods, Chile's natural geography was often the last living body to offer any compassion to these victims.
After the reading, I asked The Poet to sign my copy of Canto A Su Amor Desparecido. He did, graciously. "De donde eres?" he asked, our hands in a slowly-loosening handshake. "...de El Centro," I answered. "Ahhhhh..." he responded. Something in his face, in his expression, seemed strangely recognizable.
Zurita's Purgatorio is an important book to me for many reasons. For it is a document of witness, participant, memory, flesh, trauma, warning, triumph, in addition to so much more. To me, the work's beauty lies in the unflinching eye, the ineffable courage to strike back at the madness with verse.
Zurita His name, too, sky-written among the clouds.