Some Observations on the Present Collection
I do not believe these observations to be redundant: the brief selection of eight poets whom the reader has now in hand is, more than anything, an exercise born more of chance than of calculation. In this way, it was not among its original purpose to trace any kind of defining map, nor to sketch a scene representative of anything: neither generational, nor geographic, nor of any tendency. I believe instead that in the poems collected here it is possible to refer, insofar as a reflexive gesture demands, to a series of poetics and/or ways or forms of approaching the poetic with diverse and dissimilar writing strategies and that the handful of authors collected in these pages carries out with greater or lesser tenacity in an exercise that from a distance and under no circumstances could be considered definitive.
Chosen for this work were the poems I considered attractive or relevant according to my arbitrary reading taste and without eagerness to “represent” a work that, in many cases, finds itself in the midst of a process of searching, elaboration, or consolidation. With the horizon defined in such a way, it became increasingly evident to me that tracing the tentative index of this selection based on generational assumptions, although it has always been a recurring model for any compilation of similar ambitions, displayed an accommodative scheme that, in the end, solved nothing: it confirmed in the act of reading that I was undertaking of each of the selected poems, something that in my critical disquisitions and conversations with various poet friends and colleagues in academia is already something assumed, but rarely clarified: that up until now, what had happened to poetry written in Chile shows a variety of trends, forms, and ways of understanding the poetic and its manifestations as a multifarious phenomenon that, in one way or another, causes mechanically applied generational classification labels to falter. And not only that, but the reader exercise reveals that it is not possible to speak of a hegemonic discourse of any kind, when it comes to suggesting the relevance of this or that tendency under this or that label or reflective assumption. Therefore, I can now see names such as “generation of the 90s” or “generation 2000” or “new generation” or whatever it may be, as gestures at best descriptive, but methodologically biased and politically restrictive in their exclusivist zeal to stake a claim to a period clarification, no matter how many decisive differentiating points there may be, as well as singular features common among them and the writing of many of the poets collected here.
Within a broad spectrum, since the mid 90's of the last century and especially from 2000 onwards, what seemed to be drawn as a way to understand or carry out what was and is poetry, has become so hyper-fragmented that today it would seem impossible to affirm with seriousness that current Chilean poetry obeys this or that critical tendency, thus organizing a so-called canon. The latter, moreover, has exploded and what traditionally in some critical circles has been called “Chilean poetry” with its very representative links that range from Neruda and Huidobro to Parra, Zurita, and Martinez, has been shattered. On the contrary, it would be necessary to say: the historical-linear way of reading these poets and their respective works within a historicist framework is what has fractured and what, I believe, has come, is a dissimilar way of assuming that eventual tradition that sounds more like a kind of “pluralistic antitradition,” that is, a breathing space of multiple poetic attempts that dialogue—and not necessarily in mimetic peace—with previous poetics and with the socio-cultural context of the last two decades, written in stone with the concertationist administration of the neoliberal model with all its political, ethical, and aesthetic consequences. There is much commonplace in these statements, but it is sufficient to note the difficulty of any analysis that seeks to read such a vast body and contextualize within a period, to realize that it is worthwhile to return to it and without fear of contradiction or unnecessary comment.
Something else that can be said about this small selection is that it would be naive to establish definitive characteristics that would make specify the poems from those collected here, wanting to give a false sense of “family,” “continuity,” “common sensibility,” or something similar. And while in some of them, similarities, nods, and even apparent stylistic tendencies can be discerned, I bet on believing—excuse me, on reading—that this is mostly due to the temporal immediacy of the circumstance, than to the retrospective proof of healthy critical distancing. For a very simple reason: the poem that follows would belie the one before it, blurring any assumed hegemony. Is any critical assessment impossible then? Of course not, but neither is this an oasis of fertile meekness. That probably has to do with a break in the way of understanding what the poem is as a linguistic artifact and that we have been given since the eighties of the last century, a way that has helped us to question or rather to read with an attitude more peremptory and malleable than complacent and sobering, what that artifact made of words tells us or we believe it tells us. At first glance, what is most evident is to note the vital and experiential movement of all these poets: from Santiago, Valparaíso, and Punta Arenas to Rancagua and Limache, passing through Buenos Aires and the United States. That movement, in its fluidity, verifies a sensitivity, an imagination and a direction that makes of the trip and the exploration a deepseatedness that, undoubtedly, is in agreement with our globalized times. But I do not think that is the most fundamental, without denying its vital relevance. On the other hand, it seems to me that the growing need to establish differences and singularities in the face of or before a hegemonic metropolitan discourse is an intense necessity and aspiration—legitimate of course—to territorialize poetic writing and, therefore, understand it thoroughly it under the guise of margin, identity or periphery, which has become, at least, a demand whose theoretical solvency and installation does not convince me entirely.
Faced with this double aporia, I believe that the putting into circulation of a handful of poems of a handful of poets under the common space of a sampling such as this, can perhaps be significant because of supposed answers to supposed questions of meaning that are asked from the imaginative, rhetorical and experiential peculiarity that the poems sustain from their own notion of language. A language, of course, charged with history, prejudices, allusions, fractures, displacements, obsessions, and references of a different quality, bias and symbolic density. Of this, I do not think there is the slightest doubt. I shall only display the chimeric—and perhaps illusory—philological desire that has guided my reading at the moment of choosing the poems collected here. Perhaps a return to the poem may serve to look without fascination the ideologemes that lead us to a wall of silence. In the end, each reader may draw the conclusions he chooses and is able about this collection, an open and incomplete collection it must be said, insofar as their joining is a happy accident of coincidences, but accident nonetheless. Like any photograph of an instant worthy of capturing, this brief sampling only claims the impudence of interrelating a series of poems by a group of poets more or less contemporaneous to each other, with some common experiences, but under no circumstances can be seen as a group, generation, or collective.
In this selection there are those who already possess demonstrable publishing experience with critical acknowledgments not at all negligible just as there are others who have also delved in other tasks wholly complementary to poetic writing—the academic world, the publishing world—and within these areas have received certain public recognition. Having said that, we should not read—to be fair to them—what they write and what appears in these pages in the provincial isolation to which we are accustomed. To attempt to read the poems by these poets in relation to what has been written and published by their contemporary authors such as the Mexican Leon Plascencia Ñol, Alejandro Tarrab, or Luis Felipe Fabre, the Argentines Silvio Mattoni, Claudia Masin, or Juan Arabia, or the Spaniards Jordi Doce, Fernando Valverde, Elena Medel, or Rafael José Díaz, among many others would be a stimulating exercise that becomes necessary when attempting to consider these writings from an idea or linguistic concept than of futile borders or territorial boundaries.*
Quilpué, Chile, Summer 2017.
Translated by George Henson
* A previous version of this Introduction was published in the anthology Entrada en materia: 17 poetas jóvenes chilenos (Valparaíso, Chile: Altazor, 2014).
Ismael Gavilán Muñoz (Valparaíso, 1973) is a poet, essayist, and literary critic. He has published the verse collections Llamas de quien duerme en nuestro sueño (1996), Fabulaciones del aire de otros reynos (1999 and 2002), and Raíz del aire (2008), as well as the book of literary criticism Pensamiento y creación por el lenguaje: Acercamiento a la obra poética de Eduardo Anguita (2010). He is the director of Analecta, the humanities journal of Universidad Viña del Mar, and he also oversees the Poetry Workshop and Poetic Reflection Seminar at the La Sebastiana cultural center of the Pablo Neruda Foundation.
George Henson is a literary translator and a 2021-2023 Tulsa Artist Fellow. His translations include Cervantes Prize laureate Sergio Pitol’s Trilogy of Memory and Mephisto’s Waltz, The Heart of the Artichoke by fellow Cervantes recipient Elena Poniatowska, and Luis Jorge Boone’s Cannibal Nights. His translations have appeared variously in The Paris Review, The Literary Review, BOMB, The Guardian, Asymptote, among others. In addition, he is a contributing editor for World Literature Today and the translation editor-at-large for its sister publication Latin American Literature Today.