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International Reflective Writing


place video on violeta parras

Pablo Neruda 

from To Live One Hundred Years

Those one hundred years I lived

one body to the next, from war to war,

drinking the blood of the books,

of the newspapers, of the

television, of the house,

of the train, of the spring,

of the Spain of my sorrows.

I asked myself so many questions

that I went to live at the shore

of the heroic and simultaneous sea,

and i threw the answers into the water

to avoid fighting with anyone,

until I asked no more

and out of an entire century of death

I set myself the task of listening to what it says,

the sea, which says nothing to me.

World's End translated from the Spanish with an introduction by William O'Daly (Copper Canyon Press, 2009).


 Violeta Parra



Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.Thank you to life, which has given me so much.

Me dió dos luceros, que cuando los abro.It gave me two beams of light, that when opened,

Perfecto distingo lo negro del blancoCan perfectly distinguish black from white

Y en el alto cielo su fondo estrellado,And in the sky above, her starry backdrop,

Y en las multitudesAnd from within the multitude

 el hombre que yo amo.The one that I love.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.Thank you to life, which has given me so much.

Me ha dado el oído que en todo su anchoIt gave me an ear that, in all of its width

Graba noche y día grillos y canariosRecords— night and day—crickets and canaries,

Martillos, turbinas, ladrillos, chubascosHammers and turbines and bricks and storms,

Y la voz tan tierna de mi bien amado.And the tender voice of my beloved.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.Thank you to life, which has given me so much.

Me ha dado el sonido y el abecedario.It gave me sound and the alphabet.

Con él las palabras que pienso y declaro,With them the words that I think and declare:

“Madre,” “amigo,”hermano,” y luz alumbrando“Mother,” “Friend,” “Brother” and the light shining.

La ruta del alma del que estoy amando.The route of the soul from which comes love.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.Thank you to life, which has given me so much.

Me ha dado la marcha de mis pies cansados.It gave me the ability to walk with my tired feet.

Con ellos anduve ciudades y charcos,With them I have traversed cities and puddles

Valles y desiertos, montañas y llanos,Valleys and deserts, mountains and plains.

Y la casa tuya, tu calle y tu patio.And your house, your street and your patio.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.Thank you to life, which has given me so much.

Me dió el corazón, que agita su marco.It gave me a heart, that causes my frame to shudder,

Cuando miro el fruto del cerebro humano,When I see the fruit of the human brain,

Cuando miro al bueno tan lejos del malo.When I see good so far from bad,

Cuando miro el fondo de tus ojos claros.When I see within the clarity of your eyes…

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.Thank you to life, which has given me so much.

Me ha dado la risa, me ha dado el llanto.It gave me laughter and it gave me longing.

Así yo distingo dicha de quebranto,With them I distinguish happiness and pain—

Los dos materiales que forman mi canto,The two materials from which my songs are formed,

Y el canto de ustedes que es el mismo canto.And your song, as well, which is the same song.

Y el canto de todos que es mi propio canto

And everyone’s song, which is my very song.




Alenka Bermudez: Poem on the Popular Resistance of Guatemala

Alenka Bermudez was born in Santiago, Chile, but settled in her husband’s homeland, Guatemala, and worked in Nicaragua representing the Guatemala Cultural Workers Association. One of her sons was killed in combat in Guatemala during the long popular resistance to the country’s military regime. She writes eloquently of the people’s endurance in the face of crushing poverty and oppression.

Guatemala, Your Blood

...why doesn’t your poetry talk to us about dreams leaves, the huge volcanos of your native land?  Come look at the blood in the streets?

~Pablo Neruda

Where is the word that will fill in for hunger
and what name can you give to this daily wanting
how to describe the empty table and the abysmal eyes
little bellies swollen forheads deformed
by weights the endless burden of centuries
horizons of smoke burned-up mattresses
no frying pan
scarcity in the stew that’s left over because of scarcity
what substantive to use
how to name a finger cut off to get the insurance
what adjective for the holocaust
in what tense do you conjugate the verb to kill
what predicate what future what pluperfect

and when they plunder the roots and change the course of rivers 
and they inundate the riverbeds with poison and everything 
dies everything dies
when the sap in the trees is threatened crouching hidden
and seeing that death doesn’t have gender or case
that it installs itself multiplies and scatters itself
indiscriminate unlimited specialized and computed
which quartet or triplet will it fit into 
in which precious alexandrine
ineffable hendecasyllabic mysterious elegy of nothingness

I reserve the right to use the Spanish word
to tell you: death to death
and victory to life
and combat and battle and machetes to life
and courage and tenderness to life
I reserve the right of the precisely exact
Spanish word
to name death and to name the life
as long as the blood holds itself suspended
in our trees.

Translated by Sara Miles


Gabriela Mistral: School Teacher, Diplomat, Nobel Prize Winner

Ignacio M. Doubrechatt, writing for Cuba Headlines, looks at the relationship between the 1945 Nobel Prize winner, Gabriela Mistral, and the island of Cuba

When the Nobel Prize Award ceremonies resumed on December 10, 1945, —just a few months after the end of World War II— in Stockholm, Sweden, a Chilean woman, Gabriela Mistral, was presented with it. Her features spoke with the marked and ancestral accent of the Mapuche people, the original inhabitants of that southern land, and she would be known and recognized as poet Gabriela Mistral, although her real name was Lucila Godoy.

It was the first Nobel Literature Prize for Latin America and the Caribbean and also the only one given so far to a female Spanish-speaking writer.

That school teacher had traveled a long way and she would also take on diplomatic responsibilities while representing Chile as consul in other countries in Europe and the Americas.
 However, she owes her fame and prestige to her poetry —not only the one she wrote in solitude and heartbroken for the death of love, which adult readers devour, but also her songs and lullabies that children keep as a cherished possession.

Between trips, while she was preparing to update the education system of her country, Gabriela Mistral arrived for the first time in Cuba in July 1922; and despite the brevity of the visit, she found time to meet with writers and artists, to whom she said she had known the Caribbean nation through José Martí’s writings.

She visited Cuba several times and she developed close ties of affection with the great voices of local poetry such as then young authors Fina García Marruz, Serafina Núñez, Dulce Maria Loynaz and Mirta Aguirre.

She also met with intellectuals of the caliber of anthropologist Don Fernando Ortiz and essayist Juan Marinello, to whom she expressed her assessments of Jose Marti’s poetry and, particularly, of his ‘Versos Sencillos’ (Simple Verses), on which she gave a lecture in Havana that has been regarded as the most acute and subtle interpretation of this work.

During one of Gabriela Mistral’s trips, days before World War II began, the poet also addressed other issues like fascism and voiced her faith and passionate defense of peace.

Her collection of poems Tala was sold to Cuban readers and the money collected was a contribution to the cause of the Spanish Republic, amid the vicissitudes of the Spanish Civil War.
 On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of José Martí’s birth, in January 1953, she visited the Caribbean country for the last time at the invitation of Cuban scholar Don Fernando Ortiz, to pay tribute to the Hero of Cuban independence. 
Years later, the writer died in New York.


For the original report go to

The Bones of the Dead

The bones of the dead
     dust on subtle frost
on their lovers mouths,
     unkissing, unkissed....

The bones of the dead are stronger
     than the flesh of those who live.
Disjoined, yet they form chains
     in which we lie captive.

translation by Ursula Le Guin

El placer de servir

Toda la naturaleza es un anhelo de servicio:
sirve la nube, sirve el viento, sirve el surco.

Donde haya un árbol que plantar, plántalo tú,
donde haya un error que enmendar, enmiéndalo tú.

Sé el que apartó la piedra del campo,
el odio entre los corazones,
y las dificultades del problema.

Hay la alegría de ser sano y de ser justo,
pero hay, sobre todo, la hermosa,
la inmensa alegría de servir.

Qué triste sería el mundo si todo en él estuviera hecho,
si no hubiera un rosal que plantar,
una empresa que emprender.

Que no te llamen solamente los trabajos fáciles.
Es tan bello hacer lo que otros esquivan.

Pero no caigas en el error de que sólo
se hace mérito con los grandes trabajos.
Hay pequeños servicios que son buenos servicios:
adornar una mesa,
ordenar unos libros,
peinar una niña.
Aquél es el que critica, éste es el que destruye.
Tú, sé el que sirve.

El servir no es faena sólo de seres inferiores.
Dios, que da el fruto y la luz, sirve.
Pudiera llamársele asi: "El que sirve."

Y tiene sus ojos en nuestras manos
y nos pregunta cada día:
Serviste hoy? A quién? Al árbol,
a tu amigo o a tu madre?

The Pleasure of Serving

All of nature is a yearning for service:
The cloud serves, and the wind, and the furrow.

Where there is a tree to plant, you be the one.
Where there is a mistake to undo, let it be you.

You be the one to remove the rock from the field,
The hate from human hearts,
And the difficulties from the problem.

There is joy in being wise and just,
But above all there is the beautiful,
The immense happiness of serving.

How sad the world would be if all was already done.
If there was no rosebush to plant,
No enterprise to undertake.

Do not limit yourself to easy tasks.
It's so beautiful to do what others dodge.

But don't fall prey to the error that only
Great tasks done can be counted as accomplishments.
There are small acts of service that are good ones:
Decoratively setting a table,
Putting some books in order,
Combing a little girl's hair.
That one over there is the one that criticizes,
This other one is the one that destroys.
You be the one that serves.

Serving is not a labor just for inferior beings.
God, who gives fruit and light, serves.
His name could be rendered thus:  He Who Serves.

And he has his eyes on our hands,
And he asks us at the close of day:
"Did you render service today? To whom?
To a tree, to your friend, to your mother?"

Translation by Eduardo Pérez Salazar

Nicanor Parra Sandoval: The Anti-Poet of Chile

Nicanor Parra Sandoval (1914- ) is a mathematician and poet born in San Fabián de Alico, Chile, who has been considered to be a popular poet in Chile with enormous influence and popularity in Latin America, and also considered one of the most important poets of the Spanish language literature. He describes himself as an "anti-poet," due to his distaste for standard poetic pomp and function—after recitations he would exclaim Me retracto de todo lo dicho, or, "I take back everything I said".

Trying to get away from the conventions of poetry, Parra's poetic language renounces the refinement of most Latin American literature and adopts a more colloquial tone. His first collection, "Poemas y Antipoemas" (1954) is a classic of Latin American literature, one of the most influential Spanish poetry collections of the twentieth century, and is cited as an inspiration by American Beat Writers such as Allen Ginsberg. Parra has been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Parra comes from the artistically prolific Chilean Parra family of performers, musicians, artists, and writers. His sister, Violeta Parra, is possibly the most important folk singer the nation has produced.

Nicanor Parra was born in 1914 near Chillán, a city in southern Chile, the son of a schoolteacher. In 1933, he entered the Instituto Pedagógico of the University of Chile, and qualified as a teacher of mathematics and physics in 1938, one year after his first book appeared: Cancionero sin Nombre. After teaching in Chilean secondary schools, he went in 1943 to Brown University in the U.S. to continue his studies in physics. and then he went in 1948 to Oxford in England to study cosmology. He returned to Chile as professor at the University in 1946. Since 1952, Parra has been professor of theoretical physics in Santiago and has read his poetry in England, France, Russia, Mexico, Cuba, and the United States. He has published several books.

Source: Wikipedia:

Modern Times

These are calamitous times we’re living through

You can’t speak without committing a contradiction

Or keep quiet without complicity with the Pentagon.

Everyone knows there’s no alternative possible

All roads lead to Cuba

But the air is dirty

Breathing is a fertile act.

The enemy says

The country is to blame

As if countries were men.

Accursed clouds circle accursed volcanoes

Accursed embarkations launch accursed expeditions

Accursed trees crumble on accursed birds:

It was all polluted to begin with.

Translated by Miller Williams


No praying allowed, no sneezing.

No spitting, eulogizing, kneeling

Worshipping, howling, expectorating.

No sleeping permitted in this precinct

No inoculating, talking, excommunicating

Harmonizing, escaping, catching.

Running is absolutely forbidden.

No smoking.  No fucking.

Translated by Miller Williams


Bread goes up so bread goes up again

Rents go up

This brings an instant doubling of all rents

The cost of clothes goes up

So the cost of clothes goes up again.


We’re caught in a vicious circle.

In the cage there is food.

Not much, but there is food.

Outside are only great stretches of freedom.

Translated by Miller Williams

The Last Toast

Whether we like it or not,
We have only three choices:
Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

And not even three
Because as the philosopher says
Yesterday is yesterday
It belongs to us only in memory:
From the rose already plucked
No more petals can be drawn.

The cards to play
Are only two:
The present and the future.

And there aren't even two
Because it's a known fact
The present doesn't exist
Except as it edges past
And is consumed...,
like youth.

In the end
We are only left with tomorrow.
I raise my glass
To the day that never arrives.

But that is all
we have at our disposal.  


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