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International Reflective Writing



Mario Benedetti, one of Latin America’s most respected, popular and prolific writers, who excelled as a novelist, poet, playwright and essayist while immersing himself in the region’s political struggles, died on Sunday, May 19, 2009 in Montevideo, Uruguay. He was 88.

His death was announced by his secretary, Ariel Silva. Mr. Benedetti had been hospitalized four times in the last year for intestinal and respiratory problems, according to Uruguayan news reports, and was released for the last time May 6.
In a career of more than 60 years, Mr. Benedetti wrote more than 80 books, addressing subjects that range from love and middle-class frustration in Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital, to the pain of exile. He also worked for decades as an editor of literary and political magazines and was a film, literary and theater critic for newspapers in Uruguay and elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world.

The Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago wrote this week in the Madrid daily El País: “The work of Mario Benedetti, my friend and brother, is surprising in all its aspects, whether the varied extent of genres it touches, the density of its poetic expression or the extreme conceptual freedom it employs.” He added, “To Benedetti, language, all of it, is poetic.”
Mario Benedetti Farrugia was born in 1920 into an Italian immigrant family in the cattle town of Paso de los Toros, in central Uruguay. But he came of age in Montevideo, going to work at 14 in an auto-parts shop before making his mark in Latin American literary circles in his mid-20s, first for poems and then for short stories.

Mr. Benedetti’s best-known work, however, is probably his 1960 novel “The Truce,” a film version of which, made in Argentina, was nominated for an Academy Award as best foreign film in 1975. “The Truce,” which has been translated into 19 languages, is written in the form of a diary and tells the story of a romance in Montevideo between a middle-aged widower and a woman half his age.

Several of Mr. Benedetti’s poems, which dealt mainly with love and politics, were set to music and recorded; a few even became pop hits. The most notable example is “The South Also Exists,” a collection of 10 songs, all with lyrics by Mr. Benedetti, which the popular Catalan singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat released in 1985.

"Mario is probably the poet most widely read in Latin America,” Mr. Serrat said Monday. “But we shouldn’t forget his contribution as a playwright, journalist and political activist.”

It was precisely that political engagement that complicated Mr. Benedetti’s life, especially during the cold war. He was a man of the left who criticized the United States, championed Cuba’s revolution, embraced independence for Puerto Rico and, in 1971, helped organize a left-wing coalition in Uruguay called the Broad Front to challenge the two-party system that had prevailed for nearly 150 years.

After a military coup in 1973, the front was outlawed and Mr. Benedetti’s magazine, Marcha, shut down. He went into exile, living first in Buenos Aires, until threats from right-wing death squads forced his departure; then in Lima, Peru, until he was detained and deported; next in Havana; and finally in Madrid. He returned to Uruguay 12 years later, but also continued to spend time in Spain, where his work was enormously popular.

Mr. Benedetti’s body lay in state at the Congress building in Montevideo for his admirers, ranging from Tabaré Vázquez, the president of Uruguay and leader of the Broad Front, to humble workers and young students. The burial was Tuesday.
“It wasn’t an easy life, frankly,” Mr. Benedetti said in one of his last books, “Songs of Someone Who Doesn’t Sing.” But, he added, it was the causes he believed in, even in defeat, that kept him going. “Thanks to them,” he said, “I can sleep tranquilly.”


Don't Save Yourself (No Te Salves)

Do not stay motionless
on the edge of the path
do not freeze joy
do no love with disillusion
do not save yourself now
or ever
do not save yourself
do not fill yourself with calm
do not reserve from the world
a mere tranquil corner
do not let your eyelids fall
heavy like judgements
do not be left without lips
do not sleep without weariness
do not think (yourself) without blood
do not judge yourself without time.
But if
in spite of it all
you can’t avoid it
and you freeze joy
and you love with disillusion
and you save yourself now
and you fill yourself with calm
and you reserve in the world
merely a tranquil corner
and you allow your eyelids to fall
heavy like judgements
and you are desiccated without lips
and you think (yourself) without blood
and you judge yourself without time
and you stay motionless
at the edge of the path
and you save yourself
do not stay with me.

El Sur Tambien Existe

Another poem of Mario Benedetti is "El Sur Tambien Existe", or "The South Also Exists," which is a passionate indictment to US Foreign policy.

Con su ritual de acero
sus grandes chimeneas
sus sabios clandestino
su canto de sirenas
sus cielos de neón
sus ventanas navideñas
su culto a dios padre
y de las charreteras
con sus llaves del reino
el norte es el que ordena

pero aquí abajo
abajo el hambre disponible
recorre el fruto amargo
de lo que otros deciden
mientras que el tiempo pasa
y pasan los desfiles
y se hacen otras cosas
que el norte no prohíbe
con su esperanza dura
el sur también existe

con sus predicadores
sus gases que envenenan
su escuela de chicago
sus dueños de la tierra
con sus trapos de lujo
su pobre osamenta
sus defensas gastada
sus gastos de defensa
son su gesta invasora
el norte es el que ordena

pero aquí abajo
abajo cada uno en su escondite
hay hombres y mujeres
que saben a qué asirse
aprovechando el sol
y también los eclipses
apartando lo inútil
y usando lo que sirve
con su fe veterana
el sur también existe

English Translation

The South Also Exists (El Sur Tambien Existe)

With its ritual of steel
Its great chimneys
Its secret scholars
Its siren song
Its neon skies
Its Christmas sales
Its cult of God the Father
And of epaulets
With its keys
to the kingdom
The North is the one
who orders
But down here, down
Hunger at hand
Resorts to the bitter fruit
Of what others decide
While time passes
And pass the parades
And other things
That the North does not forbid.
With its hard hope
The South also exists.

With its preachers
Its poison gases
Its ChicagoSchool
Its owners of the Earth
With its luxurious costume
And its meager frame
Its expenses of defense
With its epic of invasion
The North is the one who orders
Bud down here, down
Each in their hideaway
Are men and women
Who know what to grasp
Making the most of the sun
And eclipses
Putting useless things aside
And using what is useful.
With its veteran faith
The South also exists.

With its French horn
And its SwedishAcademy
Its American sauce
And its English wrenches
With all its missiles
And its encyclopedias
Its war of galaxies
And its rich cruelty
With all its laurels
The North is the one who orders
Bud down here, down
Near the roots
Is where memory
Omits no memory
And there are those
Who defy death for
And die for
And thus together achieve
What is impossible
That the whole world
would know
That the South,
That the South also exists.

English translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.



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