Raúl Zurita: ‘I am that which my poetry dictates I am’

Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, speaking with Forrest Gander:

05.12.2007 Entrevista al Escritor nacional Raul Zurita.  Foto: Patricio Fuentes


“I don’t feel like I have an ethical duty. I think that if you have a poem or a work of art and you give it a duty to be something, you impose something upon it. And I think that is the beginning of all fascisms: that poetry should be this or that poetry should be that. I think that the poem itself grounds its own ethical commitment, not the person who writes that poem.”

“Since Homer, poetry has consisted in placing oneself in the place of another. If that supplanting does not exist—in other words, to say, ‘I was there’—there’s no language. There’s not poetry, there’s not civilization, there’s nothing. To use language is to put oneself in the place of another.”

“The problem isn’t to say that literature is a product of capitalism. And, of course, a book doesn’t change history, at least not in that immediate moment. Poetry doesn’t have any power. However, if all those who do write poetry were to stop writing poetry, humanity would disappear in the following five seconds. Because that would mean that all of the possibility, all of the dream of the possibility of change, were over. And no one survives five minutes without that.”

“The poet goes with his dead poems, carrying them to the sea, and waits to see if the tide rises to take those works to another shore, in hopes that another poet will take those works for that poetry to be reborn. It is the situation of today’s poetry that great poems continue to be written, but its sphere of influence, its limit, is two thousand copies. It’s incomparable with an effort of Nike. And nonetheless, in those poems all of the keys are contained of the possibilities of a different world.”

Ellipses are omitted in the above quotations. Listen to the whole conversation here, including the ridiculously lovely voices of Zurita, Gander, and translator Anna Deeny.


“Olbers’s Paradox”

after PK Page, Leonard Cohen, John Keats, Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin

“Here is the problem with eternity!
Guerrilla ranks of starlight taunt us
a lonely ragged column on a forced march
our umbilical slashed.
We clink and tumble onward, bones
shaken from a burlap sack. We weep
that this will never end. We weep that it will.”
The doctor takes my pulse in shirtsleeves,
his eyes bruised like there was a vigil to keep.
During the day I laugh and during the night I sleep,
I have no quarrel with eternity.
But he receives me in his attic,
fingers the melon readiness of my gut,
and says, friend, there is something wrong.
Like a batty priest through a parthenon,
he patrols his stacks of paper, tweaks wheels
on a telescope. On a bank of the Weser,
on a bench, lunch in lap, I vomit blood.
The reddest waterclock peals.
My favourite cooks prepare my meals
but my stomach has declared its sovereignty.
The Weser courses on unconcerned
for the whole day, for its last ten long miles.
Peeking at my blood-flecked shoes,
I think, did it not run into the sea,
it wouldn’t run at all, just sit, an icy shelf.
In the mornings, I leap from my bed
a Lazarite. Life pinches like new boots,
as if I come at night—I come, an elf—
my body cleans and repairs itself.
The doctor takes my pulse in shirtsleeves.
He is an old doe, shuffling through white trees.
He salaams at an eyeglass and is a moth
drinking nighttime slow through his proboscis.
My body, he says, is a broken planet.
I grin oceanic. I heave and swell
ambergris as the fields of the North Sea.
“Once things stop happening…once all verbs become
be. Then are we indissoluble
and all my work goes well.”

A glosa unapologetically,
“Olbers’s Paradox” takes as its cabeza
a quatrain already borrowed for the purpose
by P.K. Page from Leonard Cohen’s
“I Have Not Lingered in European Monasteries”:

During the day I laugh and during the night I sleep.
My favourite cooks prepare my meals,
my body cleans and repairs itself,
and all my work goes well.

As the winner of Echolocation Magazine’s 2012 Poetry Contest, this poem was published as a broadsheet by Echolocation Magazine and printed by Massey College’s Brian Maloney. It is available for purchase here, with all proceeds going to Echolocation Magazine.