When one sees him in person while attending one of his readings in Chile, his home country, Raul Zurita (1950) seems to be two-dimensional. The disease that has afflicted him for many years now (Parkinson’s), seems to push him against an invisible surface behind him: between the air and the wall. His body, like his multiple poetry books, tells the hard story of his continent, and, more explicitly, of his country.

“In 1985, during the height of the dictatorship,” said Zurita during an interview with Walter Lazcano for Eterna Cadencia, “I published Songs for His Disappeared Love, and one of its verses was written in the Memorial for the Disappeared Detainees in Santiago’s General Cemetery.” However, during Augusto Pinochet’s coup in 1973, Zurita, a communist militant, was tortured alongside many of his companions; crimes that only poetry (that is, imagination) can bring into account.

In 1979 he painted New York’s skyline with the sentence: “Nor Shame Nor Fear”, among fourteen other phrases, that were between seven and nine kilometers long. For this he used planes, hired to write in white smoke upon the blue page of the sky. This, together with his intervention in the Atacama Desert in Chile, are considered as precedents of land art, and a symbolic redistribution of the poetic imagination which invaded the American geography from coast to coast. That same year, Purgatory (another reference to Dante), his first poetry book, was published. The cover of the first edition shows Zurita with a burn mark he made on his cheek ––scars on the body correspond to the scars in the sky and in the desert.

For years he had been a member of the CADA (Colectivo de Acciones de Arte), a collective whose members included the sociologist Fernando Balcells, and the artists Lotty Rosenfeld, Juan Castillo and Diamela Eltit.

His book INRI “appeared exactly thirty years after the military coup in Chile. The only great poem would have been if those crimes had never been committed in the first place and thus there would never have been a poem that spoke of those crimes.”

A witness, a reformed general, revealed that many of the victims had their eyes torn before being killed. This is why the word “see” is never mentioned inside INRI, no one sees, we can only listen. Writing, imagining poems writing themselves in the sky or tracing them on the desert was my intimate way of resisting, of not going insane, of not giving up.

For Zurita, poetic writing is not what saves us from ourselves:

If human beings were not able to access the extreme tenderness of writing poems, violence would be natural, but since poems exist, violence, murder, torture, and genocide are much more monstrous. For, if instead of torturing someone we have the choice to help him, murder is infinitely more murderous and the killer is infinitely more a killer.

Zurita, Raúl. Canto a su amor desaparecido. Santiago: Universitaria, 1985.

Zurita, Raúl. Zurita. Santiago: Ediciones UDP, 2011.

When one sees him in person while attending one of his readings in Chile, his home country, Raul Zurita (1950) seems to be two-dimensional. The disease that has afflicted him for many years now (Parkinson’s), seems to push him against an invisible surface behind him: between the air and the wall. His body, like his multiple poetry books, tells the hard story of his continent, and, more explicitly, of his country.

“In 1985, during the height of the dictatorship,” said Zurita during an interview with Walter Lazcano for Eterna Cadencia, “I published Songs for His Disappeared Love, and one of its verses was written in the Memorial for the Disappeared Detainees in Santiago’s General Cemetery.” However, during Augusto Pinochet’s coup in 1973, Zurita, a communist militant, was tortured alongside many of his companions; crimes that only poetry (that is, imagination) can bring into account.

In 1979 he painted New York’s skyline with the sentence: “Nor Shame Nor Fear”, among fourteen other phrases, that were between seven and nine kilometers long. For this he used planes, hired to write in white smoke upon the blue page of the sky. This, together with his intervention in the Atacama Desert in Chile, are considered as precedents of land art, and a symbolic redistribution of the poetic imagination which invaded the American geography from coast to coast. That same year, Purgatory (another reference to Dante), his first poetry book, was published. The cover of the first edition shows Zurita with a burn mark he made on his cheek ––scars on the body correspond to the scars in the sky and in the desert.

For years he had been a member of the CADA (Colectivo de Acciones de Arte), a collective whose members included the sociologist Fernando Balcells, and the artists Lotty Rosenfeld, Juan Castillo and Diamela Eltit.

His book INRI “appeared exactly thirty years after the military coup in Chile. The only great poem would have been if those crimes had never been committed in the first place and thus there would never have been a poem that spoke of those crimes.”

A witness, a reformed general, revealed that many of the victims had their eyes torn before being killed. This is why the word “see” is never mentioned inside INRI, no one sees, we can only listen. Writing, imagining poems writing themselves in the sky or tracing them on the desert was my intimate way of resisting, of not going insane, of not giving up.

For Zurita, poetic writing is not what saves us from ourselves:

If human beings were not able to access the extreme tenderness of writing poems, violence would be natural, but since poems exist, violence, murder, torture, and genocide are much more monstrous. For, if instead of torturing someone we have the choice to help him, murder is infinitely more murderous and the killer is infinitely more a killer.

Zurita, Raúl. Canto a su amor desaparecido. Santiago: Universitaria, 1985.

Zurita, Raúl. Zurita. Santiago: Ediciones UDP, 2011.

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