A Reading by Raúl Zurita with Translator Anna Deeny

September 27, 2011

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Raúl Zurita

Northwestern University's Poetry & Poetics Colloquium presents a reading by poet Raúl Zurita in Spanish translated into English by Dr. Anna Deeny. Zurita and Deeny read from the following works: Purgatoi (Purgatory, UC Press, 2009); Sueños Para Kurosawa (Dreams For Kurosawa, House Press, 2011); and La Vida Nueva (The New Life, unpublished, 1993). 

Raúl Zurita, winner of the Chilean National Poetry Prize, is arguably the most powerful poetic voice in Latin America today. His compelling rhythms combine epic and lyric tones, public and most intimate themes, grief and joy. Despite having been arrested and tortured under the Pinochet dictatorship, Zurita’s prevailing attitude in his Dantesque trilogy Purgatoi, Anteparaíso (Anteparadise), and La Vida Nueva is a deep love for everything and everybody in the world. His work is part of a revolution in poetic language that began in the 1970s and sought to find new forms of expression radically different from those of Pablo Neruda. The challenge was to confront the contemporary epoch with its particular forms of violence, including violence done to language. His book INRI (Marick Press, 2009, translated by William Rowe), is distinctive in that it does not speak out of individual sorrow—though this is not missing—but seeks, rather, a new space out of which love might be asserted as prime human reality, a space which might give birth to a different type of society. Purgatory, translated by Dr. Deeny, was published by The University of California Press. Song for the Disappeared Love, translated by Daniel Borzutzky, was released in 2010 by Action Books. Zurita’s other poetry collections include: El Paraíso Esta Vacío, Canto a Su Amor, Desaparecido, El Amor de Chile, Los Países Muertos, In Memoriam, Las Ciudades de Agua. He has just completed a book that includes “Inscriptions Facing the Sea,” a project to inscribe 22 phrases in the cliffs of the north coast of Chile that would only be read from the sea.

Raul Zurita was born in Santiago, Chile in 1950. He started out studying engineering before turning to poetry. His early work is a ferocious response to Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 military coup. Like many other Chileans, Zurita was arrested and tortured. When he was released, he helped to form a radical artistic group CADA, and he became renowned for his provocative and intensely physical public performances. He has written what are perhaps the most massively scaled poems ever created. He has done this with earth-moving equipment and with smoke-trailing aircraft. In the early 1980s, Zurita famously sky-wrote passages from his poem, “The New Life,” over New York and later—still during the reign of Pinochet—he bulldozed the phrase “Ni Pena Ni Miedo” (“Without Pain Or Fear”) into the Atacama Desert, which, for its length, can only be seen from the sky. Zurita is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Casa de las Americas Prize from Cuba, and the National Poetry Prize of Chile. His work has been translated into a dozen languages.

Anna Deeny (PhD, University of California, Berkeley) teaches in the History and Literature Department at Harvard. UC Press published her translation of Zurita's Purgatoi in 2009. Deeny's translation of Zurita's Sueños Para Kurosawa (Dreams For Kurosawa) is forthcoming from House Press this year. She has also translated Idea Vilariño, Marosa di Giorgio, Mercedes Roffé, and Enrique Lihn.

Recorded Monday, September 26, 2011 at University Hall, Northwestern University.