Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In memory of Juan Gelman (1930-2014)

Poetry is a way of living.
Look at the people at your side.
Do they eat? Suffer? Sing? Cry?
Help them fight for their hands, their eyes, their mouth, for the kiss to kiss and the kiss to give away, for their table, their bread, their letter a and their letter h, for their past — were they not children? — for their present, for the piece of peace, of history and happiness that belongs to them, for the piece of love, big, small, sad, joy, that belongs to them and is taken away in the name of what, of what?
Your life will then be an innumerable river to be called pedro, juan, ana, maria, bird, lung, the air, my shirt, violin, sunset, stone, that handkerchief, old waltz, wooden horse.
Poetry is this.
Afterward, write it.

Juan Gelman, (from End) 
Who would have thought that the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age would post an Obituary, taken from the LA Times, for one of my favorite Latin American poets, the Argentinian leftist writer, intellectual and political activist Senor Juan Gelman?

Other Obituaries for Senor Gelman are here, here, here.
Obituary by  Chris Kraul and Andres D'Alessandro
Los Angeles Times
Juan Gelman was an Argentinian poet and an exile whose writings were coloured by personal tragedy he suffered at the hands of his country's military dictatorship.
In 2007, Gelman, a leftist with working-class origins, won the Cervantes Prize, perhaps the most prestigious Spanish language literary honour, for his stark, soulful verse.

He also personified the tragedy suffered by thousands of Argentinian families under the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. His son Marcelo and pregnant daughter-in-law Maria Claudia were kidnapped in 1976 and murdered by the junta. In 1989, Gelman was able to identify Marcelo's body but Maria Claudia's has not been found.

The couple's infant daughter was secretly given to a Uruguayan police officer and his wife for adoption. Through a source in the Catholic Church, Gelman found out that Maria Claudia had been permitted to live long enough to give birth, but it took him 22 years to track the baby down.

Gelman, who was abroad at the time of the 1976 coup, was finally reunited with his granddaughter, Macarena, now 37, in 2000, after her adoptive parents disclosed the fate of her true parents.

Gelman was considered one of Argentina's most important 20th-century poets, and also won the Juan Rulfo (2000), Pablo Neruda (2005) and Queen Sofia (2005) awards. He contributed essays to many Latin American magazines and newspapers, notably Argentina's Pagina/12 daily.

Juan Gelman was born May 3, 1930, in Buenos Aires, the son of a Jewish Ukrainian communist couple who had emigrated to Argentina after becoming disillusioned with the Stalin regime.

His first poems were published when he was 11. He studied chemistry at the University of Buenos Aires but gave up a scientific career to dedicate himself to literature, joining the so-called New Poetry movement in the 1950s.

Influenced by the success in 1959 of the Cuban Revolution, Gelman joined militant leftist groups. He was arrested in 1963 for having joined the outlawed Communist Party.

Upon his release, Gelman began working as a journalist and editor on left-leaning magazines. He was on a foreign public relations tour to highlight alleged human rights abuses when the military pulled off its coup d'etat in 1976.

Gelman lived in exile in Rome, Madrid, Managua, Paris, New York and Mexico, where he worked as a United Nations translator.

Even after democracy was restored to Argentina in 1983, Gelman remained a wanted man for his pre-coup political activities, which aroused protests among many Latin American writers, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Octavio Paz.

Finally, in 1988, his arrest warrant was nullified and Gelman returned to Argentina that summer for the first time in 13 years. A year later, he was pardoned by President Carlos Menem, but he preferred to maintain his home in Mexico.

Juan Gelman is survived by his wife, Mara La Madrid, and granddaughter Macarena.

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