INSIDE Chico State
0 November 7, 2002
Volume 33 Number 6
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico






Briefly Noted




Spirits of the Water

Photo: Foreign languages and literature professors Maria Gonzalez, Kristyna Demaree, and Pilar Rubio brought Mapuche poet Elicura Chihuailaf Nahuelpan to Chico.

Foreign languages and literature professors Maria Gonzalez, Kristyna Demaree, and Pilar Rubio brought Mapuche poet Elicura Chihuailaf Nahuelpan to Chico.

Chilean writer uses poetry to transcend differences

Words, particularly the spoken word, carry the world for Chilean poet Elicura Chihuailaf Nahuelpan. Equally important, the word bridges cultures, generations, human missions, and environmental demands. It even penetrates language barriers, as he proved during a recent interview conducted in English and Spanish and translated by foreign languages and literature professor Kristyna Demaree. As part of a West Coast speaking tour and first-time visit to the United States, Nahuelpan spent the afternoon and evening of Oct. 21 at CSU, Chico, where he shared his poetry at a crowded reception in Trinity Hall.

"The word is the tool that we can use to communicate our most profound thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, which are the things that unite us," he said. "If we use the word, then we don't see each other as different."

In the reception's relaxed atmosphere of shared food and interests, the poet reached out to the many students in the audience. "Welcome, brothers and sisters," he said. "Thank you for coming to hear the word instead of going shopping."

Nahuelpan has published three volumes of poetry, which have been translated into Spanish from his native Mapudungun, the language of Chile's indigenous Mapuche people, and will publish another volume this January in Spain. He has also contributed to the trilingual (Mapudungun, Spanish, and English) and widely praised anthology UL: Four Mapuche Poets (1998, Latin American Literary Review Press). His work has appeared in journals and anthologies, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, Dutch, Swedish, and English.

Garnering poetic inspiration "from everything," Nahuelpan explained how the Mapuche world view renders this attitude commonplace.

"The Mapuche's basic belief is that everything is interconnected into a universal wholeness that shouldn't be fragmented, and the fragments should be made part of the whole. Therefore, one of the most important things we can do is become whole within ourselves, so that we can be in harmony with the universe. There's an imbalance of the energies that exist, particularly from cultures that want to have only one culture in the world. That takes away from the wholeness. In a garden, we allow different kinds of flowers and plants to grow, but in making the world a uniform place, we're really eliminating our beautiful diversity."

Historically, the Mapuche resisted Spanish incursions into their territory far longer than any other indigenous group, and Nahuelpan attributes this to a cultural protectiveness of their mother, the earth. "This is our ancestors' belief," he said. "If someone is aggressive against their mother, what kind of a child wouldn't try and protect her from being hurt or damaged? The resistance was based in caring and love, and that's why they were able to do it for so long."

In Chile, Nahuelpan teaches at a university in the southern town of Temuco. Each of his three classes is inspired by the word: a seminar for psychology students called Visions of the Word, a media course called Image of the Word, and a spoken-word workshop for theatre students. He's booked for speaking engagements around Chile and contributes time to his largely agrarian native community of Quechurewe. Yes, he's well known, he admitted, but not famous.

"I don't recognize fame," he said. "Like the women who sing while baking bread around the campfire, speaking poetry is a tradition that's a part of life."

Aided by Demaree and Spanish professor Pilar Alvarez-Rubio, who read the half dozen or so poems first in English, Nahuelpan recited poems in Mapudungun and Spanish, at one point using his sonorous baritone voice to partly sing, partly intone a moving lament. "I believe to be a poet is merely to breathe in peace," ran the words from his lovely autobiographical work, "Blue Dream." Through his words, Nahuelpan allowed the audience a little breath of that peace.

Taran March


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