leaves and twigs

CECILIA VICUÑA / SPRING EQUINOX INTERVIEW (3/20/2001)
ecopoetics, volume 1, pp 112-126

DIstilling two thoughts from this interview, or maybe three, about the practice of poetry, and the uses of poetry.

Exchange of energy.

CV: You have to have an exchange of energy. If this exchange of energy is interrupted, it’s like interrupting a song, you see. It’s interrupting a flow of sound, and this flow of sound has to be harmonious, it has to be a mutual benefit. The first acknowledgement is that we don’t know what this energy is or how to name it, so we pick a name, and this name has to be pleasing to both, for the exchange to take place. And the idea that you can use a plant, without giving anything in return, destroys the music from the start.

Precarios. Poem as gesture, a making that doesn’t necessarily use words.

I was on a beach the way most Chilean girls might be on a beach playing, and suddenly, I could feel the presence of this infinite beauty, of the colors and sounds of the place. I felt all this was a language, and that I needed to participate in that language by responding. This could be my place in the world—to respond to that beauty, to say: I am part of you too, here I am. And the way of doing that was to pick up the debris that was lying horizontally on the beach and make it stand up vertically. That gesture, for me was the beginning of weaving, which is to cross the vertical and the horizontal—standing whatever stick or stone, whatever bit of plastic debris, or whatever twig, broken twig, I could make to stand—became language, it became like a word, and then the waves would instantly come and erase it. And so this language would stand up and fall, and be part again of the rhythm. So then, if you substitute the twigs for words or if you substitute them with whatever object that you find in the street, or the seeds themselves, each one is like a syllable in this language. But they are never fixed, because they are always in the process of flowing into something else.

And poetry as transformation of emotions. I think of this as “chewing” or “digestion” but she calls it “prayer.”

JS: How do you deal with the pain of witnessing what’s happening at the moment, in particular the tone right now, with the current administration? In your writing, where does pain sit?
CV: It’s the key of everything, pain is the key of everything…. I don’t think any writer ever could have written if it weren’t for that pain that is burning inside. And it’s the necessity of transforming that pain that pushes you to write. I think this is the energy of prayer; prayer is transformation of energy. So there is a commonality between prayer and poetry, in the transformation of this pain. When you come to a river that’s dying, when you come to a forest that’s dying, our emotion is the same as that of the animal—the animal that’s dying. You go to the forest and you perceive the sadness even in the leaves. There is a commonality of sadness that is now joining the world.

She says “I think without poetry we’re completely doomed.” I’m uneasy about such a big claim for poetry, unless your definition of poetry is also very big. Even then, even with the big definition poetry, we are completely doomed. But in the face of that, it is charmingly human to seek an exchange of energy, to make a small thing out of twigs.

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