“It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. It is the hero or artist who is the true avatar of civilization; the individual, not the group, preserves and advances culture.”
Joseph Campbell – The Hero With A Thousand Faces
by Miguel Ángel Asturias
To give is to love,
To give prodigiously:
For every drop of water
To return a torrent.
We were made that way,
Made to scatter
Seeds in the furrow
And stars in the ocean.
Woe to him, Lord,
who doesn’t exhaust his supply,
And, on returning, tells you:
“Like an empty satchel
Is my heart.”
Dar es amar,
por cada gota de agua
devolver un torrente.
Fuimos hechos asi,
hechos para botar
semillas en el surco
y estrellas en el mar
Y ¿ay! del que no agote,
Señor, su provisión Y al regresar te diga:
¿Como alforja vacía
está mi corazón!
The concept of a poet diplomat may sound foreign to our current world view of where artists fit into political discourse, but it was common 100 years ago and a requirement 1,000 years ago to be recorded in history. The idea that oration and words, creativity and inspiration were a personal trait of leaders to get a mandate from the populace to be fit to lead seems incredulous given the way some of our leaders torture the English language and have abandoned all measure of civility. If good leadership and poetry in the way a leader – leads, the way in which they speak, the way in which they think, is something to be admired, respected and even required than how should we evaluate the fitness of the candidates we will be choosing from this fall in the upcoming election? An idea that poetry is not something foreign on pages of obscure books, but lives and breathes in the words we use, is a concept I would argue that is precisely what is in short supply in our current endeavors.
If you do a search on google on Miguel Ángel Asturias and click on images, there is not a one that I could find where he is smiling. His was not an easy life. Born and raised in Guatemala, he was forced to live in exile much of his adult life abroad, so dangerous were the socialist notions of social justice and importance of protecting indigenous cultures in Latin America that he espoused and were prominent themes in his poetry, novels and plays. His most famous novel El Senor Presidente, was a scathing description of life under a ruthless dictator, common to much of Latin America unfortunately both then and now.
Asturias was involved with the Surrealist movement in Europe while living abroad and is credited with bringing the concepts of magical realism and a modernist style to Latin American literature, inspiring a generation of writers. After years of exile and marginalization for his political views he received broad recognition in the 1960’s when he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union and the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature, becoming only the second Latin America Nobel winner, following Gabriela Mistral who I showcased in the previous blog.
What lessons could poetry teach us about how to speak at this uncertain and difficult time? What examples can we take from difficult periods in the past and how did poets and poet diplomats navigate those times with their words to inspire change and point a direction to a hopeful future? What words should we be using to avoid marginalization of the powerless and keep hope where it belongs, in our minds and hearts? For our problems are man made, and can be solved by man….And we are all mortal.
Gesture with Both Hands Tied
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (1988 – )
and call it a parade.
But I’m lying if I said I was hungry.
If dying required practice,
I could give up the conditions for being alone.
I undress in the sun and stare at it
until I can stand its brightness no longer.
Why is it always noon in my head?
I’m going to run outside and whisper,
or hold a gun and say bang,
or hold a gun and not do anything at all.
The lamps that wait inside me say
come, the gift is the practice,
the price is the door