Joel Scott Reviews Poetry of the Earth: Mapuche Trilingual Anthology

By | 4 November 2015


Dreams are everywhere in this collection. In Bernardo Colipán’s ‘I fell from my horse the other night’: ‘I look to the sky where my gold knife reigns/with its blue queen and I tell my dreams.’ In Jaime Luis Huenún Villa’s ‘Letter for Anahí’: ‘It rained long over the land and in my dream/the first red buds of beans opened.’ In Maribel Mora Curriao’s ‘Bad Dreams’, a darker side is suggested: ‘My grandfather’s dream is sad … My mother’s dream is sad … But even sadder/the dream of my children/of my children’s children’.

Here again the traditional comparative drive seems potentially misplaced. Consider the imagery in Curriao’s ‘Dreams in the valley’:

In dreams I have seen 
blood spring from my side
and rapacious birds born from my temples
devour my hands and my tongue. 

I grow other hands
and another tongue
only to be devoured again,
soon more are born,
which I carefully hide
among the metawes.
But the metawes 
are also reached
and their remains scattered
in the valley.

So I rise and remake
this same face, this same body
this same anguished heart

The image of blood springing from her side could be read as Christian iconography, whereby the force of colonialism creeps back into the frame. The image of the birds born from her temples shocks. It bears a close resemblance to Bernardo Colipán’s image in ‘One Day We Dream as Herons Do …’: ‘Blackbirds nest in my eyes/empty with silence’. Reading these images, I cannot help but think of the classic image from Un Chien Andalou, in which Buñuel slices through an eye with a razor. The whole script for Un Chien Andalou originated in an image from a dream. In his memoir, Buñuel recounts, ‘I told (Dalí) about a dream I’d had in which a long, tapering cloud sliced the moon in half, like a razor blade slicing through an eye. Dalí immediately told me that he’d seen a hand crawling with ants in a dream he’d had the previous night’ (103-104). The two then produced a repertoire of images which resisted all rational explanation. In the poems in this anthology, however, it seems clear that the function of the dream image is radically different to that of the dream in surrealism. While surrealism was influenced strongly by Freud’s interpretation of dreams and the potential of the unconscious, a footnote to María Isabel Lara Millapán’s poem ‘Pewma’ (dream) explains that dreams are very important for Mapuches, since through them, direct contact can be made with the supernatural. Dreams are also considered to “have a direct impact on daily life.”

Significantly, this poem is titled ‘Pewma’ in the original Spanish, suggesting some level of untranslatability to the concept – an incommensurability with the Spanish term sueño. To Australian audiences, parallels to Indigenous Australian mythologies are immediately evident. These parallels suggest a different kind of comparative literature, one that works collectively against colonial canons, one based on the vital need for solidarity and on common experiences of colonisation. Huenún Villa recounts the strategies of assimilation, both ‘pacifying’ (education, evangelisation and an unequal integration into the economic system), and the ‘more violent (persecution, assassination …)’. These can so easily be translated into the vocabulary of Australia’s own slow-burning genocide, which corrodes under the surface of every utterance in the culture, the dark echo in every word, from ‘settlement’ to ‘Australia’ to ‘poetry’. But the relations transcend the historical experiences of dispossession. Stuart Cooke, who in his work on Australian-Chilean Indigenous poetics has already worked to establish a method of reading Indigenous poetics comparatively, notes the ‘intriguing’ similarities between the rainbow serpents of many Aboriginal dreaming stories and the Kai-Kai and the Tren-Tren. Likewise, he compares El Azul (the azure region), a liminal and ancestral world of originary dreams, to what is commonly called ‘The Dreaming’. Tony Swain notes that the origins of the English term ‘dreaming’ and ‘Dreamtime’ are questionable (20-21), essentially a series of mistranslations from the Arrernte word altjira, originating in the work of Carl Strehlow, however its widespread use amongst Indigenous people suggests its usefulness as a sort of broken concept for a broken world. The English word is incommensurate, but is a shard that can help to lead us back to language, something like Paulo Huirimilla’s assertion: ‘The Castilian or Chilean word/Expresses nothing/It disappears into a well in which my bite shivers’. It is in this sense, thinking of the dream imagery in these poems as ‘dreaming’ might be more useful than attempting to trace its lineages back to other theories of the image or the dream.

This entry was posted in BOOK REVIEWS and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work: