Resolana/Sunspots by Mariela Griffor
Reviewed by Camilo Marks


Resolana/Sunspots, by Mariela Griffor, is part of an illustrious tradition, despite the fact that in recent times, underestimated, of ethical and testimonial poetry. Without knowing Griffor’s previous work – Exiliana, Love for a Subversive Man – it is evident in this collection, read and reread many times, the awakening of conscience of a woman who is no longer a part of a small colony of foreigners, but a member of a vast collective of classes, colors, dialects and forms of life of very diverse people, sometimes completely isolated, on other occasions assuming the uncertainly of interracial and the multiform scenes of large cities in the northern hemisphere. This is evident in the poem “Safe Conduct,” which, in an astute manner on Griffor’s part, contains enigmatic epigraphs of Auden:

“Who can imagine in one second/ or in one moment/what exile produces in the spirit/ of an expatriate?”

The word “expatriate” explains everything; but it is more hurtful, less ambiguous, much more painful than the cliché “exiled” (in effect, anyone, if they have the resources, can go wherever they want, be it in search of new horizons, or because they have contacts that allow them to live overseas).

Griffor, who is bilingual, is a rare exception among lyrical Chilean writers that publishes here [Chile] and in other places. In Resolana/Sunspots one notices an exceptional consistency, a coherence in contrast to the robust naturalism of our tradition and, above all, a profound cultural formation – without a doubt, immersed in the North American lyric, especially Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore – consolidated in hymns to the common and current, in the everyday, in the allusion to the flora and fauna that, without extending in manifest form, uses symbols and literary resources so that the verbal weight asserts itself to her readers. In “Hair of Sand,” we have examples of this creative freedom, restrained in verses of apparent simplicity, but in which the metaphors and metonymies surge with full spontaneity:“… pleasant memories/violent smells/timid words/whispers of a man in my ear/bells in an open sea/winds from the south and white lilies/ comes my mother tongue/ charged with nostalgia/ as always/to leave me a/ package of rainy days,/warm bodies/ in front of a fireplace,/ it comes calmed/ with its hair of sand,/ with its mouth of ocean/ with its caresses in the darkness/ it comes and says to me these verses/…”

Resolana/Sunspots abstains from the possibilities of visionary heroism and the stanzas flow freely and unconscious of their own audacity. In this extensive collection – by today’s standards, when every day scanty collections of verses - 10 to 20 pages - are published, Resolana/Sunspots, which contains 86 poems in a hundred pages, is a notable exception -, there emerges a gifted voice with an extraordinary personality, strong and fragile, solar and shadowy, surprisingly stimulating, joyful of life, despite its sadness and needs. These qualities stand out in Requiem: “It is difficult for me to think/that you are also gone./ With you left a piece of my good side,/ it was not difficult to be good around you!/ I felt tranquil, without internal conflicts,/ protected and secure, without torments,/while you were fighting for more life, /I was fighting against the tyrants …”.

For reasons of space, we’ve put together diptychs and cuartetos, even though Requiem combines both forms, in free verse, together with a triumphal quintet that ends with: “When I count one, two, three, four,/ slowly the tears/ come forth to greet you,/ For you Claudia, Aunt Claudia/ enigmatic face of my tender years.”

In the manner of some romantics, Mariela Griffor returns with fascination to the blurry profile, diminishing the cacophonous realism of the actual versification. In the majority of her poems, the materials appear stiff, dry, even arid, but Resolana/Sunspots as a whole gives us pure lines, without the frequent adulteration of the meaning, nothing else but the emotion of the verb is what’s important.

Griffor is especially admirable in her small and grand evocations, in the reflection of intimate corners that exhibit and exquisite timbre of intense harmony like in “Parade:”

“Cities without mountains/ lives without conscience/ bodies without desire/ surround me/ the smell of the spring is here/ with memories of a childhood/ full of multicolor pansies and hyacinths.” (notice the assimilation – syneresis – from ideas to flowers).

If one has to position Griffor within the recent history of Chilean poetry, her art is closest to poets such as Jorge Teillier, Delia Domínguez and the early Enrique Lihn. Unfortunately their legacy tends to be somehow undervalued nowadays, in spite of the fact that they certainly belong to a major Chilean tradition.

This situation is due, in part, to the emergence of dozens, hundreds of young poets, noisy, pseudo-cosmopolitan, that publish non-stop, and whose future is, to say the least, uncertain. But also, the fatigue in the face of so much racket, the disgust before this pure verbal provocation, we feel nostalgia for voices, like Griffor’s, that possess a sovereign balance of mind and exhibit a frank superiority at expressing her introspections to the external world of objective events.

In Resolana there is, definitely, a balance that, maybe, translates a certain indifference toward the filth of our daily life. “A madman doesn’t see the same tree as a wise man,” said William Blake and, in the same way, Mariela Griffor transcends the terrible and sordid hell of our sociopolitical everyday to penetrate into territories of moving sands. That is, into zones where the imagination leaves the body’s prison, to lead us to new experiences, subtle, hopeful, contradictory, and in the end, very human.