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  • Rob Will

Poetry Project Week III / Mario Benedetti

The Poetry Project is going well, excellent actually. We’ve decided to do readings once every two weeks and not necessarily confine them to a specific day. It’s hard to have any type of set schedule in this chaotic environment.

It would be good if we had some participation from the outside. I’m sure there are some people out there reading this who have an interest in the Art of Poetry. If you want to be involved, here is what you can do: Drop me a letter with your ideas for a Poetry Reading along with three, four or however many poems. These can be printed out from the Internet and mailed to me. You can also send me photocopies of pages from a book, but not an entire photocopy of a book.

You can also send me books of poetry via Amazon or another online bookseller. (The return address on the packaging has to be from a bookstore, publisher, or online bookseller.) Used books can be found online extremely cheap. Dover Publications ( sells their “Thrift Edition” books—which are brand new—wonderfully cheap. I just flipped open a Dover catalog I have over here and here’s an example of some of the prices of their books of poetry:

•The Garden of Heaven: Poems by Hafiz (112 pp.) $2.00

•Great Poems by American Women: An Anthology (256 pp.) $3.50

•Early Poems, Ezra Pound (80 pp.) $1.50

If you do wish to vibe with me on the Poetry Project, be sure to send me some background on the poetry and poet(s). I don’t think I’ve really expressed this with the previous updates on the Poetry Project, but we have in-depth discussions on the poems we read. Anytime I’m vibing on a particular subject I delve deeply into it. For example, earlier I listened to a piece on the radio about the current socio-political situation in Iran. While listening to it I was examining every point made from a psycho-social-political-historical perspective.

Everything that I know about the history of the area that is today known as Iran flashed through my mind. I remembered ideas expressed in lectures on Iran I’ve heard by people like Noam Chomsky. I remembered conversations I had 15 years ago with some guys I knew who were first-generation Iranian-Americans, remembered how I didn’t understand at the time why the absolute worst, most vile and horrendous curse a person could thrust upon them was to call them an “Arab” and how they constantly reminded people that they were Persians NOT Arabs.

How their uncle had a cache of advanced university degrees—but because they were Iranian degrees and because he didn’t speak fluent English—he couldn’t work as a doctor as he had in Iran, so he ran a little corner store. Stories in a book I read by a woman who grew up in Iran; the history of Islam and Zorastrianism; pictures of Iranian and Persian Art; bas-reliefs at Persepolis; battles of Xerxes; the original inscription said to have been on the tomb Cyrus the Great; the ridiculous parade put on by the last neo-Shah of Iran; the Iranian revolution; verses of Persian poetry; these and a thousand other thoughts flew through my mind in the few minutes I listened to the news story, all while the taste of Iranian food was on my tongue and modern adaptations of classical Persian music mixed in with interjections of Strauss’s Zarathustra played in the background of my mind. When the news piece went off I dove into my books. I pulled out my Oxford Dictionary of World History and read all of the sections having anything to do with Iran. I referenced a map of Iran I have that includes a bunch of interesting current statistics on the country. I read some brilliant poetry by Omar Khayym and referenced and cross-referenced a bunch of other books and articles and then looked at some Persian Art—basically, I went on one of the inquisitiveness sprees I go on just about daily.

Whenever I’m preparing a Poetry Reading I do this type of thing and kind of rein myself in and prepare an outline for the event. This includes putting together the poetry selections, background of the poet(s) and points of discussion. So, if you would like to participate—and we do indeed think it would be awesome to have outside participation—please include the type of information I need to put a session together.

Yesterday, Mario Benedetti was the featured poet. The first comprehensive presentation in English of Benedetti’s work was published in 2003. The book, Little Stones at My Window, which was sent to me by a companera of mine, introduced me to Benedetti. A little background on the poet: Mario Benedetti was born in 1920 in Uruguay to parents who were both children of European immigrants. He began writing as a teenager and published his first book of poetry in 1945.

Benedetti went on to write over 50 books of poetry, essays, fiction, and drama. He may still be alive, I’m not sure, I’ll have to find out.*

Benedetti was forced to flee Uruguay after military rule was instated there in 1975. He didn’t return to Uruguay until a civilian government came to power in 1985. During his time in exile Benedetti lived in Argentina, Peru, Cuba and Spain.When I first delved into Little Stones at My Window—really just flirting with it a bit—I saw a strong resemblance of Benedetti’s work to the poetry of Pablo Neruda. After reading more of the book I discovered that Benedetti does indeed have his own poetic style, somewhat similar to Neruda’s perhaps, but still distinct and unique.

More than anything, Benedetti’s poetry reflects a deep sense of connection to Humanity; perhaps it can be said that his poetry was written in defense of Humanity. Here is one of Benedetti’s poems that we read entitled Ars Poetica: He must knock and keep knocking until no one can pretend not to hear he must knock and keep knocking until the poet realizes or at least believes that he’s the one they’re calling for.

After reading this poem we got into a discussion about the role of poetry in culture and society and the nature of poetry during times of sociopolitical unrest. Then, we vibed on a few more of Benedetti’s poems and held more discussion…

Can you hear me knocking?

With Strength & Love:

Rob Will

*Typist’s note (from Wikipedia online): He died in Montevideo on 17 May 2009. He had suffered from respiratory and intestinal problems for more than a year. Before dying, he dictated to his personal secretary, Ariel Silva what would become his last poem:

Mi vida ha sido como una farsa

Mi arte ha consistido

En que esta no se notara demasiado

He sido como un levitador en la vejez

El brillo marrn de los azulejos

Jams se separ de mi piel(Fragment)

A free translation into English of these few lines might be as follows:

My life has been just like a sham

My art has involved

Making it not to be noticed too much

I’ve been just as hovering during my old years

The dark shine of tiles

Never detached from my skin(Fragment)

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