Soledad Fariña: Poetry from Beneath the Regime

To poet Soledad Fariña Vicuña, the Santiago metro in the 1980s was a perfect metaphor for life under the Pinochet dictatorship. Compared to today’s metro, she says, the metro back then was "so clean, almost spotless. There was only one line, and there was almost nobody on it—only the rich.”

 Image from http://amargordtransatlantica.blogspot.cl/2012/12/soledad-farina.html
Image from http://amargordtransatlantica.blogspot.cl/2012/12/soledad-farina.html

A search to unearth and reencounter the fear and paranoia that pervaded the Pinochet years is one of the main topics of Fariña’s newest collection of poetry, 1985, out now with Das Kapital Editions. Named after the year she wrote it, 1985 follows four characters as they traverse a Santiago where “the whole world was suspicious … where the whole world was afraid to speak,” according to Fariña.

The loss of speech provoked by living in fear has been an element of Fariña’s work since her first published collection, El Primer Libro, written and published in 1985. Much of the book is concerned with the process of writing, the earth and the feminine body, beginning with the lines: “The first book had to be painted / but which to paint / which first.” In her poem “Alfa” however, she takes on a darker tone, showing the violence and the silencing at the heart of Pinochet's dictatorship: “meat / ploughs through / the grave / the narrow / meat / the dense / the loam.”

Fariña’s work has been heavily influenced by the indigenismo literary movement and the search for a non-western poetics in Latin American poetry. “Pre-Columbian languages are pure poetry, full of metaphors . . . one language, nahuatl, has the same word for ‘poem’ and ‘flower’,” according to Fariña. “We’re searching for our originality, our profundity. ‘Who are we?’ For me that’s the essential question.”

 Image courtesy of Das Kapital Editions
Image courtesy of Das Kapital Editions

It’s difficult to avoid the influence of colonialism on modern poetics, however. “I’m trying to seek a non-occidental way of writing poetry,” she says, “but I have to write in Spanish. I’m not bilingual.”

Fariña began writing poetry seriously in the early ‘70s, as Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular ("Popular unity") government came to power. “In the early ‘70s, we were all just trying to change the world, to change everything,” she says, in reference to her early years. “I believed in the hope of a united Latin America.” After the 1973 coup, however, everything changed, which had much to do with why she didn’t publish her first book until 12 years later. “With all that we were suffering in the late ‘70s, my poetry was all over the place…Publishing was different. There wasn’t any money for the arts like there is now. You had to do it all yourself.”

Her second book, Albricia, deepened Fariña’s investigation of the feminine poetic subject, this time examining the maternal figure. Being a woman poet in the 1980s in Chile was far from easy. “They said to me, about my book, men are going to think it’s shit,” she recounts, laughing. “And they did. But now look!”

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