The word “Rattapallax” is now resounding in Chile. This American magazine was officially inaugurated in Latin America during the celebrations of Pablo Neruda’s 100th birthday. Rattapallax’s founder, Ram Devineni, led the delegation of American poets, which included Martín Espada, Pulitzer Prize winner Yusef Komunyakaa and Nathalie Handal, to the Centenary of Neruda.
Rattapallax already had a presence in Brazil, and Chile was the natural next step to reach Latin America. “Chile is the gateway to Latin American literature,” commented Ram Devineni. “The country has two important Nobel Laureates (Neruda and Gabriela Mistral) and poets are revered here.” The magazine was launched at the Universidad Diego Portales on July 9, 2004 with readings by several emerging Chilean poets published in Issue 11, Martín Espada, Yusef Komunyakaa and the great Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, who was tortured by General Augusto Pinochet during his dictatorship. The reading was hosted by Rodrigo Rojas and the magazine’s South American partner, LOM, a publishing house that has already put the magazine in virtually every major bookstore in Santiago.
The visit of Martín Espada to Chile had another purpose: the shooting of the documentary, Alabanza (Rattapallax Films). The main subject is the parallel tragic date of September 11 and its effect on both countries. Everyone knows what occurred on that date in 2001 with the attack on the World Trade Centers, but not everyone remembers that on that date in 1973, Augusto Pinochet bombed the Presidential Palace, where the democratically elected President Salvador Allende was holding out during the coup in which Pinochet took control of Chile. The bombing ushered in Pinochet’s 20-year dictatorship and the brutal repression of dissidents and ordinary people.
The film crew interviewed Joan Jara, widow of the famed folk singer Victor Jara, who was tortured and killed in a boxing stadium a few days after the coup. Last year, the government of Chile renamed the stadium after Victor Jara. Throughout the trip, there was a lot of discussion about Neruda and his funeral, which occurred a few weeks after the coup and was the first public outpouring of resistance. Neruda’s wife, Matilde, attributes his death directly to the bombing; she felt it broke his heart and his spirit to live. She wrote, “When we arrived at the cemetery, people came from everywhere, all workers with hard, serious faces. Half of them kept shouting, ‘Pablo Neruda,&’ and the other half replied, ‘Present.’ The crowd entered the cemetery singing the Internationale in spite of the repression.”
The poets’ visit to Neruda’s home in Isla Negra was something very significant for Espada, who teaches a class on Neruda at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Espada said, “For years, I have thought about Neruda without visiting Chile and its people. Now I understand Neruda better; I’ve seen the sea in Isla Negra.” Neruda’s house and the surrounding beach were full of thousands of people paying homage to him. Many of the attendees were Communist and families of the “missing.” Everyone had memorized a few lines of his work and openly recited them for the film.
The Neruda centennial celebrations closed on his birthday (July 12), with a train ride carrying honored guests to Pablo Neruda’s birthplace in the town of Parral. Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal, Chilean writer Antonio Skarmeta, and the Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, among others, joined the delegates on the poetry train. Later in the evening, there was a massive performance in the Mapocho Station, a colorful mixture of theatre, poetry, circus and music that gathered together hundreds of people in a fitting culmination to the series of events celebrating Neruda’s life and work.