Encuentro de Poetas Iberoamericanos

Encuentro de Poetas Iberoamericanos: A Transcontinental Affaire
Mexico City, Sept.-Oct 2023/ 2024

by Milagros Vilaplana

Encuentro- a coming together- is a fitting name for the event, Encuentro de Poetas Iberoamericanos” held last October in Mexico City, a veritable congregation of poets from the pre and post-colonial Spanish-speaking world. For me the weeklong event was an immersive exposure to my native culture’s art, which like so many Americans, I have missed since relocating to the U.S.  Imagine yourself entering Mexico City’s historic gems, such as the viceroy’s mansion dating to the days of Cortez, converted to the City Museum and discovering a profusion of poetic talent, often accompanied by solo musicians in these intimate settings.

The fact that it was the first time the Encuentro took place outside of world heritage University of Salamanca in Spain, after 25 years crossing the Atlantic Ocean sparked greater connection among a community united by language, including the Portuguese, instead of politics or geographic borders. It must be noted that there were a multitude of readings in the regional languages and dialects of the artists as well. The founder Alfredo Alencart, Peruvian Spanish cultural head in Salamanca, partnered with Carmen Nozal, a Mexican Asturian poet to transform the single site event into a regionally rotating encounter. 

Carmen Nozal has written twenty books of poetry, received multiple literary awards, and is the Cultural Director of a private technology consulting company dedicated to business intelligence, Konesh Soluciones. That firm initiated a cash poetry prize that was awarded to Rolando Rosas Galicia for his book, The Old Man of the Water, which is based on his grandfather’s Aztec legacy. Here is an excerpt I translated from his reading of the poem “A Chinampa Lives Inside the Old Man.” Chinampa is a small, stationary, artificial island built on a freshwater lake for agricultural purposes.  

Procopio goes with his grill on his shoulder
where there lives a black earth chinampa
with its corrugated green chard and white
vigorous stems
He navigates on clear, drinkable water canals
where acociles carps, one by one
maiz grains like the words
look for humidity in grooves
and then we are the sounds or simply
a trace of the young student’s memory

At the lively readings, often accompanied with classical and folk instrumentations, it was heartwarming to see poets nod and smile to each other as they took their places. With microphone in hand, they celebrated the mournful departures of poets that passed in 2022 and 2023. This included Gloria Gervitz whose poetry has been translated to 14 languages. Her highly praised oeuvre, Migraciones, was the fruit of transformative revisions that evolved alongside intimate, feminist revelations, an autobiography within the Jewish diaspora in Mexico, close immersion within the Catholic faith, as well as other complex beautifully rendered influences from the literary and mythological world.

The greatest homage, which was part of the publicized heading for the event, was paid to two writers from different eras, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz from the seventeenth century (1648-1695), and the contemporary, living poet, Elsa Cross. The former has been called the greatest Spanish language writer of her century, for not only was she a prolific secular and mystical poet, but also a celebrated essayist and thinker whose oeuvre was condemned by The Inquisition, as she was forced to retract and burn much of her work. I recall my mother’s joy in reciting Sor Juana Ines’s lines that emphasize the male irrationality and ability to harm women, quoted to this day with familiarity throughout Mexico:

Hombres necios que acusais
a la mujer sin razon
Sin saber que sois razon
de lo mismo que acusais
You mullish men, accusing
Woman without reason,
Not seeing you occasion
The very wrong you blame:

(translated by David Frye)

Contemporary poet Elsa Cross has received multiple poetry awards and prizes; her writing has been described by Octavio Paz as:

…one of the most personal voices in recent Latin-American poetry. Her work, already considerable, includes some of the most perfect poems of the last generation of Mexican writers. I say voice and not poetic writing since poetry, although written, must always be spoken. Two opposing notes reconcile harmoniously in Elsa Cross: the complexity of her thought and the clarity of her diction.

The audience at the closing of the festival, had the privilege of hearing her read, among others, a poem about a tearful pre-colonial poet carrying the Aztec sign for a word that is the same image as that of Dante’s troubadour Arnaut Daniel who in the Purgatorio says,I am the weeping Arain that goes singing.” Cross’s prolific poetics of 41 books of poetry, and multiple prizes and awards, are suffused with her scholarly specialization in Hindu mythology, pre-Columbian past, and classical Greece.

Another highlight of the weeklong public encounter was the bilingual nature of some of the writings and readings, whether between regional dialects, indigenous, or ancient languages. Claudia Posadas was one among several poets that presented bilingual readings. Two of the poems she read started in Occitaine with medieval, religious sorcery incantations. In anticipation of her panel presentation the press published an inspiring contemporary piece from her book “Desdoblamientos (Unfoldings)” which I translate below:

in everything and our dead,
the memories of other lives,
our centuries,
our sins of hurting humanity
only vagabond splinters
in the eyes of those who watch us,
perceive us,
or create that they remember us
from some surrounding multi-verse

Some other examples of bilingual readings include the Asturian poet Esther Garcia Lopez who shared an anecdote about her editor censoring her transcription to Castilian Spanish from meaningful words in the Asturian language, like “Falon” meaning cigarette standing (as analogy of an upright man.) She laughs as she says, “It was too phallic.”

Irma Pineda is a renowned (and perhaps highly politicized poet in Mexico’s present day ideological turmoil) who writes verse in Spanish and Isthmus-Zapotec. Her reading of an indigenous mother’s advice to her daughter was marvelous. Santos Velazquez not only writes bilingually in his native Purépecha dialect from Michoacán, but also just published a “symbiotic” collaborative poetry project with notable South Korean poet Lee Chae Wong in Korean and Spanish.

In total there were 90 participating poets from 20 countries, of which 60 read in memorable venues, such as the Art Nouveau House of the Poet Ramon Lopez Velarde; the rest imparted their poetry virtually. Almost all the live and online readings can be accessed via YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYYy3YaxtVE) or entering a search by the event’s name. If I were to choose the one historical marker that astonished me the most it would be the 16th century Sor Juana Ines Cloister, for its austere uniform colonial courtyards and more recently remodeled “Divine Narcisus” auditorium where The Encuentro’s closing day erudite readings, essays, award ceremonies, and poetic performances took place against a backdrop of 18th baroque gold-leaf art.  

Though it had originally been planned to take place this year 2024 in Peru, it will share locations between Mexico City again, plus there will be reading gatherings in Costa Rica as well. Tribute will be paid to prolific and award-winning Costa Rican poets Laureano Alban and Julieta Dobles. Calls for submission for the second edition of the Iberoamericana Poetry Prize of an unpublished book of poetry in Spanish or Portuguese, has a deadline of July 15, and prize of $1,000.00 US dollars. 

As in the past 2023 conferences, this year’s will be sponsored by Konesh Arte y Cultura a division of Konesh Soluciones business intelligence firm. In his closing speech the president of Konesh Soluciones exposed his reasons why a firm dedicated to business intelligence would sponsor a poetry festival, summarizing the reason with the words, “poetry saves the human soul.” 

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