Interview with Mariela Griffor

By Karla Cordero

Mariela Griffor is the author of two collections of poetry called Exiliana and House. Born in Chile and unwillingly exiled in 1985, Griffor now lives in Michigan with her husband. Griffor is the co-founder of The Institute for Creative Writers at Wayne State and Publisher of Marick Press.

Who are the most interesting poets in Chile?

Regarding the new poets there are a tremendous and eclectic number of poets that are writing poetry in Chile today. Names that a short while ago were completely unknown now occupy an important place of my bookshelf like Andrés Anwandter, Elizabeth Oria, Rafael Rubio, Damsi Figueroa, Alejandra González, Rosario Concha, Gladys González, Pablo Paredes, Diego Ramírez Gajardo, Claudio Gaete, Germán Carrasco, Kurt Folch, Antonio Silva Fuentes, Javier Bello, Alejandra del Río, Andrés Paula Ilabaca, Héctor Hernández Montecinos and probably many more that I haven’t read yet. Among the most interesting to me and more recognized than ever before are Raul Zurita, Nicanor Parra, Gabriela Mistral, Vicente Huidobro, Pablo de Rokha, Pablo Neruda, Rosamel del Valle, Humberto Díaz Casanueva, Eduardo Anguita, Carmen Berenguer, Jaime Huenun and Elicura Chihuailaf. Even Robert Bolano, who has recently become more well-known in the United States as a fiction writer, was an outstanding poet whose poetry fascinates me. He wrote poetry briefly because he could not make a living with it and needed to find a genre that could support his family. I believe that his poetry, once available to the reading public around the world, will match and eclipse the impact of his fiction writing.

What European poets are most influential? 

Hmmm, this is an interesting question, are you referring to the Spanish language ones or poets all over Europe? Regarding writers from Spain I would mention, off the top of my head, Miguel de Cervantes, Federico Garcia Lorca, Jorge Guillen, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Antonio Machado.

What U.S. poet/s are liked in Chile?

Many, especially Whitman, Frost, Bishop, Moore, Robert Hass, Philip Levine, Ann Carson, etc.

When did you begin to write in English?

I believe it was around 1998. I remember the poem I wrote, it was an important part of my development as a poet. I lived 13 years in Sweden but wrote only a few poems in Swedish. Actually I can write more Swedish now than when I lived there. Go a figure how the mind works! In any case the first poem I wrote in English was called The Rain and I knew at once that it had a remarkable effect on the reader/listener when I read it out loud to my classmates in Detroit. They were moved and I connected at a deeper level with my small audience. I write mostly in English and Spanish but I haven’t publish so much in Spanish as yet; that manuscript will be done this year. I have one more Spanish project in the works.

Do you translate? And how do you choose which poets or poems to translate?

I do like translating and the process of translating very much. I have translated works to and from English, Spanish and Swedish where my life experience resides. I think translations are an important part of our lives, and not only as writers. A global world will require more and more understanding of our neighboring countries and cultures than never before and more and more cultures will become our neighbors as communication shrinks distances. There is a risk of becoming very insular if we don’t open ourselves to the world. We must reach out to other lands and cultures and their literature to preserve a strong identity ourselves and a strong language that develops with the changing times. Some people worried, and rightly so, that if experience is not translated into the language of those who had it, and then translated faithfully to other languages, that experience may be lost to humanity forever.

As far as my choice of poets or poems to translate goes, this is more personal. I’m attracted to them based on their importance in understanding our own experiences, so sometimes they are poets/poems that address a situation I lived through or I recognize as my own in other languages. But language is sometimes a barrier, in the absence of translations, to that critical human outreach.

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