We aim for this to be a forum on the power of the pen over the sword, using literature (especially poetry) to create progressive social change. That is the heart of Red Poppy's mission, as described in the header at the top of the blog. We encourage your comments on the posts to come, as we hope this virtual journal will spark active discussions, bringing in interesting insights from readers all over the world. In the coming months we will introduce more contributors to the blog, representing a wide spectrum of voices from leading poets, activists, students, and literature lovers at large.
Why "Pablo Neruda! Presente!"? Because the Chilean Nobel Laureate is our inspiration. Gabriel García Márquez called him “the greatest poet of the twentieth century—in any language.” But not only is his poetry so rich and moving, evocative and stirring, much of his work was aimed at raising the public's political conscience to the realities of the injustices facing not only his Latin America but the entire world.
As he once said, “From the Inca to the Indian, from the Aztec to the contemporary Mexican peasant, our homeland, Ameríca, has magnificent mountains, rivers, deserts and mines rich in minerals. Yet the inhabitants of this generous land live in great poverty. What then should be the poet’s duty?”
Neruda invented a new poetic voice, distinctively Americano, rooted in Latin America’s native cultures and untamed geography. From the first decades of the 20th Century, he wrestled poetry down from the rarified atmosphere of the salon and gave it to the people, a communal voice rooted in oral tradition, fired by raw passion and the struggle for justice. He is one of history’s greatest examples of a soul-rebel who used his pen as his sword in his constant fight for a better world.
At his political core was a populism based on his fundamental belief that the common man, the worker, the poor, deserved a seat at the table as much as anybody else:
…Let us sit down soon to eat
with all those who haven’t eaten;
let us spread great tablecloths,
put salt in the lakes of the world,
set up planetary bakeries,
tables with strawberries in snow,
and a plate like the moon itself
from which we can all eat.
For now I ask no more
than the justice of eating.
(The Great Tablecloth" from Estravagario, translated by Alastair Reid in Extravagaria. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975.)
Even as a teenager, Neruda felt the poet’s calling-- el deber del poeta: an obligation, a duty, a debt he owed to give voice to the people through his poetry. He promised a commitment to humanitarianism, using literature to enrich, empower and engage in the pursuit of progressive social change.
Red Poppy is currently creating the first (in any language) feature-length documentary on Neruda's life, poetry, and politics. In 2004 we rushed to have a rough cut ready for the 100th anniversary of his birth. It was a wonderful success, receiving positive reviews from Variety, The San Francisco Chronicle, and others. It was shown at numerous festivals around the world, cultural organizations, and campuses from UCLA to the Grand Rapids Community College (MI) to Yale. It won the 2004 Latin American Studies Association's Award of Merit in Film.
But despite the great reception it received, in our rush to have it finished in time for the Centennial, the film is like a diamond in the rough. We are now polishing it, under the new name "Pablo Neruda: The Poet's Calling." The new version is being directed by the Mexican filmmaker Carlos Bolado, an integral member of the nuevo cine mexicano generation. Carlos was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary of 2002 for "Promises," a film about Israeli and Palestinian children, which he directed and edited. His feature "Bajo California" won 7 Ariels, Mexico’s highest cinematic award, including Best Picture of 1999. Early on, he edited "Like Water for Chocolate," and later was an advising editor on "Amores Perros," starring Gael García Bernal. His next feature stars Alec Baldwin. Carlos brings the ideal passion, creativity, and expertise to make our film the lyrical, compelling, powerful, and important art for which we are striving.
But we also need your help to finish this important, powerful project. Red Poppy survives and grows due to the support of hundreds of members, and we hope you'll explore our site, www.redpoppy.net, and dig your hands into the fertile poetic garden we are cultivating. There you can also learn more about Neruda, the film, our other projects, and how you can help.
Paz, pan, flores y amor,
Mark Eisner, on behalf of the Red Poppy family.