There has been some relevant news about Juan Luis Martínez’s work circulating for a while. Scott Weintraub, an academic of the University of New Hampshire, has published in Santiago, Chile, and the US two important books of essays discussing a crucial discovery concerning Martínez’s posthumous publications.
On March 23, 2001, in the middle of the first international poetry festival known as “Chile Poesía” celebrated in Santiago (featuring important writers such as Ernesto Cardenal, Juan Gelman, Antonio Cisneros, Adrienne Rich, Rita Dove, Yevgueni Yevtushenko, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Nicanor Parra, and Raúl Zurita, among others), three members of the local collective CASAGRANDE performed the very first of a series of “site-specific interventions” that are now worldwide known as “Bombardeo de Poemas” (“Poetry bombings” or “Rain of poems”). The idea was pretty simple, at least in the paper: the collective would bomb the crowd attending the last reading of “Chile Poesía” with poems. The poems would be thrown in the form of bookmarks, and the dropping would be done from a helicopter or small aircraft.
Poetry anthologies have always been a controversial topic in Chile. Intended to present the most representative of a certain group or generation of writers, or to highlight the most interesting or groundbreaking work from a particular aesthetic, and expected with enthusiasm and curiosity by readers, critics, and scholars, there is always some room for arduous debate and polemic discussion every time a new anthology is released. The most emblematic case took place in 1935, when Eduardo Anguita and Volodia Teiltelboim, two young poets and perfect strangers to Chilean poetry at the time, published Antología de la poesía chilena nueva (Anthology of the New Chilean Poetry), in which they had the audacity to include themselves while leaving Gabriela Mistral out. Completely destroyed by the critics of that time, the collection is now considered a key anthology in the history of Chilean poetry.
Rodrigo Lira was born in Santiago, in 1949. He studied philosophy, psychology, arts, communication arts, linguistics, and philology, among other things, but he never graduated. An eccentric fellow, he never published a book while he was alive. His poems, though, were spread by hand, around different university campuses, where he used to hang out with other poets and friends. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Rodrigo committed suicide in 1981, on the day of his thirty-second birthday. Conisdered a cult figure, his fame most of the time prevents a serious assessment of the real importance of his work.
If you are interested in contemporary Chilean Poetry, and you haven’t heard the name Juan Luis Martínez yet, then something is terribly wrong: you’ve been missing a lot. The good news is we are going to fix that right away.
Juan Luis Martínez was born in Valparaíso, in 1942. Son of the general manager of a reputable local steamship company, and a woman of Nordic origin coming from a very traditional family, he spent most of his life between the cities of Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, and Villa Alemana (Germantown!). As soon as he started high school, he abandoned his studies to embrace the bohemian lifestyle of the late ’50s in Valparaíso.