Cecilia Vicuña

'Word & Thread,' with commentary on quipoems etc.

translated from Spanish by Rosa Alcalá


[reprinted from earlier posting on Poems and Poetics, in recognition of recent recoveries and discoveries]

Word is thread and the thread is language.
Non-linear body.
A line associated to other lines.
A word once written risks becoming linear,
but word and thread exist on another dimensional


Vibratory forms in space and in time.
Acts of union and separation.


The word is silence and sound.
The thread, fullness and emptiness.


The weaver sees her fiber as the poet sees her word.
The thread feels the hand, as the word feels the tongue.
Structures of feeling in the double sense
of sensing and signifying,
the word and the thread feel our passing.

Is the word the conducting thread, or does thread

conduct the word-making?

Both lead to the centre of memory, a way of uniting

and connecting.

A word carries another word as thread searches for


A word is pregnant with other words and a thread



other threads within its interior.
Metaphors in tension, the word and the thread

carry us beyond

threading and speaking, to what unites us, the

immortal fiber.


To speak is to thread and the thread weaves the



In the Andes, the language itself, Quechua, is a

cord of twisted straw,

two people making love, different fibers united.
To weave a design is pallay, to raise the fibers,

to pick them up.

To read in Latin is legere, to pick up.
The weaver is both weaving and writing a text
that the community can read.
An ancient textile is an alphabet of knots, colors

and directions

that we can no longer read.
Today the weaving no only "represent," they

themselves are

one of the being of the Andean cosmogony. (E. Zorn)


Ponchos, llijllas, aksus, winchas, chuspas and

chumpis are beings who feel

and every being who feels walks covered in signs.
"The body given entirely to the function of signi-



René Daumal
A textile is "in the state of being textile": awaska.
And one word, acnanacuna designates the clothing,

the language

and the instruments for sacrifice (for signifying,

I would say).


And the energy of the movement has a name and

a direction: lluq'i,

to the left, paña, to the right.
A direction is a meaning and the twisting of the


transmits knowledge and information.
The last two movements of a fiber should be in


a fiber is made of two strands lluq'i and paña.
A word is both root and suffix : two antithetical

meanings in one.

The word and the thread behave as processes

in the cosmos.

The process is a language and a woven design

is a process re-

presenting itself.
"An axis of reflection," says Mary Frame:
"the serpentine
attributes are images of the fabric structure,"
The twisted strands become serpents
and the crossing of darkness and light, a

diamond star.

"Sprang is a weftless technique, a reciprocal
action whereby the interworking of adjacent
elements with the fingers duplicates itself
above and below the working area."

The fingers entering the weave produce in

the fibres

a mirror image of its movement, a symmetry

that reiterates "the concept


of complementarity that imbues Andean



The thread dies when it is released, but comes

alive in the loom:

the tension gives it a heart.
Soncco, is heart and guts, stomach and conscience,


judgement and reason, the wood's core, the stem's

central fiber.

The word and the thread are the heart of the


In order to dream, the diviner sleeps on fabric

made of wik'uña.

A note on Cecilia Vicuña: An artist/poet of multiple means, she has worked with films, installations, and performance pieces, and has moved between her native Chile and New York City over more than three decades. In this work she draws not only from modern and postmodern contemporaries but from (principally Andean) shamanism, oral traditions, mythology, and herbal lore ("ancient and modern texts which help me to understand what I had seen"). The unraveling and weaving that (in her own description of it) characterizes both her written and visual work draws from an almost limitless range of sources, mixing her words with those of others (old and new) in an assemblage or weave of words conceived (like "the sacred Quechua language," she tells us) as knots and threads (quipu in the old terminology, quipoems in hers). If this is a central metaphor for her, the sources for her words are given also as acts of vision in which (she writes) "individual words opened to reveal their inner associations, allowing ancient and newborn metaphors to come to light." And further: "To approach words from poetry is a form of asking questions. // To ask questions is to fathom, to drop a hook to the bottom of the sea. // The first questions appeared as a vision: I saw in the air words that contained, at the same time, both a question and an answer. // I called them ‘divinations.’ And the words said: the word is the divination; to divine is to ascertain the divine."

And quoting therein our brother poet Octavio Paz: "I don’t see with my eyes: words are my eyes."

[Note adapted from J. Rothenberg and P. Joris, Poems for the Millennium, volume 2]