By David M. Brunson
In this post, David M. Brunson explains how he came to put together the bilingual anthology A Scar Where Goodbyes Are Written, a collection of poems by Venezuelan migrants living in Chile.
When I first went to Chile in July 2018, I had no idea that the next few years of my life would be dedicated to collecting and translating the poems of A Scar Where Goodbyes Are Written. Chile had been on my radar for a while, as many friends and family had spent time there. All had great things to say about the country’s vibrant literary and artistic culture. Though at the time I was a poetry candidate in the University of Arkansas MFA program, I was becoming increasingly interested in literary translation, owing to a couple of undergraduate Spanish courses at VCU, coupled with a strong interest in Latin American and Caribbean literature. I figured a month in Chile would be a great way to improve my Spanish and perhaps find some poetry to bring back to the MFA translation workshop.
Within a few days of arriving, I met the Venezuelan poet Maximiliano Sojo, and we became fast friends. He invited me to a creative writing workshop in Chilean poet Nelson David Zúñiga’s living room in Santiago. After an evening of poetry and conversation, Maxi invited me to another literary event, this time in La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s home in Valparaíso. Maxi and the poets Sara Viloria and Fernando Vanegas were celebrating the publication of their chapbooks with Los Poetas del 5, a magazine and press founded by Gladys Mendía. Afterward, we all continued our conversations about poetry, culture, and the deepening human rights crisis in Venezuela, from which 2–3 million people had fled. Today, that number is more than 7 million, with a substantial population of at least 440,000 Venezuelans (and probably many more who are undocumented) now residing in Chile.
Here’s my translation of a poem Maxi read that evening, which planted the seeds of this book:
my windows and my ruins open
I too am the sea swell
I dream of not going back
although a pebble
in a shoe does come back
from my mud-filled street
taking the stairs
because the power’s out again
and not even the polished floor squeaks
and there are no shoes or soles
no strength to take a step
or to go up to the fifth or sixth floor
and jump headfirst
down to the concrete
cracking another hole the smell of burnt skull
hovering around the slack body
at the exit
and at night
blood is also oil
to be drilled for
if that skull were harder
it would pierce a deep hole
the deepest hole
it would reach the earth’s cortex
to the crack
adjoining its dura mater
you bear it all but I don’t know why
you could drop dead but
you do not die.
Two weeks later, Nelson invited me to read at an event in Librería Proyección in Santiago, where I was introduced to even more Chilean and Venezuelan poets. There I witnessed the melding of literary styles and traditions that was starting to take place as a result of this migration. It was from this mixing of cultures, voices, and experiences that the idea for this anthology sprang—as a way to open space for Venezuelan poets in Chile and in the English-reading world, and to create a better sense of understanding in cultures where displaced Venezuelans are often met with hostility and insurmountable bureaucratic obstacles.
Though I went back to Arkansas, I received funding to return to Chile in 2019–2020, where I translated the majority of these poems. When the pandemic struck, I flew back to the United States and finished translating the collection remotely. Since then, I’ve returned to Chile, where I’m now a resident. Today many of the poets in this collection are among my closest friends.
As the crisis in Venezuela continues, and as forced migrants in Chile, the United States, and around the world struggle to build new lives in this era of resurgent ultranationalism and xenophobia, I hope that the poems in this book serve as a testament to the will to survive and bear witness, the right of everybody to seek asylum, and the right to a dignified existence that all people deserve.
David M. Brunson’s poems and translations have appeared in Asymptote, Copper Nickel, Mānoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing, Booth, and elsewhere. The recipient of a Sturgis International Fellowship and a Lily Peter Fellowship in Translation, Brunson teaches English in Santiago, Chile.
A Scar Where Goodbyes Are Written is a bilingual anthology of poetry written by fifteen Venezuelan poets who are currently residing in Chile. Edited and translated by David M. Brunson, the volume encompasses the work of young poets coming from many different circumstances. Begun during Brunson’s travels in Chile amid the 2019–2020 protest movement, this dual-language collection aims to elevate the individual voices of each migrant poet, to connect them with new readers, and to enrich the body of literature available in English.