Mariela Griffor is a poet, editor, publisher of Marick Press and diplomat. She was born in the city of Concepcion in southern Chile. She attended the University of Santiago and the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. She left Chile for an involuntary exile in Sweden in 1985. Mariela Griffor and her American husband returned to the United States in 1998 with their two daughters. They live in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan. Mariela Griffor is the co-founder of The Institute for Creative Writers at Wayne State University and Publisher of Marick Press. Her work has appeared in periodicals across Latin America and the United States. Mariela Holds a B.A in Journalism and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from New England College. She is the author of Exiliana, House, The Psychiatrist and more recently Declassified. Mariela Griffor is Honorary Consul of Chile in Michigan and has also been recognised with numerous awards. Please enjoy my interview with Mariela Griffor.
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?I say: I’m a writer. When they ask what you write about, I say: I write poems. Then, people ask: Are you a published author? I say yes! Then, I go on and I talk more about my next book of poetry. Right now, for example, I’m working on a new collection of poetry. I tell them that I studied Spanish Literature in Chile and I studied journalism in Michigan. I have an MFA in creative writing from New England College so I was able to experiment with different types of writing. But poetry is my biggest challenge and passion, etc. I want to write better poems every time. At that point in the conversation, they tell me they also write poetry and they also wanted to be published, they also wanted to study creative writing, etc., etc. It is always an experience in itself when people ask what I do for a living.
What are you reading at the moment?I’m reading Rocket Fantastic which is a poetry collection by Gabrielle Calvocoressi that a friend from W. W. Norton & Company sent me. I’m also re-reading a wonderful book called Strong Words: Modern Poets in Modern Poetry edited by W.N. Herbert. This year I subscribed to several poetry publications like Academy of American Poets and Poetry Magazine from the Poetry Foundation so I see a lot of new names and new poems every time they publish their journals.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?I was so lucky in the way I was introduced to reading. My grandmother taught me the alphabet with a book called “El Ojo”, (“The Eye” in English), and she bought those big, enormously colorful children’s books for me. So I could not wait to get lost in the stories of the books. I still remember the feeling of excitement when I was reading I was probably six or seven years old when I started to read. I’m planning to read as much as I can in 2019.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be and why?There are many books that have made a big impression on me, so to pick one book, in particular, can be very difficult. But I would recommend Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. It is very interesting to see how the characters, that are so distant in time and can appear dissonant, are so relevant today.
Can you remember the first poem you ever wrote?I can remember the first poem in English. “Prologue I”. But I’m not sure about the first poem in Spanish. It must have been in high school, but I don’t remember the titles of them. In college, I wrote poetry very often but I didn’t publish in journals and magazines until I left college.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?My worst job ever was in banking. I worked in a large bank in Troy, Michigan, which was and still is the business district in the Detroit area. Despite being very good at it, I was very unhappy but needed the job to pay my bills. I didn’t like my office and the bank culture but I did like the people working at the bank. I didn’t have a lot of time to write and after work, I was so tired that my writing was almost non-existent.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring poet?My two pieces of advice for a young poet would be to write, write, write. Write as much as you can! Whenever you can! Then, publish your work. And most importantly, read, read, read as much as you can.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?Yes. I do read a lot. I have more books than I can read which is a great challenge. I also publish other authors that have a unique voice, as a publisher I read a lot of new material every month.
What books do you feel are important reading for people on your career path and why?Poets need to read the classics and also modern poets. They need to be able to understand that poetry is an art, despite its abstract nature. I would recommend: The Ars Poetica, The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, Poetry by Marianne Moore, Sonnet XVIII ( Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?) by Shakespeare, Canto General by Pablo Neruda, and Desolacion by Gabriela Mistral.
All these books are so compelling, so beautiful in their uniqueness and cultural baggage that they bring to the world a new perspective, a new world of experience or imagination. All these books will enrich the lives of poets and readers for generations to come.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?Yes, but I have more than one book that I revisit. Books that I read constantly are all of the above mentioned and my complete list, of course, is very long, and that list includes writers from all over the world like Jorge Luis Borges, Roberto Bolano, Vicente Huidobro, Nicanor Parra, Cesar Vallejo, Kjell Espmark, Goran Malmqvist, Per Westberg, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Silvia Plath, Sharon Olds, Louise Gluck, Yusef Komunyakaa, W.S. Merwin and many more. I go back and re-read them because every time I learn something new.
If someone whose never got into poetry asks you for a tip on a good poetry book to start with, what would you recommend?I would say that I’m not the best person to give tips on how to understand poetry, but I would recommend these books to “enjoy” poetry: The Seven Ages by Louise Gluck. ‘The Armadillo’, a poem from The Collected Poems of Elizabeth Bishop which is one of my favorite books for the moment. I lived almost my entire life a city life and now when I’m living in the country, all these poems seems different to me. I love the poetry of Chilean Poets who are very attached to the Andean landscape and those poems that I read 25-30 years ago when I studied Spanish Literature are completely different to me now. The sense of nostalgia for that landscape brings me a pleasure that I never experienced before. I would recommend poets like Diamela Eltit, Enrique Lihn, Jorge Teillier, and Neruda and Mistral of course.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?I have recommended dozens of times and I will continue to recommend books to read to friends and family including Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, La Araucana by Alonso de Ercilla, Canto General by Pablo Neruda.
Who would you say are the three poets that continue to inspire you?Three of the poets that continue to inspire me are Neruda, Mistral, Bolano. Bolano is tremendously influential and inspiring since he was able to write poetry and fiction. He was a good writer and a greatly underappreciated poet.
What’s your favourite genre of book?I like non-fiction and fiction books. But surprisingly I read a lot of technical books as well.
What do you think a world without books would be like?A world without books would be awful: empty, colorless, meaningless. It probably would be a world based only on survival. I cannot possibly imagine that kind of world. I don’t want to live in a world where books do not exist.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?There is such a writer that, even if he is not the most well-read writer in the world, I would read everything he releases: Michael Ondaatje. His poetry is subtle yet unforgettable and his prose is poetic. The lines are ‘handmade’. His writing is artisan. The sentence is not highly stylized but enough to be understood by all kinds of people. I want to be a writer like that. One that can write poetry and fiction but can keep a unique and distinctive voice in fiction and poetry.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?No. I think digital books have their charm. They are very practical, weightless in your luggage! But nothing can compare to the magic of reading a book. I’m the kind of person that writes a lot of notes in the borders of my books. Some people hate me for that, but I think they are my books, I’ll do what I want with them. I think digital books will be a great compliment to reading. Who cares if people buy more or less digital books or paperbacks as long they read them.
What book do you feel humanity needs most right now?There is a book that is profoundly different from any reality I’ve experienced in my life. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. Even if Canto General changed some of my ideas on Land, Country, Patriotism. Don Quixote, changed my ideas on religion, imagination and culture, Man’s Search for Meaning changed my ideas on why survival or pleasure was not the ultimate goal of life. Meaning is that ultimate goal, and we human beings strive in that search for meaning in the most horrendous circumstances. Even when the only thing we are surrounded with is the darkness of the soul and mind that imprisons us and robs us of all our humanity, we are still thinking there is a possibility to move forward, to cope with tragedy and find new meaning in our lives.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?I just translated Canto General by Pablo Neruda for Tupelo Press. The book is out already. More than 500 pages, it gives us a Pan-American vision of the American continent. This is a book that should be mandatory if only for its visionary embrace of an American identity that includes the entire continent. Look around now and tell me that this book that was written 50 years ago is not necessary reading today!
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?There are many books that I was not able to mention previously in my list but if I had to compile a list of highly recommended books I would add these books: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart, one of my favorite books, and 1984 by George Orwell.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?Next year I plan to read more of contemporary American writers. I feel I need more poets to be able to comprehensively absorb American Literature, especially poetry.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?If I were to write an autobiography, which I think is unlikely now, but you never know, it would be called “Pacific”.
IF YOU’D LIKE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MARIELA GRIFFOR, YOU CAN FIND HER ON HER WEBSITE AND ON TWITTER. IF YOU ENJOYED THIS INTERVIEW, BE SURE NOT TO MISS OUR SPECIAL READING LIST OF THE BEST POETRY BOOKS FOR BEGINNERS.
Declassified — Mariela Griffor (Eyewear Publishing Ltd.)
Today's book of poetry by Michael Dennis
Declassified. Mariela Griffor. Eyewear Publishing Ltd. Marylebone, London, U.K.
Declassified by Mariela Griffor is bursting at the seams with ideas, imagery and outside influences. A short retinue of guest stars has to include: Nelson Mandela, William S. Burroughs, George Orwell, Sappho, Kurt Cobain, David Foster Wallace, Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Sofia Kovalevskaya, Sylvia Plath, James Joyce, Henry David Thoreau, Ariel Dorfman and Marcel Proust.
Regardless of the guests, in the end these are poems of love and loss. Every highway we know has ditches littered with the ruined and rusty hulks of what someone once called hope. Or at least the wire-fenced, flower adorned, temporary altar, a reminder of someone's worst moment, another person's worst loss.
May 20, 2014
For Regina Derieva
We never met; we never spoke to each other
except through the immigrant song of Jan Johansson,
we knew we were united in
indestructible fibers of life breathing
in and breathing out, marching
to the sound of old days, in countries
that remind us of our own countries,
speaking old languages, that remind us of our own tongues,
we became so suddenly eternal tourists with a right to vote.
It was a time in my life when I stopped laughing
and I knew you did too. I could see it
in the photographs of magazines and
journals where new poems by you were published.
I knew what it was to be without a reason to laugh.
So sorry to have to miss you,
well-planned journeys, well they never happened.
I planned several trips to Rinkeby,
a town that I avoided fiercely when
I was there. It is not easy
to be reminded of cut wings, as you know.
My trips to Stockholm were always
the same, Gamla Stan, centrums, H&M
and the Viking Museum, then back to Uppsala.
Rinkeby was a forbidden point,
the limbo of anybody's trajectory.
But had I known then you were there
I would have faced the fear
and visited you.
I love your work. The fresh, naïve
and sweet idea the world can be improved, stained
on the pages everywhere.
I love the way you put the
best of you in your poems. The way
you make yourself at home inside a whale,
the way some of your images cannot
leave my head for days, exactly like
a pop song. The way you make me think
with each line and take me to places
I have never been before.
I love the way that insufferable persistence
of something must change in this
endlessness of war times, this time that
consumes each of us and makes us bend
in the direction of the wind a dozen times per day
as in your poem. I pray for that persistence
to infect everyone who reads you.
I'm sorry to have missed you in this life.
I imagine what great times you and I would have had
if we only had the opportunity and time, and money of course,
don't forget that, to meet.
Silly of me to think we would have had
that cup of coffee in Gamla Stan
and talked about pigeons and old catholic schools,
and how the world is not changing but ending.
Nature has its tricks, and even if we make progress,
it will make us part of its garden. Yes, at least.
Today's book of poetry has always flattered ourselves that we are "experienced." It is to laugh. Mariela Griffor's Declassified reminds Today's book of poetry just how sheltered our life has been. Up until a post-Katrina visit to New Orleans, I had never heard a gun shot from a weapon fired in anger. I've only heard it once. Admittedly it was several rapid shots from a pistol followed immediately by three or four quick bursts of machine gun fire in return,
The last rebellion of any kind here in Canada was the failed FLQ operation. That was when I was young and both Quebec City and Montreal were as far from Peterborough as Mars. Griffor's Chilean history and her experiences as a political refugee are but one layer of the Griffor onion.
Today's book of poetry was won over quickly, Mariela Griffor has lived through things we cannot begin to imagine and come out the other side clean and hopeful. How astonishing is that? People still have to love and tenderness plays a big role in the Griffor canon.
The Last One
Last night I could not sleep,
the children were not at home. They both had
sleepovers. I was tired, too. Too much time away from
grown ups and I know they will be OK, I will move
back. This time, closer to my father, that at that
time will be old and probably very cranky. But
I will move back to spend with him the
time we never could give to each other before.
I will move back to those mountains in between
Pucon and Talcahuano, I will go to the beaches
around. I also plan to write.
I will take walks in San Pedro to
meet those people I saw the last time
when I was there, and I will run to the
Ocean, to touch the black sand of San Pedro,
I will be closer to God, feeling the thick
air of the early morning. I will let the salt
make my face ruggy and I will think about you and
those days in Chiloe, at the End of the Earth.
I also will go and visit my old relatives, those
that are so old that they don't even remember their
ages. I will put back the pieces of that last poem, and
will promise that you will always have a place in my mind.
It's time for you and me to go different
ways. You find the place your soul was longing.
And I will choose to stay here without you and
with the other I love. Just hang out there,
the day to get together is every day shorter,
but now it is time for me to do so much more.
Last night as I said I could not sleep
I knew this would be my last letter and my
last poem for you.
Our morning read was set up by Eric Burden & War belting out the long version of "Spill the Wine."
When Eric quit his temperamental scat, with War throbbing behind him like "hot rings of fire," we got on with our poetry business.
Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, started us off this morning and we were away, Thomas sat in, along with Lucy, our newest intern, and declassified Declassified.
Sometimes the horrors of life confound us innocents, but those rare souls who have had their pearls polished by terrible friction and come out the other side shining write wondrous and brave, Griffor can write deeply caring and sweet poems, or she can knock on the darkness door.
Today's book of poetry has a soft spot for Chilean poets. Nicanor Segundo Parra Sandoval (1914-2018), is an all-time favourite here in our offices. Mariela Griffor will have the recently interred centenarian Parra, smiling, at the very least, a certain sly grin. Griffor is that hard as nails poet with a gentle and loving human heart.
Canto General Shortlisted for the National Book Translation Award 2017
I knew it will be difficult to find a new focus for my writing for the Winter 2016-2017. At least a focus strong enough to continue with one part of my writing that is essential to me: creative writing.
I decided instead that I would spend most of my time challenging my inner child and enjoy whatever type of writing would come to me. I was a bit exhausted by the work I did in the two previous years-I moved from one state to another and I finished two collections and one enormous translation-- I would welcome the type of writing that never pays off in any way. That meant that writing would probably sit on my desk for years before I would get around to editing it into something, or shaping it into a form. But we are not writing for the money, right? Right.
After both of my parents died at the end of 2016, it was difficult to find one thing to give all my attention. It was as if, the more I tried to write or continue to write my ongoing projects, the more writing itself felt meaningless. My mother never gave much attention to my writing and my father used to believe that I wrote only because he had some interest in writing himself and because I was so similar to him, both in character and interest. Both of his beliefs were completely wrong of course, but I never had the courage to tell him.
When I wrote my first book of poetry and I sent him and my family a copy of it, my family called me to ask that I not send books to my father. He went into a deep depression and the family needed to take him to a forced vacation in Pucon, an area in the South of Chile, to help him to deal with the sadness. I asked him when I had the opportunity what had happened and he told me: " I never imagined that one of my children had suffered so much!" he told me.
I truly thought long and deeply about whether my writing would ever be a positive thing to anyone but me or to those few that read my work. I inspired a few to write their books because my first book was so confessional, so full of errors, so incredibly shameless that those few I inspired said to me, if you can write a book, I can do it, too. Despite this, something inside always told me that the fact that I had the need to write all my life was NOT a coincidence. I went into an M.F.A program a decade ago. And so far I haven't regret it. There, I polished some old poems that were among my papers for over a decade. I was fine with the results.
When parents are gone, it is rough no matter what. Every time I go through some rough times, something happens to me, the writing changes. This past year was not an exception. I could not write anything else than historical or non-fiction pieces. I was not able to polish or concentrate on one single poem until now. Until I saw the cherry blossoms. The cherry blossoms trees that came to my rescue. What would have happened to me if I would have gone into my second year without writing poetry? a second year without peeling day by day the essence of earth and seeing the colors of the sky. I don't remember saying hello to a neighbor for over a year. It was dark out here for a while, I thought that all the words grew wings and traveled far from me to escape so much loss.
Hasta el 18 de julio del 2016 se recibieron los micro cuentos para participar del concurso “Me contaron de Chile”, organizado por la Dirección para Comunidades de Chilenos en el Exterior (DICOEX) del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores. El concurso ha premiado a los mejores cuentos en 4 categorías.
Una de las ganadoras del concurso fue la Sra. Constanza Fuentes Reveco, quien ganó un premio en el Concurso Literario "Me Contaron Chile. Respondiendo al pedido del Consulado General de Chile en Chicago me he encontrado con la senora Fuentes y le he hecho entrega de un diploma, una bandeja de plata y una serie de libros y literatura chilena.
Aqui en este blog comparto unas fotos y un video de la entrega del premio a la Senora Constanza Fuentes. Felicitaciones de parte del Consulado Honorario de Chile en Detroit!!
Consul Honorario de Chile en Detroit.
New Book: Canto General
Grosse Pointe Farms, MI
Thanks to David Young for his review of my new translation of Neruda’s Canto General, now published in Field Magazine!
The review is not online, but if you would like to subscribe to this wonderful magazine you have the opportunity to do so now if you follow this link! $5 is not much if you consider how much you get and how you can help the press. You can add it to your leisure expense section of your taxes later on. I’m lucky to share the pages with Forrest Gander, another translator. I met Forrest for the first time at the Miami Book Festival where we both had the opportunity to read from our recent translations of Neruda.
Despite how difficult it is to understand 2016, with the loss of my father at the end of August and the loss of my mother the same day I lost one of my best friends (Derick) in December, life continues to offer opportunities that bring love and light into all this darkness.
Thanks to Eyewear Publishing in London, special thanks to Todd Swift, Edwin Smet and Kelly Davio at Eyewear, for this beautiful book!!
For pre-orders of this book from Eyewear Publishing go to:
Published January 2017
Price £12.99 / $ 12.99
Declassified is an enigmatic, at times erotic, and often passionate, exploration of relationships and politics, finding their shared tropes of deception, subterfuge, and even espionage. The poems move between a revolutionary, and a ‘Her’ based in the American Midwest of today. Ultimately, the book’s focus is on love – between husbands and wives, friends, and a mother and her daughter – and how, in these challenging times, only the strongest bonds resist decay. Griffor’s style moves between a hypnotic prose poetry and the rich magic realism of Latin American poets.
Mariela Griffor’s brilliant poems navigate the distance between languages, homelands and heartlands. Her poems are the musical and engraved declarations the wounded world requires.
— Derick Burleson
When I read poets who are new to me I usually see what they are doing but very often can’t see why they are doing it. I don’t have to wonder for a second why Mariela Griffor writes as she does. On a first reading the sheer urgency driving her strongest poems stopped me in my tracks: it arises from the private tragedies of her earlier years before she left Chile, and of course these tragedies were also public, affecting many thousands. Her most affecting lines are phrased simply, often with a vulnerable air, yet they are tough. These lines carry great weight: that is no small achievement. --
--Robin Fulton Macpherson
Canto General. Anatomy of a Book #1
Usually when I tell people that I write poetry, they tell me “Me too!” No matter where I am the answer is always similar to: “OK, I wrote poetry when I was young”, or “I write poetry from time to time.”
When they ask me what else I write I usually say “that’s it, just poetry, from time to time I translate a book that is both essential and monumental and is not yet available in English.”
But the other day, while I was in a line at the postal service, somebody asked me “Why write more books, there are so many books already!” I replied, “True, it is true” I replied, “but some books are very special, like kids’ books or books about special flowers, or special pets.” “They can change lives!” I said.
And indeed this Canto General by Pablo Neruda changed my own life. It was not until I read this book that I understood the meaning of my own ‘dislocation’. Of course, I experience the pain of exile, the confusion of being away from my home, my family, friends, my language, my sweet loved home and country. It was not until I read those amazing stanzas of love for the homeland that Pablo Neruda wrote all the while he was persecuted, hunted down to be killed by his own government that I understood the meaning of patriotic love. There are no similar lines of beauty and praise for nature, for the land and its people than in these lines of the Canto General: Song of the Americas of Pablo Neruda now released by Tupelo Press.
This is a book that has been misunderstood. It is not a political pamphlet. It is one of the most beautiful poems ever written and it has gone largely unnoticed as such. It is indeed Neruda’s ‘magnum opus’. It is the song for the Americas in its highest form. The cover of this translation is stunning in its own beauty. A selection that complements the idea of the Conquistador and the Indian in one single image. I’m so lucky to be able to work with the Tupelo team!. I have had several writers and editors that quit on me because of the enormous challenge and scope of the work! Thanks Jeffrey Levine, Jim Schley, Kirsten Miles, Cassandra Cleghorn and Marie Gauthier.
And all of you that helped with the initial project! Thank you. I started this translation in 2010 and so much has been changing in these six years. I lost the sense of time with this project. I have even lived in another state since last year. I try to write full time now but nothing that I can say here can explain why this book, what is it in this book, how has this book become a part of you and transformed you from within. There are no words that could provide a short cut to an explanation of why this book is so relevant today that you need to read it. This book can bring you to the state of mind that Neruda had when he wrote Canto General. You will understand when you read the introduction in the book and when you read this long incomparable poem.
Thank you for being with me through all of this and for joining all of us on this adventure.
I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to return to Sweden to read with old and new friends, Kjell Espmark, Dipak Mazumdar, Lars Palm and Anna Alexandra Maria Sozzani-Brodsky.
Many thanks to publisher Alexander Deriev.
Återkomst – ReturnFem poeter läser
lördag 7 november 2015 14:00 - 15:00
Bibliotek Plattan • Fri Entré
ÅTERKOMST – RETURN är en minipoesifestival arrangerad av nyligen återuppståndna tidskriften och förlaget Ars Interpres.
Medverkande författare är Kjell Espmark, Mariela Griffor, Dipak Mazumdar, Lars Palm och Anna Alexandra Maria Sozzani-Brodsky.
Festivalen kommer att bestå av uppläsningar, bokpresentationer och samtal mellan författarna, där temat ÅTERKOMST – RETURN kommer att vara en gemensam nämnnare.
Name: Mariela Griffor