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Temple News - Features
April 6 - April 12, 2000

Reknowned poet gives stellar lecture

By Jigsha Desai

In a stark and serious room on the second floor of the Temple Gallery in Old City, established Chilean poet and performance artist, Cecilia Vicuña gave readings of her latest work.

Vicuña's reading last Thursday was part of a lecture series titled "Poets and Writers," sponsored by the Creative Writing Program at Temple University and Temple Gallery.

The lecture was held with hardly any visual stimuli. Bright white chairs, a podium and a tape recorder were the only furniture that rested on the varnished floor. Later the atmosphere became more casual an comfortable as people gathered and talked among themselves while chairs were brought in to satisfy the growing audience.

Once Vicuña was welcomed, she managed to hush the room with a low hum of Andean of Andean hymns, She then explained that she did this to capture the audience's attention.

"It's a personal ritual," Vicuña said. "It's a way of creating silence, quite the room and change the velocity."

Rising slowly from her seat in the middle of the room, Vicuña walked toward the podium with her eyes closed. She felt and touched the people seated at the aisle, provoking the audience's curiosity. When she reached the front of the room, she took off her coat, held a young lady named Jenna's hand and opened her eyes. Holding her hand, she said, "Thank you so much Jenna, thank you."

Vicuña first chose poetry from a few loose leaves of paper she had in an envelope. Her work has been influenced by Andes, Native American and European cultures, which all create a distinct style, similar to Vicuña's.

Trying to make the crowd feel the full effect if the poetry, Vicuña made the different sounds she wished to express. Her voice constantly changed, moving from throaty and raspy to steady and general. Vicuña also translated some of her Spanish poetry into English.

Most of her poetry has been translated into other languages. When asked why she wrote between English and Spanish, Vicuña said, "That's the way we live, we live in many languages."

Turning to her newly published book, "Cloud-Net," Vicuña randomly selected works from it, showing the page settings and pictures from the book. She explained that one of her poems was based on speed — with she and her translator continuously faxing each other copies of the work to ensure it was correct, taking pictures of certain events in the book — and explained why she had chosen these moments.

Amusing the audience with her sly anecdotes, warmth and easy manner, Vicuña kept their attention and sprung a few laughs with her humor. People in the audience were amazed to learn that Vicuña had just stepped off the plane, a few hours after having left Chile, for she displayed tremendous energy and drive reciting her poetry.

Vicuña has been writing since she was 9 years old. She discovered her passion at the age of 10, and by the time she was 15, Vicuña first work was published by a Mexican magazine. Her poetry became known and soon was reaching the whole world.

"I always knew I was going to be a writer," Vicuña said. "My father taught me how to speak by reciting verses to me. I think I loved poetry before even knowing how to speak."

When asked why she settled in New York and not Chile, Vicuña said: "That's the way life turned out because of the military coup. We went into exile and now we belong in many places."

Vicuña is working on a new book to be published next year.

Vicuña's other published books include Unraveling Words and the Weaving of Water and QUIPoem.

Vicuña encouraged young poets with her parting advice: "Just be yourselves when you're writing."