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This review is taken from PN Review 245, Volume 45 Number 3, January - February 2019.

Cover of New and Selected Poems, ed. by Rosa Alcalá
Luke RobertsTransformation
Cecilia Vicuña, New and Selected Poems, ed. by Rosa Alcalá (Kelsey Street Press) £26.95
Cecilia Vicuña was born in Santiago in 1948, ‘mixture of kings and idiots / nobility and commoner / shit and mud’. Her Grandfather, a civil rights lawyer, defended Pablo Neruda after the outlawing of the Communist Party in the 1940s, and as a child she read the other Chilean greats, Vicente Huidobro and Gabriela Mistral. By the mid-1960s she was part of the Latin American avant­-garde, involved in poetry, conceptual art and performance.

Her publications have always been political. The first magazine she contributed to, El Corno Emplumado, was shut down by the authorities after it condemned the massacre of protestors in Mexico City in 1968. Her first book was destroyed by the Pinochet regime following the military coup in Chile in 1973. Vicuña, studying in England at the time, reworked the materials into her masterpiece, Saborami, a gesture of total defiance in the face of political disaster. In that book she describes a tactic that resonates throughout her career: maximum fragility against maximum power.

So any book by Vicuña seems precious, precarious, even this New and Selected Poems containing selections from ten different projects along with a generous sampling of uncollected and unpublished material. It is a beautiful object, oversized, illustrated with drawings and photographs, and with facing-page translations throughout. Rosa Alcalá, who previously translated and edited Vicuña’s performance texts Spit Temple, is a meticulous editor. Her selection presents the reader with a lifetime of work devoted to invention and reinvention, and to the causes of feminism, socialism, indigenous land rights and environmental justice.

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