Outpouring for Mario Benedetti

By Ana María Correa

In posting on the recent death of Uruguayan poet and author Mario Benedetti at the age of 88, José Saramago wrote of the spontaneous outpouring of poetry that has spread around the world via the internet:

The decipherers of code cannot cope with all of the work, too many enigmas to decode, too many embraces, and too much music accompanying sentiments that are too much: the world will not be able to endure many days of this emotional intensity, but nevertheless, without the poetry that is expressed today, we would not be wholly human. And this, in a few lines, is what is happening: Mario Benedetti has died in Montevideo and the planet has become too small to house the emotion of the people. All of a sudden, books were opened and began to overflow with verses, verses of farewell, verses of militancy, verses of love, the constants of Benedetti's life along with his homeland, his friends, soccer, and a few taverns with long drinks and even longer nights.
When Benedetti fell ill, Saramago’s wife (and Spanish translator), Pilar del Río, had the idea to set up a space online where people could share their favorite poems and wish him well. Now that he has passed away, there is another site for expressions of love and grief.

Colombian author and poet Álvaro Mutis has said:

Latin America has lost a continental writer, a writer whose work reflects the feeling of all of the countries in the region. [...] He admirably embodies the literature of Latin America.
Columnist Reinaldo Spitaletta spoke for many when he wrote:
For a poet, it must be a lucky confirmation when his creations travel from mouth to mouth, when a student recites them, when a housewife voices them. When they become everyone's heritage. Some, the very sophisticated, would say that such a situation lacks depth. Others, with less pretension, would declare that it is like watching the rain fall, or like earning bread with the power of dreams. And of light.
In yesterday’s Guardian obituary, literary translator Nick Caistor gave much-needed context for English-language readers as to the impact of Benedetti’s life and work:
In Latin America and Spain, he is remembered above all as a poet who sought to speak of love and political commitment as directly and passionately as possible. By the end of his life, he had published more than 80 books, and in one of his last poems he gave the instructions: “When I’m buried/ don’t forget to put a Biro in my coffin.”
Tributes to Benedetti abound on YouTube, but one of the most poignant is a clip from Ricardo Casas’ 2004 documentary Palabras verdaderas, where Benedetti reads “Desaparecidos” (accompanied by Daniel Viglietti), brief interview clips are shown, and actor Miguel Angel Solá recites “No te salves” (the audio is a bit mismatched here towards the end, but there are English subtitles throughout):

As M.A. Orthofer has mentioned, very little of Benedetti’s massive output is in English, but his Only in the Meantime & Office Poems have been published by Host in a parallel translation by Harry Morales.

Other English translations include:

The Truce (translated by Benjamin Graham, with a new translation by Harry Morales to appear soon)
Juan Angel’s Birthday (translated by David Arthur McMurray)
Blood Pact and Other Stories (various translators, edited by Claribel Alegría and Darwin J. Flakoll)
Little Stones at My Window: Selected Poems (translated by Charles Dean Hatfield)
Pedro and the Captain: A Play (translated by Adrianne Aron, available 28 May 2009)

You'll find the following writings by Mario Benedetti at Words Without Borders:

Completely Absentminded

Wounds and Contusions

He Dreamed That He Was in Prison

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[Saramago, Mutis, and Spitaletta quotations translated by the author.]


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