This is a What's My Scene post from Monica Goldberg. 

What's My Scene aims to connect writers to their 'scene' by promoting events, projects, groups, socials and communities locally and around the world. If you have an exciting project to share, get in touch.

Image source: Monica Goldberg

In 1949 my Russian family travelled from Shanghai to Santiago. This year I finally decided to travel to Chile. Perhaps it was my passion for the Spanish language and the thrill of attending a book fair in such away land. Perhaps it was simply the joy of celebrating the 100th birthday of one of my favourite poets with my long lost relatives in the Atacama desert.

Nicanor Parra regarded himself as an anti poet - he believed in contradictions and the impermanence of art. He was known for ending his readings with the line "Me retracto de todo lo dicho" ("I take back everything I said"), and was an inspiration to poets of the beat generation.

The 34th International Book Fair of Santiago (FILSA 2014) took place inside a restored railway station called Estation Mapucho. Organisers estimate that more than 260,000 people attended the fair this year. The fair is one of most important cultural events in Chile and includes new releases, classics, fiction, essays, comics and picture books, music recitals, plays, films and storytelling. There were 148 stands, a children’s pavilion and an exhibition of independent publishers. It was inaugurated by the Chilean president Michelle Bachelet and paid tribute to literary greats like Nicanor ParraRoberto BolanoGabriela MistralJulio CortazarPablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz.

The first few days of the fair were dedicated to networking training and development. There were sessions on personal brand strategy, meetings with editors and sessions on new models of distribution. The attendees were young and motivated and my passion to learn Spanish kept me tied to my seat. School groups had the opportunity to talk directly with writers: Alfredo Bryce, Luis Sepulveda and Antonio Skarmeta. New translated works included books by Patrick Modiano, Milan Kundera, Ken Follett, and Henning Mankell. There were fascinating documentaries about Violetta Parra, Gabriel Mistral and Nicanor Parra and numerous screenings of Skarmeta's Burning Patience.

The Brazilian poet and novelist Silviano Santiago was granted the Jose Donoso prize for his wonderful explorations of minorities and gender relations. The Pablo Neruda Foundation organised various readings and launched a collection of Neruda's unpublished poems. It is only recently that Chilean literature has begun to explore the dark years of the Pinochet regime and the younger generation of Latin American writers were well represented at the fair. The Chilean poet, novelist, and literary critic Alejandro Zambra (1975) spoke about his book Ways of Going Home. The Chilean journalist Diego Zuniga (1987) launched his second book Racimo. The Peruvian-born Daniel Alarcon (1977) launched his novel At Night We Walk in Circles (Riverhead Books, October 2013).

Image source: Monica Goldberg

Literary events and launches provide a wonderful opportunity to immerse myself in the diversity of Chilean literary scene. During the dictatorship, writers, illustrators, and activists circulated handmade books. Today, there is still a strong belief in the importance of shared literary activities and the political power of literature. Approximately 40% of the publishers spoke English― this provided me with the opportunity to pass around the Spineless Wonders books that I had bought from Australia. The small publishers that I met were fascinated by these books and were keen to learn more about flash fiction and independent publishers in Australia.

Many of the talks and dialogues of the fair were dedicated to Latin dialogues. There were panels with emerging Latin American writers, poetry slams with poets Seo2 (Makiza) and Jimmy Fernandez (La Pozze America) and a large range of cultural Latin activities. The range of Latin topics was broad and included sessions on social rights and education, social stratification in Latin America, abuse of power by government forces, corruption in the justice system, gangs, drug trafficking and violence. There were a large number of books on exile, revolution and revolt, sessions on revolutionary poetry. Aleida Guevara, (daughter of Ernesto Che Guevara) discussed her father's ideology, his view of the world and his contribution to Latin American culture.

It is difficult to fully appreciate the depth of a country when you don’t speak their language ― that is not to say that I didn't try. I travelled to Valparaiso and named her stray dogs. I watched the student demonstrators march by and took tours into the Andes. However, I didn’t travel to South America to understand the complexities of a country. I travelled to South America to understand the complexity of myself ― to meet the family and remind myself that I have ties with a fascinating continent. Wittgenstein once said ‘the limits of my language are the limits of my world.’ It was a privilege to attend a book fair where I understood so little. So little and so much at exactly the same time .

Monica Goldberg is a Sydney based poet. Her poetry, prose and non fiction articles have been published in literary journals and anthologies both in Australia and overseas. Her story 'A Leap of Faith' was commended in the Joanne Burns award that was run by Spineless Wonders and her poetry was recently selected for publication in Regime' 05.

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Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.