Juan Garrido Salgado immigrated to Australia from Chile in 1990, fleeing the Pinochet regime that burned his poetry, imprisoned him, and tortured him for his political activism. Since then, his poetry has been widely published to acclaim, and includes eight books, anthologies and translations. His readings are renowned for their passion and dedication to social justice. His latest collection, The Dilemma of Writing a Poem, has just been published by Puncher & Wattman.
Some time ago, we decided to make a video of one of his poems. It was a hard choice, but we settled on Cuando Fui Clandestino / When I Was Clandestine from his collection of the same title, published in 2019 by Rochford Press. The poem is strongly autobiographical and refers to time he spent in Moscow as well as living under curfew in Chile.
Making the video was a challenge. It was not possible for me to film in Russia or Chile, and, in any case, the political and social changes have been so great in each country, it was not clear what footage would be appropriate. We could have used archival footage in the public domain, but, in general, I prefer to use my own original footage in my work. Given that Juan has lived in Adelaide for many years now, we decided that I would film sites around the city that reflected the mood of his original experiences, while being clearly set in a contemporary context. All the footage was taken at night at locations I know well. A few scenes have been composited from more than one site. We went back to a key location not far from where Juan lives to film him there after dark with his poetry.
The music is an original composition, written and performed by Juan’s son, Lenin Garrido. After a small amount of editing, the structure of the music ended up being a key element in pulling together the various components of the video.
The language of the poem is complex. Although it is published in Spanish and English, we decided to have the spoken word element only in Spanish. A truly bi-lingual version would have been ideal, but we decided it was not necessary this time.
Part of the complexity of the poem relates to its references to the work of other poets: Nicanor Parra, Pablo Neruda, Vladimir Mayakovski and musician Violetta Parra. In recognition of the use of public walls for propaganda, advertising, street art and protest, excerpts from the poems referred to in Juan’s text appear on dark walls, in different languages, alongside public domain portraits of the authors. These are the poems and their sources (click on the texts for relevant links):
Oda al Hombre Sencillo
Pablo Neruda: Odas Elementales
Editorial Losada 1954