Patricia Ríos read one of the first essays I ever wrote in English back in 1998. In blue ink, the essay described a conversation I had with a friend. The essay’s title was “From the Other Side of the Street.” My friend had a nihilistic perspective on life. For him, nothing was worth the time and effort. Everything would remain the same. I, on the contrary, argued for ‘changing our reality. “Humans are bound to change,” I wrote back then when I was twenty-six years old. My point with the essay wasn’t about the discussion but to illustrate that my friend cared about the future because he talked about it. So, his argument that life had no meaning was well… meaningless. In my mind, my friend and I were walking along the same street, facing the same changes, but I preferred to walk from the other side. This is because we were worried about the meaning of life but from my side, I thought my path led somewhere, just for the act of walking. He preferred to walk aimlessly. I brought the essay to Patricia because she was a member of the Humanist Movement. I had heard that she was a dancer turned lover of words who worked as a translator. After reading it, Patricia held the essay and said, “The grammar is terrible.”
I kept in touch with Patricia and attended her readings over the years. A couple of years ago, Patricia published a collection of poems titled “Rayuela hacia el Centro.” Many ideas and personal experiences motivate Patricia’s poetry. I tried to summarize her philosophy but I think the best way is to cite her own words, “I think the greatest injustice is that one needs to prove oneself. Nobody needs to prove oneself.” On another occasion, she said explaining the reasons for her poetry, “Mine is a mixture of rebelliousness and surrender. The rebelliousness of not accepting what is given and the surrender of recognizing we always need to let go.” On the other hand, she is inspired by her personal experiences as well. In her poetry, I can read a search for peace and justice. I didn’t know what can trigger that permanent meditation about justice and peace. But it was only a couple of months ago that I understood her reasons. In October 2022, Patricia shared with a group of friends the story of her father, who was tortured and killed during the coup d’état against Chilean President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. She brings her past with each word, We all bring baggage from the past. We all have lived terrible experiences, and we all want to look to the future. But Patricia’s poetry calls for a re-examination of our own narratives. Now I remember one of her poems, “The House,” an invitation to enter to see oneself as the ‘home’ we are. Her latest book, Ambrosia, Recetas Poéticas’ is another step in Patricia’s spiritual practice and research. The collection is a collaboration, written along with the poems, Beatrice and Trudy Lee Richards in a bilingual edition. (Spanish and English).
Thanks, Patricia, for granting this interview, (I hope my grammar has improved).
JS: Patricia, tell us about your background and your reason for writing poetry.
PR: I come from the South of South America and from a time when, among other things, women were not encouraged to express themselves because they seldom had interesting things to say. That was the belief. But I can be contrary and stubborn. Furthermore, I think that there is an innate impulse to transform in me, in you, in anyone and everyone -and when that impulse begins to push to express itself in the world, it will find a way to do it.
JS: How does the pain from the past in Chile play a role in your poetry? If any?
PR: Everything plays a role in my poetry, but the way I see it is: we are born in a time, in a place and under particular circumstances, none of it of our choice, and we grow up in that “landscape”. So, things happen there, some sweet things and some brutal ones, and everything in between. That particular landscape with its sum of events and experiences is what forms us; it forms our opinions about the world, it forms our feelings about life and death, and it forms a way to relate to ourselves, to others and to humanity as a whole.
JS: New Humanism informs your poetry. Can you talk about that? Do you intend to bring a message to your readers when you write? Is that your mission as a poet?
PR: I don’t know that I have a mission as a poet but I know that as a human being, I have a purpose that I constantly try to elucidate, particularly when I write and when I do my inner practices. And, I’m now suspecting that that purpose is common to all humanity, beyond considerations such as culture, gender, religion, etc. I write to express that sameness in me, and I address my writing to that sameness in others.
JS: I wrote that your poetry is the expression of your spiritual practice and research. Some poems mimic a meditation practice. “On the subway” is one of those. The poem starts with the routine of getting on the train, which transforms into an experience connecting to everyone. The poem brings us to the following lines:
I step off the train
already an individual with first
and last name
who ponders and judges
After the yoga practice, we just roll the yoga mat and return to the person we always are. There is no change after that. Would you agree with me? If so, is your poem a critique or rather an invitation to act in a different way?
PR: Practicing yoga, committing fraud, going to the supermarket or attending a conference on human rights are activities that we do in different “modes” of consciousness, so to say. In my experience, it is not indifferent what I dedicate time to because every activity and action stays with me and produces unending consequences. Actions accumulate inside. At the same time, and because of it, we are always changing; we go in this direction or that one depending on what we do. Practice makes perfect, they say, but what is it that you are getting perfect at?
JS: Did you know that Anne Sexton also wrote a poem called Rapunzel? She’s one of my favorite poets, and I didn’t know myself until I started writing this interview. In your poem “Rapunzel”, you bring an ancient tale into your poetry. Why did you include and write about that tale in your collection? Is this poem about feminism, or is this poem about human realization? Let’s re-read the last stanza.
Until she said to herself
I am the world
and the mirror crack’d
from top to bottom…..
PR: Ha! You just made me realize that this poem is about me when I was a teenager and a young woman…before I knew I existed and before I noticed that inner impulse to write poetry!
JS: Reading poetry is always challenging. I want to ask you if you can give us clues about how you would like us to read your poems. Should we read them aloud? Should we meditate before reading them? What would be your ideal way to read your poetry?
PR: My poetry is written as a poetic chronicle. So, there’s a lot of descriptions of how I perceive things and at the same time I try not to influence your view on what you read. I want you to become aware of and come up with your own understanding and conclusions. This is why, at times, my descriptions can be cold, crude and unapologetic.
JS: Is it fair to say that your poetry also has a political touch? I can see the light political tone in “Mechanical Consciousness,” where you write:
We’re still here
In these uniform
Lit and painted
And a more direct approach, in “End of a Civilization,” where your write:
Because in recognition of your
income tax obedience
and your lifelong dedication
world governments and institutions
have joined forces to bring you
this unique spectacle for free
PR: Of course I have my point of view and opinions, but my poetry doesn’t try to be about me, about my feelings and ideas, not most of it anyway. I work with mental snapshots, sometimes of my internal world, sometimes of the world around me and often, snapshots of the news…Then, I write merciless, high resolution, close-up descriptions of those mental shots. Sometimes they become poems and sometimes short stories or essays…
JS: Tell me about your experience in putting this book together along with the other two poets and in two languages. What are the common themes we find in the book?
PR: All three of us are Siloists (silo.net) so we have a basic understanding and shared sensibility. We all try to change the world and ourselves simultaneously. In this particular book, we mostly explore inner subjects and subjects that deal with consciousness in a state of inspiration, which is where creativity and transformation come from. In a more social way, we hold the human being as our central value and nonviolence as our modus operandi.
JS: Is there any projects that you want to call our attention to?
PR: I am currently working on a couple of poetry books -one about the contrast and possible complement between South and North (the west and the non-western cultures) and the other one, about the contrast or complement between humanity within and without, socially and personally. I am also working on a book of short stories and essays on the same types of subjects. I am just a poetic and allegorical reporter of the here and now, the inside and out, as I see it and experience it.
Patricia, thank you so much.