The Chilean Flag

BY Elvira Hernández


ISBN: 9780999719862 (2019)

Translated into English by Alec Schumacher and with an introduction by Cecilia Vicuña, The Chilean Flag is, at long last, available in a fully bilingual edition, just in time to confront brewing xenophobic currents in Anglo-American culture.

La bandera de Chile narrates the vicissitudes of the Chilean flag during the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990) evoking the fate of victims of political violence. The Chilean flag is a protagonist divested of agency, a national emblem subjected to the whims of political exigency, a body tortured by those who profess their allegiance to her. She is at the same time a flag, the nation, and woman, especially the mother-spouse figure who the military regime believed should be seen, but not heard. In the end the flag is used as a gag; her only act of resistance is to declare her silence.

Written in 1981, the book became a potent symbol in opposition to the dictatorship and was passed around in mimeographed copies until it was formally published in 1991. Poets at the time had to read and write in secret, self-publishing works in order to avoid the censors and secret police. María Teresa Adriasola wrote under the pen name Elvira Hernández upon the insistence of a friend to avoid being detained for the nature of her poetry. Her work has recently received renewed attention, being awarded the Pablo Neruda Ibero-American Poetry Prize and the Jorge Tellier National Poetry Prize both in 2018.

Despite the uniquely Chilean context of the work, this poem contains an urgent message for readers today as rising nationalist movements mobilize patriotic discourse in order to silence dissenting voices. The Chilean Flag continues to speak of silence, and through silence, speaks.

Elvira Hernández (Lebu, Chile, 1951), seudonym of María Teresa Adriasola, is a Chilean poet, essayist, and literary critic. She is one of the most important voices of contemporary poetry in the Southern Cone and the Chilean neo-avant-garde (also known as the Escena de avanzada) although she eschews such categorical markers. Some of her most important works include: ¡Arre! Halley ¡Arre! (1986), Meditaciones físicas por un hombre que se fue (1987), Carta de Viaje (1989), La bandera de Chile (1991), El orden de los días (1991), Santiago Waria (1992), Álbum de Valparaíso (2002), Cultivo de hojas (2007), Cuaderno de deportes (2010), Actas urbe (2016) and Pájaros desde mi ventana (2018). Recently she was the recipient of the Jorge Tellier National Poetry Award (2018) and the Pablo Neruda Ibero-American Poetry Award (2018).

Alec Schumacher (Green Bay, 1983) received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2017) and is currently Assistant Professor of Spanish at Gonzaga University. His research focus is Chilean poetry of the neo-avant-garde, in particular, Juan Luis Martínez and Elvira Hernández. He has translated poetry by Jorge Arbeleche in Drunken Boat Press and poems by Elvira Hernández in Asymptote and Make Literary Magazine.

Cecilia Vicuña (Santiago, Chile, 1948) is a Chilean poet, artist, filmmaker, and activist who is based in New York and Santiago. Much of her work, starting in the mid-1960s, can be described as poems that transform into various performances and mediums. Despite the ephemeral nature of many of her activities, she has published 22 books of art and poetry. She also co-edited The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry and was named the Messenger Lecturer 2015 at Cornell University.