Heriberto Yépez: Re-Reading María Sabina

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:19 AM

[Heriberto Yépez is a Mexican poet, translator and essayist, whose writing has been gaining recognition on both sides of the north-south divide. Working from a home base in Tijuana, B.C., he is the author of numerous books in Spanish, and some of his pieces in English have appeared in American magazines like Tripwire, Shark, XCP, and Chain. The essay that follows was written shortly after the appearance of María Sabina Selections in the Poets for the Millennium series (University of California Press, 2003) and was first published by me in Ubuweb Ethnopoetics (on line). Its republication here brings it into the orbit of Poems and Poetics, where it can be read in conjunction, say, with Henry Munn’s “The Uniqueness of María Sabina” and related writings. (J.R.)]

1

The UC Press just released María Sabina: Selections (2003), edited by Jerome Rothenberg. I have been a reader of the Sabina world for some time now, but after getting to know this new volume –the best single compilation on her world that I know of – I immediately wonder what other interpretations of her work could appear in Mexico or the U.S. This volume is a gathering of points of view that invites us to start a re-reading of her practice. I take books as provocations, and I think this book should be read that way.

The book includes a very insightful essay by Henry Munn, which gives some hints into some of the cultural meanings of the artifacts enlisted by Sabina in her chants. I think Munn’s piece is the decisive one, apart from the "The Life" which occupies pages 3-79 of the book.

There are also pieces by Anne Waldman (a revision of her essay included before in Fast Speaking Woman), texts by Álvaro Estrada, Pavlovna/Wasson, Rothenberg, Gregorio Regino and an account of the last days of Sabina written by Homero Aridjis (which, btw, I co-translated into English for this assemblage).

Sabina is associated with the counter-culture poetic scenes. That’s one of the reasons why the Mexican mainstream-lit (the Mexican ‘Republics of Letters’ as O. Paz called it) hasn’t paid much attention to her: they see her as an interesting ethnographic phenomenon but not as a poet or verbal artist. And the association with the sixties atmosphere is something Mexican writers don’t want anymore –something which I think they share with contemporary American writers, and so returning to Sabina is something which is risky in terms of literary (little-)politics. Sabina = icon of hippie culture. "Indigenismo".

So I wonder what do Language and post-LangPo writers make of shamanism and María Sabina in particular? Can they create a new approach to her work and shamanism in general -- in relation to the one produced by anthropology or ethnopoetics?

2

From my side I have a few comments on current hegemonic Mexican ideas on Sabina, which, I think, derive mainly by whom else but dear Mr. Paz.

In his piece in María Sabina: Selections, Álvaro Estrada –Sabina’s interviewer and translator– comments on the opinion Paz gave after the Sabina oral-biography project:

"On finishing the text I polished it various times before sending it to Gordon Wasson, whom I had met in Mexico City in 1975, and to whom I had promised to send it. (Our initial meeting was in the house of Henry Munn.) Wasson then asked the Mexican poet Octavio Paz for his opinion of the manuscript. Paz expressed his appreciation for the work: he said it was a document with anthropological and human value. Notwithstanding, he suggested that the author eliminate terms and words that didn’t seem in accord with the personality of María Sabina, both in the text and in the translation of the chants. He suggested greater simplicity in the words, and in a letter to Wasson, he said that one ought to give the literal meaning of the shaman’s words without it mattering whether the reader understood them or not".

Is it a coincidence Paz didn’t mention anything about the literary / poetic value of her work, and only mentions her "anthropological" and "human" value? I don’t think so.

I think Paz was denying Sabina’s poetic stature, because he saw her as a sorcerer (in an essay on Breton he describes her as an "hechicera") and just a traditional healer, and not as a verbal artist as well. I think Paz thought Sabina’s poetry lacked the signs of "modernity" or structural complexity. He didn’t look carefully.

Paz's suggestions on eliminating terms and words could be a sign of that. If he saw Sabina as simply a traditional healer, his ideas on her personality were certainly wrong, so his suggestions could be erasing key notions and simplifying them in both the Spanish translation and, subsequently, in the English version. But that’s something which only Estrada could know.

In case Estrada accepted those suggestions, in my opinion he made a mistake, whatever they were, simply because Paz had no real insight into Sabina’s world and wasn’t particularly sympathetic to her as a poet, which she clearly was, even though Paz wouldn’t acknowledge her as one.

Estrada himself is suggesting the firsts drafts of his translation show a more complex Sabina. So I hope one day we can see the first versions of the bio and the chants, or have a second translation of them directly from the Mazatec transcripts.
Who knew Sabina more, Estrada or Paz? I don’t think Paz knew her at all. But Paz's cultural importance could be the reason why Estrada followed his suggestions. But if Paz didn’t consider Sabina a poet and didn’t really know her how could he know what was and what wasn’t in accordance with her ‘personality’?

3

Sabina's poetic praxis consisted in a re-reading –not "improvising" (whatever that means)– of a "book": the tradition of Mazatec language. Sabina is quoting. Her chants are a reorganization and a series of personal add-ups, a rewriting of prior quotes and linguistic-patterns. Sabina’s chants are not a practice of spontaneous creation but of reappropriation.

In his key piece ("The Uniqueness of María Sabina") Henry Munn explains how Sabina inherited from her culture a repertory of themes and motifs on which she, as other shamans, based her own individual variations. We cannot forget this if we really want to understand her verbal production.

What this means is that Sabina was a wise-one not because she ate mushrooms and got into trips, but because she dominated a dynamical dictionary of meanings.
She re-produced those meanings in the ceremonies; she rewrote that dynamical dictionary throughout her life. She was trying to revolutionize the praxis. That’s why she even allowed foreigners to participate. She was trying to go beyond. She wanted to open the book. Maybe trying to open the book too much was the reason why her own book fell apart.

Understanding her praxis consisted in quoting means to reestablish the context. Understanding the recontextualization practice she made. Understanding that time was her page. Her chants are the remaking of a cultural history. She was a woman working very consciously in the field of socio-metaphysics.

When she calls herself, let’s say, "opossum-woman" she is not referring to the animal but to a string of myths. Munn (using as sources the books of Carlos Incháustegui) synthesizes how the opossum represents for Mazatecs the power to play dead and gain invulnerability, the task of stealing fire -- which is key because stealing fire creates "culture." So if at first "opossum-woman" can bring images of Sabina identifying with "nature," reading her more carefully brings us to the fact that Sabina's chants are an interweaving of artificial meanings and not an animistic exercise or "flow-of-words" or a simple litany of plants, objects and characters. From the Moon to the Water, Sabina quotes cultural artifacts. Signs-with-histories. She re-constructs the order of words, meanings, contexts, subjects, cultures and things.

When reading

I am opossum-woman

we should read

I am the interplay of nature and culture-woman.
I am the performance-of-death-woman.
I am the recasting-of-myths-woman.
I am the keeper-and-changer-of-the-meanings-of-‘opossum’-woman


Our traditional understanding of Sabina (Paz included) falls very short of what she was really doing. Words for her are a therapeutic instrument and a way to depict visions, but also a self-conscious flesh that remakes and investigates prior texts.

There’s nothing spontaneous, naïve, automatic or unconscious in María Sabina’s poetic praxis. Sabina is not a poet of the unconscious but of self-consciousness itself, a poet of cultural rereading and rewriting.

Sabina represents a critique on those who believe (like Paz and most mainstream poets) that poetry is a voice that comes from nowhere, "inspiration" or the unmediated unconscious, an ahistoric otherness, those who consider poetry is an individualistic practice by essence or solitary compromise. She challenges those who find the idea of having just a single identity possible, of those who try to produce a voice without a context, an impossible purity.

But Sabina's is also a critique on those who believe there can be radical experimentation without healing or see the poet as a sophisticated specialist whose social role is just writing, those who act in the mere sphere of literature and who don’t break up the boundaries that separate the different domains of their own culture. "Poets’" without radical wisdom, wisdom that comes from the roots; "poets" who don’t go to the roots of society, to cure ignorance, sickness, injustice, and poverty.

Sabina was without a doubt a poet. She was not only a poet, but more importantly poetry’s wholeness. Her activity’s goal was totality. She reached for the impossible. Searching for a book-beyond-the-book. Having a new poetic body. Breaking the differences between writing, reading, chanting, talking, dancing, and silence. Removing pain from others. Fighting for the survival of a great culture. Investigating sounds, meanings and languages. Increasing wisdom. Teaching. Being radically self-critical, recognizing when one fails, when one is dying.

Being a writer is easier.

0 Response to 'Heriberto Yépez: Re-Reading María Sabina'

Post a Comment

Tattoos Picture Page 1 Tattoos Picture Page 2 Tattoos Picture Page 3 Tattoos Picture Page 4 Tattoos Picture Page 5 Tattoos Picture Page 6 Tattoos Picture Page 7 Tattoos Picture Page 8 Tattoos Picture Page 9 Tattoos Picture Page 10 Tattoos Picture Page 11 Tattoos Picture Page 12 Tattoos Picture Page 13 Tattoos Picture Page 14 Tattoos Picture Page 15 Tattoos Picture Page 16 Tattoos Picture Page 17 Tattoos Picture Page 18 Tattoos Picture Page 19 Tattoos Picture Page 20 Tattoos Picture Page 21 Tattoos Picture Page 22 Tattoos Picture Page 23 Tattoos Picture Page 24 Tattoos Picture Page 25 Tattoos Picture Page 26 Tattoos Picture Page 27 Tattoos Picture Page 28 Tattoos Picture Page 29 Tattoos Picture Page 30 Tattoos Picture Page 31 Tattoos Picture Page 32 Tattoos Picture Page 33 Tattoos Picture Page 34 Tattoos Picture Page 35 Tattoos Picture Page 36 Tattoos Picture Page 37 Tattoos Picture Page 38 Tattoos Picture Page 39 Tattoos Picture Page 40 Tattoos Picture Page 41 Tattoos Picture Page 42 Tattoos Picture Page 43 Tattoos Picture Page 44 Tattoos Picture Page 45 Tattoos Picture Page 46 Tattoos Picture Page 47 Tattoos Picture Page 48 Tattoos Picture Page 49 Tattoos Picture Page 50 Tattoos Picture Page 51 Tattoos Picture Page 52 Tattoos Picture Page 53 Tattoos Picture Page 54 Tattoos Picture Page 55 Tattoos Picture Page 56 Tattoos Picture Page 57 Tattoos Picture Page 58 Tattoos Picture Page 59 Tattoos Picture Page 60 Tattoos Picture Page 61 Tattoos Picture Page 62 Tattoos Picture Page 63 Tattoos Picture Page 64 Tattoos Picture Page 65 Tattoos Picture Page 66 Tattoos Picture Page 67 Tattoos Picture Page 68 Tattoos Picture Page 69 Tattoos Picture Page 70 Tattoos Picture Page 71 Tattoos Picture Page 72 Tattoos Picture Page 73 Tattoos Picture Page 74 Tattoos Picture Page 75 Tattoos Picture Page 76 Tattoos Picture Page 77 Tattoos Picture Page 78 Tattoos Picture Page 79 Tattoos Picture Page 80 Tattoos Picture Page 81 Tattoos Picture Page 82 Tattoos Picture Page 83 Tattoos Picture Page 84 Tattoos Picture Page 85 Tattoos Picture Page 86 Tattoos Picture Page 87 Tattoos Picture Page 88 Tattoos Picture Page 89 Tattoos Picture Page 90 Tattoos Picture Page 91 Tattoos Picture Page 92 Tattoos Picture Page 93 Tattoos Picture Page 94 Tattoos Picture Page 95 Tattoos Picture Page 96 Tattoos Picture Page 97 Tattoos Picture Page 98 Tattoos Picture Page 99 Tattoos Picture Page 100 Tattoos Picture Page 101 Tattoos Picture Page 102 Tattoos Picture Page 103 Tattoos Picture Page 104 Tattoos Picture Page 105 Tattoos Picture Page 106 Tattoos Picture Page 107 Tattoos Picture Page 108 Tattoos Picture Page 109 Tattoos Picture Page 110 Tattoos Picture Page 111 Tattoos Picture Page 112 Tattoos Picture Page 113 Tattoos Picture Page 114 Tattoos Picture Page 115 Tattoos Picture Page 116 Tattoos Picture Page 117 Tattoos Picture Page 118 Tattoos Picture Page 119 Tattoos Picture Page 120 Luxury Villa and Home Page 1 Luxury Villa and Home Page 2 Luxury Villa and Home Page 3 Luxury Villa and Home Page 4 Luxury Villa and Home Page 5 Luxury Villa and Home Page 6 Luxury Villa and Home Page 7 Luxury Villa and Home Page 8 Luxury Villa and Home Page 9 Luxury Villa and Home Page 10 Luxury Villa and Home Page 11 Luxury Villa and Home Page 12 Luxury Villa and Home Page 13 Luxury Villa and Home Page 14 Luxury Villa and Home Page 15 Luxury Villa and Home Page 16 Luxury Villa and Home Page 17 Luxury Villa and Home Page 18 Luxury Villa and Home Page 19 Luxury Villa and Home Page 20 Luxury Villa and Home Page 21 Luxury Villa and Home Page 22 Luxury Villa and Home Page 23 Luxury Villa and Home Page 24 Luxury Villa and Home Page 25 Luxury Villa and Home Page 26 Luxury Villa and Home Page 27 Luxury Villa and Home Page 28 Luxury Villa and Home Page 29 Luxury Villa and Home Page 30 Luxury Villa and Home Page 31 Luxury Villa and Home Page 32 Luxury Villa and Home Page 33 Luxury Villa and Home Page 34 Luxury Villa and Home Page 35 Luxury Villa and Home Page 36 Luxury Villa and Home Page 37 Luxury Villa and Home Page 38 Luxury Villa and Home Page 39 Luxury Villa and Home Page 40 Luxury Villa and Home Page 41 Luxury Villa and Home Page 42 Luxury Villa and Home Page 43 Luxury Villa and Home Page 44 Luxury Villa and Home Page 45 Luxury Villa and Home Page 46 Luxury Villa and Home Page 47 Luxury Villa and Home Page 48 Luxury Villa and Home Page 49 Luxury Villa and Home Page 50 Luxury Villa and Home Page 51 Luxury Villa and Home Page 52 Luxury Villa and Home Page 53 Luxury Villa and Home Page 54 Luxury Villa and Home Page 55 Luxury Villa and Home Page 56 Luxury Villa and Home Page 57 Luxury Villa and Home Page 58 Luxury Villa and Home Page 59 Luxury Villa and Home Page 60 Luxury Villa and Home Page 61 Luxury Villa and Home Page 62 Luxury Villa and Home Page 63 Luxury Villa and Home Page 64 Luxury Villa and Home Page 65 Luxury Villa and Home Page 66 Luxury Villa and Home Page 67 Luxury Villa and Home Page 68 Luxury Villa and Home Page 69 Luxury Villa and Home Page 70 Luxury Villa and Home Page 71 Luxury Villa and Home Page 72 Luxury Villa and Home Page 73 Luxury Villa and Home Page 74 Luxury Villa and Home Page 75 Luxury Villa and Home Page 76 Luxury Villa and Home Page 77 Luxury Villa and Home Page 78 Luxury Villa and Home Page 79 Luxury Villa and Home Page 80 Luxury Villa and Home Page 81 Luxury Villa and Home Page 82 Luxury Villa and Home Page 83 Luxury Villa and Home Page 84 Luxury Villa and Home Page 85 Luxury Villa and Home Page 86 Luxury Villa and Home Page 87 Luxury Villa and Home Page 88 Luxury Villa and Home Page 89 Luxury Villa and Home Page 90 Luxury Villa and Home Page 91 Luxury Villa and Home Page 92 Luxury Villa and Home Page 93 Luxury Villa and Home Page 94 Luxury Villa and Home Page 95 Luxury Villa and Home Page 96 Luxury Villa and Home Page 97 Luxury Villa and Home Page 98 Luxury Villa and Home Page 99 Famous People Page 1 Famous People Page 2 Famous People Page 3 Famous People Page 4 Famous People Page 5 Famous People Page 6 Famous People Page 7 Famous People Page 8 Famous People Page 9 Famous People Page 10 Famous People Page 11 Famous People Page 12 Famous People Page 13 Famous People Page 14 Famous People Page 15 Famous People Page 16 Famous People Page 17 Famous People Page 18 Famous People Page 19 Famous People Page 20 Famous People Page 21 Famous People Page 22 Famous People Page 23 Famous People Page 24 Famous People Page 25 Famous People Page 26 Famous People Page 27 Famous People Page 28 Famous People Page 29 Famous People Page 30 Famous People Page 31 Famous People Page 32 Famous People Page 33 Famous People Page 34 Famous People Page 35 Famous People Page 36 Famous People Page 37 Famous People Page 38 Famous People Page 39 Famous People Page 40 Famous People Page 41 Famous People Page 42 Famous People Page 43 Famous People Page 44 Famous People Page 45 Famous People Page 46 Famous People Page 47 Famous People Page 48 Famous People Page 49 Famous People Page 50 Famous People Page 51 Famous People Page 52 Famous People Page 53 Famous People Page 54 Famous People Page 55 Famous People Page 56 Famous People Page 57 Famous People Page 58 Famous People Page 59 Famous People Page 60 Famous People Page 61 Famous People Page 62 Famous People Page 63 Famous People Page 64 Famous People Page 65 Famous People Page 66 Famous People Page 67 Famous People Page 68 Famous People Page 69 Famous People Page 70 Famous People Page 71 Famous People Page 72 Famous People Page 73 Famous People Page 74 Famous People Page 75 Famous People Page 76 Famous People Page 77 Famous People Page 78 Famous People Page 79 Famous People Page 80 Famous People Page 81 Famous People Page 82 Famous People Page 83 Famous People Page 84 Famous People Page 85 Famous People Page 86 Famous People Page 87 Famous People Page 88 Famous People Page 89 Famous People Page 90 Famous People Page 91 Famous People Page 92 Famous People Page 93 Famous People Page 94 Famous People Page 95 Famous People Page 96 Famous People Page 97 Famous People Page 98 Famous People Page 99 Famous People Page 100 Famous People Page 101 Famous People Page 102 Famous People Page 103 Famous People Page 104 Famous People Page 105 Famous People Page 106 Famous People Page 107 Famous People Page 108 Famous People Page 109 Famous People Page 110 Famous People Page 111 Famous People Page 112 Famous People Page 113 Famous People Page 114 Famous People Page 115 Famous People Page 116 Famous People Page 117 Famous People Page 118 Famous People Page 119 Famous People Page 120