Poet and songwriter Jorge Luján has won many awards for his work, including the ALIJA Prize for Children's Poetry ( Argentina, 1995). His poetry is becoming increasingly well-known in English, in the form of biligual picture-books, illustrated by artists such as Piet Grobler (Colors!/ ¡Colores! - Groundwood, 2008) and Mandana Sadat (Tarde de invierno/ Winter Afternoon - Groundwood, 2006 ). He has also worked a great deal with Isol and their latest collaboration, Pantuflas de perrito / Doggy Slippers is due to be published by Groundwood in 2010. Jorge also writes and performs his own songs: his recent CD compilations for children: include Leer Cantando (2005) and Simbad (2002). He lives in Mexico City with his wife and two children. For further information, visit his website.
Relating to children as a poet and a musician is a strong vocation for me - something that is perhaps a little surprising, considering that I started my professional life as an architect in Córdoba, Argentina, my home city. My life changed in 1976, due to the terrible dictatorship that took over the government there, and I joined the long column of people heading north, searching for a secure land in South, Central or North America. This finally led me to Mexico, where I have lived ever since.
Thus, architecture, though beloved by me, was left behind. I turned to words: especially to the different ways letters are formed, something that has always captivated me. When I was only three, I enjoyed copying medicine-bottle labels over and over again, without being aware of their meaning or even that they meant anything at all. I was simply ensnared by the sinuous or sharp silhouettes of the letters that seemed alive to my child eyes; and even today, they remain full of mystery for me. That experience is probably one of the reasons why I still spend hours drawing or deciphering the long lines of those twisted traces known as letters.
Musical notes and melodies have also accompanied me since long ago. They first started seducing my ears during the distant summer mornings of my childhood, when my mother used to wash the family clothes in an open air sink, while singing beautiful, sad songs that probably transported her to a future of plenitude she would never conquer…
When I was a teenager I was deeply touched by certain poetry from China and Japan. I felt especially drawn to Li Po, Tu Fu, and Wang Wei among the Chinese poets, and Basho and Issa among the Japanese. The images evoked by certain poems have stayed with me: like the poet in Li Po’s Visiting A Taoist On Tiatien Mountain leaning sadly against a tree trunk after finding that a friend he has called on is not at home.
I also fell in love with the sense and sound of Huidobro’s poem Altazor; with Xavier Villaurrutia’s words, like:
“...y en el juego angustioso de un espejo frente a otro
cae mi voz
y mi voz que madura,
y mi voz quemadura,
y mi bosque madura,
y mi voz quema dura
como el hielo de vidrio
como el grito de hielo
aquí en el caracol de la oreja ...”
from his poem Nocturno en que nada se oye, translated into English by the American writer Eliot Weinberger; and with the mystery and paradox in Antonio Porchia’s aphorisms from Voces (Voices), like:
“Éramos yo y el mar, y el mar estaba solo, y solo yo. Uno de los dos faltaba.”
(“There we were, the sea and I – and the sea was alone and I was alone. One of us was missing.”)
Poetry and song were also my companions during the years I spent traveling around the world, hitch-hiking with a guitar and a note-book. To begin with, I traveled with friends, and later on with Rebeca, mi compañera, as we warmly say in Spanish.
We kept moving from place to place, discovering some of the enigmas of many countries along the way: Japan, Thailand, Nepal, India, Turkey, ex-Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Italy, France, Switzerland, Spain, the United States, Canada and almost all the Latin American countries. All along the road, unforgettable human beings and rare landscapes left deep traces in my writing and songs, and I’m very grateful for that because to be a poet means to develop the skill of listening to others. I remember myself listening to a peasant with a wine cup in his hand teaching me about brotherhood; to a child earning his living as a self-made guide in an Indian ruin; to an Inca woman holding me tight, while I was shivering on a bus with a tremendous fever; to the silent glance of a student being arrested and probably disappeared by the police just before the genocide dictatorship took power in Argentina...
Poetry is a kind of vertigo for me. A challenge that frequently knocks me down, makes me feel trapped within my limits, and keeps me isolated from grace… but occasionally, drives me to horizons of astonishment, pleasure, and growth. I'm convinced that, if we are open to it, poetry can envelop us in a rare, subtle atmosphere. And poetry is not only to be found in poems, but is also present in the endless forms of nature or in the touching gestures, words and acts of people.
As a songwriter and a singer, I love the experience of the voice taking to the air like wings taking flight. Composing words and music together is a complex experience of joy and sorrow, but one which also implies building bridges between people.
Every once in a while, when I’m searching for a good melody, I feel as though I have suddenly received a special gift. For example, in the case of my song “La vaca roja /The red cow”, I had figured out the first part of the song but was having great difficulty finding a strong, attractive chorus. One daybreak, I was walking in the Desierto de los Leones National Park, as I frequently do, when a joyful melody for the chorus came into my mind. I ran the seven kilometers back home, singing the melody over and over again in a loud voice until I arrived, and, with a long sigh, sat down to play it on the piano.
Another meaningful moment of life and creation happened for me when we put together the animated version of my poem Tarde de invierno/Winter Afternoon, published as a picture-book with illustrations by my friend and colleague, the sensitive Mandana Sadat. Uriel, my son, worked with me on the animation; Nicole, my daughter, composed the soundtrack; and Dani, my nephew, narrated the poem. Bringing together the spoken words, the moving images and the atmospheric music creates a special dynamism for the poem and provides further possibilities for a child’s response to it.
I feel that communicating with children through poetry and music makes for true growth on both sides. Each child is a universe; so is each poet, and even each poem or song… and through my poetry and songwriting, I aspire to bring about the encounter between child and poem without any preconception or fixed perspective.
Posted August 2009