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Exiliana, poetry by Mariela Griffor

Book Review by Zinta Aistars


         Paperback: 75 pages

         Publisher: Luna Publications; 1st edition (January 31, 2007)

         Language: English

         ISBN-10: 0978147103

         ISBN-13: 978-0978147105


When one is stripped of country, home, family, lover, to what does one cling? Mariela Griffor will always have language, her chosen tool to rebuild. In this, in her poetry, she takes root. She has found a new home, even as her heart aches for another home in the distance of time and place. She has made her home in a new country, surrounded herself with a new family, and her poetry attests new love.


In the passing of the years

the grief does not disappear.


Griffor has lived a life as complex as a novel, rich and filled with loss and tragedy and redemption. Born in Concepcion, a city in southern Chile, she was involved in politics from age 15, fighting for democracy and against the Pinochet dictatorship. Her first great love was a comrade in arms, and he was killed as such, even while she, still in her early 20s, carried his child and was forced into exile. Life tossed her first to Sweden, then a new love to the United States, where she now lives in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, today a poet and publisher, founder of Marick Press.

If a poet’s biography rarely makes it to the top of a book review, but is left usually as an after note, Griffor’s story is unavoidable here, for Exiliana is a song of her exile, of love for home old and home new, of an undefeated if still sometimes suffering spirit. Her history is in her poetry, her scars give it its meter, her passion its rhythm, her strong spirit its vibrancy.

In her first poem, “Prologue,” Griffor sets the stage as an outsider, one standing apart, yet even then, defining a new way to continue her life.

I invent a friend to pour out

remembrances of the old country.


Out here, I invent new sounds, new men, new women.

I assassinate the old days with nostalgia.

I don’t see but invent a city and its people, its fury, its sky.


I don’t belong to the earth but to the air.

As I invent you, I invent myself.


When roots are not allowed to sink into the soil where one stands, one grows them in air, easily moved from place to place, rooted instead in those invented men and women, and in that newly invented life. Griffor’s song of exile will resonate with anyone who is at home away from home, perhaps in poetry offering home to others likewise uprooted. She captures that paradox neatly—of embracing one while longing for the other, past and present, old and new, dark and light, somehow managing to remain fully faithful to both.

Her poems are the letters of a lover, and her love is even more fierce for its testing. She pays the cost of loving so fiercely, but it is that ferocity of spirit that is her key to survival. Her poems travel from her long ago home of Chile, to a rainy day in Michigan, wander along the cold streets of Scandinavia. Her poems dig down into coffins where lost lovers lie, soar to distant mountaintops, linger in a child’s all-seeing eyes, scratch with long nails at jealousy and envy, and know more than one moment of simple truth. Her poems sear love with its loss, accept new love with its patience and comfort, remember the chill of a grandmother’s absent “cyanide smile,” and contemplate the first moment of chaos in a butterfly’s flap of wings in faraway Santiago.

When so tossed, one begins to understand: “we were alive, full of sun and fears.” Love is shallow when wasted on the perfect, but blossoms fully with blessing when lavished on the imperfect.

I like you like that, full of imperfections, with that

indescribable hair that is not blond, black, or reddish,

with that big sharp nose

that cuts that Bremen face,

with those large and clumsy fingers

that hang like traps for my kisses …


Joy stands best when planted firmly beside tragedy. Home is most appreciated by those who have lost theirs.

We have left a joy pending.


Live, love, and fight with the same fervour of those

who know that life at any moment can go extinct.


Happiness thrives on grit, “what fresh happiness that was,” sharing a sleeping bag with a lover and the sand creeping in. From impersonal, Griffor focuses on the personal, stepping away for a moment to see her lover as the dead patriot, as others see him, but to her, he is the memory of a shared chocolate ice cream or a clay candlestick long ago lit. She has the heart of a warrior, a survivor, still standing and strong if heavily scarred.

I have lived among men of flesh and blood.

I have loved, hated,

fought against

men of flesh and blood.


I have been conquered, humiliated,

I have been cast out to a shameful exile

among men of flesh and blood …


I have come back in the darkness to encountering them.


Exiliana is a necklace of pearls made of such encounters. Griffor has caught the shadow in her clear, clean and simple language (and one wishes at times to see the originals in her native Spanish, if only to hear another kind of music and shift in rhythm), leaving no room for misunderstanding. This is life at its harshest, love at its most tender, grief at its darkest hour. This is poetry also of healing, encouraging all fallen to stand again, even her present city of Detroit, fallen in its own battles, to which she writes more than one poem like a ballad, or a war cry, to banish its voodoo and shame and rise again.

Griffor is a poet of contrast and paradox. With so much of loss and grief, and wounds time refuses to heal, a reader might fear sinking into such poetry—but should not. Only recall the poet’s reminder that love for perfection isn’t really love at all, but an easy ride soon forgotten. Love for the imperfect that we all, after all, are, is the only kind that sustains. There is a golden thread of hope and endurance through these lines, and Griffor’s poetry sustains by mirroring the battles of life that, to some degree, we have all known and survived.

Let the golden haze

that rusts your aura

shine proudly

on your face again.


Let a feeling of goodness

drench the city like a storm.

Let your dreams flourish and endure.

Turn the holy fight into


Let the happiness return.


Mariela Griffor was born in Concepcion, Chile, and attended the University of Santiago and the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. She left Chile for an involuntary exile in Sweden in 1985. She and her American husband returned to the United States in 1998 with their two daughters. They live in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan. She is co-founder of The Institute for Creative Writers at Wayne State University and Publisher of Marick Press. Her work has appeared in periodicals across Latin America and the United States. Mariela holds a B.A in Journalism and a M.F.A. in creative writing from New England College. She is Honorary Consul of Chile in Michigan.



Never Night: Poems by Derick Burleson

Book Review by Zinta Aistars



         Paperback: 64 pages

         Publisher: Marick Press (May 2, 2008)

         Price: $14.95

         ISBN-10: 0971267650

         ISBN-13: 978-0971267657

I’m not sure anymore, I can’t quite remember: have I read poetry before? Have I? This feels like a first love, after all, a discovery, a loss of guarded chastity, to wade deep into something as yet unseen and unknown and even now, somehow, unknowable. And yet I recognize this voice as almost my own, that is, not the words, but the voice that we all keep inside, deep inside, and allow others to hear perhaps only once in a lifetime. Derick Burleson stands like a dot on the satellite screen, nearly too tiny to see, but the satellite lens zooms in, and we see, we see, for the first time, we see what we have been trying to see all along.

Such strange juxtapositions, Burleson writes. His poetry is all contrast and light against shadow, miniscule against gargantuan, silence against thunderous noise. So much of the effect is like looking through an immense telescope, from either end—at one moment spotting that tiny dot of a man, standing on a cliff, and then moving to the other end of the telescope, to gaze out into the infinite, the eternal, the ever and ever. It is almost dizzying, yet we recognize it as the gaze of an open-eyed man. Burleson sees what we all see, or are willingly blind to, or cannot bear to see: that we are here for only a moment, that we are meaningless in the very same instant that we are nearly godlike with meaning.

Remembering the wild beauty of Alaska when I was too long ago there, I wonder if it is this kind of wild beauty that can produce such a poet, such poetry. Even the title poem, "Never Night," captures what can’t be held:

You’d like it here where

it’s never night, where the sun

circles, rather, until it ends

up where it started from,

east or west, rises, sinks

but doesn’t ever set,

where in the summer

you never need to sleep

and all day and all night

the sky is a series of blues

you’ve seen only once before,

blues van Gogh painted

at the end.


Burleson’s poems dig into loam and earth, beginning as a child just learning to separate from his mother, on all fours in the garden, even as he sinks into earth and joins his other mother—Mother Earth. He notes nature—“sand glittering alive with flecks of mica” and “the sun wanted to eat us all with joy”—but he also observes the daily grit of construction crews and Main Street as it floats away in a surreal flood, his father still seated at the floating kitchen table and watching the weather on the television set. He notes that “glass is a slow liquid” and how our own nature calls us to often break things down in order to see them built up again, or at least to see what’s inside, to understand a core value, even if it means destruction, or death, in the process. How precarious is life, yes, but how intense is our ability to love and live and survive and go on yet again.

In the poem “Late Valentines,” Burleson writes of such a profound and yet everyday love (and I dare anyone to find a woman who would not lay down all to receive such a Valentine):

If this were the last rhyme I ever write,

what should my hands choose to fabricate?

They’d spin straw into gold to bribe the fates,

stitch a bright charm against the sprain of night,


and weave one last tapestry of our tears,

so we can ache another ten thousand years.


And more:

…heaven is whatever we dream

when we sleep in the house, which has and will

continue to settle into what we become.


With uncanny ability, Burleson orders everyday words that in that particular order become an intoxicant. To pick it apart, we find only letter, alphabet, a grocery list, a car, a television set, a tree, a house, a blue window seen from space, a life, a death, yet when put just so, it becomes:

And when our talk fades, when music


is only music again, we will slowly dim,

just our eyes and the teeth of our shy smiles

still showing. We’ll go back


to our own places and finally sleep,

smug with the fierce pleasure

of knowing that soul is the particular


song we learn to sing, that our lovers

will always be gardens beside us,

blooming the colors we dream best,


graceful as the glittering waves,

bursting on a moonlit beach

beyond the foot of our beds.


Yes, I’m sure I have read poetry before this, and even written it, but after a time spent reading the poetry of Never Night, and I’m not sure if that was a morning or a week or half my lifetime, or read in a dream half-waking, I somehow think I have never quite read poetry, not like this, so simple and complex and true, so tiny and so big, and I want to go out into the street, or topple off my particular cliff, and stop the first person walking by to press this slender, pretty book into their hands. Or yours. Read this. This, see, is poetry.

Read our interview with Derick Burleson.



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