Memory, Exile, Human Rights, Bilingualism and Poetry, interview with Consuelo Rivera co-author of ‘Wonder-Makers Navigators of the Thames’

In this interview for ‘Cosmopolita Scotland’ Jordi Albacete speaks to Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes co-author of the bilingual anthology of poetry (English and Spanish) ‘Wonder-Makers Navigators of the Thames’. Latin American and Spanish women, immigrants and in exile, write the book.

Jordi Albacete

The rivers of words can be lost in the meanderings of the memory, and the distant river banks on occasions can be difficult to see. I have spent days sailing maybe on my own river reading the anthology of poetry Wonder-Makers Navigators of the Thames. The book is written by The Hispano-American Women Writers on Memory. Exiled and immigrant women, some of them did experience torture and political imprisonment.  

[cml_media_alt id='5753']invitationlaunching[/cml_media_alt]The book of poetry explores the individual and collective memory.  This type of poetry as the Chilean author Odette Magnet defines in the foreword of this book  “refuses the easy path, the common places, the cheap cliché”.  I interview the Chilean-British teacher Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes, one of the co-authors and translators.

Cosmopolita Scotland – How did the idea of the book come about?

Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes – Originally, we set out to publish a book with our narrative; however because we are also poets, we began writing poems as well, and these also needed to be published. That is the origin of the two faces of Wonder Makers – Navigators of the Thames and its two books; one of poetry and one of short stories. The later is almost ready and quite likely it will be published in May or June this year.

The poem Rifts by Mario Benedetti inspired us to name ourselves as Wonder-Makers, i.e. as axis or poles opposed to the wonder-destroyers of the world who, with their greed, discrimination, exploitation, wars, weapons, production of pollutants of the environment are leading the self-destruction of human-kind. We, Wonder-Makers, are workers in the craft of letters, creating through art and literature.

The book is the result of collective work in the workshops. Collective creation processes tend to be slower than individual but at the same time they are more insightful. In addition the translation process is more complex and delicate.

C.S. – Is this an anthology committed to society?

Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes – Yes, we are utterly committed and we state this in the presentation of the group, on the back cover of the book, the work of this literary workshop is the result of our experiences of exile and migration, and this gives us the focus on inclusion and social justice. We also state that we celebrate human rights through art, either through visual arts, our poetry or our songs.

C.S. – How did you come up with the structure of this book?

Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes – In relation to the structure of the book, I can say that this has an individual and collective exploration. It wasn’t an easy process to connect these two explorations, in other words, what is individual with what is collective, but eventually we managed a balance in the inclusion of seven sections introduced by the drawings of Marijo Alba, Mabel Encinas e Isabel Ros-López.

Going back to the previous question if the anthology is socially committed, in the sections of  (Un) Fractures and Furies, for instance, we deal with current affairs like the war in Syria, the massive disappearance of the students from Ayotzinapa in Mexico, homeless people on the streets, etc. In Wonder-Makers, we define ourselves as women, we describe ourselves as members of this workshop and I think that this can be clearly seen in the diversity and difference of our group – as well as the affection that we have for each other.  By doing so, it can be noticed as another type of social commitment, the one of committed women to other women, cultures and languages.

In the section Seafarers we deal with current affairs such as the migrant camps in Calais, the fact of returning to the home country and feeling fragmented in memory. In Otherhood, as the word suggests, we explore how the other, female or male, feels and also how we feel when being ‘others’ [as women], these feelings lead us to create and stop us being stuck in the otherhood. In Selfies, we all explore our individual identity and we take quite sensual ‘selfies’ that we undress a little more when we write our poems and short stories. Finally in Links, we explore bonds between neighbouring countries, and of course our roots. In this sense, for example, Sofia Buchuck-Gil, writes to the orange tree, which rocks her with its fruits and roots. The tree says to her: “I wait for the morning light to climb to your crown,/to take the moon with both hands,/and hug my mother forever,/with the vibrant flame of peace.


Collective and Individual Memory

Consuelo reads some of her owns verses as well as the ones of their colleagues’.  At certain points the writer remembers the importance of memory, which is included in the group’s name (The Hispano-American Women Writers on Memory). Memory, notes Consuelo, is really important, in particular for women who have gone away from their comfort zone, and have gone away physically from the memories of their childhood and youth.

C.S- Which is the role of memory in the book?

Consuelo Rivera Fuentes – We think that in our book there is a concept given by individual and collective memory. Memory is the basis on which the self of a person is held: without memory there is no history or herstory. This memory is dynamic and is accessed in the present experience; it is activated through the wishes of the future. This memory is dynamic and is accessed in the present experience; it is activated through the wishes of the future. This memory of ours rescues what it is to be part of the diaspora, ‘to be the warrior woman’, ‘the woman with empathy ‘who identifies herself with the suffering of others, the woman who loves and rescues what it is to be Hispano-American women. This memory is not linear; on the contrary, it travels, it submerges itself and appears in different places and it has its own time. Memories can be physical.

Memories can be physical

C.S. Is memory a physical experience?

Consuelo Rivera Fuentes – I was tortured in my own body as a political prisoner at the beginning of the dictatorship in Chile. For those who have experienced torture, memory is in the body and over the years a tumour or a gastrointestinal or fibromyalgia might develop, even when this is inexplicable for medical science. In a large part, what I write about the body and memory appear intrinsically interwoven. For example, in this poem dedicated to Arinda Ojeda who was a political prisoner for 9 years: “But no one knows/that your mouth hurts/ that your gums hurt/ your teeth, your back and bones/hurt/ Your hands, your feet, your fists/ kicks, electricity/ of the “fathers of the fatherland’/ from our tricolour fatherland/they remained stamped/forever on your body/on our bodies” (Arinda 2 in my book of poems Sand in the Throat(Escaparate, 2011).

I was tortured in my own body as a political prisoner during the dictatorship in Chile. For those who have experienced torture, memory is in the body


C.S. How does the reality of exile and immigration influence the book?

Consuelo Rivera Fuentes – This is already implicit in the title of the book. In fact we decided to define ourselves as navigators. This sailor, seafarer or navigator is the one who travels on the earth, the clouds, the cosmos or virtual worlds. All of us, besides being imaginary sailors, are navigators of realities, arrived in the United Kingdom and the Thames in one particular moment of our lives, as immigrants or exiled. As seafarers, we navigate with a compass, a ‘rose of the winds’ which indicate the directions, the space where we want to get to, the port at which we want to arrive, with no hurry, and no constraints, following the natural or proper fluidity of literature. The ‘rose of the winds’ inhabits the centre of our chests. We also concluded that to define ourselves we needed the word navigator. ‘One can go on joining the poems together like patchwork because ‘migration is a patchwork, says Mabel Encinas, the Mexican member of our group. “My job is to touch the clouds/whilst under them, far away, the earth seems to miss my feet (…) “As if migrating were not a human right”.

Poetry and Bilingualism

After having had a very lively conversation about the difficulties and anecdotes that happen in the literature workshops, the interest shifts towards the use of specific words and terms.  I read the book after speaking with Consuelo and I come across poems where English and Spanish are interwoven as if they were a single language. In Echo Eco My brain is a fantasma/una aparición, una sombra. Ghosts mimic my world/ want to suck me into reality,/lacking substance, ghosts appear/laughing and talking in wailing chains/shattering through English my mother tongue/mi lengua madre”. The bilingual reality is quite common for those who for whatever reason have lived in linguistic immersion.

C.S. What do you learn by translating your own poems?

Consuelo Rivera Fuentes – In the translation of the poems into English, there has been so many discussions and we don’t always agree with the criteria for the selection of the words because there are so many things that need to be compromised with your mother tongue and often this is very difficult to understand. In poetry the difficulty is linked to rhythm. Keeping nuances is very hard. But, you see, this has also happened between us using different Spanish dialects.

Each one of us has her own idioms, and nuances that we express in different ways. There are terms that we have kept literal in the translation even in Spanish these words cannot be translated. This is the case of my Peruvian colleague Sofía Buchuck-Gil she uses words in Quechua such as huacatay (a type of herb) or wawita (a baby), or queperina (a piece of cloth used to carry a baby but also used to carry things, these terms are used literally in the English and the Spanish versions.

C.S.- How has bilingualism affected the writing of the book?

Consuelo Rivera FuentesIt is really important in the book. Each of us has a different background and level of competency using English. In my case I was already an English teacher in Chile before arriving in the UK. Other colleagues came with no English at all and they had to learn by ‘strokes’. Sometimes English and Spanish appear interwoven like when in our meetings we speak in “Spanglish” or when we write a poem with English words in Spanish, because this is how we think of them. Our thought is bilingual, even though we pronounce these words wrongly. As I said before, this even happens in Spanish, where Chilean, Peruvian, Mexican or the Spanish from Madrid and Malaga mix and we learn terms and laugh at some funny differences, which I’m not going to mention here because there might be children reading this [Consuelo laughs].

Time runs out but we are keen to keep talking. I would like to meet these authors in person and talk to each one of them, but Consuelo promises me some pictures and maybe a video with some of their performances, and with that I feel somehow satisfied.

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The Authors

[cml_media_alt id='5747']tallerlanzamientoarena[/cml_media_alt]All of the authors of ‘Wonder-Makers Navigators of the Thames’ integrate the Hispano-American Women Writers on Memory group. Their activities range from writing their own prose, poetry and songs to painting, drawing and creation of live events. They have been working as a workshop since 2012.  They have delivered many performances in London and other parts of the UK, and they use multimedia to make their bilingual performances (Spanish-English) more accessible. They work together to develop their craft and share their work with a wider audience. They offer writing workshops in addition to establishing links to other communities with their written work and presentations. This book and forthcoming book on short stories they are currently working on – is the result of a joint effort and the application of three years.

Marijo Alba-Sanchez is a multidisciplinary Spanish artist (writing, photography, painting), M. Eugenia Bravo-Calderara Chilean university teacher. She worked in the University of Chile, of Carlos and 17th November in Prague, and the University of London. In 1973, she was arrested and jailed as a political prisoner where she was tortured. In 1977 she published in London, The Search, a narrative about human rights in Chile. Sofia Buchuck-Gil is a singer, historian, poet and composer from Cuzco (Peru). She lived in different Latin American countries before settling in England. Currently she is in Peru working as a teacher in ethnomusicology and oral history. Mabel Encinas forms part of the group of Spanish and Latin American Poets and Writers. She writes regularly for different publications and she teaches at the University of London. Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes, British-Chilean, arrived in England for two reasons: she was in love with a woman and she wanted to escape from her memories, like Maria Eugenia she was a political prisoner and she was tortured. She is an English teacher and has an MDA and PhD in Sociology and Women Studies. Finally. Isabel Ros Lopez from Spain, born in Australia and bred in Madrid has lived in England for many years. Isabel sings and write poems and works for a British charity supporting people with disabilities.  

They immigrated from Peru, Mexico, Chile and Spain, but sooner or later became navigators of the River Thames and at different moments dropped anchor and decided to embrace a second country”.



Launching of the book 16th February in London


The Hispano-American Women Writers on Memory , sponsored by the Chilean Embassy in London, have the pleasure of inviting you to the launching of their bilingual book Wonder-Makers Navigators of the Thamesis: Poetry.

[cml_media_alt id='5619']invitationlaunching[/cml_media_alt]When: Tuesday 16th of February at 18:30.

Where: Cervantes Institute, 102, Eaton Square, SW1W 9NA, London.

Enquiries: Consuelo- Rivera Fuentes (07970386874).

Autor: Jordi Albacete

I am an environmental journalist. My passion for the protection of human and environmental rights has been inspired by research led journalism. My ambition is to communicate and inspire people to make positive changes in the environment. Twitter @albacetejordi or Linkedin.

Periodista medioambiental. Mi pasión por la protección de los derechos humanos y medioambientales se ha forjado a través de la investigación periodística. Mi objetivo es comunicar e inspirar a la gente para hacer cambios positivos y proteger el medioambiente. Twitter @albacetejordi o Linkedin.

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