"Look for me between stone and ocean," Pablo Neruda once wrote. "I will return to be the churning of the water."
The famed poet's "Yo Volveré" is just one of many poems inspired by his fascination with Chilean coastline where he made his home in Isla Negra for much of his life. A Nobel laureate and literary giant of the 20th century, Neruda will be the inspiration for a lecture by Gregorio Luke tonight in Long Beach. Fittingly, the Pacific Ocean will serve as a backdrop for his continuing Murals Under the Stars series. "I have the perfect venue," Luke tells the Weekly. "It will be a wonderful experience."
Luke's mother, a famous Mexican choreographer, had a direct connection to Chile through the arts. "She staged ballets in Chile during the late 60's," he says, "And stayed in the house of Victor Jara." Joan Jara, the wife of the famed singer-poet, also worked in choreography. Chile experienced a vibrant upsurge of creativity during those times that included the poetry of Pablo Neruda.
After a U.S.-back military coup ousted the socialist presidency of Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973, Neruda tragically died of cancer in the days that followed. It was a political and personal loss for Luke's mother and the family. "My mom did this whole tribute to Neruda and I remember we staged these ballets with the poetry of Neruda and we ended with 'Los Muertos en la Plaza,'" Luke says.
Later, Neruda held a universal appeal for Luke, especially in the poet's memoirs that he read as a teenager like an adventure novel. "With Neruda it's like coming back home," he says. "I've given this lecture in Chile, went to Isla Negra and I could see how he incorporated even the rhythm of the ocean in his work."
The memoirs, like his love sonnets, are resplendent with romantic tales, including with an affair with a knife-wielding woman who adored him so much she pondered whether to kill the poet or have sex with him again. They anchor the lecture that will also draw heavily from his classic Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair.
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The breadth of Neruda's muses transcended his love affairs in Chile and travels abroad. He is remembered a political poet who believed in communism, lived in exile crossing the Andes by foot, served as a senator and had been considered as a presidential candidate. Luke's lecture looks to Neruda's allegiance to the Spanish Republic under siege by fascists as a turning point. "He sees how poetry cannot remain neutral," Luke says. "He becomes a symbol of resistance."
Unlike the muralists and artists Luke usually talks about, Neruda painted portraits with his words. That being said, the visuals that accompany the presentation are said to be among the best of his lectures. "Neruda's life is amazing," he says. "The poetry is extraordinary."
Murals Under The Stars: Pablo Neruda by Gregorio Luke at Granada Beach and Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, Tonight, 8 p.m. Free!