On Friday I headed to UCLA for a panel on Argentina's political prisoners from the Dirty War of the '70s and '80s, and the book Eslabones, a new volume of stories, poetry, and testimonies of political imprisonment and torture from Cordoba, Argentina. In grad school I wrote my critical paper/academic thesis on witness poetry from Japanese internment camps of WWII compared to poetry from the book Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak edited by Marc Falkoff, and I went to this panel with a continued interest in human rights activity with concern to political prisoners and torture, as well as how the writing process affects those who have experienced such horrific crimes.
Alicia Partnoy, the author of The Little School: Tale of Disappearance and Survival in Argentina, which speaks of her experience as a tortured desaparacido, spoke of the need to tell these stories as "a need to record history," to ensure people never forget.She joked that she writes her story now because someone told her, "We are not getting younger any time soon," but the importance of sharing her experience is no joke as she recalls the process as liberating: "It has to be liberating."
The highlight of the afternoon was Dr. Irene Martinez who read her poem, "Chichi Bruja/las balerinas," from the Eslabones collection that recalled one of her compañeras in prison who would tease Irene for having over grown eyebrows. Once this woman found two scraps of metal during the 20 minutes a week they were allowed outside. The scrap metal became makeshift tweezers this compañera used to reshape all the women’s eyebrows as their personal beautician. Of course, my paraphrase of her poem does not do it justice, but I found it a beautiful story of disappeared women, kept from homes and family including their young children, interrogated and tortured on a regular basis, finding some sense of normalcy, of tenderness, in something as small as two scraps of metal acting as a ballerina’s feet on their eyebrows.
"Being beautiful was also important," Dr. Martinez shared with the room. Partnoy nodded in agreement, and shared how women would make mascara out of toothpaste and ash.
After her reading, Dr. Martinez went through slides from a photography project entitled, "Flying Away of the Mattress." The first slide showed three women, naked, blindfolded and sitting on a floor lined up as if in a sled. She explained that they were forced to sleep multiple women to a mattress, but that the nudity was her artistic interpretation. She stated that these artistic renderings "help me get it out of my system," and that making artistic choices, like the nudity, helped her to "own it." This reminded me of the book Poetry as Survival by Gregory Orr who said “To name something is to assert control over it" (30). It would seem that Dr. Martinez found a form of expression that allowed her to take ownership over a horrific and harrowing experience that has helped her to cope while also educating others.