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January 15th, 2014

Our staff is deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Agentine poet and former colleague Juan Gelman. This note was circulated among IPS staff on January 14 by our colleague Estrella Gutierrez, following the announcement of Gelman’s death at age 83. In addition to his life as a prolific poet and critic of the Dirty War, Gelman was editor in Chief of IPS in the 1970. 

I heard the news of Juan Gelman’s death, and I am overtaken by the memory of that tall lanky figure, crowned with a face prone to smiling, but with eyes that alwayslook sad. I met him in Caracas, when he had just gone into exile and was heading to Rome, and when I, still practically a girl, had just joined IPS, after recently arriving from other shores.

He spoke little, with a distinct voice; he laughed sometimes, perhaps relieved that he had escaped death, but tormented by the uncertainty about the fate of his loved ones. There was something unintentionally magnetic about him, perhaps his engagement in life and commitment to freedom. Or probably it had more to do with goodness, which I learned from him later, because he was someone whose kindness stood out, above and beyond his brilliance and depth.

He later reached Rome as editor in chief, and until he left, for a post at FAO, it was a glorious time for the IPS journalists, as he sent us requests, corrections and observations in verse. I have always regretted not hanging on to those spontaneous poems triggered by situations or mistakes.

I saw him again in Rome, exceptionally warm, as he was with everyone — because that was another aspect of his character: his warmth and tenderness. Underneath it all were his son and daughter-in-law. He lived to find out their fate and that of his granddaughter.

At last he managed to find his granddaughter, although only after 23 years and too much struggle. He used to say, precisely, that “words are a tool of struggle” for good and against the bad. He added that “words are a form of resistance.” Phrases that hold true, as always and as never before, for the IPS of 2014 and its people.

He also said that today’s times worried him more than any other time he had lived, despite the dictatorships and wars of other decades, because the entire system conspired to break down the spirit and that a spiritual crisis is the worst of all.

In short, the best way to remember him is to read some of his poems, and, especially, to capture as much as possible of his spirit and his use of words as a tool. That was his legacy.

Estrella Gutiérrez

(Shared with permission by the author)

Juan Gelman / Photo Credit: Casamerica

Juan Gelman / Photo Credit: Casamerica

 

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