Incantations: Songs, Spells and Images by Mayan Women

Overview

This book of poems and stark, vivid illustrations is rooted in the female soul of indigenous Mexico. The Tzotzil women of the Chiapas Highlands are the poets and the artists. Ambar Past, who collected the poems and drawings, includes a moving essay about their poetics, beliefs, and history.

In the 1970s, living among the Maya, Past watched the people endure as an epidemic swept through a village. No help came. Many children died. One mother ...

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Overview

This book of poems and stark, vivid illustrations is rooted in the female soul of indigenous Mexico. The Tzotzil women of the Chiapas Highlands are the poets and the artists. Ambar Past, who collected the poems and drawings, includes a moving essay about their poetics, beliefs, and history.

In the 1970s, living among the Maya, Past watched the people endure as an epidemic swept through a village. No help came. Many children died. One mother offered her dead child a last sip of Coca-Cola and uttered a prayer:

Take this sweet dew from the earth, take this honey. It will help you on your way. It will give you strength on your path.

Incantations like this—poems about birth, love, hate, sex, despair, and death—coupled with primitive illustrations, provide a compelling insight into the psychology of these Mayan women poets. The Cinco Puntos edition of Incantations is a facsimile of the original handmade edition produced by the Taller Leñateros. It was reviewed in The New York Times.

At the age of twenty-three, Ambar Past left the United States for Mexico. She lived among the Mayan people, teaching the techniques of native dyes and learning to speak Tzotzil. She is the creator of the graphic arts collective Taller Leñateros in Chiapas and was a founding member of Sna Jolobil, a weaving cooperative for Mayan artisans.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"There has to my mind never been a project quite like this: a collective body of poetry – and women’s poetry at that – coming directly out of an indigenous culture and gathered as a deliberate work of poetry and art by the women themselves. The poems, created and spoken in Mayan Tzotzil by individual poets, then translated by Ambar Past into faithful and readable Spanish and English versions, show how deeply rooted language traditions can transform into vehicles of personal as well as collective expression. Incantations represents a major contribution to poetry in general and to ethnopoetics in particular."—Jerome Rothenberg, poet, author of Technicians of the Sacred and Shaking the Pumpkin

"After 30 years’ work, 150 Mayan women from Taller Leñateros (Woodlanders’ Workshop), a paper- and book-making collective founded by Ms. Past in 1975 in the Chiapas city San Cristóbal de las Casas, have produced what may be the first book of Mayan women’s poetry created almost entirely by them, and translated into English…Incantations is a weirdly beautiful volume made from 295 pages of recycled and handmade paper with silk-screened illustrations."—The New York Times

"Everything about this book is saturated; the ink is dark, the words look rich and thick on the pages. Weaving, cooking, making love and dancing are the most common subjects…It's a witchy book. Be careful."—Los Angeles Times

"The importance of these incantations is that they magically preserve both the violence and the moment just before it. These poems arrive like a book you read in a dream, and this is the central belief about naming and writing in Tzotzil, a poetry both preserved and disseminated orally. Despite the destruction of the Mayan codices five centuries ago, and all the violence that has occurred since then, Incantations performs for us how a culture lives."— Eileen Myles, on BookForum.com

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933693095
  • Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2009
  • Pages: 230
  • Product dimensions: 8.40 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Poet Ambar Past immigrated to Mexico when she was 23. Thirty years ago she made her home in rural Chiapas and learned to speak Tzotzil Mayan. Since moving to Chiapas Ambar has worked to collect, record and translate Tzotzil ritual poetry. She published several anthologies of this poetry with Taller Leñateros, a book cooperative in Chiapas.
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